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May 31, 2013 | Commentary

Libya is facing an ongoing governance crisis. The transitional government put in place after the NATO-assisted uprising against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi succeeded in conducting elections and putting together an electoral process for the constitution drafting committee. However, violence continues despite the free elections of July 2012. There have been numerous bombings and attacks against the Libyan government and its ministries, which continue to occur at the time of writing. These have primarily consisted of bombings in Tripoli and Benghazi, as well as continuous attacks on police and the army in the eastern provinces. The most significant attack occurred in late April and early May, as gunmen lay siege to Libya’s foreign and justice ministries, calling for the ban of Qaddafi-era senior executives from government. The government capitulated, passing a political isolation law to this effect.

A second trend facing Libya is that foreign governments are withdrawing their staff in light of security concerns. After the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, and the political maelstrom in the US, other embassies have withdrawn non-emergency staff including the UK and France (whose embassy was a target of a bomb in April). Oil giant BP followed suit, withdrawing workers from Libya as a “precautionary measure” and the US further reinforced its security in Libya by moving 200 marines to the nearby Sicilian US Navy base.

Lastly, because of the inability of the Libyan government to provide stability, leaders in the east have declared semi-autonomy to defend their oil-rich lands, backed by the regional army. While there is little popular support and no legal framework, this movement does serve to politically weaken the governing National Transitional Council as it tries to solidify a draft constitution — an already difficult task.

The role of international powers in the post-conflict reconstruction of Libya is a thorny question. Western powers have been hesitant since the outset of the Arab Spring to intervene in these uprisings and their aftermath, with the NATO intervention in Libya being an exception to the rule that further drained the will to act in the region. However, there are some international efforts in the Libyan security sector to be acknowledged. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is actively trying to help the transition in Libya, including security sector support. This mission mobilizes little resources, most of which are focused on training, long-term reform and supporting the existing Libyan ministries. In summary, it focuses on institutions and not directly attempting to address the security issues in the country.

Europe is playing its part by providing over €152 million in humanitarian support in addition to a host of long-term assistance programs — including security sector support via the European Extern Action Service. The EU just approved of a €30 million civilian EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) in Libya to develop the capacity to enforce state borders through advice and knowledge transfer initiatives. Concerning the constitutional politics of Libya, Spain is serving to support Libya as an example of post-tyranny transition and multi-national consensus building. This is highly necessary in Libya as it “is in political nursery school” in the opinion of a Libyan editor.

Libya’s violence and instability needs to be addressed. However, this does not require direct intervention by international forces — but the current support roles played by the UN and EU are lacking and may ultimately be too weak to prevent long-term damage. The international arena needs to seriously consider its role in transitional Libya.

There is serious discussion on this point, though not by state powers. A relevant piece of work that

international powers should take note of is a research report from the RAND Corporation published in 2012. Christopher Chivvis and his co-authors highlight many of the underlying potential for peace, development, and economic success in Libya. Quite adroitly, they acknowledge that the use of force by international powers should be avoided and that Libya needs technical assistance on many governance issues that international players could easily provide. While mostly focused on NATO’s post-intervention absence in the country, they do point to the need for an international conference of the “Friends of Libya.” Chivvis et al. find this option be a warranted idea that would skirt the current international tensions surrounding the NATO-led intervention in 2011.

Libya is not a failed state by any means. In fact, the RAND report points out the potential for Libya to become a strong leader in the area and an ally for the US. However, Libya needs help of a technical nature in its transition, especially in regard to its security sector.


Isaac Caverhill-Godkewitsch is a research and communications intern at the Security Governance Group.