Update: welcome Guido readers

Imagine you are William Hague or Hillary Clinton, pressed with a real sense of wanting to Do Something to help the Libyan masses.

You draw a noisy stick across the bars of the FCO/State Department cage to rouse the bemused and sulky inmates, and demand ideas for action. What might they serve up?

"Basically", they’ll primly reply, "You politicians have to accept that there are subtle/difficult trade-offs and hard choices to be made between Breadth v Depth, Fast v Slow, Big Impact v Less Impact, More Certain Impact v Less Certain Impact, Risky v Not-so-Risky, Legal v Not-so-Legal, and so on."

"Oh, and did we mention Cheap v Expensive?"

And having got that off their clever chests, if they are smart they’ll produce something like the following Options Menu

Indirectly Limiting the Regime’s Power

Economic Sanctions: general economic sanctions are Big, Slow and tend to empower the regime if it is secure enough. Plus the wider population suffer.

Here in Libya it might be different if you can find a way to stop the regime getting money from oil sales (while of course the oil keeps flowing, hem). Better to use the banking system somehow (how?) to do that rather than bring in the full caboodle of economic sanctions, which most countries will ignore anyway?

Probably better to go for Personalised/Targeted Sanctions, ie going after named people close to the regime (travel bans) and their ill-gotten gains. But keep a beady eye out for legal challenges – you can’t just go around stripping people of their liberties and/or trampling on banking confidentiality without good cause, you know. This isn’t #Libya!

Key idea, never known to fail: Divide and Rule. Sending public (and even better private) messages to key people around Gaddafi offering them some sense of security (no prosecution by International Criminal Court?) if they jump ship is an important tool. Nothing like finding a message from MI6 pushed under the front door during the night to give one cause to reflect.

NB deftness needed – you don’t want to end up empowering some of the worst Gaddafi types by somehow legitimising them and helping them stay on in power after Gaddafi falls.

That said, the first task is to get Gaddafi overthrown asap, so don’t let the ideal be the enemy of the sensible.

Target Mercenaries: A key one. Announce noisily that any foreigner paid by the Libyan government who surrenders weapons and leaves country within 24 hrs will not be subject to international justice.

After that period elapses the deal’s off: the UK/US/EU will be setting up a special fund for helping the new Libya government prosecute all mercenaries – severe sentences will be expected. Rewards will be given to people who hand in mercenaries lurking in Libya or help track them down elsewhere. Any African country not cooperating with this programme will have all UK/US/EU assistance suspended. (Note: wet developmentalists won’t accept, but worth saying that that will be the objective)

Black Propaganda: covertly help spread rumous that Gadaffi is running away or has been shot – important to demoralise his dwindling support-base.

(Ahem NB don’t announce that he has flown to Venezuela when he hasn’t – that demoralises YOUR support-base, Minister)

Directly Limiting the Regime’s Power

Options include, in escalating order of difficulty/risk:

  • covertly inserting false information into Libyan regime communications systems to sow confusion
  • e-warfare from outside against Libyan regime communications systems, aiming to degrade them
  • direct SAS-style covert intervention in-country eg to cut regime communications cables, ie action aimed at capabilities, not people
  • arming protesters (civilian): communications kit, sharing intelligence about Libyan regime plans
  • arming protesters (military): weapons, sabotage kit, sharing intelligence about Libyan regime plans
  • no-fly zone (legal basis for killing Libyans to enforce it?)
  • bombing Libya military runways
  • direct attacks on Libyan units loyal to Gaddafi after a set period of warning – (legal basis?!?) 

Preparing for New Government

Key message: no longer any question that this regime is finished. US/UK/EU will be actively planning to help set up new government and making generous resources available to help Libyans themselves for example with:

  • drafting new constitution
  • setting up political parties
  • free/fair elections
  • transparency in oil revenues
  • expert training
  • free media
  • demonopolisation of key IT and industry sectors
  • reform of legal system
  • Truth and Reconciliation initiative to help Libyans come to terms with Gaddafi horror
  • justice for victims of Gaddafi – special courts for worse Gaddafi regime criminals, but run according to top international standards

Plus two important slower-time ones:

  • major collective international effort to track down rogue Libyan assets and expose Libyan misdeeds in Africa
  • expert support for opening of all Libyan regime secret police and other archives asap – let the dirty chips lie where they fall (mainly in Moscow?) 

NB basic message:

  • Not for US/EU to lay down what happens. Vital that we support Libyans themselves define their new arrangements.
  • Happy to work with well-intentioned Arab/African and other governments to get a good outcome.
  • Soon appointing new EU/US envoys to coordinate this work with our Libyan friends and see how best to help region as a whole…

* * * * *

That lot gives Ministers plenty to think about.

The key thing now is speed, sending out powerful principled messages to create a sense of inexorable irreversible change, and mobilising concrete programmes and specific initiatives asap behind the scenes..

But, too, that this has to be change which does not lead to the Barbary pirate chief and a couple of relatives walking the plank, while most of the worst pirates stay running the ship.


Fine. Now just do it.