The International Role in Libya's Transition, August 2011 - March 2012
Following the death of Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011, the situation in Libya fell largely out of the headlines, with the majority of reports focused on the fragile security environment there. Meanwhile, international attention has been fixed on the crisis in Syria.
One reason that Libya receded from international attention was that the UN did not put a large-scale postconflict presence in place there, as it has done in situations like those in Kosovo, Haiti and Afghanistan. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), mandated by Security Council Resolution 2009 on 16 September 2011, has a broad mandate but a light footprint. Although the UN has taken the lead in post-conflict peacebuilding support,
Libya has not proved to be a classic case for blue helmets.
This approach has reinforced the false impression that the international community is not deeply engaged in rebuilding Libya.
CIC’s last report The Libyan War: A Diplomatic History presented a record of the international community’s diplomatic engagement over Libya, from the first international responses to the uprising there in February 2011 to the eve of the rebel assault on Tripoli in August 2011. This report picks up where the last left off, and tracks international efforts to stabilize the country and begin the process of reintegrating it into the international community, ending with the Security Council’s decision to renew UNSMIL’s mandate for a year in March 2012. Although there have been important developments in Libya since March, the goal of this report is to highlight that international assistance to the country after Gaddafi’s fall was wide-ranging and important — even if it received relatively little publicity.
In a period in which the future of large-scale international interventions is in doubt, the Libyan case may offer precedents for future post-conflict situations.
Some commentators initially debated how to get peacekeeping troops on the ground in Libya rapidly, and which organizations had the capabilities to stabilize the situation.
While the new Libyan authorities were opposed to any international military presence, regional politics also worked against the deployment of peacekeeping troops from a Western organization like NATO, and there was no appetite for any such mission in the budget-strained alliance.
The Arab League and African Union did not have the operational capacity to mount an effective assistance mission. The UN was the most viable actor to lead international assistance efforts, but deploying a heavy UN peacekeeping operation did not gain traction as an acceptable model.
Instead, the UN took its cue from the Libyan transitional government. UNSMIL’s operations have been tailored to the type of assistance the National Transitional Council (NTC) has requested. From the outset Ian Martin, UNSMIL’s head and the Secretary-General’s special representative for Libya, made clear that the UN would be responsive to the priorities that Libya’s NTC set out for the transition. Martin described UNSMIL’s initial mission as “an opportunity not only to provide immediate assistance and advice to the NTC… but then through that engagement to make sure that the longer-term mission that we recommend to the Security Council genuinely reflects Libyan ownership and Libyan wishes.”1 The ongoing process of assisting the political transition and beginning peacebuilding work has not been built around peacekeeping or a very large-scale political mission.