As military action scales down in Libya, new opportunities are emerging for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, says David Cortright, director policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.
“It’s obvious by now that the rebels can’t defeat Gaddafi’s forces,” Cortright says. “Air strikes have had some success in preventing civilian massacres and providing cover for resistance forces. But the operations also have taken Libyan lives, and supporting the insurgents has become more difficult as Gaddafi’s defenders have shed uniforms and military vehicles. The benefits of further military action are questionable.”
Today, two of Gaddafi’s sons proposed a negotiated transition in which their father would step down in favor of a constitutional democracy. “If the offer is legitimate—which is by no means certain yet—it offers a path toward a settlement,” Cortright says. “Even if the statement is a ploy, or is rejected by the father, it may indicate differing interests among the dictator’s powerful sons that could be exploited by creative diplomacy.”
The immediate objective should be to obtain a ceasefire and an end to the shelling of Misurata and other cities, Cortright says. “Gaddafi has brushed aside the ceasefire offer of rebel groups, but if NATO and the Security Council offered to suspend air operations and partially lift sanctions, this might be powerful leverage for negotiation. The offer should require guarantees of non-retaliation and protection of civilians, guarantees of senior Gaddafi’s departure, and a timeline for transition to representative rule.”
The African Union should be urged to take the lead in negotiating a ceasefire and mutual stand-down of all military forces and militias, Cortright says. “The negotiations could propose the creation of an international observation force, drawn from Muslim countries, which would be authorized by the U.N. to monitor the demobilization of combatants and ensure the safety of civilians. The agreement also should include assurances of the right of Libyans to assemble peacefully. It might also include Libyan consent for establishing humanitarian corridors for the delivery of relief and reconstruction aid.”
Finally, Cortright says, the U.N. Security Council could appoint a senior diplomat to follow up on the negotiations and offer assistance, in cooperation with the Arab League and the AU, to facilitate Gaddafi’s departure and the transition to constitutional government. The United States and other states could offer to unfreeze a portion of Libya’s assets to facilitate the process.
“The best strategy for protecting civilians and advancing democracy in Libya is to replace the dictatorship with a more representative government,” Cortright says. “With military stalemate on the ground and diplomatic offerings in the air, the time is ripe to combine military pressure with creative diplomacy to achieve change in Libya.”