Sunday, 13 March 2011

No UN - No Fly!

The Arab League has called on the UN to put in place the arrangements for implementing a no-fly zone over Libya, joining the chorus of rebel fighters in Libya and Libyan representatives at the UN, composed of Libyan government representatives who stepped down from their positions when violence was unleashed by the Gaddafi government against peaceful protesters. These protesters have since resorted to violence and have joined ranks with Libyan army soldiers who defected when faced with the proposition of turning against their own people. The call for enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya has been clear and consistent throughout the crisis that ensued after the Gaddafi regime began using weapons of conventional warfare against it's own people. That much is beyond doubt.

Yet, while the calls have been clear, academic and non-academic experts have raised their objections to what they believe will constitute another illegal war in the Middle East perpetrated by US-led, western forces such as NATO, and which violates the sovereignty of Libya. Their core objection is that no action should be taken without clear UN security council approval, and that such action should not be used as a means for re-establishing America's dominance on the globe, and in the middle east. Some have taken great pains to point out the ironic and paradoxical role that the US has played in supporting the very same dictators that it is now calling upon to step down in the middle east, that is, with the exception of Muammar Gaddafi, who has always been regarded as a pariah in the West despite Tony Blair's efforts to cosy up to the Libyan leader. The imposition of a no-fly zone, 'expert' observers have warned, constitutes a declaration of war by itself, and will involve air strikes against key Libyan military and other infrastructure. To implement a no-fly zone without the approval of the UN would constitute a violation of Libyan sovereignty.

These same experts have been at pains to point out that many of those calling for a no-fly zone over Libya now, once voiced their disagreement with the illegal war on Iraq and are therefore taking a hypocritical stance; one that is incongruent with prior positions. Yet there is a great difference between what is unfolding in Libya now, and what occurred in Iraq (and Afghanistan, Vietnam and so forth), and the two situations cannot be conveniently conflated and/or treated with the same tools of observation, analysis and intervention. Moreover, the US has clearly stated that it will take no action without the support of the UN, and will act in concert with the greater international community in reaching a decision over imposing a no-fly zone in Libya. And indeed, the US military itself seems reluctant to take action, preferring not to intervene in Libya so that troops returning from Afghanistan can go home as planned, and get the rest they have been promised.

Yet the accusations of continued neo-imperialism under the Obama led US government have rung out loudly from a number of esteemed experts and analysts, who purport to look beyond the diplomatic line taken by the US government, looking deeper into the motivations that lie behind them. And while there is cause for concern in respect of the US's aspirations to global hegemony, merely casting the Libyan 'civil war', 'uprising', or 'revolution' as another event in a chain of opportunistic US military ventures in the global arena may also be a misrepresentation. Yes, Libya has oil, and where there is oil capitalist and non-capitalist interests will congregate - yet answering the question whether the US will stand to gain more than it will lose by implementing a no-fly zone in Libya isn't clear.

The US is fighting multiple wars, under severe pressure from opposition, and is in a financial crisis of its own. Getting involved in what might prove to be a protracted civil war in Libya might in the end prove a greater loss for the US than a gain. Indeed, it is easier to obtain oil from more stable and cooperative oil abundant countries using standard business agreements than to wage war in a region with a fast changing political momentum - the end point of which cannot be predicted at this stage. In this sense, going to war in Iraq constituted a much 'safer' bet that Iraqi oil would be made available for exploitation of US led oil companies. That is, the war on Iraq occurred in a more or less stable geopolitical environment, while going to war in Libya for the same reasons now would be foolish. There is no guarantee that the region will adopt diplomatic stances and forge relationships that are favourable to the US once democracy has been established across the region. In this sense, the conflating the war on Iraq with a military intervention in Libya is misleading - there is a lot more risk associated with the middle east now as it is in a process of grand transition, the true end-state of which cannot be predicted with great certainty at present.

Hedging oil benefits against the cost of war in Libya in the current geopolitical context isn't as simple as it might have been six or seven years ago. The world, and the region has undergone (and is undergoing) significant changes and the risks are too high to reach the convenient conclusion that this is all about oil. This is not to negate that these motivations might be present in some shape or form, but that these motivations are most likely severely misplaced if they are the core reasons for intervening in Libya and it is unlikely that strategists in the White House and the US military are unaware of this - indeed, it may well explain the reluctance of the US military to get involved in the unfolding crisis in Libya, preferring to wait it out on the sidelines and see which way the situation resolves and to get access to Libyan oil through less costly means i.e. when the unfolding civil war has rendered on or both sides weakened and desperate.

Moreover, there is a strain of convenience in the argument that intervention in Libya will constitute another attempt to reassert US dominance and/or obtain access to oil - and an inappropriate 'soapboxing' of old, long-held objections to western and US hegemony being conveniently taken out and polished up using the Libyan crisis (civil war, revolution, whatever) as the brush. Academics and 'experts' often cannot resist the temptation to grandstand their own versions and interpretations of global events and the underlying processes that are at work in generating these events, irrespective of the specific context that governs newly emerging events. The idea that history is repeating itself might be severely misplaced where events in Libya and the middle east are concerned. It simply isn't that simple anymore. It is unlikely that if the UN says no to a no-fly zone, that the US will force its own military into a conflict that it is not interested in becoming involved in. For now there seems to be global and regional agreement that if the UN says no, then there will likely be no intervention in Libya, and we will all stand by and watch Libyans descend into the nightmares of civil war. 

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