Friday, April 22, 2011

LIBYA – a curious tale

Mohammed Bouazizi was a Tunisian youth. However his death was not ordinary. In his death he left a massive protest a flame that swept across the Middle East and Africa. Soon Egypt and Tunisia saw regime changes while calls for protest began to ring throughout the area including the regions as far as Bahrain and Syria. And then the flame of revolution spread to Libya.

However there is a fundamental difference in the character of these movements that have spawned across the Middle East. While in Egypt it has been largely a battle fought by the middle class, in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia it has been the voice of the marginalized Sunni community against the elite Shias. And in Libya which is clearly torn between its tribal identities it’s a war between the eastern and western side. It was a civil war which descended into a conflict and the West once again jumped in without making proper assumptions.

And once again this conflict brought out the crude realities of the global equations. In today’s global politics the relations and even news are assessed in terms of strategic importance. So while civil war in Libya received news the deaths of hundreds in Bahrain shot dead by Saudi mercenaries as overlooked. The reason was simple while Gaddafi was an aberration in world politics Saudi Arabia and Bahrain were integral parts of the world order. Thus we saw a mismatch in terms of how news was presented.

The basis call for a change in governance in Libya started from the eastern town of Benghazi which has emerged as a focal point of rebel standing. Gaddafi retaliated by hitting the town of Misrata killing innocent civilians in the manner. Thus the crisis escalated into a full scale war and the provincial council in Benghazi called for international help. It was a humanitarian crisis they argued and thus the world leaders must have a sense of shared responsibility. The world leaders immediately reciprocated as they saw a chance of asserting their own rights in the Libyan region which was rich in oil. It is in the light of these statements that the context of their response must be understood:

EU: The EU region was the first to get involved in the Libyan war. It was France who not only recognised the government in Benghazi but also started deploying troops to help the Libyan rebels win the civil war. Analysts around the world have attributed this as a fact that a former colonial power France now wants to control the political strings in the African region so that it can reap economic dividends. This assessment is not entirely incorrect. Rarely have we heard the French be so vocal about such issues. This time around France showed much gusto in passing resolution 1970 which bars selling of arms to the Libyan nationals and resolution 1973 which imposed a no flying zone over Libya. Of course these brought fore technical difficulties since by the same resolution the rebels couldn’t be provided arms either. However such difficulties were not paid much attention while drafting over the resolution.

The activity of France can also be attributed to the Presendential elections round the corner.Sarkozy was widely criticised for playing no role in Tunisia or Egypt.Thus he wanted to improve his own report card in this regard .thsi also explains for France's recent actions in Ivory Coast.Also it has been a historical tendency of the French to make itself feel important and wanted in every major issue around the world.

Britain too joined France in this so called war Operation Enduring Dawn (NATO codename).The British society is itself fragmented in this issue with the Liberal Democrats in the government itself against it .However the Prime Minister seems to have prevailed for now. Britain too hopes to accomplish the same goals as France. It seeks to obtain economic gains by establishing political ties in this region.

This opportunity also offers a chance for the two countries to renew their ties in the African region. However other major powers including Germany has decided to abstain from this process. Germany the strongest European member has also not participated in the NATO exercise. This proves that the house of EU is divided itself. While battling financial insecurity in its own home EU cannot incur another Iraq 2.However France and Britain have chose to ignore these warnings.

US: For once the US was not too keen in taking up the leadership of this operation. This was apparent from the fact that initially US was reluctant to send forces to capture Libya or provide air support. But soon this drastically changed and US too joined in the liberation of Libyan people. While they have chosen to keep quite over the genocide of Bahrain and Sudan the US has gone to denounce the Libyan government and attack it. The silence over Sudan is understandable given the fact that the Chinese have large oil interests in south Sudan and the Americans do not want to offend the Chinese.

Thus in Libya, US see an opportunity of increasing oil supplies and installing a friendly government. Infact the US is already in talks with various African nations who can provide a safe passage to Gadaffi. This proves that the most important consideration is not the liberation of the Libyan people but a complete regime change. The US Tomahawks have killed civilians as well but these reports have been faithfully ignored.The role of AlJazeera too is in question since this time around this is a question of interest of the Americans. The Qatari owners of AlJazzera do not want to offend the Americans hence it has offered a much muted response this time around. Thus once again the prime interest of US is oil and a friendly regime in the name of liberating people from tyranny.

BRIC: Perhaps the most interesting role in the Libyan Crisis has been played by the BRIC Bloc. In abstaining together from the voting of the Security Council Resolution 1973 which ordered an attack in Libya the BRIC countries have once again displayed the sense of togetherness. However when dissected in a proper manner each of the abstentions emancipated from different reasons.

Russia and China abstained from the voting however they didn’t exercise their veto powers in UN either as they had done in the past. This is a signal of the multivector foreign policy that Moscow and Beijing seems to profess in recent times. By choosing to abstain from the voting they made symmetry with their foreign policy. However in not exercising their power to veto these countries reflect their growing relations with the West. Moscow and Beijing would prefer the company of Washington rather than the friendship of a North African dictator who is doomed anyway.

They abstained because they had their own unresolved issues centered on Georgia (for Russia) and Sudan (for China).If not for these issues then there was a major likelihood that China and Russia would have voted in favour .And it is also for the same reasons that these countries would not support a future war on Libya with ground troops, because then their own stand on international issues become dicey. This also brought to fore Mendeneev intention of closer ties with US which was reflected by the spat between Mendeneev and Putin over the Libyan crisis.

India and Brazil however abstained from the voting for entirely its won reasons. The abstention of Brazil is a reflection of its new foreign policy centered on Lula Di Silva ambitious plan to emerge as a global peacemaker. It was for this reason Brazil denounced the aggression in itself. The role of India is centered on its historical considerations and also growing relations in the BRIC forum itself. If India had voted for or against it would have upset the US as well as China or Russia in one way or the other. In choosing to abstain India chose the safest route of aligning itself with its global multivector foreign -policy.

Arab League: The 22 countries Arab League is dominated by the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council).The GCC is a well known ally of the US and hence the role of Arab League was nothing but a congruence of US policy in this regard. In choosing to denounce the Libyan government Saudi Arabia, Yemen and others choose to legitimize their own rule which is being threatened. In supporting the no fly zone the Arab League also declared that the Gaddafi regime had lost its legitimacy. The Arab League’s call provided crucial for the passage of the UN resolution. It impacted strongly on Russia and China who choose to abstain in the end.

In the navigation of diplomacy it was perhaps the tiny emirate of Qatar which played a major role. Qatar not only helped the passage of the resolution but also provided fighter jets. The Qataris already have a high profile owing to the large funding that it provides to the AlJazeera channel. Qatar is on a diplomatic high and has ambition to replace the Saudis as the next envoy for the West in the Middle East. Their recent actions in the Libyan drama can only be attributed to this. And in return Qatar was the first country to receive oil rights from the oil drilled by the rebel government in Benghazi.

African Union: This was perhaps the only organisation which wanted a proper solution for the Libyan crisis. The African leaders having brunt the colonial whip for the past many centuries were not ready to let an African country be the victim of western imperialism once more. It was with this objective that the AU sent a peace mission to Gadaffi where they wanted to arrive at a peaceful conclusion.

It was also their efforts that Gadaffi had announced a ceasefire which he himself violated in the later phase. While considering the historical necessity and unity the support from AU also stems from the fact that Gadaffi invested much time with the AU rather than with the Arab League. These include development works taken in the Sub Saharan regions. It was for these reasons that the African Union wanted to find a peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis. However their voice was tactically ignored by UN and the NATO while dealing with the Libyan crisis.

In the end as time pulls by the Libyan crisis sees no end. The best hope for the moment is to not turn it into another Iraq. This would not auger well for the world. Instead efforts must be made to end the military conflict fast and look for the transition to a smooth successful democratic government. In a ethnically driven country like Libya this will be a hard bargain and it is in this respect the AU will play a major role and its voice must be considered. A peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis is imperative and its possible only if the AU voices are taken abroad.

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