Tag Archives: Transitional National Council

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.”

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?

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?