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

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Hang on – that’s not how it’s supposed to be written

Guy Keleny
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test