It would be really uplifting to imagine United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 on Thursday was voted just to support the beleaguered anti-Muammar Gaddafi movement with a no-fly zone, logistics, food, humanitarian aid and weapons. That would be the proof that the “international community” really “stands with the Libyan people in their quest for their universal human rights”, in the words of United States ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.
Yet maybe there’s more to doing the right (moral) thing. History may register that the real tipping point was this past Tuesday when, in an interview to German TV, the African king of kings made sure that Western corporations – unless they are German (because the country was against a no-fly zone) – can kiss goodbye to Libya’s energy bonanza. Gaddafi explicitly said, “We do not trust their firms, they have conspired against us … Our oil contracts are going to Russian, Chinese and Indian firms.” In other words: BRICS member countries.
It’s quite interesting that UN resolution 1973 had 10 votes in favor, zero against it, and five abstentions. These came exactly from the four BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), plus Germany. Brazil and Germany had voiced their deep skepticism over military action for days, preferring a diplomatic solution; but in the case of Russia, India and China, other (energy) motivations may have been at play. The top four BRICS members (the other is South Africa, which voted for resolution and formally joins the expanded group in April) tend to coordinate their voting in every major decision.
Fly me to the oil
So cynics have every right to invoke the time-tested mantra: it’s the oil, stupid.
Libya is the largest oil economy in Africa, ahead of Nigeria and Algeria. It holds at least 46.5 billion barrels of proven oil reserves (10 times those of Egypt). That’s 3.5% of the global total. Libya produces between 1.4 and 1.7 million barrels of oil a day, but wants to reach 3 million barrels. Its oil is extremely prized, especially with an ultra-low cost of production of roughly \$1.00 a barrel.
When Gaddafi threatened Western oil majors, he meant the show would soon be over for France’s Total, Italy’s ENI, British Petroleum (BP), Spanish Repsol, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, Hess and Conoco Phillips – though not for the China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC). China ranks Libya as essential for its energy security. China gets 11% of Libya’s oil exports. CNPC has quietly repatriated no less than 30,000 Chinese workers (compared to 40 working for BP).
For its part Italian energy giant ENI produces over 240,000 barrels of oil a day – almost 25% of Libya’s total exports. No less than 85% of Libya’s oil is sold to European Union (EU) countries.
So a who’s who of profiteers of the – in theory – UN-sanctioned US/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)/Arab League military operation in Libya has got to include European Union and Anglo-American Big Oil. Not to mention Wall Street – think about those billions of dollars of Libyan financial assets deposited in Western banks, and now confiscated; and of course US/EU weapons producers.
Depending on how it is implemented, and for how long Gaddafi resists, UN resolution 1973 is intimately linked to severe disruption of oil supply to the EU, especially Italy, France and Germany; and that implies all sorts of geopolitical implications, starting with the US-EU relationship. Everyone wants to be well positioned for the post-Gaddafi energy environment.
The key point of UN resolution 1973 is point four – as in “take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.
It’s essential to stress that “take all necessary measures” goes way beyond a no-fly zone, stopping short of a land invasion. Crucially, it covers air strikes, or cruise missiles unleashed on Gaddafi tanks on the road to Benghazi, for instance. But it may also cover bombing of Gaddafi regime installations in Tripoli – even his headquarters. With Gaddafi willing to fight to the death it’s fair to assume the mandate only ends with regime change.
But what about Bahrain?
Time for Hypocrisy Alert number 1. It was delightful to watch Alain Juppe back as French minister of foreign affairs – and preaching about humanitarian values – in place of Chanel icon Michele Alliot-Marie, who spent a holiday in Tunisia in the middle of the popular battle to get rid of tyrant Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
The Barack Obama administration – at least in public – was split between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (in favor of no-fly), and Pentagon supremo Robert Gates (against it). President Obama never revealed his cards up to the last minute (apart from stating that Gaddafi must go). Acting in such a way he pushed the UN to lead, with the Anglo-French duo working alongside an Arab country, Lebanon, to polish a draft.
What harsh critics had seen as the president recklessly laying his credibility on the line, and his “failure to act decisively in support of freedom” perhaps should be seen as a canny shadowplay, leaving the impression of the UN legitimizing another – the nasty term is inevitable – international “coalition of the willing”, and not a Western intervention. Humanitarian non-imperialism, anyone?
Now it all depends on how NATO will operate out of French military bases along the Mediterranean and Italian air force and naval bases in Sicily, at a cost of \$300 million a week. The Pentagon’s Gates has already redeployed US naval assets close to the Libyan coast. And he assured Obama that the Pentagon was capable – how could it not? – of opening a third war front.
Time for Hypocrisy Alert number 2. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan may all be collaborators of the US/NATO anti-Gaddafi force. Three of these are Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members. As part of the Arab League they all voted last week in favor of a no-fly zone. What a cosmic irony to see these four autocracies supporting a military operation for the benefit of the same kind of protesters who want justice, dignity and democracy in their own backyards.
The provisional, military Egyptian government, more sensibly, has already said it won’t take part in military operations. Instead, the Egyptian military are shipping assault rifles and ammunition across the border to eastern Libya – with Washington’s approval.
So the question is inevitable. Would the UN vote with the same zeal to impose a no drive zone on Saudi Arabia – to prevent it from sending tanks and troops across the causeway to repress people in Bahrain, a country it has already invaded?
Time for Hypocrisy Alert number 3. Washington, according to the brand new Obama administration doctrine, applies “US outreach” to rebels when dealing with “evil” dictators” such as Gaddafi. The rebels eventually get full UN support. Then Washington preaches “regime alteration” when dealing with “our” bastards, such as Bahrain’s al-Khalifas and the House of Saud. The dictators get away with murder.
The ball (of fire) in the Med is now in Gaddafi’s court. His minister of defense has already warned that all aerial and naval traffic in the Mediterranean is at risk – and every civilian and military target is fair game. Gaddafi for his part told Portuguese TV channel RTP, “if the world gets crazy with us we will get crazy too. We will respond. We will make their lives hell because they are making our lives hell. They will never have peace.”
So watch out. The great 2011 Arab revolt is about to get crazy. This Club Med war may be a blast – or a raging, bloody mess.
 These are key points of the resolution authorizing action to protect Libyan civilians from Muammar Gaddafi:
- It expresses the UN’s grave concern at the deteriorating situation, the escalation of violence, and the heavy civilian casualties, condemns the gross and systematic violation of human rights, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and summary executions and says that the attacks against civilians may amount to crimes against humanity and poses a threat to international peace and security.
- A no-fly zone is an important element for the protection of civilians as well as the safety of the delivery of humanitarian assistance and a decisive step for the cessation of hostilities in Libya, it says.
- It demands the immediate establishment of a cease-fire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians and that the Libyan authorities comply with their obligations under international law…and take all measures to protect civilians and meet their basic needs, and to ensure the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance.
- It authorizes UN member states to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding the previous arms embargo, to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.
- Requests the co-operation of the Arab League member states in that.
- Decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians exempting humanitarian flights and authorizes member states and Arab League nations acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights.
- Calls on member states to intercept boats and aircraft it believes may be taking arms and other items banned under the previously passed UN embargo and includes armed mercenary personnel in that category – telling members states to comply strictly with their obligations…to prevent the provision of armed mercenary personnel to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
- Member states should ensure domestic businesses exercise vigilance when doing business with entities incorporated in Libya if the States have information that provides reasonable grounds to believe that such business could contribute to violence and use of force against civilians.
- Requests that the UN Secretary General creates a group of up to eight experts to oversee the implementation of the Resolution.