Libya, Syria, and Paralysis at the UN

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During the last few days, there has been a flurry of talk at the United Nations Security Council regarding the post-conflict transition in Libya, as well as the situation in Syria.

With respect to Libya, there has been no concrete action from the Security Council since the approval last week of the release of $1.5 billion dollars in frozen assets for humanitarian relief.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gave a report to the Security Council on August 30th in which he emphasized that the United Nations must take the lead role on behalf of the international community in responding to the needs of the Libyan people as they move forward in a post-conflict environment.  He said that the Libyan rebels’ National Transitional Council has requested help in five areas:

1. Restoring public security and order and promoting the rule of law;

2. Leading inclusive political dialogue, promoting national reconciliation, and determining the constitution-making and electoral process;

3. Extending state authority, including through strengthening emerging accountable institutions and the restoration of public services;

4. Protecting human rights, particularly for vulnerable groups, and supporting transitional justice; and

5. Taking immediate steps to initiate economic recovery.

Ban said that the “National Transition Council appears to be largely in control of Tripoli and other cities,” which appears to be an overstatement. While Qaddafi’s regime has collapsed, The New York Times has reported that top civilian officials of the National Transitional Council (NTC) are yet to arrive in Tripoli, citing personal safety concerns. Moreover, there is still a jockeying for power amongst rival regional and ideological groups. The Times quoted an influential member of the NTC, who said that there is a “power vacuum” in the civilian leadership in the capital. There are also sharp divisions among competing military brigades in determining who should be in command. Thus, the United Nations may be counting on dealing with a group that will turn out to be an essentially powerless organization.

The Secretary General made no mention of plans for any UN peacekeeping force or of NATO’s role in Libya going forward. However, the UN special advisor on Libya, Ian Martin, who is overseeing the UN’s efforts in Libya during the post-conflict transition, told reporters during a press briefing following closed-door Security Council consultations that no UN peacekeeping role was envisioned. There will be no “military observers” on the ground, he said, disavowing his own earlier recommendation for the presence of such observers and continued NATO support.

As for NATO, there appears to be a disconnect between NATO itself and key players at the UN on NATO’s future role.

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