In the second of his series looking at what next for Libya, Left Foot Forward's Frank Spring discusses the idea of Libya splitting into two states.
In the second of his series looking at what next for Libya, Left Foot Forward’s Frank Spring discusses the idea of Libya splitting into two states
Shortly after international forces began the bombing campaign against Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s forces, Libyan rebels mounted an offensive to take the town of Ajdabiya from Qaddafi’s army. The loyalists held the town and continue to do so; the rebels have struggled to generate a force with enough mass to overcome the loyalist army, and the international coalition’s ability to provide air support has been hampered by concerns about aggressive bombing in an area with a sizeable civilian population.
While the rebels may yet take Ajdabiya, it illustrates the difficulty the rebels may face in pursuing a military victory over Qaddafi. Both US Admiral Mike Mullen and UK defence secretary Liam Fox acknowledged the possibility that the Qaddafi regime could remain in power – or at least “in existence”, as Fox was keen to differentiate – after this period of intense operations against its military is over.
If Qaddafi and the rebels both conclude that they cannot strike a decisive blow against the other, it is possible that Libya could divide into two states (as predicted in this publication), with a border possibly monitored by a UN peacekeeping force. The international force has some leverage to push the Qaddafi regime to this end if they choose to, as they can offer to lift the freeze on Libyan assets and resume the oil and gas trade that has been so central to the Libyan economy.
This outcome would at least mean a large number of Libyans liberated from Qaddafi’s regime and, one can hope, a further flowering of democracy in the near east.
Unfortunately, it would also mean large portions of Libya’s population would remain under the control of Qaddafi (succeeded, presumably, by one of his sons), in a regime that would likely be even more brutal for its recent trauma, and which might be keen to take revenge on the international community through a renewal of its support for terrorist organisations.
The prospect of a divided Libya, between the Qaddafi-ruled bulk of the country and the rebel state in the northeast is a grim prospect indeed, particularly given the amount of trouble the Qaddafi-led Libya could create and the degree of scrutiny and attention it would require. Divided-state solutions can be sustainable – the Koreas and Ireland come to mind – but they are often characterised by periodic outbreaks of violence.
If Libya splits in two the international community will likely be engaged in keeping peace, one way or another, for decades to come.
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