The Libyan conflict witnessed a distinct shift in the West’s policy of military intervention in the Middle East. No longer were Western countries willing to provide ground troops to help resolve the problem. The indigenous population had to facilitate regime change from within.
That said, it would be naive of us to think that a considerable amount of specialist advice and expert capability had not been provided, yet the participating governments have gone to great length to downplay any direct contribution above and beyond the NATO sanctioned airstrikes. Compared to the swift commitment of ground troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, this approach heralds a new approach to Middle East problems.
The limited intervention policy
The Libyan crisis has been defined by the limited intervention that the West has been prepared to undertake in order to facilitate regime change. The huge oil reserves that Libya possesses have made sure that the West has an active interest in the stability of the country.
The conflict has highlighted the different global agendas that are being played out with the concerns of superpowers over the new government’s reluctance to provide assurances for deals that were done with the old Gaddafi regime. For some governments, this uncertainty may provide the basis for new instability and highlights the fragility of the global economic market model.
The Libyan intervention has witnessed a new kind of Western policy in action. The NATO backed air strikes provided precision targeted capability and have undoubtedly played a significant role in generating the decisive platform for “rebel success”. But the participating nations have deliberately refused to give the impression that it is in their own interests and it is their plan that is actually being carried out by the rebel uprising.
The aim is to retain a legitimate means for intervention in another nation’s domestic problems whilst achieving a wider aim. If however the West’s aim is to provide more stability in the Middle East and therefore gain security over energy pipeline supply, they still have some way to go before this new approach is successful.
Winning the peace after the war
Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan have provided a new planning yardstick. The first 100 days after military campaigning has seized is the golden mark from which new government must establish its control over all aspects of society. Failure to get the power on and the trains working beyond this period will result in friction and provide the instability for fragmented pressure groups to conduct their own operations in support of an alternative agenda. This fragmentation can often be identified as an insurgency counter capability; the removal of the old leader alone will not nullify this problematic issue.
Libya: The next 100 days
The new Libyan government will need to establish meaningful organisational management capability. Firstly, they must establish ‘the rule of law’ by providing a framework that the population can identify with as well as maintaining and upholding the country’s laws. This provides the environment from which commercial activities can restart. Health and educational facilities can be brought back online and return to their fully functional state. Providing these essential social functions gets individuals back into meaningful and productive activities that contribute to society and de-escalate the conflict environment. Effective governmental administration, policy formulation and communications needs to be quickly established not only to facilitate the effective running of a state but also to provide a clear direction to the people of the country – an absence of effective communications is a key contributor to the deadly vacuum of insurgency.
Where to from here?
The coming days will signal the success of the new government. Observers will wait anxiously to see if the fledgling government can impose the kind of post conflict change on a country that has been centrally controlled for 40 years by a single command authority that now no longer exists. If they cannot, then the future remains very uncertain for the Libyan people and the eventual nature of this important region may not have seen the last of conflict.