By: Huda Biuk
A recent statement by a member of the General National Congress, Ahmed Lenghi suggested a national guard may be Libya’s solution to integrating Libya’s militias into the army as well as back into civil life.
Could this be a plausible solution for Libya? Let’s take a closer look.
One year has passed since the National Transitional Council called on militia units to register into the National army or police, yet armed militias remain to be the biggest threat to national security today. Occasional instances in the city remind one that the proliferation of weapons can affect everyday life, as highlighted last week in the Bifocal, for residents as well as internationals in the country.
Last year, in an Associated Press interview the chairman of Libya’s NTC, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil admitted that the transitional government was powerless to control militias that refused to disarm. “Both are to blame,” he said. “The governmental programme to integrate the militias is slow and the revolutionaries don’t trust it.” And, in many ways this statement holds true today.
Now that we have established the problem, let us look for the solution.
One thing we know is what hasn’t worked thus far. Many have come to the conclusion that giving armed forces the ultimatum to either join the national army or disarm is being interpreted as a lack of acknowledgement to their key role in the success of Libya’s liberation. These men want the system to accommodate to them, not vice versa.
Prior to the conflict, many militia members led very different lives. This needs to be taken into account. The world witnessed the spontaneous formation of what are now called militia units. It was due to a dire need of a defence force that these units formed out of neighbourhoods from cities across Libya.
Many fighters admitted they had careers as engineers, lawyers, doctors, and countless other vocations, and yet many continue to linger in the uncertain emotional space between the experience of war and integrating back into civil life.
The problem with the government’s first offer last year was that it failed to consider the circumstances of the individual’s past, and also failed to evaluate how each member could participate in the reconstruction of the country according to his individual abilities. It may have taken Libya’s leaders this long to explore more fitting options.
Looking at the examples of foreign federal defence systems, the National Guard of the United States or what is known as the Home Guard in the UK may be a complementary defence force system to the current Libyan national army.
The history of the US National Guard can be traced back to militia roots during the American Revolution. The key role that militias played was ratified by the founding fathers that provided for the militias’ longevity in the constitution. The same should be done in Libya’s constitution, given the militias role was key to the liberation of Libya.
The US National Guard is composed of state militias under a federal armed force system. Members are considered “citizen soldiers” who work part-time while maintaining civilian jobs. This option may be essential to the recruitment of many current militia members who do not intend to dedicate all their time in the armed services.
Another important factor unique to the National Guard that could encourage the drafting of hundreds of militia units is that it answers to a particular state, as well as the federal government.
In regions in Libya where local councils have established a sense of respect and authority among residents, integrating full militia units along with the local authority under a cohesive central defence system could be the more realistic option.
Interestingly, the US National Guard was established 139 years before the formation of a national army; a fact worth considering.
The National Guard proved to be a solution for the United States. Though it may not be the solution that Libya’s government chooses to install, the idea of considering a third force unique to Libya’s situation should be something the government explores, and that the people consider.
Being open-minded about the path to democracy on the government’s part, should be the encouragement people need to give it a chance.
(This article was originally published in Tripoli Post on 1/2/2013)