Tag Archives: Qaddafi

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?

Realism, Idealism, and Chaos in Libya

A Libyan rebel celebrates victory over Qaddafi in Tripoli.

The apparent victory of Libya’s rebels over the Moammar Qaddafi regime has sparked much celebration but has also raised troubling questions about what comes next.  Specifically, can Libya’s rebels avoid infighting, resist the temptation to seek bloody reprisals against former regime loyalists, and form an effective government that represents Libya’s people?  As foreign policy analyst and former National Security Council official James Lindsay notes in his blog: “These celebrations are as understandable as they are premature. The tyrant is leaving, but who or what replaces him remains to be decided.”

It is likely that there will be at least some period of post-Qaddafi chaos in Libya, and this chaos and uncertainty is viewed differently by the two dominant perspectives on world politics: realism and idealism.  Realists focus on the national interest and emphasize pragmatism, stability, and the maintenance of a balance of power.  They do not favor humanitarian intervention (unless it also promotes their country’s economic, security, or other interests) and they generally view the chaos and uncertainty associated with regime change as more problematic than the continued human rights violations produced by an entrenched, tyrannical, but generally predictable autocracy.  So for American realists, pursuing regime change in Libya, Iraq, Egypt, or elsewhere is a dangerous game that could result in worse outcomes (e.g., more anti-American regimes or chaotic safe havens for terrorists) than the status quo. 

Idealists, on the other hand, focus more on global concerns (including human rights and poverty) and view systematic human rights abuses and repression as a more serious problem than the chaos and uncertainty that regime change normally produces.  For idealists, stability is not valued if it is perceived as unjust, and transformation (albeit risky) is embraced as a viable policy goal.  Idealists are optimistic that democracy and peace can emerge from the chaos, while realists (as is the case on most issues) are more pessimistic about claims that the future will inevitably be brighter.  Noted realist Stephen Walt writes in his blog:

“Whether our intervention was necessary or wise, however, depends on how the post-Qaddafi Libya evolves.  We can all hope that the worst doesn’t happen and that Libya’s new leaders exhibit Mandela-like wisdom and restraint…But it will be no small task to construct a workable government in Libya, given the dearth of effective institutions and the potential divisions among different social groups.  And then there’s all that oil revenue to divide up, which tends to bring out peoples’ worse instincts.  As in Iraq, therefore, ousting a discredited dictator is likely to be the easy part, and the hard part is just beginning.”

What do you think?  Is stability or transformation a wiser foreign policy goal?  Or does it depend on the situation?  Are the “stay out” realists or the “get involved” idealists vindicated by the post-Qaddafi chaos in Libya?

Recognizing Libya’s Rebels

Are Libya's rebels ready to take the reins of power?

Yesterday the United States took the important step of formally recognizing Libya’s rebels as the legitimate government of Libya. This recognition will theoretically allow the U.S. to free up $30 billion in Libyan assets that had been frozen in order to provide badly needed aid to the rebels. (For an analysis of the rebels’ shockingly amateurish, if determined, approach to warfighting, see here).  However, as Foreign Policy blogger Josh Rogin points out, a number of thorny legal questions must be answered before the aid can be delivered:

“First of all, it’s unclear how the various U.N. and U.S. sanctions that have been levied on Libya since March will now be applied, considering that the [rebel Transitional National Council] is now seen as the ‘Libyan government.’…U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 prohibits sending arms to Libya. Does that now apply to the rebels? Does the White House now have to rescind executive orders on Libya, some of which call for restrictions aimed against the ‘Government of Libya’?”

As discussed in a recent blog post, there is a  big difference between juridical sovereignty, a legal right implied by external recognition, and empirical sovereignty, the actual ability of a government to control its territory.  In this case, the Libyan rebels are only in charge of the eastern part of the country–Qaddafi’s forces hold most of the west, including the capital city of Tripoli.

Historically, the U.S. and other countries have granted official recognition to those regimes that possessed empirical sovereignty, even if those regimes were deemed distasteful.  Joshua Keating rightly describes this unusual recognition of Libya’s rebels as a “Wilsonian” move (invoking former U.S. president and quintessential idealist Woodrow Wilson).  Idealists emphasize human rights, democracy, and other values in ways that lead them to depart from “power politics” considerationsRealists, who embrace power politics and claim to view the world as it is rather than as they might wish it to be, would decry the recognition of an ineffectual government as wishful thinking.   But as Keating points out, “Wilson’s creative interpretation of the law of recognition helped establish the international illegitimacy of Huerta’s regime [in Mexico] and certainly contributed to his downfall.”  Could America’s action yesterday similarly hasten the demise of Qaddafi’s regime?

Military Intervention in Libya: Moral Imperative or Foolish Misadventure?

The UN-approved and NATO-led military intervention in Libya offers a great case study on the differences between the realist an idealist worldviews, and how these fundamental ideological differences play out in the realm of foreign policy choices. Realists claim to deal with the world as it is rather than how one might wish it to be (the problem with the “idealists,” in their view). Given limited resources and the constraints of an anarchic world, realists contend, states must focus on the national interest and avoid the entanglements associated with moral crusades in foreign lands. Idealists (sometimes called liberals) on the other hand believe that a state’s foreign policy should be guided both by its interests and its values, and that certain moral outrages (e.g., severe human rights abuses) obligate the international community to intervene, with force if necessary. While realists are thus sometimes stereotyped as warmongers given their willingness to use coercive instruments unimpeded by moral reservations when the national interest demands it, idealists are in some cases the ones itching to “pull the trigger” on military intervention while realists caution them to stay out.

Such is the case with Libya, where the U.N. has authorized member states to use force to protect civilians and President Obama justified the intervention as “preventing a massacre.” Idealists have been quick to praise Obama’s decision, and Middle East expert Marc Lynch articulates this case well:

“…had the international community not acted when it did, thousands would have been slaughtered as the world watched. The effects of that decision would have been felt across the Middle East, where America would have been deemed to have abandoned the people struggling for freedom in the Arab world. And it would have quite simply been wrong. I have long been conflicted about the decision to intervene militarily, primarily because of the absence of a clearly defined end-game and the risk of escalation. I doubt that Obama’s speech will convince many of his critics. But I now think that he made the right call.”

On the other side are the realists, such as Stephen Walt, who contend that intervention does not serve a vital (American) national interest, and decry the instability and uncertainty that will result from casting aside the status quo in the hope of achieving something better: “…The US and NATO had better be thinking long and hard about what they are going to do if and when Qaddafi falls. As we are now seeing in some other contexts (e.g., Egypt), revolutionary change is usually chaotic, unpredictable, and violent, and it creates opportunities for various forms of mischief. These dangers loom especially large in Libya…So if the liberal interventionists who got us into this war want to make their decisions look good in retrospect, they had better have a plan to ensure that political transition in Libya goes a lot more smoothly than it did in Iraq.”

Realists are not a monolithic group, and if a realist believed that intervention in Libya served the national interest (perhaps through the security benefits of democracy promotion in the Middle East or the fall of Qaddafi’s regime) he or she would support it. However, most realists who have weighed in on Libya have viewed the intervention largely in humanitarian terms and have therefore opposed it as outside the scope of the national interest and potentially damaging to that interest given the lack of a clear end game, the seemingly ineffectual nature of much of the bombing, and the potential damage to U.S. and allied credibility.

Does the U.S. and the international community more broadly have an obligation to protect Libya’s civilians? Why have we taken action in Libya while seemingly turning a blind eye to human rights violations elsewhere? Is there an “end game” in sight or are we destined for a long and costly conflict, reminiscent of Iraq?