Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

Advice to Libya on advisors: just say no!

Kate Clark 4 min

Those watching or listening to the news from Libya can only hope for a speedy and peaceful resolution. At AAN, we were concerned to hear that the Libyan people, having suffered more than four decades of dictatorship and now six months of war, are about to be descended upon by western ‘stabilisation advisors’, as AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark reports.

David Loyn, the BBC International Development Correspondent, has reported, without irony, that, ‘As soon as possible, western embassies in Tripoli will reopen, and stabilisation advisers, building on lessons learnt in Afghanistan, will assist in ensuring that government services continue.’

Loyn also reports that the Transitional Council has produced, ‘A draft transition document,’ which, he says, ‘has an ambitious timetable for a constitution to be drawn up within three months and elections held six months after that. The document also guarantees freedom and basic human rights under the law.’ (for Loyn’s ‘analysis’ of political-military developments, see here)

Checking out the website of the UK Department of International Development which I guessed was Loyn’s source on this, it seems eastern Libya has already had 11 stabilisation experts (largely British, but also Italian, Danish and others) visiting. The ‘experts… in ‘economics, infrastructure, essential public services, security and justice systems and politics’ arrived in May, with a brief to provide an, ‘integrated and bespoke [the word used for tailor-made as opposed to mass produced suits] approach to post-conflict reconstruction’. Their work centred on helping, ‘prevent further violence, protect people and promote democratic political processes.’  The EU has also sent in experts,* as we assume has the US.

The problem is not so much the handful of stabilisation advisers, who might possibly be useful if they were sensible people, but, if the Afghan model is taken, of them being the vanguard of a whole stabilisation industry, with advisors who are unaccountable, empowered to promote ideas which are frequently irrelevant or harmful and, as often as not, ignorant of the nation and its history.

Major decisions about Afghanistan have been taken in Washington or New York with often disastrous consequences which makes me nervous when I hear the confidence with which the UK international development secretary (a cabinet minister), Andrew Mitchell, asserts: ‘Stabilisation will ultimately be led by the UN, with strong multilateral support from the region and elsewhere.’

So what on earth might be the ‘lessons learnt’ from Afghanistan?

To take just the example or  ‘promoting democracy’, the international powers managed to nip in the bud Afghan aspirations for more representative government at the Emergency Loya Jirga.  The US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, UN boss Lakhdar Brahimi, and the then chairman of the transitional authority, Hamed Karzai promoted warlords and squashed and silenced the people’s representatives.

A year later, Afghans saw the foreign-supported choice of a dead-end Constitution which has effectively disenfranchised the electorate, centralised power in the hands of one man and left the duties and rights of other branches of state dangerously vague.

Ticking boxes off the Bonn accord, international advisors on elections were keen to praise ballots, even as voters were having elections stolen from them. In the summer of 2010, when asked about the inevitable prospect of flawed, messy and corrupt parliamentary elections, diplomats in Kabul shrugged their shoulders and said they weren’t that important.

(For discussion and detail on all these events, see hereherehere and herehere).

Given the record of the UN and other international powers in Afghanistan, Libyans could hardly do any worse than trust to themselves. Building on ‘lessons learnt’ in Afghanistan, we would advise the Libyans to say a polite ‘no’ to offers of expert advice.


* In March, the EU reported: ‘The High Representative Catherine Ashton has established a task force bringing together European External Action Service and Commission experts to adapt the EU’s existing instruments for helping the countries of Northern Africa. The aim is to provide a comprehensive package of measures tailored to the specific needs of each country. A technical fact-finding mission has visited Libya to assess the situation on the ground.’ (See here)

The DFID press release is re-produced below:


First ever international Stabilisation Response Team deployed to Libya

23 MAY 2011

The first ever international Stabilisation Response Team has arrived in Libya, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has confirmed. The team of 11 stabilisation experts will assess what help the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the rest of Libya will need in the period ahead of a political settlement, with a view to supporting the UN’s post conflict planning.

The international Stabilisation Response Team will help inform a co-ordinated international response to interim stabilisation needs in the country. The team includes experts in areas such as economics, infrastructure, essential public services, security and justice systems and politics. The core team will be provided by Britain and will also include representatives from international partners including Italy and Denmark, with others set to join in the coming weeks including the EU.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, the Cabinet Minister with responsibility for Stabilisation, said:

“The UK has provided immediate humanitarian help for those affected by the conflict in Libya, from helping migrant workers return home to providing medical and emergency food supplies. We will continue to do so, but the international community also needs to start thinking strategically about what is needed now to help lay the foundations for a stable, secure Libya.

“That’s why an international Stabilisation Response Team is now on the ground in Libya to assess what support the country may need. Future plans could range from rebuilding the economy and infrastructure to supporting the National Transitional Council to deliver services for the people of Eastern Libya and ensuring that people are safe and secure.

“Stabilisation will ultimately be led by the UN, with strong multilateral support from the region and elsewhere.”

This is the first ever deployment of a Stabilisation Response Team – innovative, flexible teams that can be deployed rapidly to fragile and conflict-affected states. This is a new concept that was announced in the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to provide an integrated and bespoke approach to post-conflict reconstruction.

The team is deployed by the Stabilisation Unit, the Government’s centre of expertise and best practice in stabilisation. It works to help prevent further violence, protect people and promote democratic political processes.

The deployment of this SRT follows the Prime Minister’s recent pledge of further support for the Libyan people and was part of a package of measures he announced which will strengthen the UK’s relations with the NTC and help the Libyan people realise their legitimate aspirations.

For more information, please contact Chris Kiggell by email: [email protected] or tel: 020 7023 0504 / 0600.

LAST UPDATED: 23 MAY 2011 (From here)


Intervention Libya