Monday, April 29, 2013

Europe and the price of intervention in Libya: Trumpeting success of NATO and blowback in Europe

Comments at the launch of Global NATO and Catastrophic Failure in Libya, Maxwell School, Syracuse University, April 29, 2013.

When in May 2011 folks from the German Left made the statement that ‘the war in Libya marks a turning point in world politics,’ there were very few commentators who grasped the gravity of the military intervention and the impact on Europe. In February 2011, the then French President Nicholas Sarkozy had taken the lead to mount the diplomatic and political offensive to give legitimacy to a military intervention in North Africa. This energy of Sarkozy was in part a response to the new uprisings that had swept autocratic leaders from power in Egypt and Tunisia.
Mobilizing international opinion, under the banner of ‘responsibility to protect,’ France and Britain rushed through a Security Council Resolution (1973) in March 2011, authorizing the United Nations to support the use of force to ‘protect ‘civilians in Libya.  Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa abstained when this resolution was passed. The deep divisions inside Europe over the military intervention became clear when the government of Germany abstained and joined forces with the BRICS bloc in the Security Council. This opposition by Germany (and Poland) was clear and vociferous with the Polish leadership accusing Sarkozy that he was after Libyan oil. For a short period, Italy and Malta hesitated because of their deep involvement with the financial and commercial sectors in Libya. Turkey, although not a member of the European Union equivocated until it was clear that the bombings and intervention were explicitly designed to carry out ‘regime change’ in Libya. The fissures between France and Germany inside the European Union have been managed since the intervention in Libya but the German vote in the UN pointed to the reality that Germany was looking to a future where the BRICS societies and African economies would be important trading partners for German manufacturing products.
The differences between Germany and France inside the European Union has been manifest in the interventions of France in North Africa and the long term plans of France to counter German economic power by establishing a Mediterranean Union. This plan of France contradicted the planning of Germany in relation to the future energy needs of Europe and placed France in opposition to Algeria, a major producer of energy for Europe. France has continued to intervene in North Africa seeking to block  long term plans of German economic entities. 

Differences between France and Germany
The military intervention that was presented to the European public as a neat and surgical air operation dragged on for eight months and in that period this military campaign brought back the German question in Europe. The German economy had benefitted from the establishment of the Euro and despite the early relationships between France and Germany in relation to currency challenges to the dollar, Germany benefitted while France was depending on the colonial traditions in trade and commerce.
The intensity of the capitalist crisis within Europe exposed to the world the vulnerability of the European economic zone that had reaped billions from the slave trade and colonialism.  It was in the midst of this military intervention that Sarkozy claimed that he would fight to save the Euro. Despite his energetic efforts to conceal the deep problems for the French banking system, the incessant meetings in 2011 only postponed the day of reckoning.  Crisis management prolonged the crisis and exposed the maneuvers of Sarkozy and Merkel to create a multi-tiered Europe. Sarkozy who had claimed that he would fight to save the Euro could not save himself. It is his successor who intensified the effort to save European capitalism by a new military assault on North Africa in the Sahel.
Although before the end of October 2011, the spokespersons for NATO were proclaiming victory and claiming that the intervention had been a resounding success, the price of the military intervention in Libya is everyday echoing through Europe with the inability for the oil companies to resume business at the level that existed prior to the military intervention.  Ivo H. Daalder, then the U.S. permanent representative to NATO, and  Adm. James G. Stavridisis, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and commander of the United States European Command joined together to write for Foreign Affairs under the title,  “NATO’s Victory in Libya: The Right Way to Run an Intervention.”Earlier, these same authors had written for the New York Times on “NATO's Success in Libya.” This article stated that,
Monday, Oct. 31st, seven months after it started, NATO’s operation in Libya will come to an end. It is the first time NATO has ended an operation it started. And it comes on the heels of an historic victory for the people of Libya who, with NATO’s help, transformed their country from an international pariah into a nation with the potential to become a productive partner with the West.

From the academic experts on Libya such as Dirk Vandewalle, this narrative of success was promulgated through journals with titles such as, "After Qaddafi: The Surprising Success of the New Libya.” What was intriguing about this success narrative by Vanderwalle was that it continued the view that the Libyan intervention had been a success even after the death of the US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, had been reported internationally.

Western military journals and specialists also trumpeted the idea of success and sought to draw lessons from this spectacular achievement. This idea of success had been part of the information necessary to present the NATO intervention as a victory for the people of Libya. This view of victory had been loudly proclaimed from inside Libya by the Chairperson of the National Transitional Council. On October 23, three days after the execution of Gaddafi, the NTC leader declared that the Liberation of Libya was complete. A few days later the Secretary General of NATO, General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the end of the NATO mission, declaring that the NATO mission to Libya had been “one of the most successful in NATO history.” Despite these celebratory statements, throughout the period after these announcements, the conditions for the peoples of Libya were deteriorating daily. A more sober assessment came from scholars of international relations who queried, "Libya as a Paradigm Shift: CSDP as Effectiveness or as Irrelevance.”

For the citizens of the United States and for many in Western Europe, the extent of the insecurity only came to life after the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya on September 11, 2012. It was in the aftermath of his passing when it was revealed to a wider audience that in the year June 2011 to June 2012, there had been 230 security incidents in Libya. These incidents were reported to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee of the U.S. Congress.  It was during one hearing before the panel of this Committee that we learned that there had been daily battles all across Libya, with the levels of insecurity unprecedented in the history of Libya with over 1,700 militias operating.  It can now be understood that the stories of success had been part of the military disinformation campaign that had been so central for the prosecution of the NATO military intervention. Ostensibly, because there had been “no boots on the ground,” the absence of western casualties had lulled the citizenry of the West; the intervention had depended on intelligence agencies, private military contractors and armed militias.

The existence and depth of the militias inside the society was revealed when citizens of Europe and United States learned of the levels of insecurity of the people of Libya on September 11, 2012. This was exactly eleven years after the attack on the World Trade Center. Militias that had been mobilized by the West to fight Gaddafi in Benghazi turned on the sponsors of the “successful intervention.” Every day the insecurity inside Libya endangers the lives of Libyans. Only last week, April 23, a car bomb destroyed the French Embassy in Tripoli, heightening the pressures on France to withdraw from Libya. The price of military intervention was being exposed in military, humanitarian, financial and economic terms.
One major project that has been affected by the intervention and instability in North Africa has been the Desertec Industrial Initiative. When this initiative was launched by a consortium of German Banks and energy companies it was projected that by 2013 solar thermal plants in North Africa would be supplying a significant portion of Europe's energy needs. The Desertec Industrial Initiative was the most ambitious solar energy project in 2009 with the plan to pipe clean solar power from the Sahara Desert through a Mediterranean super-grid to European countries. After the Libyan intervention two of the two of the biggest industrial supporters, Siemens and Bosch pulled out of the €400 billion ($560 billion) project.
The promise of a smart grid for Europe and for more access to Libyan oil resources have now backfired with news outlets such as the Financial Times proclaiming thatOil industry left with legacy of violence in Libya after Gaddafi.”

There is not a week since October 2011 when oil executives from Europe have not complained about insecurity in Libya. Although the Libyan ‘government’ has established a Petroleum Facilities Guard with 18,000 men to protect oil production, there are constant statements about ‘insecurity’ in Libya among European oil companies. According to the Financial Times, “Heavily armed militias are invading oilfields, locals demanding jobs are blockading facilities, and protests are closing down export terminals. And then there are the regional concerns in the wake of the attack on an oil facility in neighbouring Algeria earlier this year.”

The unending economic crisis in Europe has been reinforced by the diminution of European influence all across Africa and the non-aligned world. The past ten years have witnessed a considerable shift of international trade with the center of gravity shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific. When the idea of the establishment of the EURO had been floated, it had been explicitly argued that Europe needed to be independent of the US dollar. As one component of this independence, France and Britain made an agreement at St. Malo in 1998 to develop an independent military capability. This was the basis of the Common Security and Defense Policy of the EU to challenge the new US military footprint in Africa. For decades the French franc had been backed up by the wide ranging economic activities of French imperialism in Africa. France had understood that the US military engagement with Africa would undermine European hegemony in Africa. However, what France and Britain could not see was that the challenge to the EU in Africa was not coming from the United States but from China.
This engagement of China in Africa was a manifestation of the changed world situation. The other important change was the increased economic diversification of African economies. This diversification was being expressed with a new assertiveness by the youths in Africa threatening the old alliances and old leadership. It is this dynamism that was inspiring boldness in seeking new economic relations away from Europe to the BRICS societies and to others such as Turkey, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia. 

In the past, European states such as Belgium, France Portugal and Britain could utilize brute force in Africa to compensate for economic weakness. Today in the changed world economy, the European states cannot compete on the level playing field in Africa. The price of military intervention in Libya is now becoming clearer with each passing day. In addition to the deepening financial crisis in Europe there is the blowback of a militarized North Africa with negative consequences for both Africa and Europe. In the short term, the narrative of radical Islam is being used to conceal the real fallout of the western military failure but the new military challenges from Mali to Libya and Niger  will in the long run have to be resolved by the African Union.
My book Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya compared the NATO intervention of 2011 to the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935. Then, in the middle of the last depression, the military invasion of Africa came in the midst of currency wars, trade wars, devaluations and intensified class struggles in Europe. Then, one section of the European leadership opted for fascism in order to resolve the crisis of capitalism. In October, 2011, the Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King stated that, “the world is facing the worst financial crisis since at least the 1930s ‘if not ever.’”

If this crisis is worse than the 1930s, does that mean that the militarism will be worse? This question should engage younger scholars and intellectuals who are following the rise of racism and xenophobia in Western Europe. One of the results of the Libyan intervention has been the existential crisis inside Europe in relation to the European ideation system. This crisis at the intellectual level is reinforced by an alliance with the neo-conservative forces inside the United States. Together, these elements promote austerity at the economic level and jingoism at the popular level. Throughout Africa and the Middle East there is a new generation of intellectuals who are interrogating the basic ideas of politics and society emanating from European and US universities.

Samir Amin, the Egyptian scholar called for boldness in conceptualizing alternatives. This presentation is based on that spirit of offering alternatives to militarism, exploitation and the ravaging of Africa. The fallout of the failure of Europe in Libya and the blowback ought to be the subject of detailed research and investigation. Ultimately, the triggers of war that spun out of the NATO intervention in Libya were having a tragic effect on all of the peoples of the Middle E
ast and North Africa. 

Adrian Johnson and Saqeb Mueen, Short War, Long Shadow: The Political and Military Legacies of 2011 Libyan Campaign, RUSI, 2012.

Andrew Hansen, “The French Military in Africa,” Foreign Affairs, February 8, 2008.
Niagale Bagayoko, “French Reactions to AFRICOM: An Historic Perspective.” Contemporary Security Policy, 30: 28-31, April 2009.
Christopher M. Blanchard, “Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy,” Congressional Research Service, Washington DC, October 18, 2012, available at
Gordon D. Cumming and Tony Chafer, “From Rivalry to Partnership? Critical Reflections on Anglo-French Cooperation in Africa.” Review of International Studies (2011), 37, 2439¬2463.
Dirk Vanderwalle, “After Qaddafi: The Surprising Success of the New Libya,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2012.
Fred Kaplan, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War, (Simon & Schuster, 2013).
Horace Campbell, Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013).
Ivo H. Daalder and James G. Stavridis, “NATO’s Success in Libya,” New York Times, October 31, 2011, available at
Ivo H. Daalder and James G. Stavridis, “NATO’s Victory in Libya: The Right Way to Run an Intervention,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2012.
Jeremy Keenan, The Dying Sahara: US Imperialism and Terror in Africa, (London: Pluto Press, 2013).
Jolyon Howorth, “CSDP and NATO Post-Libya: Towards the Rubicon,” Security Policy Brief, July 2012,
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, The Globalization of NATO, Clarity Press, 2012.
Steven Earlanger, “By His Own Reckoning, One Man Made Libya a French Cause,” New York Times, April 1, 2011.
Vijay Prashad, Arab Spring, Libyan Winter, (New York: AK Press, 2012).