Libya, the Middle East and the powers

The continuing struggle in Libya, with its dual character – between Colonel Gaddafi’s government and opposition forces largely centred in Benghazi, and between Libya and the NATO forces under UN Resolution General Assembly Resolution 1973, forces us to return to this issue. The struggle between the two internal opponents has reached a virtual stalemate, and the NATO powers are trying to strengthen the opposition on three fronts. They are continuing with the initial effort of support by seeking to provide the opposition with necessary war and physical survival material, and technical advice; but they are also sustaining heavy bombing of facilities in Tripoli, now with the clear intention of liquidating the state’s infrastructure and military capabilities, and possibly, from all appearances, Gaddafi himself. And thirdly, they have elicited the support of the International Criminal Court in seeking to institutionally delegitimize Gaddafi at the moral level, indicting him on grounds of infringing humanitarian rules by mercilessly liquidating opposition fighting forces and non-participants alike, and extending their charges to that of the authorization of rape.

As the conflict proceeds, other states look on. The African Union has issued a statement of concern at some of the actions of the NATO forces, while making efforts through its current Chairperson, President Zuma, to induce Gaddafi to come to the table with his opponents and arrive at some form of settlement of the civil war. But in one sense the African Union is on weak ground, having de facto accepted, earlier this year, the intervention of France in the Ivory Coast internal confrontation, after various efforts of mediation failed. The Arab League, having supported the UN Resolution and given the NATO intervention a certain moral legitimacy that would have calmed the concerns of states at the UN not initially readily inclined to it, have recoiled somewhat in the face of NATO’s heavy pressure on Gaddafi. In addition, the League’s full attention to the Libyan issue will have been partially diverted by the continuous uprisings of the Arab Spring. Following a partial reduction of protests in Yemen, after major injuries inflicted on its resisting President and his departure to Saudi Arabia for treatment, their prime concern would now appear to be the continuing strength of the popular revolt in Syria, and President Assad’s inability to prevail over it, or to propose measures that would permit an end to the protests, and internal negotiation. And Saudia Arabia, in particular, is also much preoccupied with the continuing demonstrations against Bahrain’s monarchy.

In many respects, the Middle Eastern Arab states will now be even more concerned to find a solution to the Syrian uprising than the uprising in Libya, in the sense that Syrian has always had a certain prominence as a geographically strategic, or pivotal state within the area. It has been able to exert influence on its neighbours, many of whom have been in one way or the other unstable, while the rule of the Assads – father and now son – has given Libya a certain stability. And this is so, in spite of the fact that it has no major oil deposits. For much of the period between the 1960s and the present, Syria has actually intervened in Lebanon. It has – along with neighbouring Iraq – been ruled for many years by the multi-country Ba’ath party, and as such has had a particular interest in the fate of post-US intervention Iraq; and it has served as a conduit for the movement of radical elements, who have periodically taken refuge in neighbouring Iran, back and forth from Iraq. As is well known, this area is something of a diplomatic maelstrom.

On the other hand, Libya, as a North African, Muslim state, has attracted attention from another Muslim-populated, though constitutionally secular state in the area, Turkey. This state, which has been tending to see itself as a kind of diplomatic bridge between Europe and the Middle East, and is a member of the NATO alliance, has in recent times been seeking to develop a more nuanced diplomacy in the search for resolution of disputes between the NATO powers and other entities of the Muslim world. Turkey (along with Brazil as one of the so-called emerging powers) had sought to mediate between the European and American members of NATO in their continuing dispute with Iran over its attempt to develop some form of nuclear proficiency. This effort, however, was not been appreciated by the United States in particular.

In addition, at the start of the uprising in Libya and in the course of UN discussions on what stance the organization should take, Turkey opposed both sanctions against Libya and then the subsequent NATO decision to establish a no-fly zone over the country. But as the conflict has prolonged itself, Turkey has taken the stance that Colonel Gaddafi is being over-recalcitrant in resisting efforts by friends and foes alike to induce him to begin negotiations with his opponents in Libya. And Prime Minister Erdogan has now called on the Libyan leader to yield power “for the sake of the country’s future,” adding that “one cannot establish future liberty, stability, peace and justice on blood.” In addition he has now taken the step originally taken by other NATO powers soon after the UN Resolution and “temporarily closed” his country’s mission in Libya.

This move by Turkey will be seen by the United States and the other NATO powers as a diplomatic advance for the position that they have taken since Resolution 1973. The US has been pressing the emerging powers to take a more activist (and naturally pro-US) role in peace-making and conflict resolution in various parts of the world. Only last week, China itself, traditionally non-interventionist in civil conflicts in the developing world as its has pursued its widening of economic relations there, has taken a hand in mediating what seemed to be a new difficulty in the border regions between the Sudan ruled from Khartoum, and the now soon to be recognized, Republic of Southern Sudan.

The NATO powers will now be looking forward to a further widening, in the developing world, of diplomatic pressure on the Colonel. In Africa, there is some sensitivity in countries like Nigeria with substantial Muslim populations, in going in that direction. There is always fear, as is in some measure being expressed now in relation to post-Mubarak Egypt, as to what kind of stability can be established in such post-civil war, or virtual civil war situations. But no doubt, those countries will be taking cognizance of the shift in position of Turkey, and waiting to see whether the apparently still-recalcitrant Gaddafi, will be doing the same.

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