Over the Horizon: To Rebuild, Libya Must Rethink Its Armed Forces

Over the Horizon: To Rebuild, Libya Must Rethink Its Armed Forces

The National Transitional Council of Libya has much on its plate, including most notably rebuilding the country in the wake of civil war while also preparing it for constitutional democracy. However, military challenges still beckon. In addition to residual fighting and managing the demands of competing militias, the Transitional Council is faced with the task of centralizing authority over violence and building a new, modern and professional Libyan military.

The rump Libyan military is unlikely to be of much help. Although Moammar Gadhafi cultivated conflict with neighbors and distant foes alike, he relied more on Libya’s vast, inhospitable geography than on the Libyan armed forces to protect him from conventional attack. While neighbors, such as Egypt, might have brushed aside the relatively weak and unprofessional Libyan army, they would have faced tremendous difficulty maintaining supply lines and coherence across the long distances needed to bring any campaign to a successful conclusion. Gadhafi purposely kept the army weak and divided in order to prevent it from becoming a threat to his own rule, relying for security instead on a variety of military and paramilitary organizations controlled through personal connection rather than through professional obligation.

Moving forward, the Libyan government will almost certainly want to develop an army with modern, professional training and a strongly embedded understanding of its professional obligations to the civilian government. Controlling the army through personal ties may seem appealing in the short term, but will likely be very bad for the future of Libyan governance and democracy. Given the lack of professional norms in the pre-revolutionary army, the primary avenue for the development of professionalism will be the cultivation of relationships with foreign armies. NATO’s training mission in Iraq has recently ended to mixed reviews, but the experience of working with the new Iraqi army almost certainly improved the alliance’s ability to train a force like the Free Libya Army and to inculcate professional norms. The United States has also entered talks to help rebuild Libyan forces.

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