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Saturday 16 December 2017

Daunting list of work for new leaders

The West has much to do in advising the transitional authorities as they move forward, writes Ivor Roberts

A DAY which sees both the declaration by ETA in Spain of the end of the armed struggle and the death of Colonel Gaddafi has to be considered a red-letter day.

Let us leave to one side that ETA, taking a leaf out of the IRA's book, has declined to say that they are putting its arms beyond use. If the IRA's example is followed it will take another decade before that is achieved.

Let us instead focus on the lie of the land after the Libyan dictator's demise. The manner of his death was not for the squeamish, and leaves many questions unanswered. Nor is it encouraging for those who called for restraint and no reprisals. But this was war, and in Donald Rumsfeld's lapidary phrase ‘stuff happens'.

There is clearly palpable relief at the end of the 42-year nightmare. Of course it wasn't all the Libyan people's work. Nato played a key role, but the prize for bravery goes to the Libyan rebels who defied Gaddafi's well-armed troops and police and sacrificed themselves in significant numbers in what were often desperate street-to-street battles in Benghazi, Misrata, Tripoli and Sirte.

Hatred of Gaddafi proved a powerful unitary factor. The trick will be, as peace breaks out, to keep differences between the various factions and tribes to democratic politics and the hitherto virtually unknown ballot box. As Nato announces its cessation of activities, the Libyans really will be on their own to sort out their problems. It isn't being alarmist to say that there is a serious risk of civil war. As Ireland knows only too well, getting rid of a hated oppressor is no bulwark against falling out viciously with your own kith and kin.

And like Ireland of the 1920s, Libya is awash with weapons. The West — which for once did nearly everything right — has much to do in advising and encouraging the transitional authorities as they struggle to make their writ run: agreement on a constitution, a timetable for elections, a new model army and police force purged of Gaddafi loyalists but representative of Libya's complex regional and tribal structure, an independent judiciary, an arms amnesty. An illustrative not exhaustive list but an already daunting one.

On the positive side, Libya should not have to face the problem of grinding poverty which many politically challenged countries have to contend with. Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa, and the largest of sweet light crude oil in the world, and that's the most valuable kind. It has tourist potential in the southern littoral of the Mediterranean, second only to Egypt, with the fabulous Roman remains at Leptis Magna and Sabratha still only very partially excavated. It is estimated that up to 10 million tourists a year might be possible compared with the pre-current-revolution highest figure of 130,000.

Outside Libya, the effects on other authoritarian regimes could be dramatic. At last Friday's prayers in Syria demonstrators shouted “Gaddafi has gone; it's your turn next”. President Bashar al-Assad will have watched the gruesome pictures of Gaddafi's last moments with particular trepidation. And President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, widely predicted to be the next domino to fall as the Arab Spring turns to autumn, may well be planning on a one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia. In those countries which led the Arab Spring, progress has been patchy, and in some cases negative. The attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt leading to the death of two dozen unarmed protesters at the hands of the police has heightened Coptic-Muslim tensions and aroused anxiety at the prospect of strong Islamist anti-Christian elements within the governments which will emerge from elections in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Further afield still, a debate will now re-engage about liberal interventionism. Bush and Blair gave it a bad name in Iraq. Have David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy now rescued it? Certainly allowing the Libyan people to gain their freedom without putting Western boots on the ground must be judged a successful operation and the two leaders, along with Barack Obama, who was happy to take a back seat, can rightly take the credit. But to draw the conclusion that military intervention can now be rehabilitated as a reflex reaction to world crises would be profoundly wrong.

The correct criteria for a just war, which haven't changed in substance much since being enunciated by St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas, remain — right authority (these days, the UN Security Council); just cause; right intention; last resort; proportional means, and reasonable prospects of success. It is this last which is often the most elusive. But ignore any of these criteria and you risk opening Pandora's Box. Ivor Roberts is President of Trinity College, Oxford, and a former British ambassador to Ireland, Italy and Yugoslavia.

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