Disarming Libya: The Next Big NATO Project

The NATO intervention in Libya will soon enter its fifth month with no end on the horizon. 

While the media focuses on the public’s growing distaste with ongoing U.S. involvement, the press cannot avoid the revelation of international arms assistance going to Libyan rebels. If the international community plans to assist Libyan rebels with military hardware, a post-conflict disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) program needs to be constructed and implemented. The program will ensure the recovery of small arms and light weapons to avoid a return to armed conflict following the end of the Libyan uprising. A DDR program of this scope is no small undertaking, but there is an excellent model for one such program in the Kosovo Protection Corps.

The international community — specifically the European Union — has regularly been an exporter of military hardware to Muammar Gaddafi in years past. The EU sold in excess of 834 euro million worth of arms to Gaddafi between 2004-2009 until the UN Security Council (UNSC) ratified Resolution 1970, declaring an arms embargo on Libya this past February. The NATO campaign began in April, and shortly thereafter we saw the retreat of pro-Gaddafi forces as they marched on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. With NATO on their side, rebel fighters took to seizing arms from the many weapons depots in Libya, placing even larger numbers of small arms in the hands of anyone with access to the caches. While the task of recovering these arms and reintegrating the rebels may seem daunting, it should be pointed out NATO has been in this position before and had a marked amount of success following the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo.

The international community was faced with the challenge of disbanding the rebel group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) after the Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo in 1999. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was tasked with the job of reintegrating former rebel soldiers into society. The IOM, with help from NATO and other international organizations, formed what would become known as the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC). The KPC closely resembled a military force in command structure and appearance, however the purpose of the organization was far different than that of a military outfit.

The KPC was a civil protection agency that was trained in disaster relief, search and rescue operations, infrastructure improvements, humanitarian assistance projects, and demining operations, among others. The members of the KPC received both basic and advanced training in each of these fields, as well as training in languages, logistics, and management.

The response to the KPC was overwhelmingly positive. Former rebel fighters were now committed civil servants taking an active role in the reconstruction of their homeland, giving them a feeling of ownership and participation in their own future. The people of Kosovo found pride and relief in seeing its sons and daughters spearheading the effort to rebuild a region that had been devastated by decades of oppression at the hands of Slobodan Milosevic. Kosovo itself received a much-needed boost in development and employment that had not been seen in generations. Obviously, the KPC did not remedy all of Kosovo’s problems in the years that followed. Kosovo did, and still requires much work if it is to develop into a productive, sovereign democracy. However, the KPC provided a conduit for the international community to demobilize and reintegrate men and women who were once members of a rebel army and were in need of direction and purpose.

The rebel army that we see in Libya is by no means comparable to that of the KLA in 1999. There is an entirely different set of circumstances surrounding the conflict in Libya that international community has to address if it plans to effectively disarm and reintegrate Libya’s rebels. 

If the international community plans to fulfill its responsibilities outlined in Securty Council Resolution 1970, it must develop a plan to convert the rebel army to a force for development and progress after its fight against Muammar Gaddafi’s tyranny is over. A comprehensive DDR strategy built on the model of the KPC can be one of the many building blocks upon which the people of Libya can begin the long road to establishing a free and democratic society.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons