With the violent developments around Libya's rebellion a familiar image is emerging. Western leaders and media join in a chorus of great moral indignation and calls are heard to protect the Libyan population from greater calamity. The déjà-vu level goes still up when we see where it all comes from. The United States and the United Kingdom made the proposal to install a no-fly-zone in order to prevent Qadhafi's air attacks against his own population. British prime minister, Cameron, gave his army the order to be prepared. The US increased their military presence and NATO concentrates its AWACS-radar planes in the region on Libya. The Pentagon realises the risks of such an operation that could evolve into an open military confrontation, as Libyan anti-air batteries have to be eliminated.
The image one sees is very much the same as the one of the first Gulf war againist Iraq in 1991. Both countries, US and UK joined by France, had declared a no-fly-zone above northern and southern Iraq in order to protect the population. Regurlarly, bombardments were thought necessary. This happenend wihout a clear UN mandate but in the light of the humanitarian need this was no obstacle at all for these western powers. Compared to today's situation, there can be a slight difference. At that time the west tried to situate its operations within a broad interpretation of UN resolution 688. Today's discussions are openly taking place outside the UN between the NATO member countries, with some lip-service to the UN and human rights.
Since the end of the Cold War NATO has developed global ambitions particularly in those regions were our energy security is at stake. NATO's humanitarian discourse may be a good selling point, in the case of Libya is all too transparant. Many NATO allies and western companies were keen to do business with Qadhafi's regime. Let us just look at the arms trade. Since the end of the arms embargo of 2004 few have been the western countries to restrict their export permits to Libya, in spite of the poor human rights score of the country. Between 2005 and 2009 Italy, France, UK and Germany granted arms permits worth 500 million euro to the Libyan regime. Belgium stood in 2009 for an arms export of 22.3 million euro to Libya, and that under a so-called severe Belgian legislation. In 2009 European arms exports to North-Africa (2 billion euro) and the Middle Easte (9.6 billion euro) doubled (!) compared to the previous year. Political leaders know all too well that the risk that these weapons could be used for internal repression is dramatically real.
Once we talk about arms trade all ethics disappear. NATO's secretary general Rasmussen's declaration that he cannot imagine the international community and the UN not to stand up against those 'horrible' violations of human rights and international human right, is absolutely scandalous and profoundly hypocritcial. These violations in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen or Bahrein, Libya, Saudi Arabia are perpetrated with western weapons. The regimes concerned control vast reservers of natural resources and can thus count on our political support. Neither NATO nor its key-role players have genuine human rights concerns. They first of all think to secure energy supplies: what is needed is a series of regimes, democratic or not, which are ready to supply oil at reasonable price. Let 's get it straight. What is actually at stake for 'operation Libya' is not democratisation, but control over rich oil reservers, the destabilisation of Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) and if possible the privatisation of the oil industry to the benefit of western multinational corporations. NOC is 25th in the top 100 list of oil companies. Libya stands for more than 3.5% of the world's oil resources. This is double the US share. The Libyan population and insurgents know all too well the western motivation and they are particularly prudent over any plea for a military intervention. They remember Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq and understand that once foreign troops have landed, they will not leave easily.
Ludo De Brabander works for Vrede vzw, a Flemish peace movement in Belgium
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