On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that Libya's interim government -- the National Transitional Council (NTC) -- deserves a seat in the United Nations.
Clinton told the 'Friends of Libya' conference in Paris that not only did rebel leaders earn a place at the U.N. by overthrowing Moammar Gadhafi, but that if admitted to the organization, international leaders could keep watch on the Council's progress. The N.T.C. has promised to establish a true democracy, and a U.N. influence could keep them on track.
The work does not end with the end of an oppressive regime, Clinton said. Winning a war offers no guarantee of winning the peace that follows. What happens in the coming days will be critical.
More and more governments are recognizing the N.T.C. as the true representatives of the Libyan people, adding a much needed legitimacy and confidence in the group. Russia is the most recent foreign power to do so, a significant statement from the Kremlin, which had long supported Moammar Gadhafi. (The last foreigner to speak with Gadhafi was Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the Russian head of the World Chess Federation.)
Yet, the line between watching the Council and guiding them is thin, and could easily be trampled upon. What the West needs to remember is that the Libyan uprising is a victory for the people of Libya. It is not a victory for democracy, although democracy needs to be the end result.
The same should be said for the Arab Spring in general. The West, if we are allowed to generalize, sees itself in the fight against oppression. But sometimes it needs to keep its hands off. NATO's decision to provide air-support for the rebels was certainly the right decision, but once Gadhafi has been captured and the conflict ends, NATO's should leave to let the N.T.C. determine its own fate.
There are both practical and ethical reasons for this. Ethically, it's simple: The Libyan people are finally able to speak for themselves, so they should not let others whisper into their ears. Moreover, the United States does not have a duty or obligation to help form Libya, and so it shouldn't.
Practically, if the democracy fails, the United States' and other nations' hands will be clean. This is a somewhat heartless statement, to be sure, but too many times has the United States built a foreign government as it saw fit, only to have that government turn against it. Panama and Nicaragua are a few good examples.
At the Paris meeting, world leaders are currently advising Libyan leaders on the country's next steps. This is a truly momentous conference and it's important for the rebels to see that they have international support. But, giving advice and meddling are close cousins, and France, England and the U.S. need to tread lightly. Immediate admittance into the U.N. is too much too fast.
Clinton could take a lesson from Algeria, ironically the country that is currently harboring at least five members of Gadhafi's immediate family. Algeria said Thursday that it is willing to recognize the N.T.C., but only once the revolution is over. For Algeria, the government first needs to fully represent the Libyan people before it can be called the representative of the Libyan people.
The NTC has said it is going to set up a government representative of all regions, and when it has done that, we'll recognize it, Mourad Medelci, Algeria's Foreign Minister said on French radio.
Right now, it is too early to admit the Council into the United Nations, no matter how good the rebels' intentions are. But once the war is over, and a government is in place, Libya's new voice will be hailed by the international organization as it should. Libya's new leaders will be a welcome addition to the U.N., and finally, the Libyan people will be represented in world politics.