Sunday, 8 April 2012

Libya, Syria, ‘known unknowns’ and the Law of Unintended Consequences

The Law of Unintended Consequences can be blamed for many events. However, some events are probable, if not entirely predictable. The fallout from the Libyan 'liberation' movement is a case in point. Security analysts may refer to it as 'blowback' but for the rest of us it is often simply the unintended effects of covert espionage operations.

Recent historical examples of such blowback include the Al-Qaeeda movement arising at least partially out of American / western support for Muslim fighters opposed to the 1980s Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Or British backed Malayan communists trained to fight against the Japanese during World War Two that turned their sights on British / western interests following the end of the war.

The blowback from Libya's instability is just beginning.

From the start, it was clear that Libyan leader Gaddafi's demise will lead to a boiling pot overflowing troubles in Libya and also in Libya's neighborhood. Tribal rivalries coupled with money and weapons form a lethal combination. Throw in a domestic Libyan leadership vacuum and power hungry individuals and there is little chance of an armed struggle being avoided.

Today's Libya is no more than a huge weapons dump awash with funds from the western and Arab world containing large numbers of young, unemployed persons and an absence of any type of state authority, neither military nor police.

Consequently, news reports of localized fighting killing almost 150 people in Libya's border areas with Chad will surprise few security analysts. Arguably, it is only a matter of time before these troubles spread into Chad. Already, the Islamist sweep into Northern Mali is primarily due to the movement of pro-Gaddafi armed fighters seeking sanctuary following their retreat from Libya. Mali is as good a place as any.

Surely, in time the diffusion of instability from Libya will affect other parts of North Africa.

Algeria's troubles with a violent Islamist movement may resurface with a renewed inflow of weapons and fighters. Egypt's 'troublemakers' in the Sinai peninsula have already made their presence felt. Their propensity to create unrest might only increase as Gaddafi's armoury is sold to the highest bidder. Inevitably, Sudan and Niger will find themselves swirling in the same cauldron of political violence and instability.

Critics argue temporary instability is a price worth paying for the removal of Gaddafi. However, the real question must be whether there is a constant need for intervention by foreign powers in the affairs of other countries? And, if so, why is so little thought given to the aftermath to such intervention (remember General Jay Garner's Iraq)?

It took Iraq almost a decade to recover from the effect of the US invasion – and it is still not fully recovered. Afghanistan still suffers from the aftermath of the original Soviet invasion in 1979. Now Libya is out of the picture for the next decade or so. Syria appears to be next on the list.

Where does the list end? Pakistan – as soon as the country's importance as a supply line for NATO troops in Afghanistan wanes (further).

The architect of the Iraq war, Rumsfeld, once famously said, "[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know."

Nevertheless, there are also some 'probable knowns' and one of these 'facts' is that instability from Libya (and Syria) will surely spread from each country to its immediate neighborhood.


Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

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