Tag Archives: Libya

The Economics of Human Smuggling

The capsizing of the King Jacob, a 500-foot ship, off the coast of Libya on Sunday brought renewed attention to the problem of human trafficking and smuggling. More than 850 people were packed into the vessel at the time it capsized—and only 28 are believed to have survived. Italian authorities arrested the ship’s captain, 27-year-old Tunisian Mohammed Ali—on suspicion of multiple homicide. Authorities also detained Mahmud Bikhit, a 25 year-old Syrian and a crew member on the vessel, on charges of engaging in illegal migration.

The tragedy focused attention on the problem of illegal migration and human smuggling from North Africa to the European Union. According to some observers, Libya has become a primary staging point for migrants seeking passage to Europe. The business of trafficking has become incredibly profitable, with smugglers demanding $1,000 per person for passage and grossing upwards of $3 million per trip.

What do you think? How should the European Union approach addressing the economic and humanitarian challenges posed by migration from North Africa? How would multi-entry visas advocated by the International Organization for Migration affect the dynamics of migration to Europe? If you were a citizen of the European Union, would you support such a proposal? Why?

The Politics of Multilateral Peacekeeping

French Soldiers Deployed in Mali

French Soldiers Deployed in Mali

The French government last week called on West African leaders to “pick up the baton” and support military operations against Islamic insurgents in Mali. France has already deployed more than 2,000 soldiers and is currently conducting air and ground operations authorized by a United Nations Security Council resolution. Other governments, including Chad, Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Togo, Benin, Ghana, and Guinea have committed to sending soldiers, and Britain, Denmark, and Belgium are providing material support. The United States has offered to provide communications support, but has declined so far to commit soldiers or air support.

It is clear that France has already moved beyond the original UN-backed strategy, which called for Western governments to provide training and material in support of an African-led military intervention. Rather, French forces appear to be taking the lead in operations, with other governments in the region responding more slowly.

The politics of military coalitions are always interesting. Basic behavioral economics suggest that there is little incentive for a government to pay for something it can get for free. In game theory, this is referred to as the free-rider dilemma. In global politics, more powerful countries (often the hegemon) pay a disproportionate cost. The United States, for example, has borne the lion’s share of the costs associated with interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But recent developments in Libya and Mali suggest a slightly different strategy at play. In both cases, the United States appeared willing to let others—France in the case of Mali, and the European Union in the case of Libya—take the leading role.

Does this represent a shift in American military thinking? Likely, the answer is no. While the Obama administration expresses a stronger commitment to multilateralism than the Bush administration did, it has already shown a willingness to undertake unilateral action when it perceives the national interest is at stake. The ongoing drone strikes in Pakistan are case in point.

However, where it sees the US national interest is less at play, the Obama administration appears far more willing to let other states pursue policies that align with US interests abroad.

Liberal Nationalists and Liberal Internationalists on the Use of Force

US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice

US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice

The US United Nations Ambassador, Susan Rice, has come under increasing fire from Senate Republicans over her remarks surrounding the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi last month. In several television appearances, Ambassador Rice (following the information she had been provided by the administration based on “preliminary intelligence”) said that the attack was the result of protests over an anti-Muslim film. More detailed analysis later proved that the attacks used the cover of the protests but were in fact premeditated attacks by Islamic militants.

Blogging at Duck of Minerva last week, Josh Busby asks “Why Does John McCain Hate Susan Rice?” In doing so, Busby notes that Susan Rice has more in common with McCain than other potential nominees. Rice has been a strong proponent of American intervention in Libya, Syria, and Darfur. And she has advocated using military force in support of American interests and to prevent atrocities abroad.

Busby argues that liberal internationalists have more in common with neoconservatives like McCain, George W. Bush, and others, than they do with other realists like John Kerry. As Busby writes,

Where realists are quite conservative about the prospects for using force in defense of the country’s values, both liberal internationalists and neocons are optimistic about the ability to remake the world in the image of the United States. That is what makes them both liberal. Indeed, neoconservative is a misnomer. They really should have been called liberal nationalists. Where they differ from liberal internationalists is on means. Liberal internationalists prefer multilateral instruments to address foreign policy problems whereas neocons prefer national ones.

That distinction is an important one, and one that students often miss. Often assuming that realists are more likely to support the use of force and liberals less likely, we sometimes conflate the tendency to use force with the motivation for it. From this perspective, realists would likely oppose the use of American military force in Afghanistan and Iraq, because no clear national interest is at stake. By contrast, such wars could be supported by liberals because, from their perspective, the use of force to establish a more democratic international order is morally justified.

Perspectives become more complicated when we move from the abstract to the real world. Does the United States have a national interest in Libya? In Syria? In Rwanda? Should the lack of a national interest preclude us from intervening to prevent crimes against humanity, such as was the case in the 1994 Rwandan genocide?

What do you think? Should the US military be used in support of humanitarian intervention or to establish democracy abroad? Or should the United States limit its involvement to areas where it has a clearly defined national interest? Take the poll or leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Libya: The Drivers of Democratization

Pro-US Protester in Libya

Pro-US Protester in Libya

In continuing developments in Libya, protestors on Friday stormed the headquarters of Ansar al-Sharia and the Sahaty Brigade. Both groups were believed to be involved in the recent attacks on the US Consulate in Benghazi.

Anti-American protests continue to reverberate across the Middle East in response to a trailer for the controversial film The Innocence of Muslims. The trailer—which makes B-movies look like Academy Award material by comparison—was apparently shot to promote a film which (given the quality of the acting, thankfully) was never made. Nevertheless, many protestors believe the film was produced and that it mocks the Prophet Mohammed.

While protests against the film continue in many parts of the Islamic World, in Libya, the protests now appear to have a different message.

Pro-US Protester in Libya

Pro-US Protester in Libya

Protestors there have taken to the streets there to demand justice for the killing of US Ambassador Chris Stephens last week. Many have carried signs like those here.

There appears to be reason to believe that Libya has, as the BBC put it, “bucked the Islamist trend.” While democratization has been a boon to the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist Islamist political parties in Tunisia and Egypt, in Libya there appears to be much less support for fundamentalist parties.

There is a rich tradition in political science of exploring why some countries move towards liberal democracy while others do not. Common theories center on one or more of the following variables: wealth (gdp per capita), education (especially female education), a free market economy, social equality, a civic culture, cultural values, foreign intervention, and even age distribution. Unfortunately it is not clear yet why (or even if) Libya is moving towards liberal democracy while its neighbors are not. At a minimum, though, the contrasting experiences of Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt will likely provide interesting case studies for comparativists moving forward.

What do you think: What drives democratization? Will Libya sustain its move towards democracy? Or will the trend reverse?

Presidential Politics and US Foreign Policy

Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney.

Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney.

Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney last week sparked a new controversy when he criticized President Barak Obama’s response to the ongoing crisis in the Libya. On Tuesday, just hours after US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stephens and three other Americans were killed in an attack by Islamic militants against the US Embassy in Benghazi, Romney asserted that the United States should not apologize for American values to appease Islamic extremists.

However, Romney soon came under intense criticism, including criticism from within his own party, for distorting the chain of events in Libya and appearing to try to score political points from the tragedy. The statement Romney referenced in his comments was apparently issued by the US Embassy in Libya before the attack which killed Stephens and his colleagues, in an effort to diffuse the growing crisis there. That statement, which was not approved by State Department or Administration officials in Washington before its release, read in part, “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

Because of missteps during his recent trips to Great Britain and Israel, Romney’s foreign policy credentials were already under suspicion. And following his statements on the Libyan attacks, Romney suffered even more criticism. In its coverage, CBS News asked, “How Badly did Romney Botch His Response to Libya Attack?” Their answer: pretty badly. A growing chorus of critiques from key Republican figures has been heard. Among those chiming in have been Steve Schmidt, senior campaign advisor to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, John Sununu, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee Peter King (R, NY). Others, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner have been silent.

However, it remains to be seen how Romney’s misstep will affect the presidential election. Obama was already polling ahead of Romney, following the closure of the convention season. And there’s an old belief in presidential politics that foreign policy doesn’t win an election. Still, with the campaign season growing short, Romney would likely better be served focusing on the domestic economy rather than developments in the Middle East if he hopes to best Obama come November.

What do you think: Was it a mistake for the Romney campaign to release its statement? Will it affect the November election? Or will the electorate focus on domestic issues instead?

The Paradox of Democracy in US Foreign Policy

There’s a famous saying that we should “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.”

A car burns outside the US Embassy in Libya on Tuesday.

A car burns outside the US Embassy in Libya on Tuesday.

Last week was a difficult one for the US foreign policy establishment. On Tuesday, the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was stormed by militants, who killed the US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other American personnel. Stevens had worked closely with the rebel movement that overthrew Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in last year. Fluent in French and Arabic, he was, in many ways, the ideal US representative to the troubled region.

It is now believed that the attack was launched by Islamic militants who used ongoing protests against the United States in Benghazi as cover to launch their operation. But the protests which were initially exploited to cover the operation have since spread. By Friday, US, German, and British embassies in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen were the scenes of often violent protest by demonstrators who objected to an obscure online video produced by an American mocked the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester, and ruthless killer.

The growing protests have been strongest in countries which experienced the Arab Spring, where longstanding dictatorships were overthrown and replaced with fledgling democracies. The leaders of those countries must play a dangerous balancing game. While seeking to retain good relations with the United States, they must also keep an eye on reelection campaigns. When Anti-Americanism runs high, one of the two competing goals has to give.

This tension marks an interesting turn from the historical foreign policy of the United States. During the Cold War, the United States was often criticized for supporting dictators who, while not democratic, were certainly anti-communist. While the promotion of democracy often remained an ideal objective of US foreign policy during the Cold War, in many cases, such as that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the United States was willing to overlook democracy for a firm commitment to anti-communism. Now, the emphasis on democratization has raised new questions arising from the competing demands faced by the fledgling democracies in the Middle East. How do we reconcile those demands?

What do you think? How should US foreign policy engage with democratically-elected governments expressing anti-American sentiment? What is the most effective way to engage with governments like those of Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan, where leaders balance a desire with closer ties with the United States against popular expressions of anti-Americanism? And more fundamentally, what role should the promotion of and support for democratization play in US foreign policy? Let us know what you think.

State Failure, the Security Dilemma, and Libya’s Guns

Libya's interim Prime Minister Abdul Raheem al-Keeb has his hands full trying to establish a functioning government and disarm militias in the country.

An article in today’s New York Times describes a Libyan father’s accidental death at the hands of his son and raises an alarm about the vast arsenal of easily accessible weaponry in post-Qaddafi Libya.  On the night that Qaddafi’s “loathed and feared” son Muatassim was captured by Libyan rebels, the city of Misurata erupted in celebratory gunfire.  Rebel commander Hassan Nahassi, who had just returned home from the battlefront in Sirte in order to spend time with his family, acquiesced to his young boys’ request to fire a rifle in celebration.  His 12-year-old son Ali lost control of the automatic weapon and accidentally shot and killed his father.  Yet the surviving relatives and friends of Mr. Nahassi are not about to give up their weapons:

“Guns, many Libyans say, set them free. And with the future uncertain and memories of persecution fresh, almost no one is yet sure how to give the guns up, even as they acknowledge that much of their former ruler’s arsenal would be better not loose.”

Abdullah Kamal bin Hameda, a 22-year-old nephew of the deceased and now a caretaker in his uncle’s home, is quoted as saying the adults must keep the weapons out of children’s reach, but otherwise must keep them: “It is difficult to put down the guns right now, because I do not know who is my enemy and who is my friend,” Mr. Hameda said. “When we will have a new government, and it is strong and we trust it, then we will give them the guns. But not now, not to the N.T.C. [Transitional National Council, the interim Libyan government].”

Political scientists have pointed out that when governments are unable to provide security (a primary symptom of state failure) people commonly take up arms to defend themselves and their kin.  This frequently leads to the formation of militias along ethnic or sectarian lines, and can spark a security dilemma, whereby one group’s efforts to ensure its security (usually through an arms buildup) reduces the security of other groups, heightens tensions, and ultimately makes the original group less secure.  The security dilemma is more common in international politics, where there is no world government to ensure states’ security (a condition realist scholars call anarchy).  But when states fail, anarchy is produced within states.

Mr. Hameda’s experience is a chilling reminder of how state failure and its attendant security dilemmas can produce tensions and arms races despite people’s best intentions.  He told the New York Times that he “was eager to return to civilian life, and leave war behind.”  However, “he also said he intended to maintain a small armory at his home, where he has five automatic rifles claimed from the defeated Qaddafi forces, until he sees what comes next.  ‘My house is like an army base,’ he said.”

The ICC, Libya, and the Fate of Qaddafi’s Son

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the powerful Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

The son and intelligence chief of former Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi have both been captured by militia groups in Libya within the last few days. Both men are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of crimes against humanity, and a tug-of-war has begun between the ICC and Libya’s new leaders over where and how these fugitives will be tried.  Libya’s interim government, the Transitional National Council (TNC), had promised to turn over these suspects to the ICC in the Hague once they were captured, but Libya’s leaders are now rethinking those commitments amid strong political pressure from some Libyan groups to try the men at home.

As discussed in a previous World Politics News Review post, the ICC is a 114-member International Governmental Organization (IGO) designed to prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  Although some countries, including the United States, have expressed concern that the ICC could trample on state sovereignty, the organization is supposed to adhere to the principle of complementarity, meaning it can only take action if national court systems are unable or unwilling to deal with the alleged perpetrators of these crimes.

In this case, Libya’s new government has yet to create an independent and effective court system capable of handling these trials, and the fate of Moammar Qaddafi–who was killed by a crowd of angry Libyans after being captured–casts further doubt on the country’s ability to hold a legitimate trial.  This situation therefore seems ideal for the ICC to step in under the principle of complementarity.  But many Libyans want Qaddafi’s son and intelligence chief tried at home for a range of offenses committed during Qaddafi’s long and oppressive rule.  One compromise that was discussed in a recent New York Times article would see the men tried first by the ICC on narrow crimes against humanity charges and then in Libya for a broader array of Qaddafi-era crimes against the Libyan people: “Holding a first trial in The Hague, lawyers and diplomats said, would have the benefit of keeping Mr. Qaddafi in a secure place and allow time for Libya to stabilize. The country also needs to build up a justice system, virtually from scratch, that is able to handle credible trials.”

What do you think?  Should the ICC relent and allow Libyans to try their own countrymen for crimes against the Libyan people?  Or would such an approach risk a trial that is–in image if not in reality–illegitimate, at a time when Libya is in desperate need of an independent and effective judiciary? If the ICC can pressure Libya’s leaders to take actions they don’t believe are in the national interest, has this IGO become too powerful?

Should We Fear the Arab Spring?

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the Chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council, recently decreed that polygamy would be legalized and banks would not charge interest.

Dictators across the Arab world obviously have reason to fear the phenomenon known as the Arab Spring. The wave of popular uprisings has already toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya since January, and tyrants from Damascus (Syria) to Sanaa (Yemen) to Manama (Bahrain) are feeling the heat from domestic protesters and rebels demanding change. But in recent days observers in the West have voiced concern that events are taking a dangerous turn, down a path that could harm Western interests and undermine the quest for democracy that has purportedly motivated much of the unrest.

These critics cite several recent developments in making their case:

(1) In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, the
first free elections
have brought to power an Islamist party that some fear will not uphold basic civil liberties.  The authors of this opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor raise this concern: “Tunisia’s current constitution is not explicitly secular and keeps the possibility open for a more religious interpretation of the way the state should function. This is unlikely to change with the coming constitutional modifications, and the potential for oppression in the name of religion becomes a legitimate threat with Islamists in power.”

(2) In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful actor and will likely do well in the upcoming elections, scheduled for November 28.  Since the ouster of President Mubarak–a close U.S. ally–in February, concerns have grown in the U.S. that his successors may be less hospitable toward peace with Israel.  Attacks on the Israeli embassy in Cairo and against Coptic Christians have underscored the instability of this key country.

(3) In Libya, the chairman of the National Transitional Council has made statements indicating that Islamic Law, or Sharia, will play a greater role in Libya than many observers expected.  He has already decreed that the ban on polygamy be lifted and has said future banking regulations will ban the charging of interest.  As this report describes, “Mr Abdul-Jalil’s decision – made in advance of the introduction of any democratic process – will please the Islamists who have played a strong role in opposition to Col Gaddafi’s rule and in the uprising but worry the many young liberal Libyans who, while usually observant Muslims, take their political cues from the West.”

Are these criticisms premature and lacking in perspective, given the nature of the regimes that the Arab Spring toppled?  Or do they correctly sound the alarm about ominous developments that undermine democracy in the Arab world and the interests of Western powers?

With Qaddafi Gone, Can Libya Overcome the “Resource Curse”?

Libyans in Tripoli's Martyrs' Square celebrate news of Qaddafi's demise.

The death of Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi is widely regarded as a positive development for the Libyan people as the Transitional National Council (TNC) seeks to usher in a more democratic and prosperous future. But it is unclear whether Libya’s new leaders can extricate the oil-rich country from the grasp of the “resource curse” and bring both democracy and economic development to the Libyan people.  The resource curse refers to the fact that countries endowed with abundant natural resources frequently end up with autocratic regimes and poor populations.  International relations professor Peter Fragiskatos explains the causal mechanism underlying the resource curse in a recent blog post:

“Islam’s supposed hostility to democracy is often cited as the cause of authoritarian persistence in the Middle East and North Africa, but oil
is a far more credible culprit. Oil has sustained the rule of tyrants in the
region, whether it was Gaddafi, the shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein or the princes of Saudi Arabia. In place of taxes – and the calls for democracy and representative government they usually give rise to – the Gaddafi regime used oil profits to maintain its power. Flush with cash, the only real requirement it needed to fulfill was to adequately fund a security and military force that could silence any signs of dissent.”

Some analysts suggest the resource curse is all but inevitable.  An NPR report observes that “If the resource curse is inevitable, then you might imagine that Libya has much worse odds than Egypt at becoming a real democracy. Some leader will eventually take over those oil wells, capture all that wealth and become yet another despot.”

But other observers are optimistic, and they focus on the power of transparency to overcome the government’s monopoly on information and wealth production.  In an op-ed piece at the Huffington Post, U.S. Senators Dick Lugar and Benjamin Cardin tout an International Governmental Organization that is dedicated to overcoming the resource curse:

“In recent years, a number of  international actors — including responsible oil and mining companies and  citizens groups — have begun to tackle the resource curse problem by calling  for greater disclosure and accountability of revenues through voluntary participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.  An Oslo-based international organization, EITI requires member countries and the companies they host to publish payments and receipts, and to have the results audited and certified.  The voluntary EITI approach has  been enthusiastically endorsed by the World Bank, the IMF, and the G-20 group of major economies.”

What do you think?  Does the resource curse provide a convincing explanation for the persistence of autocratic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa?  Or is this an overly simplistic argument?  What is the likelihood that Libya’s new leaders can create a democratic and prosperous state, and why?