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The Guardian reports that NATO officials want the UN to lead any post-conflict peace operation in Libya, and view it as "a classic case for blue helmets." While the UN is currently focused on civilian assistance, it is no surprise that a peacekeeping role may also be put on its agenda. Back in April, Bruce D. Jones, Jake Sherman and I wrote a piece for Foreign Policy arguing that the UN would "almost certainly" take the lead in any post-conflict operation in Libya. Four months later, most of its arguments remain valid:
What would the actual operation look like? If Libya is extremely unstable, military planners will naturally argue for a heavily-armed force. But a large military force would be expensive to maintain and could become a high-profile target for Islamist terrorists, just like the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
One option would be to deploy significant numbers of troops in the first phase of operations, with a mandate to disarm Gaddafi's forces and repatriate his African mercenaries, but draw down to a lighter presence after three to six months, as long as security conditions permitted it. This lighter force, tasked with monitoring military and political developments, could be backed up by an over-the-horizon reserve of heavy units based in Italy or France, ready to deploy at short notice to quell any resurgent violence.
Experience from the Balkans to Liberia also suggests that, to deal with disorder in cities such as Tripoli or Sirte, the UN should supplement its military presence with riot police, who tend to handle such incidents better. Uniformed personnel will also need to be accompanied by effective civilian experts – there will be a particular need for Arabic-speaking political staff able to mediate between all Libya's factions.
Nonetheless, as I argue in ECFR’s latest podcast, it’s not yet at all clear that a peace operation will be required at all. The Libyan rebels say that they don’t want foreign troops on their soil. While a serious deterioration in the security situation might push the UN, EU or NATO to authorise a peace operation, it could well face serious opposition from all sides in Libya.
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