Published April 6, 2011 at TheAtlantic.com.
Flooding the country with guns could set off an unpredictable and dangerous chain of events. We’ve seen it happen before
Here’s a thought experiment: Setting aside issues of legality and logistics, let’s suppose the U.S. arms Libya’s rebels with a range of small arms and light weapons — rifles, pistols, shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons, crates of grenades. We teach the rebels how to use them, essentially standing up an alternate Libyan army. Eventually we go home, whether they win or lose, pleased to have done something we think was right.
But then what? Even in the best-case outcome — a decisive victory by rebels who then immediately join together in unity to embrace Libyan democracy — what about all those guns? What happens in a post-conflict Libya awash in arms, heavily populated by young men who know how to use them, who lack jobs or money or any prospect for either? In most modern militaries, the guns belong to the state, not individual soldiers. But whatever post-conflict government Libya cobbles together is likely to be weak and fractured at best. Libya’s new government would struggle to exercise control over these munitions in the first days after fighting ended, and individual fighters would return to their homes better armed than when they left. What they’ll then choose to do with those weapons is anybody’s guess. One thing is certain: our guns would not stay in Libya, and there would be nothing we could do about it.
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