Tripoli, June 27, 2013:

Even at a sea side hotel the distant sounds of guns from a militia clash in south Tripoli break the silence of midnight.

The West and the UN have little difficulty spending billions on the military side of intervention.  When it comes to bringing down the nasty dictatorships of  Hussein and Gadhafi cash and troops are no problem.  But the end of repressive regimes, as expensive as it is in human life and money, is just the beginning of the struggle for security and greater democracy.

Writing in the years after the English Civil War, and in a Europe still caught in the violence, the torture, rape, and sheer mayhem of the Hundred Years War, Thomas Hobbes made a simple point.  The war of “all against all”, where life was “nasty, brutish and short”, had to end for real life to begin.  Security – the monopoly of weapons, order, and authority in some kind of sovereign state – was the essential precondition for other pursuits.  Future political thinkers would come to worry about those other pursuits and the importance of freedom, pluralism and the rule of law. But Hobbes’ essential point is that chaos has to end before other things can start.

Libya is a good case in point.  The country of six million people suffered through a brutal dictatorship of over forty years.  Gadhafi’s regime benefited from an annual cash flow of 60 billion dollars from oil and gas revenues, but he did not invest in people, institutions, or infrastructure, and his leaving was accompanied by much suffering and destruction.

In particular, the militias so heavily armed in the effort to defeat Gadhafi have not disbanded.  They have moved into organized crime and extortion, providing “protection services” and fighting for turf like so many gangland desperadoes.

The interim government, which succeeded a transitional government, has few levers and little power.  The central institutions of state like the army are small, poorly trained, and poorly equipped.  The General National Council, the temporary legislature body that hopes to create a constitutional committee, that will in turn write a constitution and then have elections, is poorly resourced and staffed and argues among itself.

Aid money is drying up, because governance assistance is the weak sibling of every western government.

Things fall apart when the centre cannot hold.  And the consequences of this would be serious indeed – a failed state on the shores of the Mediterranean, unable to police its borders or provide for its people.

A simple lesson, yet to be learned.  We need to deal with the consequences of military intervention with the same focus,  determination and resources as we have given to the destruction of bad actors.  We can’t leave the job less than half done.

If the militias are allowed to persist as separate power bases, and are not either disbanded or included in the army and police – and then trained effectively – the ability of the central government to provide even minimal services will simply not be there.  This requires further political reconciliation, persuasion, and the capacity to carry out the necessary plan.  The UN and those who decided that Gadhafi had to go still have work to do.  The cameras may have left, but the task remains.

Bob Rae is a former member of Parliament and former premier of Ontario.