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Research Questions

  1. What are the main challenges facing Libya as it transitions to democracy?
  2. What is the role of the countries that helped Libya oust Qaddafi in fostering that transition?

Abstract

A year after Qaddafi's death, the light-footprint approach adopted for Libya's postwar transition is facing its most serious test. Security, the political transition, and economic development all present challenges. The security situation requires immediate attention and could worsen still. Until the militias are brought under state control, progress on other fronts will be very difficult to achieve. In most cases, the appropriate approach is a combination of incentives and broad-based negotiation between Tripoli and militia leaders. Only in extreme cases should the use of force be considered. On the political front, Libya and international actors deserve credit for the successful elections in July, but the political challenges ahead are significant. Libya still needs to write a constitution, and in doing so, it must determine the degree to which power is centralized in Tripoli and how to ensure inclusive yet stable governing institutions. Libya also needs to begin rethinking the management of its economy, and especially of its energy resources, to maximize the benefit to its citizens, reduce corruption, and enable private enterprise to flourish in other areas, such as tourism. Libya also needs sustained assistance — mainly technical in nature — from the countries that helped oust Qaddafi lest the transition run off the rails. Despite its role in helping topple Qaddafi, NATO is absent from Libya today. A greater role for the alliance is worth exploring, for example training Libyan security officials and forces and providing technical assistance for security-sector reform. An international Friends of Libya conference on assistance to Libya is warranted. Post-conflict transitions normally span years, and Libya's will be no different. Nevertheless, if current challenges are handled adroitly, Libya could still emerge as a positive force for democratic stability in North Africa and a valuable partner against al-Qaeda.

Key Findings

A Year After Qaddafi's Death, the Light-Footprint Approach Adopted for Libya's Postwar Transition Is Facing Its Most Serious Test

  • The security situation requires immediate attention and could still worsen.
  • Until the militias are brought under state control, progress on other fronts will be very difficult to achieve.
  • In most cases, the appropriate approach is a combination of incentives and broad-based negotiation between Tripoli and militia leaders.
  • Only in extreme cases should the use of force be considered.

Libya and International Actors Deserve Credit for the Successful Elections in July, but the Political Challenges Remain Significant

  • Libya still needs to write a constitution.
  • In doing so, it must determine the degree to which power is centralized in Tripoli and how to ensure inclusive yet stable governing institutions.
  • Islamist inclusion will be particularly vexing in Libya given the suspect commitment of some of these groups to democratic processes.
  • Qaddafi's personalistic rule left Libya bereft of capacity, including a trained civil service.

Despite Its Role in Helping Topple Qaddafi, NATO Is Absent from Libya Today

  • A greater role for the alliance is worth exploring, for example training Libyan security officials and forces and providing technical assistance for security-sector reform.

Libya Needs to Begin Rethinking the Management of Its Economy, Especially Its Energy Resources

  • Management of the economy should be structured to maximize the benefit to Libya's citizens, reduce corruption, and enable private enterprise to flourish in areas outside the energy sector, such as tourism.

The Countries That Helped Libya Oust Qaddafi Must Commit to Assisting with Its Transition.

  • An international Friends of Libya conference on assistance to Libya is warranted.

If Current Challenges Are Handled Adroitly, Libya Could Become a Positive Force for Democratic Stability in North Africa and a Valuable Partner Against al-Qaeda

This paper is the result of an ongoing research project on the future of post-Qaddafi Libya sponsored by the Smith Richardson Foundation and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center (ISDP) of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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