Libya: A Counterrevolution, or a Twitter Aircraft Carrier

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.
Ernest Benn

The global process initiated by the United States to protect its “national interests,” strengthen its dominant position and further spread its influence, and, as such, capture new regions that are strategically important from a long-term perspective while simultaneously expelling not only its rivals but—when necessary—its closest allies is gaining momentum.

The “jasmine, olive” and other date revolutions are part of a planned large-scale operation aimed at replacing the ruling elites in a number of Arab countries using cyber network technologies under the doctrine of “manageable chaos.” So what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and several other countries cannot be called revolutions, because not only were their regimes not replaced, but little changed overall. The chief outcome is supposed to be a strengthening of Western influence on those who acquire the right to make national-level strategic decisions.

Libya is receiving special attention for two reasons—the recalcitrance of its leader and its huge reserves of high-quality oil. During the 42 years that Moammar Gadhafi has been in power, he has demonstrated that he is truly independent. His earliest decisions deprived the United States of several strategically important facilities, among them the Matiga Air Base on the outskirts of Tripoli, the largest airbase in the region. Nationalization of the oil industry and the pursuit of policies that often are radically different from Washington’s ideas contributed to the transformation of Colonel Gadhafi into the United States’ sworn enemy.

“The mad dog of the Middle East”—that is what the famous “peacemaker” Ronald Reagan called Gadhafi in 1986, with the delicacy that is characteristic of those who inhabit the White House. In April of that same year, the US Air Force carried out massive missile and bomb attacks on Tripoli, Benghazi and other Libyan cities. The target was Gadhafi himself. To kill him, not only were air defense sites attacked, but places where he might have been located were also bombed, including densely populated areas. The numerous dead civilians were categorized as “collateral damage”—that term later became very popular in the United States to justify the killing of innocent people in various countries under the pretext of “fighting terrorism.”

A quarter-century later, the United States succeeded in finding an opening and decided to play off the long latent mutual hostility between inhabitants of the western (Tripolitania with its center in Tripoli) and eastern (Cyrenaica with the center in Benghazi) parts of the country. The reason for the “difficult relations” is banal—Gadhafi, a native of Sirte, deposed King Idris, who was from Benghazi; and the tribe has not forgotten. Suffice it to say that whereas Tripoli celebrated Gadhafi’s 40th anniversary in power on September 1, 2009 with incredible fanfare (about 10,000 soldiers from almost 50 countries marched in a military parade, including a company from Russia’s Presidential Guards Regiment). The celebrations in Benghazi were much more restrained, almost unnoticeable.

Why now? In recent years, Libya seemingly has successfully developed relations both with the West and the East. Gadhafi has solidified its position as a prominent figure in the African Union and even received the unofficial title of “King of Kings.”

In 2004, Gadhafi proclaimed that he was halting development of weapons of mass destruction and admitted responsibility for a number of terrorist attacks, including Lockerbie; and Libya paid $1.5 billion into a fund to compensate victims of terrorism. In response, the United States restored diplomatic relations and lifted international sanctions. International oil companies immediately began a tough competitive battle for drilling rights in the country.

An agreement was signed with Royal Dutch Shell within a month after the sanctions were lifted. During a visit by Prime Minister Tony Blair to Tripoli in 2007, a $1 billion contract was announced for two concessions to explore an area of 54,000 square kilometers on the inland Ghadames field and in the Sirte offshore basin over a seven year period. Soon, such giants as Total, Conoco Phillips, CNPC, Russia’s Gazprom and dozens of smaller firms appeared in Libya.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Libya in April 2008. As usual, the visit was immediately dubbed “historic”—but not without reason. Russia canceled Libya’s $4.5 billion debt “in exchange for multibillion-dollar contracts for Russian companies.” Dozens of documents were signed, including a Declaration on strengthening friendship and developing cooperation between the two countries, as well as a number of major contracts. For example, Russian Railways committed to build a 554-km railroad along the Mediterranean coast between Sirte and Benghazi for $3.5 billion over a four year period. It soon became known that a 2004 contract had been revived to build a firearms factory in Libya, primarily to manufacture AK-100 assault rifles.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Tripoli in September 2008—the first visit by a US official at that level since 1957. During talks, Ms. Rice said, “This is a good time for a constructive relationship between the United States and Libya to emerge.” Analysts at the time agreed that Rice’s visit mainly explored political prospects and the possibility of getting access to Libyan oil. Gadhafi raised the issue of the recently established Africa Command of the US Armed Forces (he described it as a manifestation of colonialism) and warned the United States against a military presence in Africa.

On October 31, 2008, Gadhafi made an official visit to Moscow at the personal invitation of Vladimir Putin. The talks went well and primarily concerned the expansion of military-technical cooperation. According to some reports, Gadhafi also let it be known that Libya was prepared to consent to a logistics base for Russian naval vessels in Benghazi (there had been a logistics base there similar to the one located in the Syrian port of Tartus prior to 1992). Libya believed that Russian weapons and a Russian naval presence should serve as a guarantee against a possible US invasion. Squadrons of Russian warships entered Libyan ports twice in 2008; they included the Peter the Great missile cruiser, the Admiral Chabanenko anti-submarine destroyer and the Neustrashimy frigate.

A pivotal moment came in January 2009 when Gadhafi announced that Libya might nationalize foreign oil companies if the price of oil on the world market increased to $100 per barrel. He added that prices at that level would let Libya control its oil industry without foreign involvement and stressed that “nationalization is our legal right.”

Soon afterwards, the Libyan National Oil Corporation revised the terms of existing contracts with the French company Total SA to develop the al-Jurf oil field, which produces 45,000 barrels of oil per day, and the Mabrouk oil field—Libya received a one-time bonus of $500 million, and its share was increased to 50%. It was announced that contracts with other foreign companies operating in Libya were subject to revision, and their share in developments should gradually be reduced to 10-15%. By the way, Russia’s Gazprom and Tatneft were initially content with a modest 10.5%.

Some details of the arms contracts between Russia and Libya became known at about the same time. The cost of aircraft alone, including the multi-purpose Su-35 fighter, which was being offered for export for the first time, came to $1 billion under contracts already signed. Contracts for about the same amount had been concluded to upgrade 145 T-72M1 tanks and S-125 anti-aircraft missile systems. Negotiations to sell Libya T-90 tanks, Project 636 submarines, Molniya high-speed missile boats, Favorit S-300PMU2 and Tor M2E air defense systems, Ka-52 Alligator and Mi-17 attack and transport/assault helicopters, and Grad and Smerch multiple rocket launchers were in the final stage of negotiations. Experts believed that the total value of contracts with options could amount to more than $7 billion if signed. The sale of French Rafale fighter jets to Libya, which was being discussed in Paris as a done deal, was put on hold.

For the West, the prospect of a substantial increase in oil prices and limited access to rich oil deposits while Gadhafi remained in power with contracts in hand for advanced Russian weapons systems was simply too much.

Moreover, it emerged that Gadhafi had once again outwitted the West: Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the air disaster over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, arrived in Tripoli in the summer of 2009. He flew in on Gadhafi’s personal aircraft and was greeted as a national hero. It turned out that the “settlement” paid by Libya was a small part of Tripoli’s bargain with the West.

In 2009, Gadhafi got Italy to officially apologize for 30 years of “colonization” and pay $5 billion in compensation. To that we might add the undisclosed but apparently sizable payments made by Western companies to Libya for the right to operate there. The story of the arrest of Gadhafi’s son in Switzerland pales in comparison—Libya withdrew more than €25 billion from Swiss banks, stopped oil deliveries to the country and got the Swiss Confederation to issue an official apology.

On July 14, 2010, a group of American senators demanded that the British company BP halt deep water drilling in the Libyan economic zone until the role the company played in freeing al-Megrahi was made clear. The pressure was so great that on August 10 BP announced that it was postponing its plans for oil exploration off the coast of Libya.

The UN’s position. The UN’s actions in connection with the events in Libya have raised eyebrows even among those who still consider it “the most authoritative international organization.” With regard to Tunisia and Egypt, the UN and the Western governments have limited themselves to anxious warnings about the inadmissibility of using force. The mass protest demonstrations and clashes with the army and police in Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait and some other countries have not generated much interest and no official statements have been released; and the turmoil in Iraq has surprised only the Western media—“Look, we freed you, we brought you democracy, what’s your problem?”

With Libya, the pressure machine has been turned on full blast, and the UN has shown unprecedented agility. Even the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), who had demanded that criminal proceedings against Gadhafi be started immediately) noted on February 23 that it would be impossible to initiate an investigation without a UN Security Council (USNC) resolution, because Libya is not a signatory to the ICC’s founding statute. The legal problem was immediately overcome—on February 26, the UN Security Council adopted resolution No. 1970 initiating proceedings in the ICC and imposing sanctions on Libya and its leaders. The resolution was adopted unanimously, which means one thing—it was not spontaneous; the preparations had been long and thorough.

The reason given for the UNSC’s harsh measures was widespread and systematic attacks on the civilian population allegedly carried out by the Libyan authorities, which could constitute “crimes against humanity.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had this to say: “It would be strange under the circumstances if the resolution had not been adopted, given what we are witnessing in Libya.”

By way of comparison, in 2005 the situation in Sudan, where the victims numbered in the hundreds of thousands, “lingered” in the UN for several months; and the voting split the Security Council. Ultimately, however, the oil-rich Darfur became independent of Khartoum in late 2010 with the involvement of “influential interested parties,” and the ICC proceedings against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir have taken on a frankly didactic tone.

Rwanda is another example. According to official data, 937,000 people were killed in that country between April and May of 1994 (800,000 according to UN data). Almost one million people were hacked to death with machetes. The victims included large numbers of children, women and the elderly—those who were unable to flee to neighboring countries. UN peacekeepers from Belgium also met a cruel death. The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations was headed at the time by Kofi Annan, who later became UN Secretary-General with Washington’s support.

There is no oil in Rwanda; therefore the unhurried UN negotiations with the United States to buy 50 APCs for the peacekeepers came to naught (they could not agree on a price). On June 22, 1994, the UNSC acknowledged that discussions on the situation were deadlocked, and Resolution No. 955 to establish an International Tribunal on Rwanda was not adopted until November of that year. It has since spent 16 years “developing a budget” and sluggishly investigating the monstrous genocide.

In contrast to the Tribunal on Rwanda, the ICC is now acting with incredible speed. The ICC Prosecutor announced on March 3, 2011 that it was initiating an investigation into reports of crimes committed in Libya after February 15 and that it intended in the near future to draw up a list of suspects and issue warrants for their arrest. It is curious that the jurisdiction of the ICC (the agency was established on July 17, 1998) extends to the most serious international crimes committed only after July 1, 2002 and is limited to crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in the treaty establishing the Court, or the Rome Statute.

At the last UN General Assembly session, Libya proposed adding such issues as investigation of wars and assassination attempts on heads of state over the last half-century. Clearly, the proposals were blocked an early stage, and the UN refused to discuss the topics. Incidentally, in 2007 the Russian Federation proposed a new draft international convention against information warfare. Russia’s proposal also remained a voice crying in the desert.

Prospects. It is already obvious that the “network attack” in Libya failed and did not turn out as planned. However, “did not turn out as planned” does not mean that things went completely awry. It appears that Washington was determined, prepared thoroughly and provided for various contingencies. It was clear from the outset that Gadhafi is not going to leave. If he could not be killed or overthrown, the country would have to be split, cutting him off from the main oil-producing regions.

The machine has been started, and now Twitter can completely replace Tomahawks and other “peace enforcement” means, not just high-technology weapons, but those with warheads. How likely is it that the West will use military force against Libya?

The United States recalled its ambassador on January 5, 2011, and the first signs of “organized discontent” appeared in Benghazi on February 17. The United States had completely closed its embassy in Tripoli by the end of February. Great Britain and France followed suit, and France authorized Russia to represent its interests in Libya.

Between February 23 and 24, special forces units from the United States, Great Britain, The Netherlands and France landed in the eastern part of Libya and initiated active contacts with insurgent leaders. The British Foreign Office has admitted that it has representatives in Benghazi. At the same time, the 600-man 3rd Battalion of the Royal Scottish Regiment was put on alert for deployment to Libya. NATO naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea were reinforced—several US Navy warships, including the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group, and German and British warships came on station.

On March 1, US Representative to the UN Susan Rice announced that the United States and its NATO partners were discussing possible military intervention in Libya. Prior to that, British Prime Minister David Cameron had asked NATO to establish an aerial blockade of the country and provide assistance to the forces opposing the Gadhafi regime. The United States, Great Britain and France are reported to have begun drafting a UN resolution banning flights by Libya’s Air Force. The idea already has the support of the League of Arab Nations.

The haste is obvious, and there is also an explanation for it. Gadhafi doubtless has the capability to forcefully restore control over the eastern regions of the country, and he needs to be forestalled. It is one thing to support the fighters against tyranny who established the National Council of Libya on March 6, proclaimed it the only agency governing the country and on the following day provided assurances that it would observe oil contracts with foreign companies; and it is quite another to engage in direct aggression against an independent state whose leader took steps to restore order and fend off a counterrevolution.

The United States learned from the Vietnam War and never attacks anyone who is capable of resisting. That is why they did not finish things in Libya in 1986 and Iraq in 1991. Of course, the US Armed Forces possesses a tremendous advantage and would doubtless be victorious. But America has the concept of “unacceptable losses,” and the calculations were sobering. The price of continuing the campaigns was too high, and the cost was not expressed in dollars.

Therefore, they developed a standard procedure—first impose sanctions, wait 10-15 years while the enemy’s armed forces loses their fighting spirit and their weapons and equipment fall into disrepair with expired ammunition and no spare parts, make provision for massive “brainwashing,” and only then go to war, but preferably without coming into contact.

Inspired by the hope of staking a claim in Libya, London is willing to become a trace horse—after all, according to forecasts Great Britain will import up to 80% of the gas it consumes by 2015 (today it imports approximately 40%). The dependence of Italy and France on Libyan oil supplies goes without saying. Finally, there is one other resource that has not yet been discussed—2000 km of Libya’s mostly sandy Mediterranean coast with its emerald waters and pristine environment. Gadhafi banned construction in the coastal zone, declaring it the property of the people. It is difficult even to imagine the number of people who would like to develop and multiply that wealth….

We will conclude by addressing China’s position. That country is the only permanent member of the UNSC whose representatives have not demanded that Gadhafi step down. The Chinese delegation voted to refer the case to the ICC, but with the proviso that an impartial and objective investigation be conducted into the actions of all of the forces involved in the bloodshed. China had previously become a major importer of oil from Sudan, Nigeria and Angola—without sweeping pronouncements, erratic actions or threats. Most of the tankers loaded with oil that departed from Libyan ports in February were Chinese.

Source: New Eastern Outlook

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