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Expert Alert: The battle for Libya’s future

Libyan rebels took control of Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli after battling loyalist forces for control of the capital for a third day on Tuesday. Meanwhile, they also continued their hunt for the elusive dictator as fighting continued elsewhere in Libya. As Gaddafi’s 40-year reign teeters on the brink, thoughts begin to turn toward what is next for the embattled and long-opressed north African country. Can the country unite to form a civil society and become a functioning democracy? How should the United States react?

We asked Patrice McMahon, associate professor of political science at UNL, for her thoughts. McMahon has extensive fieldwork experience in statebuilding during her time in Kosovo and Bosnia. She also recently finished an edited volume on statebuilding called Getting Its Act Together? The International Community and Statebuilding (forthcoming Routledge: London 2012) and is the author of the forthcoming Partners in Peace? Nongovernmental Organizations in Peacebuilding. McMahon’s thoughts on Libya:

“The international community should not use money as a proxy for policy. Although the international community ought to help Libya and countries in need, too often problems result b/c international actors descend, throw lots of money at a country/problem. This creates rising and unrealizable expectations and dependency.

“The U.S. should coordinate its aid, efforts and policies with its allies in Europe and in the region. This relates to two common problems with statebuilding/peacebuilding: lack of coordination among international actors and the “neighborhood effect.” Transitions need good neighborhoods; regardless of what we want/hope to do, we have to support and encourage regional stability.

“Invest in democrats as well as democracy. One of the important lessons foundations, NGOs and now governments realize is that it is important to invest in and support people; this is also known as capacity building. It is not as sexy as free elections but long term projects to promote rule of law, independent courts and a free media go much further to establishing and sustaining democracy.

Iraq and Afghanistan but other statebuilding efforts warn of the danger of allowing security to slip in the first days/months after a transition. This period is often chaotic; people are suddenly free but this does not mean that they will be responsible, fair, and peaceful.

Intervention is never neutral and it is easy to pick the “wrong guys.” Our emphasis should be on processes, practices and institutions.”

To schedule an interview with Dr. McMahon, contact her at 402.472.3235 or, or contact Steve Smith, National News Editor, University Communications, at 402.472.4226 or

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