Libya - what should have been
done in a pro-peace perspective?
Part I - Prologue
Jan Oberg - TFF director and co-founder
April 19, 2011
It is a safe assumption that people in general neither like nor love war. They prefer peace, and major organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union state that their highest aim is world peace. There are distinguished prizes for peace, and peace people like M. K. Gandhi, Luther King Jr., Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela to name a few are revered by everyone. There is nothing similar for those who bomb, kill and rape. In consequence all wars and security and defence policies are legitimated by noble motives, among them the wish to maintain or create peace.
In the recent case of Libya surprisingly few have protested compared with, say, the war on Iraq. From right to left, men and women, human rights and peace movements as well as scores of intellectuals have - admittedly more or less hesitantly - endorsed NATO’s intervention, mainly with reference to there being so little time and that a genocide on thousands of people were immanent. And media people cried, do something!
It’s hard to believe that they all love war, isn’t it?
Yes, and therefore the assumption we make here is that they accept it more or less reluctantly because they don’t see alternatives to war - bombings and interventions. (And because they are seduced by their own talk about being so noble, but that is another matter).
Thus, if we all became better at thinking about alternatives to war, there would likely be less wars. Another word for that is pro-peace - the search for treatment and not only for critical analyses of the assumptions, the diagnosis and the prognosis. It’s necessary to be critical but it is never enough to change the world.
It has always been easy - too easy - for peace people to denounce warfare. The real challenge for a peace person and for peace politics is to answer this question: If war is unacceptable, then what can we do to deal with a conflict? What tools can we use instead of those of violence?
This short three-part analysis is an attempt to stimulate a dialogue about some possible answers. The first part is mainly theoretical and general. In the second and third we apply it to Libya.
You may choose to read only one of them, but if you want to do something and help make this a better world, let me tell you that there is nothing so practical as a good theory and no theory better than that which is based on reality...
1. Learn lessons
It would be good for the world if decision-makers could reduce the propensity to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors. Drawing at least some lessons from Yugoslavia, Somalia, Georgia, Afghanistan, and Iraq - about the role of propaganda, the character of civil wars, noble motives versus state interests, military intervention in civil wars, No-Fly Zones, etc. would have helped us to do better in the case of Libya - and over time move from conflict amateurism to professional international conflict management based on expertise (as military activity is based on professional knowledge, training and historical experiences).
So, learn lessons from earlier conflict mis-management and improve your skills. It will help you serve as a model to others and to be principled instead of erratic and self-serving.
2. Do solid fact-finding
It is so important to have at least basic knowledge about the parties - widely defined - and ourselves as participants in most of the conflicts. The West is not a noble mediator, it is a historical participant in virtually all conflict zones.
We need to know much more about Libya’s history, social structure, political culture, modern development, Bedouin modes of thinking, local peace and conflict traditions and economy simply to know how the people and its leader are likely to react to what we do. And we need media that can tell us about those things and not only show pictures of war, military parades and the faces of leaders they suddenly decide are ‘dictators’.
So, know the parties, know the ‘enemy’ and - not the least - know yourself! Spin-doctored messages and smart media presentations must not substitute knowledge about the parties, their problems and professionalism in conflict-management. Those who let them do so will fall into their own traps, sooner rather than later.
3. Aim at complex understanding
If truth is the first victim in war, complex understanding is the second. Focussing only on Khaddafi (as media do) and making one man the root cause of everything (as politicians do) is human folly, a dangerous ignorance of complexities in any conflict anywhere. Everything in Iraq is not fine because Saddam is dead. All problems will not be solved if Khaddafi goes. (And Obama could not make everything fine in U.S. foreign policy).
So, to believe that everything will be fine if one man goes or comes, is a recipe for wrongheaded policies - as we have seen everywhere else. To be on the safe side, ask many questions and seek answers from many and different people - or you’ll be surprised later!
4. Analyze the conflict, the problem - don't apportion guilt
Conflict analysis has a minimum of four elements: Who are the Parties? What are their Attitudes? What is their Behaviour? And what is the Conflict about? - P + A + B + C. Be aware that there is their understanding inside the conflict and yours which is the outsider’s.
When you have a solid understanding of these things, make your Diagnosis, Prognosis and Treatment - before you intervene.
We can apply a lot from medicine to conflict-handling and conflict-resolution; a professional doctor doesn’t just blame the patient for the disease but focuses on therapy, healing, on health and prevention of the disease in the future. In short, s/he looks at the problem to be solved rather than get blinded by who to blame.
So, be tough on the problem and softer on people and beware that if your Diagnosis is wrong, everything else will go wrong! For these kinds of things, you need professional conflict and resolution expertise, area experts etc - if you don’t consult professionals the result will be as miserable when a person without medicine performs surgery on a cancer patient.
5. It is their conflict, not yours
If you believe you know everything better than the parties do and you have the solution they can’t see, you’ll do more harm than good. If you intervene, you must keep in mind that it is their conflict and that, therefore, the only solution(s) that will work are those they have participated in developing and are willing to live with after you have left.
So, the moment you steal the conflict from them dictate or threaten solutions or know best - you become a participant, not a mediator, never a peace-maker.
6. Widen the space of the conflict
Don't think for a moment that this is about Libya only. It is about the whole of the Middle East, about the West's future encounter with the BRIC countries Brazil, Russia, India and, not the least China. It is about the future control of the world's oil and financial transactions flowing from it, etc., not the least in Africa. It’s about Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
So, the war-zone is only like a stage in a theatre, the drama acted out there builds on material derived from society outside the theatre.
7. Extend the time of conflict
Don’t believe for a moment that this is about Libya February 2011. It’s about Libya over a hundred years as it was occupied in 1911 - Italian North Africa that was divided in the Eastern Cyrenaica and the Western Tripolitania, quite similar to today. It is about Libyans fighting for independence and the Italians killing tens of thousands of people in fighting and through starvation in camps. It about the British taking over East and West 1943-51 while the British controlled the southwestern one-third, Fezzan. It is about independence under King Idris 1951-69 and the Khaddafi revolution 1969-2011 that has created a country different from all others.
So, apply a minimum of history, also the one that include your own Western-created horrors and hatred in the past.
8. Look at how non-violent and violent methods of social change are employed?
Why did it become violent in Libya? Who armed Khaddafi and made him the “dictator” he suddenly was called by Westerners? Who armed the rebels? Why did the rebels change from nonviolence to violence, from saying 'No' to any foreign intervention and to - allegedly - begging for it?
As part of the D-P-T above ask: What can non-violence achieve under what circumstances? What can violence methods achieve under what circumstances? Interestingly, the long chain of liberation struggle from authoritarian leaders around the world in our contemporary history have been overwhelmingly non-violent and failed in cases where violence dominated.
It’s an ignorant, lazy intellectual who advocates violence before having explored the non-violent options. A doctor can never justify causing more blood-spilling or pain than what is necessary to heal a patient.
So, to be on the safe side: Investigate the potentials of non-violence in any conflict, before you recommend violent methods which - in its turn - must be seen in the light of what you want to achieve. As Gandhi said “the means are the goals in-the-making.”
9. Apply a little common sense, empathy and human psychology
Decision-makers in conflict situation tend to make a series of fallacies such as believing that ‘they’ will react as ‘we’ wish them to react upon our actions - and get surprised that they don’t. Living yourself into the situation of, say, Khaddafi and his regime is not a sign of sympathy but of sound empathy-based analysis: What would ‘we’ do if they did to ‘us’ what we now do to them? Having good answers to such a question minimize the risk of going wrong and drive on wishful thinking - they will do as we say!
Secondly, how come decision-makers so often believe that what we know does not function in closer human relations - such as threatening violence or humiliating someone - will work at the international level?
Third, learn from history that it wont work in the long run that we conduct policies on the basis of one set of norms and laws for ‘us’ and another for ‘them’.
So, it is wise to continuously challenge our own assumptions about persons, cultures and politics before we intervene in someone else’s conflict - and better take time planning to make it right than jumping to conclusions and make everything worse. And since people are not dumb, double and triple standards will be revealed.
10. Beware of your limitations and biases
It’s been proven again and again that the global system invests billions and billions in military tools but lack the most basic when it comes to civilian conflict-management, peace education, peace and conflict academies, research in the human dimensions of international conflicts etc.
We can kill hundreds of millions fellow human beings in well-planned, sophisticated nuclear war, we plan to be able to shoot down missiles with missiles and we can make iPhones.
But humanity still does not know how to live and thrive through unity in diversity. It has not solved the problems of poverty and structural underdevelopment, human suffering is unbearable even though some would argue that the world is a better place on some indicators than a few decades ago. We have known for 5-6 decades that the oil would peak and disappear but we haven’t done much to meet the challenge. You can go on yourself!
The strongest have little wisdom but the banal, missionary and deeply violence-prone idea that everybody should become like us, i.e. the big standardizing project worldwide. Frankly, this total mismatch between our military investments and our human investment is not very impressive in terms of civilization.
So when conflict happens - and it always will - the gut reaction is: Send the marines or the air force, kill first and ask questions later. One reason so many otherwise sensible people advocate violence is that they don’t see alternatives but also that it is so easy - it is all available and ready to use. The more you have of it, the easier it is to take down from the shelves, shoot and ask questions later. Ask how much weaponry a country or culture has and you have a fairly good indicator of how interventionist, trigger-happy it is.
Thus, there is no parallel to NATO, there are no peace ministries and academies, there is virtually no funds for peace research compared with military research - and little conflict journalism in an ocean of war reporting and violent imagery. There is military service but no parallel civil peace service - continue yourself with indicators of the militarist society of our time.
So, the international “community” is woefully inadequate in terms of norms, decision-making mechanisms, governance, organisation, education and civilian conflict-handling. It is totally unbalanced. When conflict happens, we have most of what we need the least and lack what we need the most. To remain civilised. It doesn’t really help to have five hammers in your tool box, when your window is broken or your tapestry needs to be glued to the wall. The end result is likely to be no windows and no walls.
There is a reason that, in contemporary history, big, militarily strong countries have systematically lost wars in smaller countries. They will in Libya too.
Omnipotence is a bad navigator and war is an outdated way of handling humanity’s problems. Conflict professionalism and peace-making is the emerging paradigm.
Forthcoming: Part II - What should have been done in the case of Libya?
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