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23 October 2011

Libya’s path to Democracy

If there is one thing more fraught, more attended by failure and more difficult to do than fighting a war, it is building the peace which follows. Our modern wars are fought in weeks or months — but building the peace is measured in decades.

Wars are violent and swift. Building peace is long, painful and almost always untidy. Winning wars needs decisiveness. Building peace needs strategic patience.

What happens next in Libya is unlikely to be tidy or elegant to watch. Get used to it. The country is tribal by nature and the war has been tribal in its conduct. Finding a constitution — probably a highly devolved one — that can provide a framework to contain these pressures is not going to be easy — especially with such oil revenues to be distributed, so much religion to infect minds, and so many arms in the peoples’ hands.

But there are strengths to build on. There are some able individuals who are more than capable of efficiently running their country. With the world waiting at Tripoli’s door for its precious high-quality crude, Libya will not be poor. There is international goodwill. And, it seems, a desire among Libya’s people for genuine democracy, though — note please London,
Paris and Washington — one which will more likely see Turkey’s Islamic democracy as its model, than our secular ones.

We in the west must only help where we are asked to. This was a different war — we played our part to enable the Libyan people to fight on their own terms. We have to be prepared to let them build their own peace on the same basis. Interference will be unwise and unwelcome as they have made clear. Sending in floods of uninvited businessmen to capture contracts as reward for our help is not likely to be well received. Ditto dispatching the kind of small army of wet-behind-the-ears economic
graduates to “help them rebuild their economy”, which we sent to Iraq in the early days.

When, as seems almost inevitable, the building of the Libyan peace starts getting untidy and inelegant to watch, let us remember that when we did it our way in Iraq and Afghanistan, it wasn’t exactly a success either.

Our biggest mistake in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — from which perhaps the Libyans can learn — was to fail to make the rule of law the first priority. Thus corruption, that constant by-product of war, became ingrained in the peace. I changed this in Bosnia when I went there as high representative, but by then it was too late. The establishment of the rule of law — perhaps even martial law at first — which then develops over time into a reliable legal, judicial and prosecutorial
structure based on the cultural norms of the country, is the essential framework for the security people need and for economic activity.

A key and early ingredient in this is to establish the state’s monopoly in the use of lethal force. This will be one of Libya’s earliest challenges — taking privately possessed arms out of circulation. It will not happen quickly and it may need to be approached with subtlety as well as forceful insistence (in Kosovo they simply converted the rebel forces into a kind of home guard as an interim step).
By Paddy Ashdown-Dawn/Guardian News Service: http://www.dawn.com/2011/10/23/libyas-path-to-democracy.html