Why Libya Matters

If the international community doesn't help Libya build a democratic society now, it'll have no one but itself to blame for the consequences of failure.

One year ago, a large international NATO-led coalition was critical in helping Libyans free themselves and their country from Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's three-decade-long bloody dictatorship. But that victory is not yet secure. Today, international engagement is even more necessary to win sustainable stability in post-conflict Libya. The success of a peaceful, democratic transition in Libya is not only in the interest of Italy and Europe, it is a common good in the interest of the entire international community -- on at least three accounts.

First, only a democratic and stable country can meet the legitimate aspirations of its people, those who fought the revolution and paid the price for freedom with their lives. The international community has both the interest and the moral duty to consolidate those human gains achieved with military intervention in the name of the "responsibility to protect."

Second, a democratic and stable Libya can become a positive agent for regional cooperation and integration. Qaddafi's Libya was a regional trouble maker that spread fear and mistrust among its neighbors in both Africa and the Arab world, but the new Libya has already demonstrated its willingness to reintegrate positively in the region. It normalized relations with most of its neighbors, including Egypt and Tunisia and more recently, Algeria; it participated in the ministerial meeting between the five countries of the Mediterranean's northern shore and the five of the southern shore which was held in Rome last February; and it has positively re-engaged in the Union for the Arab Maghreb.

Third, due to its strategic geographical position, a democratic Libya, closely anchored to international Euro-Atlantic institutions, could become an important partner in the common fight against international terrorism, piracy, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

The fall of the Qaddafi regime was only the first part. The challenges facing Libya today are particularly complex and different from those encountered in the other countries of the Arab Spring. Unlike Egypt, oil-rich Libya does not need financial assistance and is scarcely populated. Unlike Tunisia, it does not have a structured civil society. But Libya is not Lebanon or Iraq either. Unlike the latter, it has a homogeneous population and its internal divisions are along tribal and geographical lines rather than religious and sectarian ones. Last but not least, unlike other countries of the wider region, Libya does not present immediate risks of widespread Islamic radicalism: The overwhelming majority of Libyans are moderate Muslims -- they follow Islamic precepts in the organization of their daily lives, while rejecting the assumptions of state confessionalism.

Libya, in other words, is a special case and should be treated as such. The country today faces two major challenges. First is the establishment of a new functional and democratic government. Libya has never been organized through structured central institutions. Despite its official ideology and rhetoric (Jamahiriya, the "state of the masses"), Libya under Qaddafi was a de facto one-man show. Political parties and state structures were suppressed. Qaddafi even curbed the power and influence of the military, lest it be a threat to his rule. To keep his hold on power secure he relied on his family and a few close associates, who in turn controlled the most powerful tribes and the paramilitary brigades.

So how to build a government in a state that has lacked one for 30 years? Unquestionably, elections are the first step to building democratic, inclusive, and accountable institutions. By the end of June, Libya is going to elect its 200-member National Congress, which, in turn, will have to designate the 60 members of a Constitutional Committee tasked with drafting a new constitution. Since its independence in 1951, Libyans have experienced open elections only once, and that was under the monarchy in 1952. The challenges that await them, therefore, are huge. The preparation for the elections has already spurred widespread participation in the democratic process, which bodes well for the country‘s future. Political parties and candidates are mushrooming: More than 2,000 candidates and 120 new political parties registered to stand for the 200 seats, 120 of which will be allocated to individuals, with the remainder reserved as party seats. Forty-three percent of the registered voters are women, while 43 women are candidates. Elections will not solve all Libya's problems -- but, for the first time, Libya will have an elected government directly accountable to its people and with which the international community will be able to engage.

The second major challenge is security. Since the fall of the Qaddafi regime last September, security in parts of the country has been precarious. The National Transition Council -- the transitional political body that has been running the country -- failed to establish its authority over Libya's huge territory. Militias were not completely reintegrated, weapons not confiscated, and as a result, violence broke out frequently in different parts of the country. In addition, Libya "imported" some serious security problems -- extremists, drugs, and weapons trafficking -- from its porous southern borders. Much of this was due to the endemic instability in the Sahel region, which the recent crisis in Mali has further exacerbated. Therefore, a key challenge for the new Libyan democratic government will be the establishment of full control over state territory and the guarantee of security for its citizens. This will require rapid and decisive action to demobilize and reintegrate militias, confiscate weapons, manage borders and migration, and reform the security sector. Last but not least, there needs to be a process of national reconciliation: The consolidation of security should go hand in hand with more rigorous respect for human rights and people's dignity.

How can the international community help Libya's democratic transition? Our approach should be based on three main priorities.

First, we need to be more determined in helping build a secure Libya. Security is the prerequisite of any successful state-building process. Libya cannot be left alone in facing border insecurity. We must provide Libya with needed equipment and training for its new state security forces. In addition, an effective international strategy to stabilize the Sahel region is badly needed. To this regard, bilateral efforts are important, but not sufficient. Italy has already committed to providing Libya with advanced equipment for border control and training for its security forces. The mobilization of efforts and resources of key multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations and the European Union, is also required.

Second, we need a more ambitious plan to invest in Libya's human capital. That means launching training and education programs in different areas, from state administration to economic management, from free media to democratic civil society. We should pay particular attention to the country's youth. After 40 years of oppression, Libya's society has been reborn and the country's youth is keen to learn from other countries' experiences -- it wants to open itself up to the outside world. We have a human reservoir in which to invest that can help the country overcome its tribal traditions and modernize.

Finally, there needs to be a medium-term strategy to integrate the new democratic Libya more closely with Euro-Atlantic institutions. As Libya consolidates its democratic institutions and rule of law, the European Union should be ready to engage in negotiations for a new trade and association agreement. Likewise, Libya should be encouraged to join NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue. A Libya closer to the Euro-Atlantic family will eventually be a country more secure for its own people and a better partner for both the region and the international community. This is not the time for the international community to turn away and simply wish for the best.



Taking Maybe for An Answer

The hardest part of solving the nuclear crisis with Iran? Defining success.

It is easy to define failure in the world's diplomatic efforts with Iran: an Iranian bomb -- or more likely, a number of Iranian bombs -- that emboldens the Islamic Republic, threatens the Middle East, and prompts many of Iran's neighbors to develop their own weapons. In the arms race that would follow, citizens in an already unstable part of the world would live in constant terror.

It is harder, though, to define success. For many, success comes only when a very specific set of goals are reached -- the government of Iran adopts a policy of full transparency regarding its nuclear program, halts enrichment, opens all of its nuclear and ballistic missile facilities to international inspection, and reveals all the sources for its technology and materials. Failure, they argue, occurs every day until success is achieved.

Defining success narrowly and failure broadly, however, has a way of hindering progress. It sets the bar very high: Few countries have openly renounced covert nuclear programs, and it is hard to think of one that has done so under a combination of intense international pressure and what they see as longstanding existential security threats.

The maximalists have a precedent for their ambitions: Libya. After more than a decade of harsh international sanctions, Muammar al-Qaddafi's government began exploring ways to end Libya's pariah status. In late 2003, a deal was inked that turned over Libya's nuclear materials and provided a full description of the origins of Libya's nuclear program -- and it largely held. Qaddafi believed this would return him to the international community's good graces and insulate him from America's wrath.

But in applying Libya's lessons to Iran, there are at least two problems. The first is that Libya had a single dictator rather than a diverse and bickering ruling oligarchy like exists in Iran. The second is that Qaddafi's premise was wrong: Signing the nuclear deal did not give him security from the West. The ruling elite in Tehran must have grasped that lesson well last year when NATO warplanes hastened Qaddafi's demise at the hands of his own people.

For some hawks, the purpose of defining success narrowly is to permit a military attack so devastating that it solves the broader set of Iranian problems once and for all. Some see the real prize of an attack -- from the United States or Israel -- as tempting Iran to enter an escalating battle with the United States. But even such a conflagration would do little to halt Iran's pursuit of the bomb. Even if one assumes widespread opposition to the Iranian government, the recent history of the Middle East illustrates how quickly battles for spoils turn bloody. Should the Islamic Republic be toppled, the new government might still pursue its nuclear efforts, just as the ayatollahs pursued the efforts the shah started.

Among the worst military outcomes is a partially successful strike, which would likely sharpen rather than blunt Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions. After all, the mullahs would reason, no country with nuclear weapons ever has been attacked. Iran could rebuild the damage from a strike itself, or it could purchase technology and materiel overseas. If nuclear facilities allowed under the Non-Proliferation Treaty were attacked, Iran would likely withdraw from the agreement, further loosening constraints and shielding the nuclear program from the world's view. Such an attack would also threaten to shatter international efforts to press for a change in Iranian behavior and unleash a range of second-order effects that would spike oil prices, drive the fragile global economy into a tailspin, and leave a trail of death from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean.

Others argue that the optimal strategy is to constantly threaten a strike. The idea is to remind the Iranians that developing a nuclear capability carries risks, potentially forcing a change in their decision-making calculus. Such talk creates its own dilemmas. For one, it boosts oil prices, which blunts -- if it doesn't completely eliminate -- the cost of sanctions to the Iranian government. Constantly talking of war but not delivering one also undermines the credibility of the threat itself. It is also hard to control -- over time, the logic of an enduring and often-repeated threat leads to at least some conflict, with unpredictable results.

All told, there are many ways a military option could fail, and even more ways that its outcome would be impossible to judge. There is a better option. An Iranian nuclear program that has more intrusive inspections and narrower areas of uncertainty, as the International Atomic Energy Agency is reportedly seeking, puts the United States in a better position than it is in now. A precedent for this exists: Despite more than a decade of drama after the U.S.-led war on Iraq in 1991, the resulting inspections regime was enough to stymie any Iraqi nuclear ambitions. What was left was mostly smoke and mirrors and public relations, intended to bolster the regime rather than threaten its neighbors.

There is substantial international support for such an approach, ranging from governments who want to bolster multilateralism to those that fear a disruption in energy supplies. While Russia and China in particular seem reluctant to hand the United States a victory, these countries would prefer successful U.S.-led management of the crisis to chaotic conflict. One way the United States can sustain international unity is quietly to remind these states that it retains a war option, while doing everything possible to find diplomatic alternatives to it.

Such an outcome would fall in the uncomfortable middle ground between failure and success. Regional tensions would remain -- and some say they would remain intolerable. Iran would be an enduring problem that needed to be managed. For those seeking a "solution" to the Iran problem, it would count as a defeat.

Yet, achieving complete success is both unlikely and unverifiable. With no agreed starting point and no clear ending point in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, and a host of contingencies in between, there seems little way to avoid at least some period of deeper uncertainty in efforts to change Iranian behavior.

Few view collective action as the most desirable course, or have much appetite for it. Over the next five to 10 years, however, being willing to accept half-victories is the key to preventing total failure in the quest to prevent Iran from acquiring the bomb.