Following months of fighting to defeat Qaddafi, it looks like the rebels are poised for victory. In terms of civil war settlements, this is potentially very good news for two reasons.
First, one of the most important findings in civil war research in the past decade is that when civil wars are ended by rebel victories, as opposed to negotiated settlements, the peace that follows is much more likely to last. Second, and of almost equal importance, when non-Marxist rebels win, political liberalization is also more likely to follow than when a civil war ends any other way. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the reason rebel victories strongly correlate with more stable and democratic outcomes is that in order to defeat the incumbent regime, rebels are forced to develop overlapping competences which include organization and administration, a rudimentary justice system (usually one intended to overcome the defects of the incumbent’s system), and a robust security sector that can effectively deploy discriminate violence. These competences, though necessary to run a government well, are of course not sufficient. Second, rebels rely on social support to achieve their victories. This support includes the provision of logistics and intelligence; but also the all-important element of legitimacy. In the case of Libya’s imminently victorious rebels, neither factor seems sufficiently developed.
This is the curse of foreign intervention, however necessary or well-intended: when done swiftly and overwhelmingly (as in the Libya case) it tends to short-circuit both the development of rebel competencies and the acquisition by rebels of the legitimacy they will need to rule.
For more on rebel victory in civil wars see my article, “Ending Civil Wars: A Case for Rebel Victory?” in the journal International Security, Volume 34, Number 4, Spring 2010, pp. 7-36, and my 2010 book, Securing the Peace: The Durable Settlement of Civil Wars (Princeton, 2010).