Post-Gaddafi Libya – a liberal peace project

Despite Western policy-makers insisting that they will not meddle in Libya’s internal affairs in the aftermath of the war, it is hard to believe that the Libyans will be in the driving seat when it comes to choosing their country’s future governance and economic systems.
By Savo Heleta

Only the naïve and misinformed can think that the NATO bombing which led to regime change in Libya was about saving Libyans from a ruthless dictator. Apart from some environmental disasters and humanitarian crises, no country in the world acts out of kindness and compassion for any other reason. International relations are based on realism, or realpolitik. Political realism leads governments to act not according to moral and legal principles, but according to considerations of power and geopolitical, economic and other strategic interests.

Over the past few months Libya has been more important for Western policy-makers than other countries with similar problems and needs. Proof of this is the fact that the West has decided to militarily intervene in Libya and not in similarly repressive countries such as Sudan and Syria, and even Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or Zimbabwe. If it really was about saving the lives of the suffering populations and trying to prevent mass killings by cruel governments, the West would have intervened in Darfur at some point since 2003.

Liberal peace

Regime change in Libya has not completed the task of the Western policy-makers. Their hope is that Libya will become a multi-party democracy, with Western-style institutions and a capitalist economy. Thus, post-Gaddafi, post-war Libya will not be allowed to choose governance and economic systems its people and new political elites may want to establish and develop through an internally driven process, which may not resemble the Western models. Instead, these systems will be imposed on the “new Libya” through the externally-designed and driven liberal peace project.

The concept of liberal peace is a Western philosophy, ideology and blueprint that has shaped all externally driven post-war operations and interventions since the end of the Cold War. The key features of liberal peace are the promotion of Western-style democracy, free markets, economic liberalization and deregulation, privatization and fiscal austerity, while at the same time marginalizing the state apparatus in the economic and public spheres.

The proponents of liberal peace assume that the rapid transmission or imposition of neo-liberal and democratic norms and values, combined with the Western-style institutions, will create conditions for lasting peace, stability and economic prosperity anywhere in the world. This despite the fact that people in countries recovering from war have hardly ever seen substantial benefits from liberal peace and neo-liberal economics; instead, in many countries poverty, inequality, instability and social injustice have increased even further. In places such as Mozambique, Bosnia and Herzegovina, East Timor, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, “positive peace” and sustainable political, social and economic improvements are still distant dreams despite the extensive financial and technical help and support from donors and international organizations.

The problem with externally-driven post-war operations is that they assume that models, norms, ideologies and political and economic systems that work in the West can quickly and easily be exported to post-war environments. Furthermore, externally-driven operations and the actors implementing them often express overly paternalistic behavior, pretending to know what is best for countries in the developing world and acting on their behalf. Because of this, many critics rightly argue that this form of meddling in the domestic affairs of sovereign countries resembles colonialism and imperialism.

Liberal peace project in Libya

Since the liberal peace project suffers from the Western concept of peace – which sees it as the transformation of a war-torn society into a Western-style market democracy without offering any alternatives – post-war Libya, with all its economic potential and oil and natural gas reserves, will hardly have any other choice but to attempt to rebuild following the externally-imposed and driven liberal peace principles, frameworks and guidelines.

Considering a number of externally driven post-war recovery and state-building attempts around the world since the mid-1990s helps come up with a rough scenario for a possible liberal peace project in Libya.

Over the last six months, Western countries and policy-makers have invested too much into getting rid of Gaddafi to just turn away now that the tyrant is gone and allow Libyans to decide the future of the country on their own. NATO members engaged in the Libyan war expecting the new rulers in Tripoli to reward them with oil, energy and reconstruction contracts. The next decade will be the payback time for the massive support the rebels have received from the West during the fight against Gaddafi, without which they would have been defeated.

According to the German Spiegel, even though the war has not yet ended and Gaddafi is still at large, European and American governments and corporations are already engaged in fierce competition over “big business” in Libya, which they expect to be “plentiful and lucrative.” Most importantly, for the Westerners to profit in the long-run, the country’s political and legal system will have to be fully reformed or even built from scratch and aligned to widely accepted norms so Libya is not a “difficult country to do business in” any more.

While NATO bombed Gaddafi’s forces, Western policy-makers met numerous times to discuss and contemplate the fate and future of post-Gaddafi Libya. A number of policy-makers have already stated that the “new Libya” will have to be a liberal and democratic society. Needless to say that no one in Libya has been consulted about this.

Western “experts” who failed on so many fronts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Mozambique, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq will soon be moving to Libya to design, develop and implement post-war recovery and state-building programs and projects. In Libya – the newest patient to experiment on – Western “experts” will use the same one-size-fits-all blueprints and “best practices” they have used elsewhere, ignoring local contexts, needs and demands. It is important to note that the one-size-fits-all approach is not unique to the post-war “experts” and environments; Western economists and development experts have been unsuccessfully trying for decades to come-up with blueprints that would fix socio-economic problems in the developing world.

The Libya Contact Group, an ad hoc body comprised of NATO member countries that joined together in the fight against the Gaddafi regime, is already worried about the lack of capacity among Libya’s new rulers. Thus, it is very likely that the West will gradually impose a conservative model of liberal peace in Libya. This is the most used approach that usually depends on external military force to provide security and order, and external civilian actors to run countries and impose laws and reforms. The end goal of the conservative liberal peace approach is to completely change the mindsets of the local people and transform them into “civilized” members of the global community.

In post-war Libya, we can expect to see some sort of a hybrid peacekeeping mission aimed at establishing security and stability; either under the auspices of the United Nations or NATO, with the majority of troops coming from Arab countries. Since the UN Security Council is divided on the Libyan intervention issue, it is somewhat unlikely that the extensive post-war recovery and state-building project will be run by the UN. On the other hand, countries that opposed the forced regime change in Libya, such as China, Russia and South Africa, may still allow this to happen in order to safeguard and promote their economic and other strategic interests in the “new Libya.”

Even if the UN Security Council remains blocked and unconstructive, the West has a solution for that. Rather than going through the UN, the Libya Contact Group could appoint a Bosnian-style High Representative, perhaps even giving him the same sweeping executive, legislative and judiciary powers to do as he pleases. Unfortunately, with all the powers given to the external actors will not come responsibility and accountability; they will not be accountable to the local people and will have full immunity from criminal prosecution, allowing them to often forget about human rights norms and the rule of law. This will not be a precedent as a similar colonial-like approach has been recently used in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor.

Being a very sensitive issue after the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the above will probably not happen immediately. The West will initially give some nominal space to local political actors. However, when they fail to bring quick improvements – as they will given the enormous challenges facing them and the fact that over the last four decades Gaddafi had completely destroyed political and state institutions – and when Libya plunges into political instability caused by fights for power and control over resources, the external actors will step in and explain that they have to act decisively in order to save Libyans from themselves and, of course, protect Western economic, geopolitical and strategic interests. This is when a High Representative could come in with unlimited powers at his or her disposal.

If this still does not seem politically correct and instead reminds the public in the West, Africa and the Arab world of the old imperial days returning to a previous colonial possession, which also happens to be yet another oil-rich Arab and Muslim country seemingly exploited by the Western powers, the policy-makers from the West could try working through local political elites. They could find suitable political candidates willing to follow instructions, engineer their electoral victory and then work through them. Again, this will not be a precedent as something like this has happened in Afghanistan and Kosovo, to mention only a few cases.

Even though Libya is a relatively rich country and has enough funds to pay for its recovery and rebuilding, the international financial institutions (IFIs) and Western governments will still insist on providing financial aid and assistance to the new government in Tripoli. The provision of external aid and assistance will allow the donors to become involved in the internal affairs of Libya and have a substantial say when it comes to liberalization, privatization and macroeconomics. The end goal in Libya is likely to be a creation of a rentier state, unable to function without foreign aid and technical assistance in the long-run.

It is important to remember that the provision of foreign aid has never been an apolitical exercise. External assistance and foreign aid from powerful countries have always been nothing but political acts aimed at getting involved in political, economic and developmental trajectory of other countries and promoting geopolitical, strategic and economic interests of the donors.

According to the leaked UN blueprint for post-war Libya, “leading roles on economic recovery are expected to be taken by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, together with the European Union and leading bilateral actors.” It should then be expected that, as part of the neo-liberal agenda, Libyan state-owned enterprises will be privatized and sold to multinational corporations as soon as possible. Western “experts” may decide to replicate the post-2003 Iraqi experience and transform Libya into a neo-liberal economic haven, privatizing state-owned companies, ending government subsidies, imposing radical trade liberalization and allowing unrestricted foreign direct investments and remittance of profits by foreign companies operating in the country. Despite all the talk about the need for meaningful peace dividends, in reality, the new government will be encouraged, perhaps even forced through various conditioning by the IFIs and Western donors, to cut provisions of social services and welfare to the people in need, as these would not be in line with the Western neo-liberal model.

The good old buzzwords – capacity building and local ownership – will be heard all across Libya. Indeed, Libya is facing an uphill battle when it comes to capacity for governance and economic development. However, bringing in foreign consultants will not improve the situation significantly as many foreign “experts” will be in their twenties, inexperienced and without any knowledge of the local context and conditions. Furthermore, instead of building local capacity, external support will only exacerbate dependence on foreign assistance.

On paper, local ownership will be acknowledged and promoted by all external actors engaged in Libya. In reality, however, local ownership will remain not more than empty rhetoric. From the beginning, design, funding and implementation of post-war programs and projects will be carried out by outsiders to suit Western political, economic and strategic agendas. Local people and political elites will have little or no real say in what is going on in their country.

Apart from the hordes of Western NGOs and aid agencies descending on Libya, the country will also see a mushrooming of local NGOs and civil society groups funded by donor money. While some of these organizations will be genuine attempts by Libyans to organize and reform their country, a large number of them will not be rooted in the needs and aspirations of the Libyan people and society but modeled after civil society groups in the West, existing solely to support donor objectives and agendas.

The post-war reconstruction, development and state-building in Libya will have to happen rather quickly; not because people in Libya need recovery as soon as possible, but because Western policy-makers do not have the time and interest to plan and implement long-term programs and projects. They need success and credit now. We must remember the re-election campaigns that are starting in many Western countries, whose leaders will need quick “success” in Libya in order to improve their images and re-election prospects. French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is facing difficult elections, has already publicly claimed that Libya was “his war.”

The fact that externally driven quick-fix attempts at post-war recovery, democratization and economic liberalization can easily exacerbate unhealed divisions and animosities, prolonging instability, enmity and conflict in Libya will not, in all likelihood, cross the minds of Western policy-makers.

At the end of the day, if the liberal peace project fails yet again, Western donors and IFIs will not accept any responsibility for the failures, as they have never done it in the past. Rather, they will blame the new Libyan rulers, their lack of capacity, corruption, the inability to compete in the “free market” environment and/or the failure to fully embrace and wholeheartedly implement the liberal peace project and neo-liberal economic approach.

The above is a rather gloomy scenario, at least for Libyans. They suffered for decades, fought hard for freedom over the last six months and now hope that the better days are on the way and that they would be the masters of their destiny. This article is a speculative exercise, informed by extensive research, previous events and patterns. However, considering the fact that most Western experts, policy-makers and academics claim that there is no viable alternative to the externally-driven liberal peace project following violent conflict, it is hard to believe that the Libyans will be in the driving seat when it comes to choosing governance and economic systems they would want to establish and develop through an internally driven process.

Alternative approach

The majority of countries emerging from violent conflict cannot rebuild and recover on their own as post-war reconstruction, development and state-building are daunting tasks. While the international community can play a vital role in facilitating the recovery process and supporting local actors, the imposition of externally-designed visions, systems, programs and projects will ultimately fail to bring sustainable peace, stability and prosperity, as it has happened time and again in the past.

Instead of externally-driven operations or local actors working on their own, there is a need for a more inclusive approach. Local actors know more about problems and needs in their societies and (often) care more about the future of their countries than the outsiders. At the same time, outsiders often have capacity and funding to assist. Rather than outsiders imposing their systems and ideologies, they need to work with and listen to local actors if they genuinely want to stabilize countries ravaged by war and violent conflict. Similarly, for states and governments to be seen as legitimate by citizens and sustainable in the long-run, the state-building process must be locally designed and driven.

Internally-driven recovery and state-building will always be a hard, long and uncertain process. Still, the case of Somaliland gives hope that local people can rebuild their lives and countries. After decades of war, suffering and destruction, people and elites in this small region in the Horn of Africa decided on their own to establish a society based on democratic principles and local customs and traditions, rebuild its civil administration, infrastructure and economy, disarm local militias, repatriate refugees and provide basic security, stability, law and order without any significant external help and assistance.

It has been two decades since Somaliland embarked on this journey and there is still a long way to go. Even though Somaliland proclaimed independence in 1991 but has never been recognized by any country, it is hailed by many today as the most open and stable democracy in the Muslim world. On the other hand, Somalia is still a prime example of complete state failure and collapse, despite the fact that the international community has organized fourteen major peace initiatives since 1991 and spent over US $8 billion on peacemaking, reconstruction, development and state-building.

There is no question that a functioning multi-party democracy and the freedoms and opportunities that come with it are better than authoritarianism, totalitarianism and dictatorship. However, to be sustainable, democracy must be defined and established by the local people, not external actors. The fate and future of Libya after Gaddafi should not be decided in the Western capitals and by Western “experts” and policy-makers but in Tripoli and all over Libya, by Libyans.

Savo Heleta lives in South Africa, where he is currently completing a doctoral degree in post-war reconstruction and development at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Since 2009, Savo works as an advisor on the South Sudan Executive Leadership Program designed to improve the capacity of the government of South Sudan. Savo is a member of TransConflict’s Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) Advisory Board.

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