Keyword in Focus

Building a New Libya: What Do ISN Partners Say?

Patronizing or just supportive? David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy walking Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the Transitional National Council (TNC), during their visit to Tripoli on 15 September; image: The Prime Minister's Office/flickr

On 15 September, a ‘new Libya‘ was welcomed among the members of the international community: first by Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron, who visited Tripoli that day; then by the UN General Assembly, which recognized the Transitional National Council as Libya’s rightful representative the following day. The African Union (AU) reluctantly accepted the new reality on 20 September.

Even though Libya has regained its diplomatic status, it is only starting to rebuild itself. In this context, three main questions emerge: What are the problems the new Libya faces? How should these problems be addressed? And finally, what role should external actors play in rebuilding the country?

In the following paragraphs, I will give an overview of how some of the ISN’s partners have begun to answer these questions.

Palestine and More: the 66th UN General Assembly

Full house this week: the UNGA during its General Debate, courtesy of UN Photo/flickr

September marks the beginning of term not only for students but also for hundreds of UN diplomats in New York. Taking over the role of Assembly president from Joseph Deiss (Switzerland), Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser (Qatar) opened the 66th UN General Assembly last Tuesday. After having had a couple of days to deal with organizational matters, the GA started its substantive deliberations today:

Revival of the “Red Booklet”

Civil Defense was published in Switzerland in 1969 (left, courtesy of Histamut/Wikimedia Commons) and re-published in Japan for the third time in 2003 (right, courtesy of

The question intrigued me. When abroad, I am used to being asked whether it was true that all Swiss men had a military rifle at home.  But, before a Japanese friend asked me about it the other day, I had never heard about a book called Civil Defense, which in the 1960s was apparently handed out to every household by the Swiss government. What was she talking about? And why on earth is a dated Swiss book, unknown to me, popular among the Japanese?

The volume was known in Switzerland as the “red booklet“, which is a double irony: the ‘booklet’ is 320 pages long and full of anti-communist ideology. Zivilverteidigung (Civil Defense) was published in 1969 and 2.6 million copies were distributed to Swiss households for free. It served two purposes: 1) as a guide for the Swiss population about how to behave during, and prepare for, national disasters, including nuclear war; and 2) to instill a spirit of patriotism and resistance towards everything foreign and dangerous (at that time, mainly communism).

The red booklet included lyrics of patriotic songs and, most interestingly, two versions of a story in which Switzerland is threatened by revolutionary forces supported by an outside power. In the first version, written on the right-hand pages of the book, the Swiss people resist and save their country; in the second version, written (of course) on the left-hand pages, the revolution succeeds and Switzerland collapses.

Just a year after its publication in Switzerland, in 1970, Civil Defense was translated into Japanese, and that’s not all: Minkan Bōei (民間防衛), as it’s known in Japanese, was re-published in 1995 and again in 2003. With 150,000 copies sold in all, it isn’t quite a best-seller. Nevertheless, the red booklet remains popular in Japan.

Not so in Switzerland, where it was already out of fashion at the time of its original publication:

A Timely Survey on Small Arms

Most states support the inclusion of small arms and light weapons into the scope of the Arms Trade Treaty. China, Egypt, Ethiopia and Iran are the odd ones out. Screenshot from

Private security companies (PMCs) employ twice as many people as police forces worldwide. Yet, PMCs only hold a fraction of the firearms possessed by law enforcement agencies.

This is one of the findings (pdf) presented in the Small Arms Survey 2011 published last week by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. This year’s theme is States of Security.  In the introduction, Robert Muggah, research director at Small Arms Survey, writes: “scholars and policy-makers are revisiting certain fundamental questions about security provision in the 21st century: Who actually provides security, and under whose authority?”

Apart from this special focus, which resulted in one chapter on private security and small arms, and another on multinational corporations and private security, the volume features statistics on small arms and light weapons (SALW) transfers. There we learn that the US, Italy, Germany, Brazil and Switzerland are the top exporters of SALW. The biggest importers are the US, Canada, the UK, Germany and Australia.

The Small Arms Trade Transparency Barometer reveals that Switzerland, the UK, Germany, Serbia and Romania are the most transparent among the big small arms exporters. It does not come as a surprise that Switzerland, the UK and Germany are also among the biggest sponsors of the Small Arms Survey research project. Nor is it surprising that Iran and North Korea are the two least transparent exporters of SALW.

The publication of the Small Arms Survey is timely:

Privatizing Conflict Mediation? Not Really

Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari has been a mediator for them all: governments, the UN and NGOs. Image: Joi Ito/flickr

In a recent article, The Economist suggests that efforts to resolve international conflicts are increasingly being outsourced to NGOs such as the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD Centre) or the United States Institute for Peace (USIP).

While we at the ISN are proud to have our partners mentioned among the leading conflict mediators — and grateful, as ever, to USIP and HD Centre for sharing their expertise with us in the form of case studies, practical guides and research reports — the Economist raises a serious question.  Have governments really lost their taste for mediating conflicts? Is the UN really as paralyzed by competing political agendas as the article suggests?

Even as private organizations play a bigger role in peace processes today than they did in the past, governments and the UN are hardly less active in this area. Consider the following: