Home Uncategorized In Libya, the War Continues

In Libya, the War Continues


By William Tucker

It has been several months since the war to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi began in earnest with rebel forces from the east, back by NATO air support, pressing towards Tripoli. Although NATO support began with operations taken under a UN resolution to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s troops, the missions seems to have changed to direct support of the rebels as western nations formally recognized the NTC in Benghazi as the legitimate government of Libya. This is all well and good, but one problem still remains – Gaddafi still rules Tripoli and half of Libya’s population.

Rumors have persisted about Gaddafi bargaining for an exit that precludes a trial for crimes against humanity, but nothing seems to be concrete. The Russians have taken a more active role in negotiating with Gaddafi, with western acceptance, and this may help in ending the war. Negotiations aside, it is still possible that Gaddafi doesn’t see a need to leave the country prematurely despite the enormous pressure he is under. His recent threats to engage in terrorism against European nations participating in the war could be taken as evidence of his position.

If we are to consider the possibility of Gaddafi remaining in Libya, then it would be useful to analyze his past actions since it is possible that the long time Libyan leader would want to retaliate. In this vein, I would like to present a paper written several years ago by AMU student Tyler Cain that analyzed Gaddafi’s behavior in the post 9/11 world. Mr. Cain’s analysis follows:

Relations between the United States and Libya, under the leadership of Muammar al-Qadhafi, have been quite cold up until recent years. As one might recall, Qadhafi came to power in a 1969 coup espousing the ideology he called “The Third Universal Theory”, which rejected both capitalism and Marxism in favor of a sort of Arab socialism (CIA 2008) – in addition to being one of the early supporters of the Pan-Arabist movement. (Qadafi 1975) Libya’s sizable oil revenue and relatively sparse population allowed Qadhafi the resources to take a rather interventionist stance on the world stage in many incidents; from meddling in the Chadian civil war in 1973, calling for the assassination of expatriate Libyan dissidents in 1980, arms sales to the Irish Republican Army (intercepted in 1987, resulting in UN sanctions), and the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland 1992, just to name a few.

In recent times, however, Qadhafi has seemed to have adjusted his foreign policy position. He was one of the first Muslim leaders to make a public statement condemning the acts of September 11. After officially assuming responsibility for the Pan Am bombing and offering compensation, UN sanctions were lifted in 2003. Also in late 2003, Libya declared an official and open end to its secret WMD program. He has visited and received politicians and diplomats from many western nations, such as France’s Nicolas Sarkozy. In 2004, Libya also formally accepted responsibility and offered compensation for other past terrorist acts, such as the bombing of the La Belle discotheque in Germany. Since then, the US has resumed full diplomatic relations with the Libyan government in mid-2006, and removed Libya from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Most recently, Libya was even elected by the UN General Assembly for a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2008-2009.

Why did Mr. Qadhafi seemingly have a change of heart in recent years?

Hypothesis 1: Rifts between Qadhafi’s government and internal opposition groups (particularly the Al-Qaeda allied Libyan Islamic Fighting Group [LIFG]) have led Qadhafi to attempt seize a moment to attempt to reverse international opinion of him, thereby securing his legitimacy as de facto leader.

Hypothesis 2: Libya’s precarious geographic position in Africa (sharing borders with restive Algeria, Sudan, Chad, and Egypt) has led to a feeling of insecurity, leading Qadhafi to “reach out” and normalize relations with outside countries in order to foster outside support.

Hypothesis 3: In light of many other leaders across the world being indicted and tried in international courts for alleged war crimes, human rights violations, and crimes against humanity, Qadhafi may responded in this way out of fear for his own freedom.

Hypothesis 4: The price of oil in the 1990s dropped, which currently accounts for 95% Libyan export earnings, might have led to Qadhafi feeling a waning of his influence, slowly leading towards his seeming change of heart (or at least, an attitude of compromise) in the international field.

Hypothesis 5: International trends toward some form of globalization (even if only just through trade) may have influenced Qadhafi’s decision. A sense of inevitable interdependence with other countries may have led Qadhafi to soften his position towards countries with differing ideologies. (This hypothesis could be called the “No man is an island” hypothesis)

Hypothesis 6: Qadhafi may have had a realization that the only way to maintain his authority is to adopt a more pragmatic foreign policy, instead of his original, ideologically-based policy. (A concept often referred to as “Realpolitik”, a very influential form of Realist foreign policy)

Hypothesis 4 might be ruled out as a current reason for the change in Qadhafi’s position, seeing as the price of oil has gone up significantly since the 1990s. Even then, I believe it may have been a wake-up call, or at least a contributing factor in a slow and carefully considered repositioning of his foreign policy stance.

The remaining hypotheses all seem to be likely reasons for this change. Hypothesis 1 seems feasible, as it would have “killed two birds with one stone”: simultaneously naming out an opposition for international scrutiny, as well as distancing his ideology from that of Al-Qaeda’s (both Sunni Muslim). Hypothesis 2 seems very possible, considering Libya’s past interventions in both Algeria and Chad. This seems even more likely now, considering the current, large scale conflict going on in Sudan. Other recent conflicts in Algeria, such as Algiers bombing by the GSPC, or very recently, border tensions between Gaza and Egypt, or the conflict between rebels and the government in Chad (reported Feb. 7, 2008). However, these latter incidents are too recent to have contributed to Qadhafi’s actions since the turn of the century. It is possible that signs of an escalating conflict may have been visible to Libya from these times, but this idea is not testable. It would, however, currently serve to strengthen the resolve with which Qadhafi will pursue his implied intentions.

Hypothesis 3 is feasible, especially in light of the 1999 ruling against Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, in which the British courts ruled that there could be no immunity from certain international crimes. One by one, leaders from Cambodia (Kheiu Samphan), Indonesia (General Suharto), Peru (Alberto Fujimori), and others were indicted and tried. Even leaders from Libya’s neighboring countries were not safe- Liberia’s president (Charles Taylor) and ex-president of Chad (Hissène Habré) were also indicted. The January 10th issue of The Economist states that: “[w]hen Mr. Taylor was handed over in 2006 to Sierra Leone’s Special Court by Nigeria, where he had taken refuge in 2003, Libya’s president, Muammar Qaddafi, noted nervously that a precedent had been set. “This means that every head of state could meet a similar fate,” he said.” (Economist 2008). Hypothesis 5 also seems reasonable, in that a nation acting alone in so many ways cannot expect to be completely self-sufficient and have infinite domestic resources. Basically, the “engine must run out of steam” at some point.

The 2008 CIA World Factbook states:

“Libyan officials in the past five years have made progress on economic reforms as part of a broader campaign to reintegrate the country into the international fold. This effort picked up steam after UN sanctions were lifted in September 2003 and as Libya announced in December 2003 that it would abandon programs to build weapons of mass destruction. Almost all US unilateral sanctions against Libya were removed in April 2004, helping Libya attract more foreign direct investment, mostly in the energy sector. Libyan oil and gas licensing rounds continue to draw high international interest; the National Oil Company set a goal of nearly doubling oil production to 3 million bbl/day by 2015. Libya faces a long road ahead in liberalizing the socialist-oriented economy, but initial steps – including applying for WTO membership, reducing some subsidies, and announcing plans for privatization – are laying the groundwork for a transition to a more market-based economy. The non-oil manufacturing and construction sectors, which account for more than 20% of GDP, have expanded from processing mostly agricultural products to include the production of petrochemicals, iron, steel, and aluminum. Climatic conditions and poor soils severely limit agricultural output, and Libya imports about 75% of its food. Libya’s primary agricultural water source remains the Great Manmade River Project, but significant resources are being invested in desalinization research to meet growing water demands.” (CIA 2008)

Lastly, Hypothesis 6: theorizing that Qadhafi has moved from his strictly ideologically-based government, to that which is more pragmatic and “safe”. I think this is the most likely explanation, as it can include all of the previous hypotheses as contributing factors regarding Qadhafi’s decision. Realpolitik is defined as an emphasis “more on practical power considerations and less on moral or ethical considerations. The attainment and maintenance of state security in a hostile world through power or balance-of-power politics is viewed as the primary goal of leaders.” (Viotti and Kauppi 1999)

A side note which not exactly related to the assignment per se, so I won’t delve into much detail, but I felt compelled to leave it:

That said, I don’t think that we should jump head-first into a deep alliance with Libya at the present time. Even if one disregards his actions in the past- since his supposed “change of heart”, he has been variously quoted in a variety of inflammatory statements which seem to be contradictory to the implications of his recent actions. This may or may not be an effort simply to say what his target audience wants to hear in order to garner approval. So as not to get too far off topic, I will choose just one of these quotes. The April 4th issue of The Economist states: “[…] he has described the late Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, as a martyr and saint, “better than all living Arab rulers”.” In summation, either way one looks at it, relations with Libya should be approached slowly and carefully.



Roots In The Military. Relevant To All.

American Military University (AMU) is proud to be the #1 provider of higher education to the U.S. military, based on FY 2018 DoD tuition assistance data, as reported by Military Times, 2019. At AMU, you’ll find instructors who are former leaders in the military, national security, and the public sector who bring their field-tested skills and strategies into the online classroom. And we work to keep our curriculum and content relevant to help you stay ahead of industry trends. Join the 64,000 U.S. military men and women earning degrees at American Military University.

Request Information

Please complete this form and we’ll contact you with more information about AMU. All fields except phone are required.

Validation message here
Validation message here
Validation message here
Validation message here
Validation message here
Validation message here
Validation message here
Validation message here
Validation message here
Ready to apply? Start your application today.

We value your privacy.

By submitting this form, you agree to receive emails, texts, and phone calls and messages from American Public University System, Inc. which includes American Military University (AMU) and American Public University (APU), its affiliates, and representatives. I understand that this consent is not a condition of enrollment or purchase.

You may withdraw your consent at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy, terms, or contact us for more details.