By Group of scholar (*)
This report presents a city-based model of politics, economics, and for security. It describes a strategy for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration.
The report concludes with quotes from a recent report by the Libyan National Conference Process.
A (largely) city-based model of economics
On economics, two main efforts are needed.
First, basic structural reforms must continue. This process will require continued work with central institutions, as well as a focus on nationwide policy issues such as exchange rate and subsidy reform.
Second, the allocation of resources should be focused more transparently and methodically on cities and other local structures.
Militias can be among the beneficiaries of such allocation algorithms when they comport with basic standards of human rights, avoid discrimination against local population subgroups as well as economic market monopolization, and provide public safety.
Economic reforms should continue to reduce the subsidies, artificial exchange rates, and resulting black market opportunities that drain national coffers while allowing militias to enrich and empower themselves illicitly.
Consistent with the recent success regarding the “oil crescent” in Libya, in which Washington and other actors persuaded a Libyan militia to ease its stranglehold on hydrocarbon revenues, the United States could continue to promote good decisions by and for Libyans.
Notably, it could promote the elimination of the parallel exchange market by encouraging devaluation of the Libyan currency. There were encouraging policy moves in this direction in the fall of 2018 that need to be sustained.
The elimination of this particular black market would reduce the ability of militias (and some civilian leaders) to sustain their wealth and power through illegal means, encouraging them to play constructive roles in providing security to gain their share of national revenues instead.
Another element of economic reform should be to reduce gradually various consumer subsidies, especially on petroleum products. Gasoline in Libya is currently cheaper than water!
The militias smuggle subsidized goods out of Libya to sell at profit in Tunisia and Egypt, so eliminating petroleum subsidies, too, would reduce the power of the militias (but with a cost to consumers as well, and thus creating the possibility of unrest, unless done gradually and carefully).
Some militias are paid “salaries” by four or five separate ministries, a protection racket that harms the country. The international community may be able to help here in a technical way, using biometric indicators and improved computer databases, for example, to avoid the likelihood of multiple payments to the same recipient.
Saving national funds in this way can then help resource small, professional security forces—the coast guard, and an elite protection force for key areas of the capital, the oil and gas fields, key institutions, and key infrastructure.
It is important to recognize that even if such a strategy were to succeed, the various militia and political actors will still retain their access to, and possibly increase their dependence on, other illegal economies, such as migrant smuggling and drug trafficking. Hence the importance of a stronger and larger coast guard.
To encourage compliance with agreed standards by the militias and other local actors, central state revenues would have to be allocated on a formula that is essentially mechanical and automatic—provided that basic standards on human rights, governance, and the use of violence are respected.
In the case of systematic and egregious violations, a militia could be completely cut off from such funding, and perhaps subject to other punitive measures, such as visa restrictions. But how to assess compliance?
It might not be conducive to internal Libyan cohesion to have one group of Libyans reach a compliance assessment about other groups, unless the oversight board could quickly establish complete credibility as a nonpartisan and objective body.
Otherwise, asking Libyans to have primary responsibility for allocating resources to other Libyans could risk pitting some groups against others, squandering the chance to build a greater sense of national cohesion and purpose. Some kind of international supervisory board under the auspices of a trusted chief player, like SRSG Salamé, could be a better choice.
At the early 2019 national conference, Libyan officials could choose to delegate the authority to evaluate the behavior of various militias to a neutral body, which would then confirm their eligibility for monthly (or quarterly) payments out of national coffers based on their assessed behavior.
Libyan technocrats could help advise such a body, if desired. To make its decisions seem more understandable and legitimate, and to compete with the often nefarious and tendentious use of social media to spread misinformation in Libya, the group should publish and explain its decisions, using an easily accessed website as well as various forms of social media.
The above concerns how Libyans can allocate their own resources, chiefly from oil revenue. In addition, a modest but replenishing international assistance fund could also be set up.
It would be important not just for the resources it could provide, but also for the role it could play in legitimating and strengthening the role of the evaluation body that would also allocate Libyan funds to local actors as described above. Donors could defer to that same evaluation board in allocating resources.
For this strategy to work, reliable and reasonably accurate information would be needed about the behavior of the various militias and local actors. Otherwise, decisions about resource eligibility might be made capriciously and unfairly—on the basis of headline-grabbing individual incidents, for example, or even the deliberate efforts of one group to frame or mis-portray the behavior of another.
As such, this strategy can only work with at least a modicum of international presence in Libya’s main cities. Some of the necessary information can be provided by remote surveillance, but a modest human presence will also be necessary in order to make sure that information is dependable.
Some of the presence would result naturally from working with local structures—mayors, hospitals, schools, militias—as they began to receive more direct Western aid under the city-first approach we recommend.
None of the above is completely new. Libyan decentralization has already been taking place. To date, this has not been a move toward federalism, or the return of the three historical regions.
In the Libyan context, federalism is a politically loaded term (that is seen rightly or wrongly as favoring the less populated but long neglected east over the west). Rather, what has been happening—and what we propose reinforcing and gradually formalizing—is primarily the empowerment of municipalities.
Municipal governments have in many cases stepped in to fill the vacuum where the Gadhafi state used to be. And donors have acted accordingly.
For example, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and some European donors have done some very good work with municipalities, reaching perhaps as much as 75 percent of the population to some extent.
This work should continue and become more systematic where the quality and integrity of local officials as well as local security conditions permit.
As one manifestation of such a new localism that also responds to a major human need, Libya could, with the help of major donors, rebuild what was once a fairly good school system, city by city.
Of course, a broader development and reconstruction agenda is needed for the country overall. Electricity cries out as another crucial sector in need of attention. But the education sector illustrates the possibilities.
This approach would simultaneously start to prepare the next generation of Libyan youth for future employment, keep would-be recruits for militias busy with more productive pursuits (at least for many of their teenage years), and make localism a meaningful concept, to build confidence that it could succeed in other issue areas as well.
Historically, Libya’s school enrollment and literacy rates increased rapidly under Gadhafi, invested heavily in education. The World Bank estimated Libya’s secondary enrollment rates to be nearly 100 percent in 2003, in fact.
As of June 2007, Libya’s population of approximately 5.9 million included 1.7 million students, over 270,000 of whom were studying beyond the secondary level, including in technical and vocational sectors.
Illiteracy rates fell to as low as 9 percent. Gender parity was impressive as well. Alas, much of this has fallen apart since 2011. Many schools have been damaged and teacher pay has been interrupted. Many children do not attend school any longer.
Any international support to repair the education system could be channeled through local governance structures. Already, due to the political deadlock at a national level, the UNDP’s work has focused on working with stakeholders at municipal levels, and has included representatives from civil society.
As decentralization unfolds, municipalities should be empowered to manage local schooling systems and infrastructure, but to follow a unified national curriculum, with focus on traditional academic subjects and vocational training as well. Ensuring the education of girls should also be among the international priorities.
A city-based model for security
Because efforts to build a Libyan national security force have failed and remain unpromising in the near term at least, a more viable approach may be to encourage militias to respect certain rules and standards. Ultimately, they could be welcomed into regional or national coalitions of forces that would gradually begin to resemble more of an army.
Any more immediate efforts to build national-level security institutions might, for example, begin instead with an expanded coast guard, a small border guard, and perhaps an elite force to guard key parts of the nation’s capital, key institutions, major infrastructure, and the oil and gas sector.
Some individually vetted members of former Gadhafi regime units or current militias could be eligible to join these new institutions. If Libyans wished, such central forces could be aided by international advisors.
Several additional principles should guide security sector reform (SSR) going forward. It is important to establish solid and dependable salaries for any centrally paid personnel (say, for an expanded coast guard) to help ensure their professionalism and loyalty.
Adequate pensions for former military officers and troops are also important, so that they do not clamor to dominate the staffing of future national security institutions as a way to access funds. Central coordination mechanisms to ensure cooperation among disparate local and national forces would also be needed. 10 In the past, it has proven very challenging to achieve this.
We propose that, if Libyans agree, a future path for building security forces could emphasize working with and shaping the militias. A charter agreed to by all militias, or at least many of them, could lay out basic standards in the employment of force, respect for human rights, support for local good governance (such as providing protection for schools and hospitals), and commitments not to monopolize local economic markets or discriminate against local population subgroups.
Those complying with the charter would be certified and would be eligible for assistance, training, and light weaponry.
In addition, over time, these militias would be encouraged to merge into a number of regional security structures that would in effect build a gendarmerie and/or army from the ground up. There might be one regional command per province, once a final decision is made on the how many of the latter should be created.
(A number of us believe that, to provide rudimentary security in key places now, and to improve confidence among competing militias into the future, Libyans should consider asking the U.N. Security Council to authorize a modest and narrowly-mandated outside force. This view is explained further in the appendix to this paper.)
Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of militias should be postponed.
Broad SSR is also only achievable over time. However, the United States and other outside actors can start by promoting discussion of a security framework that would be the logical next phase toward the military reunification that the Egyptians have been encouraging.
The Egyptians have done a decent job of bringing together officers from the east and from the west for such initial discussions. But Egypt, with its ties to General Hiftar, is not seen as a neutral player despite having good contacts across the country, not just in the east.
By comparison, the United States is seen as more neutral and credible. Holding out the promise of participation in U.S. military exercises or training or procurement of U.S. military equipment may provide effective incentives for Libyan compliance with this framework.
The U.S. Department of Defense is also skilled in technical aspects of institution-building. The presence of U.S. trainers and advisers would almost surely be seen as hugely prestigious.
Militias that commit to supporting the local and regional organizations could gain access to them (whether within or outside of Libya), as well as to schools, weapons, and other equipment.
Other outside actors besides the United States might train the various militias. But to avoid rivalry, they would all have to do so only under supervision, and with the explicit approval, of a U.N.-sanctioned body that determines eligibility based on militia behavior.
In seeking to work with militias and gradually help build regional structures, it is important not to become overly infatuated with Hiftar. His group may be more organized and better equipped than elements in the country’s west, thanks to his external patrons, and he should have a role.
But the LNA is still a confederation of militias with some questionable leaders, such as Mahmoud Warfalli, now the subject of an outstanding International Criminal Court warrant.
In addition, there are Salafi extremists now across Libya that outside actors need to address somehow, including much of the Special Deterrence Force in Tripoli.
Again, a Libyan national conference should establish that militias will need to qualify for aid and assistance and legitimacy based on their behavior—they should not receive it automatically.
to continue in Part 5
(*) The group of scholars are: John R. Allen, Hady Amr, Daniel L. Byman, Vanda Felbab-Brown, Jeffrey Feltman, Alice Friend, Jason Fritz, Adel Abdel Ghafar, Bruce Jones, Mara Karlin, Karim Mezran, Michael E. O’Hanlon, Federica Saini Fasanotti, Landry Signé, Arturo Varvelli, and Frederic Wehrey.