Libya Needs More International Support

For Release

March 17, 2014

The international community's limited approach to postwar Libya has left the nation struggling and on the brink of civil war, according to a new study from the RAND Corporation.

After the 2011 NATO-backed ouster of Muammar Qaddafi, the international community took an unusually limited approach to post-conflict stabilization of Libya. A small United Nations mission was put in charge of coordinating international efforts, which were limited in most respects.

The essential tasks of establishing security, building political and administrative institutions, and restarting the economy were left almost entirely up to Libya's new leaders. No international forces were deployed to keep the peace, in contrast with NATO interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, the results of this very limited international approach have been lackluster at best, according to the RAND report.

“Our research echoes what U.S. and allied governments have found after conflicts like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — post-conflict stabilization missions are rarely easy, and take time and attention to resolve,” said Christopher Chivvis, lead author of the report and a senior political scientist with RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Unfortunately, Libya has now fallen behind on a number of critical post-conflict fronts and may be in jeopardy of becoming a haven for terrorists or lapsing into civil war.”

Although Libya's fate is ultimately in the hands of Libyans themselves, the international community still could take steps to avert further deterioration of Libya, as well as the broader region, Chivvis said.

The RAND study is based on research and interviews with officials in Washington, London, Paris, Brussels and Tripoli, and draws on existing RAND work on post-conflict reconstruction. It explains the challenges that Libya faced after the war, assesses the steps taken to overcome them, draws implications for future post-conflict efforts and sketches a way forward in Libya.

Chivvis, who coauthored the study with Jeffrey Martini, said Libya's most serious problem since 2011 has been a lack of security, which has undermined efforts to build functioning political and administrative institutions, further constricted an already minimal international footprint, and facilitated the expansion of criminal and jihadist groups. The lack of security stems primarily from the failure of the effort to disarm and demobilize rebel militias after the war.

Statebuilding efforts also have stalled. The post-Qaddafi state is politically and administratively very weak, and Libya's constitutional process is now far behind the schedule set out during the war. Libyan politics remain contentious and turbulent.

Armed groups' 2013 takeover of Libya's oil facilities further threatens economic stability. Libya had a relative post-conflict advantage due to its oil wealth, which meant that it could pay indefinitely for both its own reconstruction and salaries to militia groups. Seizure of key facilities in the summer of 2013 by various armed groups undermined this advantage and has recently brought the country to the brink of civil war. The government has increased salaries and subsidies, both of which distort the economy and work against sustainable, broad-based economic growth.

The international community should do more to support Libya's post-Qaddafi recovery, Chivvis said. The United States and its allies have both moral and strategic interests in ensuring that Libya does not collapse into civil war or become a haven for al Qaeda or other jihadist groups.

The RAND report recommends that the United States, the United Nations and the European Union support a national reconciliation process, strengthen Libya's national security forces, help Libya strengthen its border security, help the nation build its public administration capabilities and be prepared to intervene again if the situation continues to deteriorate.

Support for the study was provided by the Smith Richardson Foundation. The study, “Libya After Qaddafi: Lessons and Implications for the Future,” can be found at

The study was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division. The division conducts research and analysis on defense and national security topics for the U.S. and allied defense, foreign policy, homeland security, and intelligence communities and foundations and other nongovernmental organizations that support defense and national security analysis.

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