At the end of the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, a US government official leans over and whispers in the ear of the Texas Congressman, “We have a problem”. Wilson had been a fanatical supporter of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, a major force in having the US government supply the rebels with considerable weapons to help them throw out the invading Soviet army. The “problem”, as it were, was that the weapons were now in the hands of the rebel forces who, after the withdrawal of Soviet troops, were beginning to use them for their own ends, including working with the Taliban against the West.
The transitional forces in Libya were supplied with considerable weapons to help them overcome the regular Libyan army. Paragraphs 9 and 10 of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 from February imposed a comprehensive arms embargo on Libya. But Resolution 1973, which was adopted in March and authorized military action against Libya, included language that some countries argue created a loophole in the embargo. “We decided to provide self-defensive weapons to the civilian populations because we consider that these populations were under threat," France’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gerard Araud told reporters in June. "In exceptional circumstances, we cannot implement paragraph 9 when it's for protecting civilians," Araud stated.
The ragtag group that started in Bengazi would not have been able to defeat the regular Libyan army without the necessary military hardware, if not training. Weapons flowed to the rebels with little control to whom or for what. “Defeat Gaddafi’s troops” was the marching order, and nothing more. Weapons flooded to the rebels as they had to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan.
But what would happen to the weapons once the war was over? In certain countries, Nepal for example, when a civil war ends the handing over of weapons by the rebels can be part of a peace agreement. There are even those who believe that weapons should have numbers like cars so that they can be registered and followed. In that way, there can be some form of control. The West – I refrain from specific names beside the French who publicly admitted their actions – generously gave weapons to the rebels. Defeating Gadaffi was so important that it appears that no consideration was given for collecting or controlling the weapons after the Colonel’s defeat, including those weapons that had been taken from government arsenals.
Why do I raise this issue? Rumors have it that many of the weapons used by the rebels have been stolen or shipped throughout the Maghreb and Northern Africa. Truckloads of material are making their way into the hands of the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb. This is what is often called unintended consequences; there seems to have been no check or control. But, the example of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan should have been a warning of what not to do; a massive shipment of arms without control is an invitation to disaster.
Once again, “we have a problem”. Although the rejoicing at the overthrow of the ruthless dictator is certainly merited, the consequences of the arms shipments does not bode well for the future of the entire region and beyond.