The Libyan Crisis: An Anatomy of Conflict Resolution Lapses – By Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

The writer, Dr Michael J.K. Bokor
Now in its 15th week, the Libyan crisis seems to defy solution. To me, the conflicting rhetoric from all the parties involved in this crisis amounts to one thing: a failure to set a good example on effective conflict resolution.

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In the latest political rhetoric, Russia criticized the bombing of Libya, saying the mission has lost its original focus on protecting civilians, and is now about removing the Libyan government. In a statement, Russia called for an “immediate ceasefire” and talks “with support, but not interference, from outside the country,” according to a BBC report.

But Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary-General of NATO, staunchly defended the military bloc’s operation in Libya during a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in the southern Russian resort town of Sochi. He said the campaign was being undertaken in “strict conformity” with the UN Security Council resolution authorizing it.

The more this fighting in Libya drags on, the more it gives clear indications that all the noise that the United Nations and its analogous bodies and institutions make about conflict resolution is a sham. Resolving conflicts without creating more problems is not what those handling the Libyan crisis are doing.

Doubtless, this crisis is far different from the uprisings that rocked the other Arab countries; that is why the manner in which it is being handled is troubling. The approach that the powerful voices in the UN have chosen to resolve that crisis isn’t lessening the pressure. With its peculiar degeneration into a full-fledged war between Gaddafi and his opponents, the crisis has proved to be a tough challenge.

A careful analysis of the crisis reveals some peculiarities that explain why solving the problem is difficult:

Russia’s Conflicting Position

Russia’s concerns over NATO’s bombardment may be genuine but they reflect a conflicting position. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had given clear signals at the G-8 summit that his country supported calls for Gaddafi “to go” because he had lost his legitimacy to remain as Libya’s leader. Gaddafi has refused to heed such a call, and NATO has intensified its bombing mission to get rid of him, which Russia is now criticizing.

Russia’s double standards are clear in this case. Did it not know that a military campaign (as was to be authorized by the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1973) entailed airstrikes or what it is now protesting against before abstaining from voting on the Resolution? Or could Russia not know what a military campaign of the sort means?

This criticism of NATO seems to have more strategic advantage for Russia itself than it would affect the Libyan situation. After all, the NATO-Russia Council summit in Sochi is part of the routine hob-nobbing sessions on military issues that have nothing to do with Africa. It has to do with the treaties that both military blocs have signed or are working on signing to build a strategic partnership.

Russia had earlier said deep differences over the operation were hindering efforts to build deeper ties with NATO. The session is meant to serve their mutual interests. Russia’s reference to Libya in this instance is just an empty face-saving gesture.

NATO’s Insistence on Military Conflict

NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is adamant that NATO is doing nothing wrong in its campaign in Libya. To him, NATO’s activities fall strictly within the ambit of the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1973. That is the mindset of someone who knows nothing but war as a strategy for resolving political conflicts. How self-opinionated—but woefully deceived—some can easily become!

We can tell from Rasmussen’s defence that those to whom the military campaign is the only solution to solve the crisis will continue to rely on it, regardless of what new humanitarian problems such a mission creates.

The Libyan Government’s Position on How to End the Conflict

Even though it has so far lost some territories and diplomatic recognition, the Libyan government hasn’t lost hope in its ability to thwart the efforts of the rebels. Supporting the AU’s initiative in one breath but insisting in that same breath that the rebels agree to ceasefire while not accepting that Gaddafi must step down first is the government’s main problem. No doubt, the fate of Gaddafi’s regime is a key sticking point in talks on the future of Libya. Gaddafi still doesn’t see himself as the cause of the insurrection.

The Benghazi-based Rebel Leaders’ Wavering

There are many reasons to see the rebel leadership as wavering in several circumstances. The representative of the Transitional National Council who attended the AU’s summit in Malabo gave clear signals that the rebels had accepted the AU’s political road-map only for those in Benghazi to reject that peace initiative. Rebel spokesman, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, said: “We have rejected it. It did not include the departure of Gaddafi, his sons, and his inner circle.” This inconsistency is a clear indication of lack of unanimity on how the rebels have chosen to approach the crisis.

Then, there is another problem with the rebels’ position on Gaddafi’s future. The head of the Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, had signalled what appeared to be a significant policy shift, saying Gaddafi would be welcome to live out his retirement inside Libya as long as he gave up all power.

That statement was later contradicted by Mr Ghoga; and Mr. Jalil has now confirmed that there is “absolutely no current or future possibility for Gaddafi to remain in Libya,” according to the AFP news agency. He said such an offer had been proposed in previous rebel overtures to Tripoli but that it is now null and void following an International Criminal Court warrant for Gaddafi’s arrest.

Mr Jalil’s suggestion that Gaddafi might be allowed to remain in Libya had triggered an unusual protest in the rebel capital, Benghazi, and raised suggestions of a rift in the rebel leadership.

The United Nations’ Lethargy

The UN has remained unresponsive since the military campaign began, apparently because it feels that it doesn’t any more have any role to play, having ceded that role to NATO and the political forces behind it. This lethargy on the part of the UN suggests something ominous for the world. Certainly, we can tell from the numerous conflict situations currently raging on in many parts of the globe that to the UN, conflict resolution has become more reactive than proactive.

The UN doesn’t seem to have put in place the parameters for detecting latent conflict situations to be able to stem them before they erupt into full-blown war situations as we can tell from what is happening between the Sudanese government and South Sudan. Now, the problem has shifted from Darfur to Abye and Kordofan. What is the UN’s response? A quick effort to dispatch peacekeepers to that region.

The UN must rise to the task of preventing conflicts and must not remain satisfied with its reactionary posture. That’s not how to solve world problems.

African Union’s Pursuit of a Negotiated Settlement

Jean Ping, President of African Union Commission/Photo: Musah
The African Union has not wavered in its position on the Libyan crisis and how to resolve it, even though there is suspicion that it is sympathetic to Gaddafi. Its initial political roadmap didn’t ask Gaddafi to step down as a pre-condition for negotiations toward solving the problem.

Then, a revised version (which the Malabo summit endorsed) had the provision that Gaddafi not be part of the negotiation machinery, which the rebels’ representative initially accepted only for his superiors in Benghazi to reject because that provision doesn’t explicitly call for Gaddafi to step down as a prerequisite for any peace-making effort. The AU seems undeterred in its chosen path, which is good.

The Gaddafi Government and Rebels’ Game of Hide-and-Seek

Reports have leaked secret meetings between Libyan government officials and rebel representatives in Rome, Cairo, and Oslo even though the rebel leaders have denied them. Moussa Ibrahim, a Libyan government spokesman, and Gaddafi’s daughter have made such revelations. Ibrahim, for instance, has told Reuters news agency that those who attended the Rome meeting included Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi, a former minister in the Gaddafi government, and was witnessed by Italian officials. The Italians have denied knowledge of such an interaction.

While the Gaddafi government insists that it has already held secret talks with the rebels on the future of Libya, the rebels have vehemently denied such claims. We find it difficult to believe either faction. But we are somewhat persuaded that something of the sort has happened but for one reason or the other, the rebels don’t want the world to know.

After all, now torn between accepting the overtures made by peace-lovers and the arm-twisting control of NATO, the rebels will continue to put a two-faced image on themselves and how they approach issues, hoping that they can benefit from both angles, depending on how the tide flows. If the AU’s overtures become far-reaching enough for them to accept, they will do so at the same time that they will be benefiting from whatever the West has to offer them. They are positioned to reap from both circumstances. That’s the nature of rebels. They can’t easily be satisfied from only one source.

The Ultimate Path to Take

I won’t be surprised if the political and diplomatic solutions that we have suggested turn out to be used by those behind the military campaign long after the fact. Here is a classic example of how the political and military leaders of the US who refused to follow the path of commonsense have ended up:

“Meanwhile, delicate negotiations have been taking place between the US and the Taliban. The Afghan government is already reportedly engaged in tentative talks with the Taliban at several levels. Analysts say the US and NATO acknowledge that they cannot withdraw successfully from Afghanistan, or effect a transition to Afghan forces by 2014, without an end to the war and some kind of political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban,” BBC News (July 5, 2011).

After rebuffing suggestions that the Afghan crisis couldn’t be solved by military means alone (and after spending billions of dollars prosecuting the war against the Taliban, which has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians), the US has now been brought face-to-face with the reality that commonsense had provided long ago. Now confronted with the negative effects of its own foolhardiness, the US is doing the very thing that it had rejected. This is the result of an empty pride and trust in raw military muscle.

The Libyan crisis is following the same pattern and one expects those political leaders behind NATO to learn the lessons that military campaigns teach. It is not always that superior fire-power brings about victory. Will they wait long after more harm than necessary has been done before turning to eat back their own vomit (the political solution through peaceful, negotiated settlement, that they have rejected so far)?