NATO planes flying over Tripoli on Monday, guaranteeing the movement of anti-Gaddafi forces as they entered the capital, signalled the sharply reduced security of the Colonel and the imminence of his regime’s defeat. By Monday evening President Sarkozy of France had announced his invitation to the leadership of the anti-Gaddafi forces headquartered in Benghazi to visit Paris, showing the President’s determination to maintain the leadership momentum he had displayed in insisting on the internationalization of the Libyan issue through the adoption of UN Resolution 1973 and on the establishment of the NATO coalition as the leading force supporting change in Libya, a major source of petroleum and natural gas for Europe. The European Union, and in particular France and Britain, will certainly be claiming the Colonel’s departure as a diplomatic and political victory for themselves, reminding those in other countries that President Obama’s United States did show a certain hesitancy in the depth of that country’s support for the anti-Libyan venture as time went on; while other powers like China and Russia preferred not to support (thought they did not oppose by vote) the UN Resolution.
Defining all countries’ attitudes to the Libyan regime in the face of the popular uprising undoubtedly was consideration of what attitudes they had taken to Libya over the past 30 years of Gaddafi’s rule. In the case of the United States there had been a relatively early demonstration of negative attitudes to the Colonel’s regime, dominated by fears that Libya was concentrating on developing a nuclear capability. The bombing excursion into Libya ordered by President Reagan in 1986 (ostensibly against alleged Libyan attacks in Germany) seemed to have a muting influence on him as far as that ambition was concerned. On the other hand the British, aggrieved by what was widely held to be the Libyan government-inspired Lockerbie bombing in 1988, seemed in the last few years to have mitigated its hostility with the controversial release of the “Lockerbie bomber” imprisoned in Scotland, and a renewal of diplomatic relations by the Blair administration. In recent times, the most embroiled of the European countries with Libya would seem to have been Italy, heavily dependent on the country for its oil imports; but then again, Italy was the last imperial presence in Libya, and there remained ties based not only on economic relationships but historical sentiment and geographical proximity.
China, as demonstrated in its attitude to the problems of Sudan and to other countries in Africa in which it has been investing to secure access to both food and mineral commodities, has basically maintained on this issue a rigid stance of ‘non-interference in the internal affairs‘ of other countries. And Russia has taken up a not dissimilar stance, influenced not so much by the traditional big power search for raw materials, as by its cognizance of the extensive difficulties it has experienced with countries on its borders which it had previously dominated as the Soviet Union. The Russian intervention in Georgia in 2008 was heavily criticized by the NATO powers, and the government is aware of the extent to which the NATO powers are maintaining a keen scrutiny of Russia’s relations with now independent Ukraine, the birthplace of Nikita Khruschev. The country is, also, plagued with problems of geopolitical proximity and ethnicity on its Asian borders, an area over which, given the increasing geopolitical presence of China, it wishes to maintain a certain influence, if not control. And paralleling the relative diplomatic activity of China and Russia has been a not dissimilar stance by India, a country highly conscious of the salience of ethnic conflicts in multi-ethnic countries, and conscious of Western concerns with the Sri Lanka internal intervention against the Tamil rebellion over the last decade and a half.
From the perspective of the developing world, the African Union has attempted a certain amount of mediation, indicated in the various visits of President Zuma to Tripoli to seek to persuade President Gaddafi to soften his stance towards his internal opponents towards a compromise solution. But these initiatives have been to no avail. The African Union is not generally being seen as having sufficient diplomatic leverage over the resolution of problems within its own continent, as evidenced by its eventual acquiescence in President Sarkozy’s authorization of the use of French troops to bring the political conflict in Ivory Coast, increasingly bordering on widespread civil war, to an end. And the English-speaking countries of West Africa in particular are surely still well aware of their own approval of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to intervene in Sierra Leone in 2000, in the face of government brutality there; an initiative justified by Blair with a new doctrine of “liberal interventionism” which the present conservative British government has adopted as its own justification for intervention in Libya.
Most importantly, the Arab countries of the Middle East, paralysed by the domestically inspired destruction of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, traditionally, or at least since the rise of Nasser, the leading protagonist of Middle Eastern diplomacy, have really played a minimal role in the Libyan affairs. Egypt, since President Anwar Sadat’s partial resolution of the country’s difficulties with Israel, with the strong support of the United States, has remained a fairly consistent supporter of American initiatives in the area, including that country’s stances towards Israel. A significant bonus for the NATO desire to move into Libya at the start of the civil war there, was the Arab League’s acquiescence in Resolution 1973. And in spite of a degree of wavering on the League’s part after the NATO intervention, the removal of the Mubarak regime has virtually paralysed any possibility of Egypt developing a countervailing diplomacy. But Mubarak’s stance had been strongly supported by Saudi Arabia, mortally fearful of the rise of republican regimes in the area, although always hostile to Gaddafi, however much of a Muslim he claimed to be. But Saudi Arabia and the rest of the region have been fully occupied, in this period, by the civil threats to royalist regimes in Bahrain, Jordan and Morocco (after the fall of the conservative regime in Tunisia), and to the implications of the downfall of the Yemen regime.
As we have observed in an earlier editorial, the Libyan intervention has been seen by the Western powers, particularly those in Europe, as an important justification of the continuing necessity for humanitarian intervention, which has, in recent years, come to be defined as the principle of “the responsibility to protect” ( conventional acronynm R2P) citizens under extreme suppression by their governments, particularly those characterized by a lack of democracy and commitment to the maintenance of human rights. The European powers in particular, are no longer embarrassed by claims that they were once perpetrators of suppressions in various colonial countries (though their efforts against the Mau Mau rebellion still rankle in that country). And they claim that the new standard is that established by the United Nations for the appropriate observation of the human rights of citizens, to which all members of the UN are required to adhere.
But of course, the old saying that “circumstance alter cases” still prevails, and the powers retain the right to selective interventions for reasons which they insist upon. That has been the case in Libya, where oil and natural gas have played a significant part in the interest that the western powers have shown there. The British in particular have shown umbrage over the fact that, after what many of their citizens see as an embarrassing subordination of their government to Gaddafi over Lockerbie, Gaddafi has seemed to be causing the United Kingdom further embarrassment by his refusal to respond to entreaties to take remedial action in terms of internal political reforms. Gaddafi misinterpreted the depth of their humiliation, and in turn, they (with other countries of the EU) will now have a significant influence in the near-term economic and political development of natural resource-rich Libya.
Yet, they will most likely find that in the short term, the economic aspect is likely to be easier than the political.