Why Didn’t Qaddafi go into exile?

Below are some thoughts on Qaddafi’s death and his decision not to seek exile from Barbara Walter, a professor of international relations at the University of California at San Diego. Professor Walter is a renowned expert on internal wars and terrorism and has published several outstanding books and articles on these topics as well as issues of bargaining, cooperation, and reputation more generally. We are glad to share her views here.

One of the many puzzles surrounding Muammar Qaddafi was his refusal to go into exile. Once NATO intervened on behalf of the rebels and Tripoli fell, Qaddafi must have known that he would eventually lose the war and that this would mean death. Instead of leaving the country, he decided to stay.

Why? One surprising answer has to do with the International Criminal Court. It used to be that exile was an attractive long-term option for dictators to take. Rather than stay and fight, they could live their lives in wealth and comfort in beautiful and stable places such as Paris or the Bahamas.

This changed as more and more countries ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC. Now seeking asylum is no longer easy or particularly attractive. Dictators can try to convince countries such as France, Britain, Venezuela, Mexico or Spain to let them settle in their capital cities or along their coastlines. But since all have ratified Rome, moving there is tantamount to turning oneself in to be prosecuted for war crimes. Qaddafi could seek refuge in countries that have not yet ratified Rome, such as the United States or Cuba or Zimbabwe or Sudan or Saudi Arabia. But those countries are either unwilling to accept him (the U.S. and Saudi Arabia) or unable to credibly commit to protecting him over time (Cuba, Zimbabwe, Sudan). How long could Qaddafi trust that the current regime in Cuba or Zimbabwe will remain in power to protect him?

There is evidence that Qaddafi considered different exile options as early as March of this year. And yet he stayed until his death last week. We will never know exactly what went through Qaddafi’s head in the last year of his life. Part of what drove him to fight to the end was almost certainly an exaggerated love of power and risk. But part of what drove him was also likely to be careful calculations about his alternatives. What Qaddafiís behavior reveals is a potentially unexpected and unfortunate side-effect of an increasingly successful ICC. By limiting the options nasty dictators have to seek exile, it is increasingly forcing them to stay. And by forcing them to stay, it could, inadvertently, be encouraging war.

15 Responses to Why Didn’t Qaddafi go into exile?

  1. kerokan October 25, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    Perhaps the ICC should be able to grant immunity to leaders in return for good behavior such as leaving the country. But then there is a commitment problem on the part of the leader. How can the ICC believe that the former leader will not meddle in his country’s affairs once he is safely out of the country. This was the problem with Charles Taylor of Liberia, right?

  2. brian October 25, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Interesting that so many (several) prominent dictators are now octogenarians, which indeed affects their credibility.

  3. anonymous coward October 25, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    “We will never know exactly what went through Qaddafi’s head in the last year of his life.”

    Bad word choice, that. I’d bet on 9mm parabellum.

  4. Tom Weidig October 25, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    >> By limiting the options nasty dictators have to seek exile, it is increasingly forcing them to stay. And by forcing them to stay, it could, inadvertently, be encouraging war.

    Yes, but once they are gone, they are gone for ever from that country (i.e. are dead) and cannot rule by proxy from exile. And it might moderate the actions of rational rulers fearing the courts.

  5. David Tomlin October 25, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    What does it mean to describe recent events as ‘potentially unexpected’ ?

    Pinochet’s arrest in London in 1998 sparked a lively discussion of this problem.

  6. James October 25, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    The biggest supporter of dictators in the last half century has been the US. What a hypocrite government they are, claiming to want to stop civilian massacres in Libya and Syria while watching silently countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain gun their people down in the streets. And of course there is always the fact that the US has killed untold thousands, millions even, of civilians in the last half century itself. And the political leaders here talk about respecting democratic rights even as they are violated in front of them as they speak (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqE6nTQd-as)(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGRXCgMdz9A). The answer to 1984 is 1776.

  7. Scott Monje October 25, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    “Once NATO intervened on behalf of the rebels and Tripoli fell, Qaddafi must have known that he would eventually lose the war and that this would mean death. Instead of leaving the country, he decided to stay.”

    I can see offering asylum to stop or avoid a war, but once it gets to this stage, why should the international community offer him anything?

    • Scott Monje October 25, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

      Actually, the biggest problem connected with Qadhafi is that we told him he would be safer if he gave up his nuclear weapons program and then we attacked him after he did. It wasn’t planned that way, but that’s the way it turned out. Now, of course, we’re telling Iran the exact same thing and profess not to understand how they could be skeptical.

  8. Mihai Martoiu Ticu October 26, 2011 at 6:19 am #

    Better dead than on a tropical island with the robbed wealth in his pocket. The graphic images of his fortunate end should be a signal to the rest of the tyrants: be very afraid.

  9. Mihai Martoiu Ticu October 26, 2011 at 6:30 am #

    Instead of saying that ICC encourages tyrants to stay and fight, one should say that ICC encourage them not to go to job interviews for dictator and if the job is forced on them, ICC encourages them to liberalize, before they get behind bars or end up as curiosum in cool cells, like Gaddafi.

  10. Acilius October 26, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    “The graphic images of his fortunate end should be a signal to the rest of the tyrants: be very afraid.” That’s the problem, tyrants are afraid- afraid of losing power. That kind of fear that drives ever-increasing brutality and makes it inconceivable that the tyrant will liberalize peacefully.

    • El Tigre October 27, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

      yeah, but fear and brutality often works… has someone read Machiavelli`s “Prince”?

  11. robert May 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    gak enak kerokan: http://play.kendincos.com/16635/Wnrptjnnrhlnrvzhl-gak-enak-kerokan.html

  12. ,drzwi przeciwpożarowe okleinowane May 25, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    This site was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have
    found something that helped me. Thanks a lot!Visit my website at ,drzwi przeciwpożarowe okleinowane 😉

  13. liposuction 2011 May 28, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Admiring the time and energy you put into your site
    and in depth information you present. It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed
    material. Fantastic read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.
    Visit my wesbite at liposuction 2011