With the fall of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi in sight, the United States and its allies face the familiar challenges of post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction. As in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the United States and its allies have prevailed militarily and Western governments must now assume some role in helping establish a new order. Given the mixed results of the ventures in those regions, it is worth examining how Libya compares to them in terms of size, wealth, homogeneity, geography, and political maturity.
Nation building is resource-intensive, and the size of the country is a major determinant of the scale of the effort needed. Libya is between two and three times more populous than Bosnia and Kosovo, but less than one third the size of Iraq and Afghanistan, suggesting that the reconstruction effort in Libya would fall somewhere between the operations in the Balkans in the 1990s and the more demanding efforts after 9/11 in terms of cost, time, and difficulty.
Libya is, however, richer than Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, with a prewar per capita income of over $14,000 per year. War and sanctions did not devastate its economy as much as they did the other four. Libya, therefore, should return to prewar levels of economic activity more quickly than the others.
Libya is also more homogenous in terms of ethnicity, language, and religion than any of the other four societies. It does have a minority of Berber (Amazigh) speakers, who make up about ten percent of the population and are largely concentrated in the west and south. Although this group has agitated for greater cultural and linguistic autonomy, it has never called for secession. The rebel leadership, which is based in the east, also appears to be attuned to tensions between the long-marginalized province of Cyrenaica and the historically pro-Qaddafi areas of Tripolitania. By coordinating and cooperating with fighters in Libya's western mountains, it has sought to ensure that the liberation of Tripoli is perceived as broad-based, not simply
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