In 2011, NATO and a number of Arab and other countries backed a rebel overthrow of longstanding Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. When Qaddafi was killed in October, the intervening powers abruptly wrapped up military operations. A small United Nations mission was given responsibility for coordinating post-conflict stabilization support. The essential tasks of establishing security, building political and administrative institutions, and restarting the economy were left almost entirely up to Libya's new leaders. The results of this very limited international approach have been lackluster at best. Libya has fallen behind on a number of critical post-conflict fronts, jihadist groups have made inroads, and there is still a possibility that this newly freed nation could once again collapse into civil war. Although Libya's fate is ultimately in the hands of Libyans themselves, international actors could have done more to help and could still take steps to avert further deterioration of Libya itself as well as the broader region. This report is based on research and interviews with officials in Washington, London, Paris, Brussels, and Tripoli and draws on existing RAND work on post-conflict reconstruction. It explains the challenges that Libya faced after the war, assesses the steps taken to overcome them, draws implications for future post-conflict efforts, and sketches a way forward in Libya itself.
Libya's most serious problem since 2011 has been a lack of security.
Insecurity has undermined efforts to build functioning political and administrative institutions, further constricted an already minimal international footprint, and facilitated the expansion of criminal and jihadist groups within Libya and the wider region.
The lack of security stems primarily from the failure of the effort to disarm and demobilize rebel militias after the war.
Statebuilding efforts have stalled.
The post-Qaddafi state is politically and administratively very weak.
Libya's constitutional process is now far behind the schedule set out during the war.
Libyan politics remains contentious, turbulent, and marked by violence and distrust.
Libya had a relative post-conflict advantage due to its oil wealth, which meant that it could pay indefinitely for both its own reconstruction and salaries to militia groups.
Seizure of key facilities in the summer of 2013 by various armed groups undermined this advantage.
The government has increased salaries and subsidies, both of which distort the economy and work against sustainable, broad-based economic growth.
International actors should do more to support Libya's post-Qaddafi recovery.
There were several reasons for the initial decision to limit international support for Libya's stabilization, but international actors should have done more.
The United States and its allies have both moral and strategic interests in ensuring that Libya does not collapse back into civil war or become a haven for al Qaeda or other jihadist groups within striking distance of Europe.
Support a national reconciliation process.
Strengthen Libya's national security forces.
Help Libya strengthen border security.
Help Libya build its public administration capabilities.
Be prepared to intervene again if the situation continues to deteriorate.
This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.
Permission is given to duplicate this electronic document for personal use only, as long as it is unaltered and complete. Copies may not be duplicated for commercial purposes. Unauthorized posting of RAND PDFs to a non-RAND Web site is prohibited. RAND PDFs are protected under copyright law. For information on reprint and linking permissions, please visit the RAND Permissions page.
The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.