5 reasons stalemate in Libya is devastating
A Libyan soldier stand on top of a destroyed building at the Bab Al-Aziziya district where veteran leader Moammar Gadhafi has his base, in Tripoli on June 7, 2011 as NATO warplanes pounded the Libyan capital.
June 8th, 2011
04:15 PM ET

5 reasons stalemate in Libya is devastating

Editor's Note: Micah Zenko is a fellow for conflict prevention at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he blogs.

By Micah Zenko – Special to CNN

In the Washington Post, columnist Anne Applebaum asks - though does not directly answer - the important question, “What to do About Libya’s Stalemate?

One position that she entertains is the notion that a stalemate is tolerable, and that “it might even work. A steady but relentless bombing campaign, generous humanitarian aid and training for the rebels, a bit of patience, and we’re done with Gaddafi without too much fuss or boots on the ground.”

Western (or certainly Arab League) political leaders might not discuss Libya often these days, but a stalemated civil war there is seriously problematic for five reasons:

First, people are dying and the situation could worsen. Before the civil war erupted, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, estimated that “500 to 700 persons had been killed in February alone when Libyan security forces had fired live ammunition.” Since then, deaths overwhelmingly committed by the regime have escalated though leveled off.

A Libyan rebel spokesperson estimated two weeks ago that at least 15,000 people had been killed, but reports of civilian deaths at the hands of regime forces have all but disappeared.

Given the motivations for revenge among both sides, however, the lull in violence directed at civilians could be short lived. As the UN’s International Commission of Inquiry on Libya concluded in its report last week, “The Commission reached the conclusion that crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed by the Government forces of Libya,” and “did find some acts which would constitute war crimes” by opposition forces.

Read: Micah Zenko's blog "Politics, Power and Preventative Action".

Second, one-sixth of the Libyan population of six million has been displaced. Approximately 920,000 expatriate workers in Libya were forced to return to their home countries, with some 250,000 having since returned.

Sub-Saharan African workers have been targeted by rebel forces for arbitrary search and detention, as well as cruel and inhuman mistreatment. As the International Commission of Inquiry report revealed: “The most serious attacks on migrant workers appear to have been linked to a suspicion that such persons were ‘mercenaries’ on the basis of their national origin or skin color.”

According to UNHCR, at least another 100,000 people are believed to be internally displaced, though few aid agencies have a good picture of the situation in the Nafusa Mountains.

Third, humanitarian assistance is needed. Applebaum identifies “generous humanitarian aid” as one precondition for stalemate giving way to success. However, the international community has not been generous so far. The UN issued its latest appeal for $407 million of critically needed humanitarian aid three weeks ago.

As of today, all of the UN aid agencies in Libya have received less than half of the required funding in the form of either actual cash or pledges. In much of the eastern part of the country, the aid situation has stabilized and commercial markets are functioning. Nevertheless, as a UNHCR spokesperson stated today:  “An aid crisis could be looming…It is apparent that the combined impact of protracted conflict and sanctions are eroding the government’s ability to effectively deliver assistance.”

Fuel shortages are compounding the worsening humanitarian situation throughout the country. At one gas station in Tripoli, the lines stretched over five miles.

Fourth, most children are not attending school. The National Transitional Council (NTC) refuses to reopen schools. Education officials from the NTC have said that schools will only reopen once Gadhafi has fallen, the curriculum is rewritten, and teachers sympathetic to the regime have been purged.

In the meantime, the NTC has put children to work “cleaning streets, working as traffic cops and dishing up army rations to rebel soldiers,” according to Dawn newspaper.

Meanwhile, the UN’s International Commission of Inquiry reports that both government and opposition forces have used child soldiers in violation of international humanitarian law.

Finally, history and vast amounts of academic research demonstrate that the political upheaval caused by sustained civil wars decreases almost all socio-economic indicators, makes the eruption of post-conflict violence (including genocide and mass atrocities) much more likely, and often produces violence for export.

On the latter point, some officials, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, believe that Libya could become a breeding ground for Al Qaeda.

As she testified before Congress in early March: “Many of the Al Qaeda activists in Afghanistan and later in Iraq came from Libya and came from eastern Libya, which is now the so-called free area of Libya… One of our biggest concerns is Libya descending into chaos and becoming a giant Somalia.”

The possibility of Al Qaeda or its affiliates establishing a foothold in Libya has been overblown. (One of the NTC’s unbelievably one-sided public opinion polls asked “Does Al Qaeda play a role in the 17th February Revolution?” Allegedly, 94 percent of respondents said no.)

Nevertheless, as the civil war stalemate persists, more and more young men learn the lethal tactics of warfare, forge ties with other fighters, and perhaps develop ambitions that can only be achieved through terrorism or violent goals beyond liberating Tripoli.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Micah Zenko. For more analysis of international affairs, visit CFR.org. This piece was reprinted with the permission of CFR.org.

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Topics: Aid • Libya • Military

soundoff (107 Responses)
  1. Archer

    seriously? most naive argument ever

    June 9, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  2. Boris

    The REAL 5 reasons stalemate in Lybia is devastating from US point of view:
    1. The longer the war goes on the more questions will be asked in media and public about US involvement and real motives
    2. The longer the war and the more casulties, the harder it will be for US to organize next insurrection in next country it targets
    3. The longer the war the more delay in installing puppet government and claiming lybia oil
    4. The longer the war, the more it costs, both for US army and rebels it is funding
    5. The longer the war the more hope for US next victim that it may successfully defend itself.

    June 10, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • Kiev500

      You're absolutely right. The sad truth is Obama has proven by his acts to be nothing but a puppet of Dick Cheney and the neo-con right. All of Obama's policies and secret agendas that have produced political unrest and revolution across the mid east are actually just part of Cheney's original plan for regime change. Cheney started with Afghanistan and Iraq, and Obama added Pakistan, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and a half dozen other countries like Yemen and Syria. Obama's policies DO NOT reflect the will of the people who voted for him. In this respect, he is no different than Gadhafi, Mubarak, or Assad.

      June 12, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  3. Brian

    France invaded Egypt in 1956 over oil. France invaded Libya in 2011 over oil contracts. By the way, when Hitler invaded the Sudetenland he said he was doing it to "protect civilians." The games countries play in the pursuit of oil !

    June 10, 2011 at 1:19 am |
    • Kiev500

      Yea... I will remember the TV news videos of those Libyan "civilians" riding around in white pickup trucks with giant machine guns mounted in the back. I remember seeing the "civilians" brandishing AK-47s and RPGs. I heard early reports that those civilians had advanced on the opposition and had taken territory in some locations. These are not things that civilians do, they are things that paid militias and mercenaries do. It's all just badly exposed work of the CIA. All of the above listed "civilian" activities made people in Gaza legitimate targets when Israel invaded. I assume this is why the Goldstone report on Israel's invasion of Gaza was "recinded" in an op-ed just prior to the events in Libya. Obviously the West can't allow the appearance of a double standard by acting against Gadhafi for doing basically the same thing that it let Israel off the hook for.

      June 12, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  4. Oliver Kellman

    I am a geopolitical consultant and emerging markets consultant that came to Libya shortly after the beginning of the revolution and have put together political assessments and reports of the situation here and how the respose of the U.S. and NATO counties are ompacting the situation now as well as for a future Libya. I was a congressional staffer in the U.S for several years serving as fellow on the Judiciary committee in the House, chief counsel to a member of congress and legislative director and chief of staff to another member of congress and over a decade of experience afterwards as a political consultant. I am currently here as a freelancer offering advice and assistance where I can. If Libya remains a subject of interest for you I would be glad to keep in touch with you and share my thoughts.


    oliver kellman

    June 10, 2011 at 5:59 am |
    • Boris

      Well in my view, the fact they send geopolitical and emerging markets consultants and not surgents and nurses speaks enough in its own about the real US interests in Libya.

      June 10, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  5. Alejandro Dron

    'We all die when we send our kids to war'
    Graphic Commentaries on the Middle East

    June 10, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  6. Odysseus Writes




    Go Colonel Go Gonna be selling Quaddafi T-Shirt

    Thanks God Soviets are still with S.P.Q.R.

    June 13, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  7. meandeanKK

    this United States is NOT involved in any hostiliies in Libya'
    if it was, then obama would be in violation of the War Powers Act,
    we are NOT involved in any hostiliies in Libya'

    No Further Questions, Thank You.

    June 15, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  8. hogan outlet

    "Signore di Fenduo, quale sar脿 il Messaggero che" Tian Yi ha chiesto, lui ha dubbi in proposito. In genere, tale un confidenziale, Wang Zixing qualche outsider strettamente confidenziale e non lasciare che so.
    hogan outlet http://hoganrebelit.org/

    November 27, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
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