Douglas Alexander: We helped free Libya, but our job's not over

Even if Gaddafi is no longer in charge, Libyans have to learn the difference between taking a city and running a country

Share
Related Topics

The hope so many of us felt watching the scenes of celebration in Tripoli's Martyrs' Square in recent weeks is tempered by an understanding that the new Libya faces huge challenges. Now is not the time to claim "mission accomplished" or sit back and think it's all over.

Colonel Gaddafi no longer runs Libya. He is a man running from his own people. Yet he and the few remaining fighters he controls retain the ability to harm the Libyan people. So while we can recognise the degree of progress made we should acknowledge that the next six months will be difficult.

We have seen in recent times, but in very different circumstances, how quickly a liberated city can become a lawless and violent one. There is no doubt that the Libyan campaign took place under the long shadow cast by the decision by MPs – including myself – to authorise military action in Iraq in 2003. The resulting loss of life and trust from that conflict means that across the country there is real and enduring scepticism about military intervention.

But while Iraq should inform us, it should not paralyse us. So – notwithstanding the difficulty of the decision to once again commit our forces – Labour has steadfastly supported the military action to protect the Libyan people.

In Britain we can be proud of the professionalism, skill and bravery shown by our armed forces personnel over Libya. They have undoubtedly helped to save many civilian lives. But the Libyan mission has been conducted using military capabilities the Government plans to scrap – which is why one of the legacies of Libya should be the reopening of the botched Strategic Defence Review.

The unpredictability of the security landscape has increased dramatically with the Arab Spring, and Britain must maintain the ability to respond militarily to unforeseeable events abroad even as action is taken to deal with the deficit at home. For let's be clear, without the action taken in Libya we would not now be debating liberal interventionism, but a slaughter on Europe's doorstep.

Gaddafi had openly promised mass murder and continuing atrocities against his own citizens. The imminence of this slaughter, the demands from within Libya for military intervention, solid regional support through the Arab League, and a clear UN resolution together explain the basis for the Nato-led enforcement.

And, in truth, despite the horrors unfolding within Syria, all these conditions do not today apply. The Arab Spring hasn't been stopped by a despot in Tripoli. Yet it could still falter before a despot in Damascus. But just because the military force used against Gaddafi would be unwelcome to Syria's protesters and neighbours does not prevent the type of non-military pressure applied to Gaddafi now from being deployed against President Assad.

Right across the region, Britain's foreign policy needs to evolve. For 42 years, Britain had a Gaddafi policy. Now we must develop a Libya policy.

The Transitional National Council forces have made huge and historic gains in recent weeks. They have led and earned the change that has come to Libya. Yet the images on our screens remind us that taking a city is not the same as running a city.

What is needed now in Libya is a three-part approach by the new authorities addressing the security, economic and political challenges facing the country. The security situation so far seems to be holding in Libya – there have been no reports of widespread looting although the urgent need for basics of life such as water and electricity remains.

Once those basics are sorted, then young men in particular need to be given the opportunity to put down their AK47s and take up a job. The median age in Libya is just under 25. Young people need to know they can build a legal and prosperous future for themselves and their families.

In this, Libya has some advantages over its post-revolutionary neighbours. The more prosaic struggle since the removal of Mubarak in Egypt and Ben-Ali in Tunisia has been to try to rebuild these two economies.

A report by the Institute of International Finance predicts across the region that real GDP growth across Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia has dropped from 4.4 per cent in 2010 to -0.5 per cent in 2011. By contrast, Libya's 6.5 million people live above the ninth largest proven oil reserves in the world, with more proven reserves beneath their feet than in China and America combined.

Although few benefited from this under Gaddafi, those natural riches mean that Libya's GDP per head is one of the highest in Africa and higher than countries such as Mexico, Turkey, Brazil or South Africa.

In Egypt and Tunisia, Europe's response needs to encompass both money and markets. But in Libya, it is in helping the civil society and expertise deficit – after 42 years of Gaddafi's brutalising rule – where potentially we can also make a real contribution. Technical expertise can be provided on reconstruction to help to get Libya's economy moving but we shouldn't stand back from also helping to support Libyan civil society directly.

The BBC World Service could help as Libya starts to build a free media, and, eventually, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the British Council should be able to play a role too.

In time, a settlement that can bring in all those who are ready to work for a peaceful and free Libya will be needed. British diplomats – with painful experience abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at home in Northern Ireland – can bring their expertise to assist in that task.

Libya is of course but one part of the tumultuous wave of popular rebellion that has swept the Middle East and North Africa this year.

It was exactly a decade ago this month that the murderous action of al-Qa'ida brought death and destruction to a clear morning in Manhattan and in Washington. Now, 10 years later, Osama bin Laden is dead and the ideology of al-Qa'ida is under pressure as never before.

Across the Arab world, young people have risen up in popular revolt because they are unwilling to be left behind: undereducated, unemployed and powerless. For the region, these remain days of great peril but great possibility. But the courage of these often youthful protesters – from Tripoli to Tehran – means that our children will now see the region through the lens not of 9/11 but of 2011.

Douglas Alexander is the Shadow Foreign Secretary

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 4 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is urgently re...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: SECONDARY SUPPLY TEACHERS NEEDED...

Food Technology Teacher

£6720 - £38400 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Can you teach Food Te...

Bookkeeper / Accounts Administrator - Central London, £30-40k

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Bookkeeper - Central London, £30-40k...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh  

Scottish independence: Forget Yes and No — what about a United Kingdom of Independent States?

Ben Judah
Francois Hollande at the Paris summit on Iraq with ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on 15 September  

What's going to happen in Syria and Iraq? A guide to the new anti-Isis coalition's global strategy

Jonathan Russell
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week