12/01/2012 19:02 GMT | Updated 13/03/2012 05:12 GMT

After Libya, the UN Must Adopt a More Reasonable Approach to Post Conflict Resolutions

Those expecting UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon to use his second term as a period of quiet consolidation, before beginning the slow process of winding down, were in for a surprise as the New Year began.

The 67 year old instead announced his priorities, aimed primarily at fostering the Arab Spring and helping the process of democratisation globally. Ambitious, as well as risky, Ban has the confidence of knowing that he will not have to seek election again, and he also knows that his agenda is both hugely relevant and popular. The Secretary General has nailed his colours to the mast as essentially a 'man of the people'.

Beleaguered despots throughout the Middle East and beyond now know that the United Nations will not be silent when the human rights of their citizens are abused. And Ban has not been slow in defending the record of the United Nations in Libya, particularly Resolution 1973. Had the UN Security Council, under Ban's leadership, not moved to institute that resolution and 'Responsibility to Protect', Colonel Gadaffi would have likely proceeded with his threat to dismantle Libya's second city, Benghazi, brick by brick.

For the record UN Security Council Resolution 1973 passed with 10 votes in favour, with five abstentions (Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russian Federation). It authorised member States to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory. It also requested those countries taking military action individually or collectively "to immediately inform the Secretary-General of such measures". Furthermore the resolution requested "that Member States should inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take" and UN teams "will assess conditions and advise on humanitarian needs and threats in all areas affected by the conflict."

The military success of NATO in Libya does not mean that the UN will necessarily countenance similar tactics in altogether more complex Syria. Nor is Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the UN going to allow itself to be conveniently shoe horned into being depicted as agents for forcible regime change. Libya was in some respects a special case. However, what is apparent is that despite the UN's best endeavours Libya remains an unstable state and is still a threat to itself and the wider international community. The towns and oilfields are now littered with even more lethal unexploded ordinance than that which still remains from World War Two.

And this is where the UN's post conflict dilemma lies; how does it determine the likely long term effect of Resolution 1973? How much thought and planning has gone into cleaning up after the conflict has taken place? And what can the UN do to encourage the international community, and specifically members of the UN Security Council to destroy unexploded mines and bombs and collect the guns and ammunition before they end up in another giant arms bazaar?

In the case of Libya very little has been done to prevent weapons getting into the wrong hands. "We have been one of the main beneficiaries of the revolutions in the Arab world," Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a leader of the north Africa based Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM], told the Mauritanian news agency ANI. He made this claim days after the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Libya and its neighbours to secure the loose weapons - including some 20,000 man-portable surface-to-air missiles - before they fell into the hands of terrorists. The resolution specifically mentioned AQIM as a dangerous potential beneficiary.

Perhaps today's political leaders need to understand that while the military option may be an option of last resort, it is nonetheless a political decision that authorises military action. It follows that political leaders should therefore take responsibility for clearing up after they have achieved their military objectives. And if they don't, the United Nations needs to be able to ensure that they do.

Sadly, now that the UN mission in Libya has apparently been accomplished, the Libya Contact Group partners seem more eager to claim their economic spoils. France's Total has been promised to double their share of Libyan oil to 35%, Italy's Eni has provided Libya with a new Oil Minister and Anglo-America's BP and Exxon Mobil are ready to get for major expansion.

While the large Western corporations move back into Libya, Libyans seem unlikely to hand in weapons or help remove mines that protect their townships until their overall safety and security situation has been improved.

Until this does begin to happen Libyan civilians and foreign oil company workers will remain at risk and the country's economic recovery will remain on hold until the land is cleared of unwanted weapons and armed militias. Offering Western expertise in conflict resolution is unlikely to be taken remotely seriously by ordinary Libyans.

In light of the lessons learned by Libya's Arab Spring, it is now time that UN member states adopt a more responsible approach to the aftermath of UN resolutions that authorise military action and post conflict resolution.

That approach may have to come from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who is not afraid of showing leadership and sometimes spelling out some uncomfortable truths.