It was nice of the Prime Minister to tell us his government committed to recognizing the new government of Libya some weeks ago and would provide it with “millions” of dollars in aid – but it would be better if he told us why.
As I write, the United Nations is reported to be moving to release its freeze on $100 billion worth of Libyan assets and recognize the country’s National Transitional Council as the new government of Libya.
Two days before this news broke, the Prime Minister announced that New Zealand would recognize the NTC and provide it with “millions” of dollars in aid. It seems strange that no-one bothered to ask him why.
Libya is a nation that has billions of dollars frozen in foreign bank accounts so that its barbarous renegade dictator could not use them to inflict more butchery on his own people, or anyone else who threatened his regime. Libya also has the capacity to meet some 2 percent of the world’s demand for oil. It is hardly a basket case.
What Libya needs immediately is continuing military support to stamp out the embers of Gaddafi’s resistance, and to ensure that the understandable urge among the liberated people to extract instant vengeance is replaced by lawful processes of retribution, rehabilitation, and reconciliation. We are not going to get involved in that, according to our Prime Minister.
However, it will be some time before the police and armed services that maintained order for Gaddafi can be entrusted fully with these tasks by any new Libyan authority managing the nation’s transition to a different, hopefully more accountable, form of governance.
The international community was reluctant to put boots on the ground during the rebellion, and the rebels were equally reluctant to see foreign troops involved in their battle for Libyan soil. We have yet to see the true character of the new authorities who now control Tripoli, or the strength of any residual rebellion that might now be mounted by Gaddafi supporters elsewhere in the country. There are some thorny issues to be unpicked here.
In the longer term, Libya is going to need a skilled set of advisors to help the National Transitional Council build a system of democratic governance that will fill the vacuum that the autocratic Gaddafi created.
Libya will need a new constitution, electoral processes, law-making assemblies that are representative of the people, independent courts, and legally disciplined law enforcement and security agencies.
The new institutions that are created may not conform to the western models of democratic government, but they will certainly need to recognize the Libyan people’s desire for more freedom than they enjoyed under the 42 year rule of a dictator who found his support base in the nation’s army.
However, before anyone starts rushing in with their solutions or their “millions”, the international community needs to let the Libyans draw breath and define their own needs against the new realities they are facing. Surely, we can learn some lessons from our experience in Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister has been exceptionally eager to announce New Zealand’s support for the National Transitional Council.
He made his announcement two days ahead of the news that the UN was busy framing resolutions to lift the freeze on Libyan funds and recognise the NTC. He revealed that he had signed off support for the group seeking to seize power from Gaddafi “a couple of weeks ago”. New Zealand's Ambassador in Cairo was ready to travel to Benghazi to recognise the rebels as Libya's legitimate opposition and possibly its new government. So, New Zealand had recognition in the pipeline while the UN Security Council has still to consider its resolutions on the matter.
On the same day the Prime Minister broke his news, the Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully released a short, cautious statement that simply welcomed the NTC’s call for Libyans to exercise restraint and respect the rule of law, and warned that there were still “difficult days ahead for Libya during the regime change”.
As I write, there is still no official statement on the Beehive website recording the Prime Minister’s announcement. I suspect that a certain amount of tidying up going on behind the screens at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The most obvious question that is likely to be asked when Parliament returns from its current recess is why we need to give Libya “millions” of dollars in aid, when its “billions” are going to be delivered into its hands by the United Nations.
The next one is: where are these “millions” going to be found? Government expenditure has been capped, so, presumably, they are coming from existing budgets. That means either international aid funds are being diverted from existing aid recipients, or cuts are being made in other areas of government expenditure. Either way, we need to know why the provision of “millions” in aid to Libya’s NTC rated a higher priority than the activities that will now be cut or reduced.
Right now, it looks as if foreign policy decisions are being made on the hoof, and that – in this matter – New Zealand was running ahead of decision-making by the international community. Not a good look for a country that’s campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council.