Ryan J. Suto's Blog

25 October 2011

Humanitarian Aid as a Strategic Obligation to the People of Libya

This is another short post gearing up for the APDS Symposium. You can read this one here. Thanks.

Over the past few days the world has witnessed horrible images and stories of the death of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi at the hands of Libyan rebels. I will not describe this below. The biggest fear now must be that this act of lawlessness may be foreshadowing the future chaos to come. The world cannot afford this to happen.

Protests against the regime—and the regime’s reaction—began months before military intervention. However, Gaddafi’s fall was likely accelerated by that military intervention by US-led NATO forces, best characterized by strategic bombings. Now, the oil-rich nation with no recent history of meaningful political process or participation is left with a power vacuum and infrastructure reconstruction. In order to prevent the nation from falling into the hands of another dictator like Gaddafi—and perhaps worse—NATO and the US have an obligation to provide humanitarian aid to the people it had just bombed.

After bombing began, President Obama citied humanitarian concerns for intervening in Libya. He stated a desire to protect the protestors from the brutal hands of a dictator known to have a low tolerance for political dissent. While the US domestic political climate will not tolerate another Iraq—US troops occupying and rebuilding a foreign nation on the ground—our reasons for entering will be compromised if our foreign policy ignores Libya. The state may fall into the hands of a new regime looking to capitalize on the nation’s oil wealth and continue to ignore  the concerns of the Libyan people.

As such, I call on the US and NATO to provide humanitarian relief in the form of medicine, food, water, and other basic supplies much like the Chinese have begun doing. The US should also emphasize other programs such as financial and technical support for rule of law initiates, security, civil society, and governance programs. In short, we need to win “hearts and minds” of the Libyan people.

While this is partly a moral obligation, it is also a strategic obligation. In the coming months and years the people of Libya will be faced with choices—such as their views of the US and whether they wish to be an ally in the fight to bring democracy to the Middle East and North Africa. How we treat the people of Libya—indeed, our public diplomacy in that nation—may determine foreign policy choices of the next Libyan government. While it cannot be said that the future of Libya hinges on US public diplomacy and humanitarian aid, we can play an important role in the outcome of Libya, especial at this most critical hour. Whether the US is seen as liberators or evil-doers, it is imperative that we show the people of Libya that in the end we did not care about killing Gaddafi or access to oil, but that we cared about helping the people of Libya.

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