While the sounds of battle are still resonating in the streets of Tripoli, the main North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries responsible for the recent rebel success in Libya are already preparing to enjoy the fruits of their victory.
France, Italy and Great Britain are wasting no time in making plans to get Libya’s oil production facilities back into operation. Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said on Monday that the Italian oil company Eni “will have a No.1 role in the future” in Libya. Fratinni also said Eni technicians were already on their way to Libya, although the company denied it. Italy gets about 20 percent of its oil from the war-ravaged country, while France about 15 percent.
“[Libya’s oilfields] are quite functional except for minor pilfering/looting here and there,” said Bernard Duroc-Danner, head of Weatherford International Ltd., a company with oil interests in the North African nation.
It is not surprising that these major NATO states are chomping at the bit to get the oil production facilities in Libya operating again. Oil, after all, is what the war was all about, although NATO always officially insisted the reason for its warplanes flying more than 7,000 combat missions over Libya since the end of last March was to protect Libyan civilians.
Libya contains the largest oil deposits in Africa. Besides the sheer amount, Libyan crude is all the more valuable because of its high grade. Much is of a variety called “sweet oil,” which can be processed into gasoline and is in “high demand.”
For NATO states, the problem with Libyan oil wasn’t its grade or amount but its future availability. Gaddafi was apparently intending to cut them out of oil deals and award contracts to China and India instead. Fearing they were going to be shut out from a major oil supply their economies depended on, the NATO countries saw the Libyan conflict as a means to get rid of the troublesome Gaddafi and put someone in power with a friendlier disposition toward them.
“It is no longer a secret that behind this NATO alliance war on Libya, and far beyond the ‘do-good’ face it…wears…as its reason for bombing Libya to smithereens is the quest to control the oil fields of Libya, guarantee Western access to energy sources in the face of growing concern over the rise of China and India and…their emerging gluttony for oil,” wrote one African columnist.
Britain and France’s anger with Gaddafi was probably exacerbated by the fact that they had allowed themselves to suffer humiliation at the Libyan leader’s hands in expectation of getting oil exploration deals. In 2009, Britain had cravenly freed the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al Megrahi, who in 1988 blew a Pan Am passenger airliner out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans, in exchange for an oil agreement.
France was involved in the monstrous case of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who were accused of deliberately injecting children with the HIV virus in a Libyan children’s hospital. Imprisoned for nine years, the nurses, all European Union (EU) citizens, were raped and tortured in Gaddafi’s dungeons and then subjected to a Stalinist show trial despite the fact the co-discoverer of the HIV virus went to Libya and established that the nurses were innocent of the charges.
Sarkozy arranged for the nurses’ release in 2007, and sent his first wife to escort them back to Bulgaria when he should have sent an aircraft carrier to teach Gaddafi, like Ronald Reagan did in 1986, that such barbaric behavior will not be tolerated. Instead, shortly after the nurses were gone, Sarkozy decided to honor Gaddafi by starting his upcoming Africa tour in Libya.
Once in Libya, the French president signed several large business deals with the Libyan dictator, conveniently forgetting that Gaddafi was one, while “hoping to land big contracts for the French…petroleum giant Total.” Ironically, during his 2007 visit, Sarkozy also “promised Libya military protection in case of attack.” In a guest book, the French president also wrote “happy to be in your country to talk about the future.”
But perhaps the biggest indicator that for NATO the war in Libya is about oil and not about saving civilian life is that NATO allowed Sudanese troops to enter southern Libya to occupy and protect, not surprisingly, a town in an important oil-producing area that Gaddafi’s forces had been attacking. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, like Gaddafi, is an International Criminal Court (ICC)-indicted fugitive who has committed genocide in Darfur and South Sudan and is about to commit another one against the Nuba tribe in Sudan’s South Kordofan state. Allowing Bashir’s soldiers, who have carried out these genocides, near Libyans makes NATO’s claim that it is involved in the Libyan conflict solely to protect civilians ring hollow.
Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron were already planning a “celebratory trip” to Libya as early as last May. So look for them to land in Benghazi very soon and carry on like Sarkozy did during his 2007 trip to Libya. On Monday, Sarkozy asked the head of the rebels’ representative council to come to Paris “for consultations.”
At the moment, the rebel leadership appears to be amenable to making the oil deals France, Great Britain and Italy so avidly desire and honor the contracts already in existence. Besides serving as recognition for NATO’s wartime assistance, guaranteeing contracts and granting future exploration rights will also ensure the rebels receive Western aid in rebuilding their country. In the oil deals, the rebels will most likely differentiate between “their friends and foes,” especially those who did not back anti-Gaddafi sanctions.
“We don’t have a problem with Western countries like the Italians, French and U.K. companies,” said a spokesman for the rebel oil company Agoco. “But we have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil.”
NATO’s problem regarding Libyan oil, however, would be solved if the Transitional National Council, the body currently representing the rebels, were united and capable of peacefully establishing a government. But that doesn’t seem possible, since Libya is a pre-modern tribal society, in which the tribes are the most powerful element. A person’s first loyalty is to his tribe and clan rather than to the state. And tribal loyalty is often bought in such societies, so any new rebel government may have to adopt this practice. But seeking bigger game, the tribes may end up ignoring the state and warring over the oil facilities with the strongest controlling the royalties for its members, while the losers will sabotage oil production.
The tribes are only the biggest among many destabilising factors that could see Gaddafi’s ouster later viewed as only the first stage in a multi-stage war. Others are “regional (eastern vs. western Libya); ethnic (Berbers vs. Arabs); ideological; factional; personal; and recent defectors from Gaddafi’s regime vs. rebels.” Islamists are also present in Libya and, with the help of Saudi money that will now flow in, they will definitely build mosques and extend their influence to set up an Islamic state. Remaining Gaddafi followers, now conducting a guerrilla war, will also add to the instability, possibly with car bombs.
“Thus, the prospects for violence and internal disorder are tremendous,” writes Middle East expert Barry Rubin.
In the end, NATO will probably be forced to send a peacekeeping force into Libya if it wants to establish the stability necessary to get the oil flowing again. It is something the Western military alliance has never wanted to do, especially now that Libya is awash in weapons. In walking into a chaotic situation like that after Saddam Hussein’s fall in Iraq, NATO may find its victory quickly turning into a bitter one.