Libya at the Cross Roads: Genocidal Civil War or Peace?

I just read a paper by Rotary Peace Scholar Duncan Autry that paralleled the ideas I present in my latest book Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolv.... What we concluded from entirely different approaches is that the traditional means of achieving peace is doomed to fail. This is especially true if applied to Libya. Libya has a choice, and the wrong choice will lead to disintegration of its fragile civil society and a dive into chaos and genocide. Unfortunately, the wrong choice would be to follow the traditional strategy offered by international diplomats.

First, let's look at the traditional strategy. In conflict situations, the international community views its peacemaking tools as military intervention, diplomacy, and legal action. These can be effective in some circumstances. In Libya, they are worse than inadequate; they will make matters worse.

The military option has already been exercised. While the Ghadafi regime is on the verge of being removed, there are serious unintended consequences. First, major elements of Ghadafi loyalists, armed to the teeth, will remain in country. There is little likelihood of surrender without a bloody, long term, low level insurgency fought by the loyalists. Second, the rebels are now armed as well. The rebel force, rather than being a disciplined military group, is an ad hoc mixture of tribal and militia elements that are not under a central command and control structure. There is no simple, expedient way of disarming these people. In effect, a second group of highly armed elements is loose in Libya. Whether they lay down arms or choose become warlords, criminal gangs, or insurrectionists remains to be seen. Third, the NATO strikes have pretty much destroyed the infrastructure of the country.

The diplomatic option is ill suited for the problems facing the Libyan people. Diplomacy is predicated upon a horizontal negotiation where foreign ministers negotiate with foreign ministers, generals with generals, heads of state with heads of state, and so forth. It is very status conscious and precludes vertical negotiation within layers of a society or culture. In Libya's case, there are bound to be decades of injustice, injury, anger, and conflict that permeate through society that must be reconciled. Diplomatic efforts and so-called "political solutions" cannot and will not solve those underlying structural conflicts. In fact, negotiating a "political solution" often makes things worse because the solution leaves in place all of the problems that caused the conflict in the first place.

Legal action is likewise not a viable peace process. Generally speaking, legal actions, whether civil or criminal, deal with specific conflicts between individuals. Legal action is poorly suited to addressing structural conflict. In addition, legal action only works if there is an independent judiciary with the enforcement powers of an executive branch willing to support it, attorneys trained and capable of representing the parties, and a respected tradition of the rule of law that allows losers to accept defeat without violence. Obviously, Libya is ill-equipped for effective legal action as a peacemaking tool.

So what should the Libyans do to prevent social collapse, civil war, and genocide after Ghadafi? Here are some ideas:

First, the Trans National Council should recognize that it may not have the voice of all of the people. It should approach the task of rebuilding Libya with deep humility.

Second, it should provide basic services to the people as quickly as possible. Electricity, communications, transportation, food distribution, clean water, sanitation, and public safety (community-based policing) should be at the top of the first 60 days To Do list.

Third, create a clean government. Since a huge amount of money will be spent in this process, patronage and corruption should be stamped out and utter transparency should be the credo of the day. The opportunity and temptation for graft will be very difficult to reject. The TNC should use every means to stop dishonesty and establish ethical conduct in government. Want the counter-example and results--look at Hamid Karzai and the incredible corruption of the central government of Afghanistan.

Fourth, create jobs that pay working people decent wages so that they can begin to provide a decent standard of living for their families.

Fifth, and most important, bring in international consultants, mediators, and facilitators to design and implement a national dialogue process. The TNC has unveiled a new constitution that has many admirable virtues. However, not everyone is buying into it. This is the problem of top-down political solutions. There has to be a bottom-up piece too.

Train the best and brightest Libyans in mediation, conflict resolution, negotiation, and facilitation across the country. Intervene in every conflict at the lowest level possible with skill intervention when possible and appropriate. Support the tribal sheiks and their indigenous peacemaking processes. Get people talking about their vision and hope for the new Libya. Start the process of building a national consensus around that vision.

This dialogue process should not be mired down in bureaucracy, and should begin as soon as possible. It should be a vertical and horizontal process so that the very high and mighty are listening and talking to the lowliest farmer, women are being heard, young people are being given a voice, the professional class is being respected, and tribal leaders feel enfranchised. In short, the dialogue process, as a massive conflict resolution and transformation project, should touch the entire Libyan population up, down, across, and through social, economic, tribal, ethnic, familial, and political sectors.

Libya has the good fortune of having significant oil resources. It can afford to pay for some outside help. This not "how its done." However, "how its done" gave us Iraq, Afghanistan, the Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, and host of other failed situations and states. The Libyans have an enormous opportunity to show the world how to create real peace. Not the absence of conflict, but the resolution of conflict through respectful processes that engage everyone.


Doug Noll is a lawyer turned peacemaker, professional mediator, and author of Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflicts (Prometheus Books, 2011).

Views: 47

Comment by Jeff Thompson on August 23, 2011 at 8:20pm



Thanks for sharing- glad you posted this here!




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