Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Libya: The Case for AU Mediation in Libya

Source: ISS

The Case for AU Mediation in Libya

Solomon A. Dersso, Senior Researcher, Peace and Security Council Report Programme,

ISS Addis Ababa

The AU has been criticised for the way it has responded to the Libyan crisis. While some of the concerns expressed about the AU’s role or lack of it in Libya are inaccurate, there is little doubt that the Libyan crisis laid bare the limits of the emerging African Peace and Security Architecture and the divide between the AU and its partners such as the UN and European countries. Yet, the AU’s role and its proposed roadmap cannot and should not be overlooked, particularly in the light of the fact that there is no military solution to the conflict raging in the country. As with the other popular uprisings in North Africa, which were not the kinds of crises contemplated in the AU peace and security instruments, initially the AU, like other actors, was unsure of how to respond to the crisis in Libya. It merely settled for condemning what it called excessive or disproportionate use of force against peaceful demonstrations.

When the situation deteriorated so badly in the aftermath of the Libyan government’s brutal crackdown, and came close to giving rise to grave circumstances such as crimes against humanity, at their meeting on 10 March 2010 some members of the AU Peace and Security Council went as far as raising the possibility of not only suspending Libya, but also sanctioning it with additional measures. As most members of the PSC were not convinced that there was substantial evidence to support the fear of mass atrocities in Libya, despite Gaddafi’s rhetorical posturing, the AU opted for undertaking a fact-finding mission and formulating the very first comprehensive roadmap for the resolution of the Libyan crisis.

Despite the fact that the AU displayed some level of seriousness in its response to the crisis, notably by establishing a High Level ad hoc Committee consisting of five presidents and outlining the first most comprehensive roadmap for resolving the crisis, the AU has not been visible. Its initiative has largely been marginalized.

Notwithstanding UN Security Council Resolution 1973’s recognition of the role of the AU’s ad hoc Committee, the AU roadmap has received little or no international support. The AU’s proposed roadmap has rather been outside of the mainstream approach adopted by others in the international community, including the League of Arab States.

While the UN, EU and Arab League expressed the view that there was imminent danger of commission of serious atrocities in Libya and moved for intervention, the AU neither shared those views nor called for intervention in Libya. Given the AU’s commitment under Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act of the AU to act against ‘grave circumstances’, this was perhaps the AU’s biggest omission; an omission which clearly illustrates the difficulties surrounding the interpretation and application of the AU’s new ambitious norms most notably Article 4(h).

As the military intervention was launched and the situation seemed moving fast in favour of the armed opposition, almost no space was made available to the AU roadmap. Unfortunately, events in Libya are not unfolding as expected. The conflict has not ended within the short time anticipated. Government forces proved to be more resilient than expected and the advance by the opposition brought to a halt. It is clearly emerging now that the situation is descending into a protracted violent conflict, which neither side seems to be in a position to win.

Notwithstanding that defeating Gaddafi was not its stated aim, the military action taken by coalition forces has not succeeded in decisively tipping the balance of power against him, until now. Despite some early gains made by the rebel forces following the military onslaught visited upon Gaddafi by the American-led coalition, these gains were only short-lived. Actually, their apparent advance late in March has largely been reversed since they lost Ras Lanuf and Brega to Gaddafi forces.

Even with the support of the allied forces, the armed opposition groups lack the necessary military capability (in terms of fire power, command and control, training and discipline) to defeat Gaddafi. The rebel forces are a patchwork of inexperienced and incoherent groups with no effective command and control. They also lack not only the fire-power comparable to Gaddafi’s forces but also the technical know-how to make good use of it. While they have far greater motivation and ambition than the government forces, these attributes are undermined by their lack of discipline. By comparison, Gaddafi’s forces possess much higher fire-power. They have also shown a resilience that many did not envision Libyan armed forced to have. Gaddafi’s forces also possess command and control capabilities and far higher discipline than the opposition rebel forces.

Under such circumstances, if the NATO intervention continues in its current form, the balance of power remains skewed in favour of Gaddafi. Yet, since it is unlikely that Gaddafi’s forces can go further, the situation is in a state of a stalemate. The major oil city of Misurata has been put under siege by Gaddafi’s forces for many weeks, making it the major battle ground between the two sides. The resulting humanitarian crisis unfolding in Misrata has led the UN to call for a pause in the fighting in order to facilitate humanitarian access and alleviate the suffering of people in the city.

With such a destructive stalemate, one reality that starts to emerge is the division of Libya into two hostile areas that will continue to wage a political and economic struggle. Libya is becoming a country with two parts controlled by rival armed forces, a country with two parallel governments, a country that is also moving into two economies, one run by Gaddafi and another run by the opposition from Benghazi.

With such a stalemate arising after a major military campaign favourable to the opposition, the military option no longer seems to be the most preferred option. This situation tends to reinforce the position of those countries and groups, including the African Union, that were calling for a negotiated way out of the crisis. The AU has been the first institution to develop a comprehensive road map. Others that advanced a plan akin to that of the AU include Turkey, which plays a critical role in NATO’s operations and is influential within the Islamic world.

As the military option has proved to be inadequate for resolving the crisis, it has become clear that more attention needs to be given to diplomatic efforts. If the only way left for ending the crisis is the diplomatic avenue, the roadmap presented by the AU offers the most comprehensive blueprint.

The major challenge for the AU is to win the confidence of the Transitional National Council, the authority leading the opposition forces in Libya, which views the AU with a great deal of suspicion. It is indeed true that the AU has almost no credibility in the eyes of the opposition, not least of all because of its ambivalent position on Gaddafi. Yet, the rebels also do not have much choice. Irrespective of their ambition, they are not in a position to defeat Gaddafi militarily. Indeed, signing a ceasefire will end the assault that they have been exposed to in recent days by Gaddafi’s forces. Likewise, for the international community a ceasefire would offer a much cheaper and more legitimate way out of the crisis. Most importantly, continuation of the fighting means perpetuation of the devastating levels of suffering experienced by ordinary people and the destruction of the physical infrastructure of the country.

Given the prevailing reality, there is no doubt that some aspects of the AU’s roadmap are of paramount importance. These include those essential decisions and actions that require immediate implementation to end the unfolding humanitarian crisis and the continuing suffering of ordinary people in areas where fighting is taking place. The most important of these actions would be to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, followed by negotiations and the implementation of a verifiable ceasefire. There is already international consensus on these needs. By supporting the critical elements of the AU’s roadmap and pushing for their immediate implementation, the international community stands to lose nothing. There is however a lot to be gained most importantly in alleviating the plight of ordinary people and in paving the way for a comprehensive political resolution and sustainable peace in Libya.