A year after the fall of Tripoli, Libya still fragile
August 23rd, 2012
11:02 AM ET

A year after the fall of Tripoli, Libya still fragile

By Christopher Chivvis, Special to CNN

Christopher S. Chivvis is a senior political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and teaches at the Johns Hopkins, School of Advanced International Studies. The views expressed are his own.

A year since Tripoli fell to NATO-backed Libyan rebels, progress in achieving lasting security remains elusive and could even be faltering. Recent attacks suggest that Libya’s stability – and one of the Obama Administration’s biggest foreign policy successes – could be in danger. The countries that helped topple Moammar Gadhafi a year ago have a special obligation to ensure the new Libyan government gets all the help it needs to respond to these new threats effectively.

Gadhafi’s death last October marked the end of the war and the beginning of a new age for Libya. But progress on all fronts since then has been slow and hard-won. While Libya held successful national elections last month, a recent spate of terrorist-style attacks in Benghazi and Tripoli indicate the Libyans are not out of the woods yet.

Libya’s new government faces multiple challenges, including writing a constitution, finding work for war veterans and building modern administrative structures almost from scratch. Such tasks are challenging enough under the best conditions. Under the pall of a deteriorating security situation, they could become impossible.

The rebel army was made up of hundreds of militias. They were willing to work together to oust Gadhafi, but refused to lay down their arms when the war ended. As a result, the security situation in Libya has been highly fragmented since Tripoli fell. Individual militias own the use of force in the towns and neighborhoods they occupied when the war ended.

Luckily, clashes between militia have only been sporadic, and haven’t seriously undermined security or posed a major threat to Libya’s civilian population. But recent car bombings and attacks on government buildings in Tripoli and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi are different.

Libyan officials have said they believe rump Gadhafi supporters are behind these attacks, raising the specter of a low-level insurgency. Because the attacks follow closely on the heels of the national election, it’s likely that they are intended at least in part to challenge the new ruling authorities. They could also be aimed at eliciting an overreaction that would deepen divides between Libya’s new leadership and the communities in Libya favored by the Gadhafi’s regime.

History shows repeatedly that maintaining security is critical for a country to make a successful transition from war to peace. Absent security, progress on building political institutions, generating economic growth, and rebuilding trust in government is extremely difficult. Low-level violence that targets government forces and threatens civilians could also empower militias at the expense of the nascent government if the government is perceived as unable to respond effectively.

It remains to be seen how effective the nascent Libyan state can be in thwarting such attacks given its relative weakness on security. At the behest of the Libyan authorities, and the wishes of most Western capitals, NATO did not deploy a post-conflict force in Libya to help provide security when the war was over.

This may have been for the best. Maximizing local ownership is essential for post-conflict success. But with the situation deteriorating, NATO members and the Gulf States that helped topple Gadhafi have a special obligation to ensure the new Libyan government gets all the help it needs to respond adroitly.

Post by:
Topics: Arab Spring • Libya

soundoff (61 Responses)
  1. CuriosityKilledTheCat

    It sounds to me like Nato never had a plan for post-Gadhafi Libya, Maby they should have thought about who exackly there bringing heavy guns to before they start to use them! (another possible lesson that should have been learned in history-Afghanistan!). Well I'd like to thank NATO for the new soon to be Mogadishu on the Mediterranian. So the Question posed: Will the Muslim Brotherhood go ahead and take measures to secure the stability of the new Caliphate with Libya as a member (and succeed in laying seige to Vienna and Europe as they once [and will always] fail at?

    August 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Reply
    • RickyL

      NATO had a plan:

      Let Libya run its own country.

      August 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Reply
      • Don't Trust RAND

        L O L

        August 23, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
      • The Truth

        The problem is NATO helped create a situation were Libya is only a country because map makers still call the land area Libya. The country ceased to exist as soon as the rebels defeated government forces. After that happened the loose confederation of rebeles disolved into small bands based on tribal or ideological lines. Governments can not be created and stabilized through just air strikes.

        August 23, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
      • An Opinion

        Sounds like the Iraq plan.

        August 23, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
      • taskmaster

        N.A.T.O. and the U.N. Had no right whatsoever to intervene in Libya. The Civil war was an internal affair. The government of Libya was not posing a threat to any country outside its borders. Wait until the U.N. decides that the government inh t6he U.S. needs to be replaced. DON'T think that it can't happen. IT WILL!

        August 23, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        True, it would be a mistake for those forces involved in toppling Muammar Gaddafi, to be on the ground in Libya, should there be chaos there. The West and the Gulf states should let the Libyans sort out their problems, which are largely tribal. The power struggle among tribes manifests in the case of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. He has been held in Zintan, 130 miles south-west of Tripoli, since his capture by local militiamen last November. They now say Saif al-Islam will be tried in Zintan in September. One would expect him be judged in the capital. The International Criminal Court in the Hague, the Netherlands wants him extradited. Yet the central authorities in Tripoli said he should be tried in the country.

        August 24, 2012 at 6:36 am |
    • mike

      These "Think Tanks" are the root of so many of the global problems, they foment disaster and misrepresent facts to continue the failed policies known as "Global Hegemony", the very definition of undemocratic evil.

      August 23, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Reply
      • Marine5484

        Well stated, mike. Thank you.

        August 24, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  2. sam

    looks like arab spring heading towards winter whiteout

    August 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Reply
    • RickyL

      It sounds like you're rooting for failure.

      August 23, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
      • taskmaster

        Failure was assured from the start. Pesonal freedoms and Islam cannot co-exist. That is a pipe dream.

        August 23, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  3. Bob

    Foreign policy success? Hardly. Regions of Mali have been seriously destabilized, even havens for Al Queada, courtesy of the fallout of our actions. Similarly, there have been numerous reports of Libyan jihadis in countries around the area – and of course one knows there are Libyan fighters/mercenaries in Syria. So if this is a success, I do not know how one should judge success.

    August 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  4. RickyL

    Gadhafi is gone. Of course this is for the better.

    And while I'm all for offering the democratic government help and support....1) No NATO boots on the ground, and 2) If the government turns autocratic or tyrannical, NO AID.

    August 23, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Reply
    • Levi

      Obama has throw his liberal mnniois a bone to chew on with his latest dubious victory over the nut Gaddafi. His base is starved for any news that can be made into good news, so they can rejoice and give thanks to Obi. while ignoring all of his other broken promises, and failures. I don't think I have ever seen the old and worn out looking Hilary as happy as she has been when talking about the death of Gaddafi. But now the Arab Spring is being seen for what it really is, and has been. But like all of Obis failures they have to be painted over with a Happy Face for his supporters who only two years ago despised and ridiculed Bush for taking out terrorists on the battlefield. But now they have to choke that same bone down and act like they like it. Loyalty to a Leader, any leader can mean, and often means that the individual must at times sacrifice their on belief and value system for the greater good of the party, and smile while they are doing it.Reply

      December 29, 2012 at 5:35 am | Reply
  5. Quigley

    I was wondering how Libya's pseudo-democracy was doing lately, since it fell into the hands of the West last year. Another country ruled by the C.I.A. Now the West will have a free hand exploiting Libya"s oil. This is how Russia controled Poland after WW2 up to 1981 when Wojcek Jaruzelski imposed matial law there to ward off a national bloodbath and eventually turned Poland into a democratic state!

    August 23, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
    • RickyL

      Yeah....the same way we control Iraq's oil.

      August 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
    • Paul

      The west controls Libya? Don't think so. Not even Libyans control Libya. It's a basket case as was basically assured from the start of the NATO involvement that supported... no one in particular. Stupid from the start and has ended up as easily predicted, by myself at least!!

      August 23, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Reply
  6. Don't Trust RAND

    Of course NATO has a plan for Libya – it just has nothing to do with ensuring stability (except those rare occasions when overseas chaos threatens the West's economic interests) or addressing the root causes of suffering in that country.

    August 23, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Reply
  7. RickyL

    Nation-building is a huge mistake.

    The West is, so far, handling this situation correctly.

    Help.....but do not direct; aid.....but do not control.

    August 23, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Reply
    • An Opinion

      You didn't learn anything from Iraq.

      August 23, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
      • Data1000

        Actually it does seem Ricky is applying lessons learned from Iraq.

        August 24, 2012 at 1:46 am |
  8. CalDude

    Let them do it on their own. They have plenty of resources including oil.

    I hope not another civil war.

    August 23, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Well put, CalDude.

      August 23, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
      • Joseph McCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007 ©™/Joe Collins/J. Foster Dulles/Marine5484

        I am the same guy. I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti-American, anti GB, anti-Semite, anti-India, anti-modern anything because I am a good Moslem. I have stolen Patrick’s moniker because I am so ashamed of myself and I post the most stupid comments because I am an imbecile. When people get angry with me, I claim they are the stupid ones. If I am not careful, my brain will explode because it is so full of hate.

        August 23, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
      • Patrick

        Thank you Phunnie boy, for the above post.

        August 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
      • Joseph McCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007©™/Joe Collins/J. Foster Dulles/Marine5484/OldManClark

        I am the same guy. I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti-American, anti GB, anti-Semite, anti-India, anti-modern anything because I am a good Moslem. I keep stealing Patrick’s moniker because I am so ashamed of myself and I post the most stupid comments because I am an imbecile. When people get angry with me, I claim they are the stupid ones. If I am not careful, my brain will explode because it is so full of hate.

        August 24, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  9. Karim

    I think Lybia and Ghadaffi paid hight price for Panam 103 ...especially when ghadaffi send his moran son to settel down
    all diffrences with West Ghadaffi paid billlions dollars to USA/France/Germany ...But west was angree when Almagrahi
    released from prison and they cheered him up !???this was turning point and Russia and China were doped!!!in UN
    councill so here we are Lybia in toilett

    August 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  10. m123

    I think that it's high time to completely disassociate the US from the MidEast.
    Why do we feel this need to meddle?
    These people have been killing each other forever.
    Get out now, use high tech to kill from afar all people who actually threaten our safety.

    August 23, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Reply
  11. Mark Baker

    LOL notice how Europe offer's nothing but begged the USA to go in. Now that Libya is still in shambles Europe is still negilgent. Typical.

    August 23, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Good posting, Mark. How true that rings!

      August 24, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  12. Joseph McCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007©™/Joe Collins/J.Foster Dulles/Marine5484/OldManClark

    I am the same guy. I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti-American, anti GB, anti-Semite, anti-India, anti-modern anything because I am a good Moslem. I have stolen Patrick’s moniker because I am so ashamed of myself and I post the most stupid comments because I am an imbecilic jerk. When people get angry with me, I claim they are the stupid ones. If I am not careful, my brain will explode because it is so full of hate.

    August 23, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Reply
  13. mike

    But Libya has the "sweetest crude" around.

    August 23, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Reply
  14. Paul

    Tribal society, artificial country. Haven't grown up and thus what would you expect.

    August 23, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Reply
    • KEVIN

      Paul, NONE of the Muslim countries function in a democratic manner. ALL of them need a strong armed monarchy in which to function.

      August 23, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  15. KEVIN

    The problem with ALL muslim coutries is the conflicting sects. of the Islamic religion. These diff. sects hate each other and believe Allah is directing them to fight for their specific sects. Thus the reasons why all of these countries can only be governed by a strong armed monarchy. Muslims and the Islamic faith is primitive and they are not ready to function in a democratic manner.

    August 23, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Reply
  16. KEVIN

    Death to Democracy!!!! Abadabadabadaba doooo!!!!

    August 23, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Reply
  17. KEVIN

    Where's Netenyahu when we need him most?

    August 23, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Reply
  18. indep100

    The NYC police force outnumbered Gadaffi's armed forces.Attacking Libya was equivalent to NATO attacking the Connecticut national guard. It's somewhat amazing that Gadaffi held out against NATO for as long as he did. It kind of makes you wonder how effective NATO would be against a more evenly matched opponent. The news never published how many Libyans NATA killed in the attacks. Last I heard Gadaffi's hometown of Sirte is abandoned, It appears that the rebels did to Gadaffi's people what he was threatening to do to them. Tribal warfare at its best. Too bad NATO was backing the al-Qaeda side. Those shoulder launched SAM's are going to hurt in Afghanistan.

    August 23, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Reply
    • KEVIN

      Indep. Gadhafi's forces were not that weak. Just the amount of forces he needed to control the population was profound. Yes, his military was significantly weak to protect his nation against an attack like NATO. But as far as his military acting as policemen within his own country: It was profound and abusive. And it needed to be to keep his population under control.

      August 23, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Reply
  19. KEVIN

    What is the deal with soundoff? Do you have that few customers? Or is it the way you organize your comments? One needs to go back to the origional article (two to three pages) in order to come back and read any additional comments. soundoff needs to change its format so it is easier to not post an origional comment but to come back to read additional comments (not just replies). Refer to the way disqus manages the format.

    Thank You, KEVIN

    August 23, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Reply
  20. Total2199

    Lybia will be another Somalia pretty soon, thanks to NATO and the Nobel Prize winner....

    August 24, 2012 at 12:58 am | Reply
    • Tom

      The US funded Afgans dirnug their war against the Soviets. We see what happened there. Sneaky arms sales to Iran provided the contras in Nicaragua and the was bad too. I have plenty of other examples of coups and arms deals that in hindsight were completely asinine. Clinton needs to shut the f up and read a history book. Same with Palin. But that's another story...Roa

      December 26, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Reply
  21. gamersliverfang

    No Nothing has changed in Libya although that lunatic Sen John McCain thinks it as, but in reality it hasn't.

    August 24, 2012 at 3:45 am | Reply
  22. cheekyindian

    The question I am interested in is what is happening to the oil in Libya? Who controls the oil trade now? and which currency is it being being traded in?

    August 24, 2012 at 8:59 am | Reply
  23. krm1007 ©™

    We now need to focus on India. The American invasion of Afghanistan brought to the forefront the irrelevance of India as a nation. With a population of over 1.2 billion people there was no value that this nation could bring to the table. Their soldiers (ragtag) 1.2 million continue hiding in the trenches scared from Talibans. A few teenage Talibans invaded the country and held it hostage for days on end showing how useless India is. It was embarrasing for the world to observe this humiliation of a nation that was being touted as a regional power.

    I continue to read with interest the thesis presented on CNN that "less is more" in a political context as applied to India. Although Mies Van Der Rohe adopted this in an architectural context its economic and political connotations are indeed powerful. Empowering subjugated minorities in India by splitting it into smaller states would trigger uber economic demand for western nations who have given so much financial and technology aid to India with no return to show for the investment. I concur with this approach and with an economic background find the premise to be on solid footing. Central Asian States (CAS) are a case in point on this successful approach. We need to understand that India has an unmanageable large population mired in poverty and we are spinning our wheels trying to feed it. It is also too big of a geographical unit to govern. Again, we saw how a few teenage talibans were able to invade it with a few BB guns. And that says a lot... in a negative way not only for a large unmanageable country like India but also for USA which is trying to prop it up against China. Besides, Americans cannot afford to look like losers in the midst of a terror war which has lasted for over ten years now.

    August 24, 2012 at 11:47 am | Reply
  24. JesterJames

    "This may have been for the best. Maximizing local ownership is essential for post-conflict success. But with the situation deteriorating, NATO members and the Gulf States that helped topple Gadhafi have a special obligation to ensure the new Libyan government gets all the help it needs to respond adroitly."

    yup help themselves to Libya's oil.

    August 25, 2012 at 12:52 am | Reply
  25. rightospeak

    Naive article with the usual propaganda." The militias failed to disarm ". They are not stupid and do not want to become slaves.The Libyan invasion by NATO caused a lot of destruction .For most Libyans life will be worse,not better, because Libyan wealth will be siphoned off by the oligarchs, particularly their oil. There is no justice or even decency-just Barbarism,

    August 26, 2012 at 3:25 am | Reply
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