Jamie Walden asks whether the support for the Libyan rebels is fueled by Western desire for oil.
The so-called “anti-war” brigade can be relied upon to quickly descend into cliché when feigning a heart that bleeds more than yours. They are utterly and irrationally obsessed with Western leader’s penchant for oil, and the effect it has on foreign policy decision making. It did not take long for Ken Livingstone et al, to whine about the coincidence of our intervention in Libya and said countries oil wealth. It certainly takes no less than a few beats in a conversation about the Iraq intervention for the energy source to be mentioned.
If the western powers had wanted Iraq’s oil we could have had it by doing deals with Saddam Hussein, like Jacques Chirac did. The reason Livingstone and his cronies look even sillier this time is because we already had Libya’s oil. The oil greedy would have sided with Gaddafi not against him in this war- we have not done so, thus we are not greedy for Libya’s oil.
However, Libyan oil can play a vital role in the conflict. The oil refinery towns of Ras Lanuf and Masra Al-Brega are currently under the control of Gaddafi’s forces. The first few days of coalition intervention saw opposition forces take those locations as they marched towards the Gaddafi controlled Western Libyan region. Unfortunately the Caligula’s forces were then able to re-group and re-assault the dissenters, re-taking those oil towns of Ras Lanuf and Masra Al-Brega on March 31st, which they still hold at the time of writing.
The international community has put an embargo on Libya so that Gaddafi is unable to sell the oil and gather funds. However when he has control of the oil towns, it means that the rebels do not have control of them and the funds that the oil could generate for food, medicine etc. At the moment there is no system in place, if the rebels had those towns, which would allow for them to do oil deals which could fund their cause. But if the rebels were to take back Ras Lanuf and Masra Al-Brega, then surely such an infrastructure could be erected. Qatar, one of the coalition forces, has already offered to act as a conduit for the rebels if they can re capture the oil towns. Giving legal control of billions of pounds worth of oil to an unknown quantity such as the Interim Transitional National Council would be an enormous risk, but perhaps a necessary one in getting rid of Gaddafi.
It is beginning to look as if this particular battle of the Arab spring is descending into a long war, and therefore we must seek to utilise these soft, long-term measures against Gaddafi. It would not be sensible to arm the rebels (who are infected with shady characters themselves) or to send ground troops into the theatre of conflict, but these alternative measures could be useful. If the rebels were able to regain the aforementioned oil towns and sustainably hold them, then it could lead to a re-address of the balance of power, the pendulum of which seems to be coming to a rest at a dangerous stalemate.
A further important factor in the soft-measured tactics against Gaddafi’s resources are the gold reserves it is reported he has access to in the West of Libya, worth around £4bn. What Gaddafi may try to do is to take this gold over the Western borders to countries like Algeria and Niger (Niger being exporters of uranium) in an attempt to do deals for weapons and food amongst other things. It is important that we work with our partners in the region to properly police the borders, so that cross-border business cannot be done. Constant monitoring by the coalition of the Libyan boundaries aerially will be tremendously expensive, and possibly a wild goose chase if said deals are never attempted. Also, the sheer amount of border that Libya has makes it almost impossible to keep a competent eye on what is going on at ground level. We therefore must put pressure on these Border States to properly police on the ground and disallow any weapons from being transferred into Libya.
This is, I claim, the real importance of Libya’s reserves of wealth in this struggle.