I have very mixed feelings over this action, by Western and a few Arab militaries, to counter the threat that Gaddafi’s forces represent to his citizens (namely the rebels). Don’t get me wrong, I think that the intervention has the potential to equalise the relative military power of pro and anti Gaddafi forces, as well as largely halt the atrocities that have/are being committed by Gaddafi forces. Both of those are worthy in their own right, stopping the loss of lives and forcing the Libyan people (on both sides) to develop a political solution of some sort. That is good, if it materialises.
My concerns though are on a number of levels. Yes, there is a concern that Gadddafi will once again begin financing and organising terrorist attacks throughout the West, but I’m not all that concerned about that. My concerns are primarily the false hope that I feel that this intervention will give to oppressed people throughout the world; secondly I am concerned about the neo-imperialist dimensions of this action.
Global Consequences/Double Standards
This action will likely give a huge impetus to movements by oppressed people throughout the world. These people, especially in the Arab world, will look at developments in Libya and conclude that the West will come to their (military) aid in the event of regimes cracking down on dissent. I feel these people will, very painfully, find out that this is a false conclusion. The actions of Gaddafi are not all that different from the actions of Salleh in Yemen, the al-Khalifa in Bahrain, the theocracy’s in Iran and Saudi Arabia, or, even further afield, the yellow-shirts in Thailand, the generals of Burma or the authorities in China, North Korea, Belarussia, and various Central Asian states (and all over Africa, and what about Israel/Palestine?…). And yet the West hardly speaks up on these issues, let alone threatens military intervention.
I worry that people, the world over, emboldened by what they see in Libya, will rise up now and confront their authoritarian states, falsely confident that the West will come to their defense. More likely than not the West will not, and these movements will have to realise what the Tunisians and Egyptians did, that they will have to do it by themselves, that no saviour from above (supernatural or tomohawk missiles) will come to their aide. Blood will run. Some movements will succeed, many will fail, with much tragedy. This in itself is not necessarily bad. People will learn from these experiences. They will learn not to expect assistance from afar, and they will learn how better to confront authoritarian regimes in the future. Most importantly they will learn the hypocrisy of the West.
Why won’t the West intervene in these other areas? In some, they might, but in most they will not. It does indeed appear that the West only intervenes when it is in their various national interests. David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, even said that the UK’s actions in Libya were in the UK’s national interests. Indeed, the UK has some important economic interests in Libya, as does the EU and the USA, notably in the oil and mineral resources that Libya offers, as well as in controlling African immigration into the EU. Friendly (puppet) states in North Africa serve as a key defence of Fortress Europe.
We see the West making only the most minute of noises in relation to the brutal crack-downs of (mostly Shia) oppressed groups in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. At most they will make some louder noises, and then once the blood dries and is washed from the streets they will carry on as before and the blood shed will be remembered only by the oppressed (as will be the duplicity of the West). In these areas it is in the West’s interests, both for oil and for containing Iran, to side with the authoritarian regimes. In Central Asia similar sentiments exist. In Asia-Pacific, the threat of China’s reaction (and the economic consequences of this) prevent the West from acting there.
While it is wrong to accuse the West of acting in Libya only because of the oil interests there, it is also wrong to believe the West is acting out of genuine compassion. If Libya did not have oil, or did not border the EU, Libya would become just another Rwanda, condemmed but not stopped. Additionally, the electoral circumstances in the UK (where the Coalition is suffering in the polls, with local and devolved elections in May), France (where Sarkozy is struggling in the polls), and elsewhere in Europe should be considered. Intervention can be used partly as a ‘circus’ to distract citizens from their domestic discontent, as well as offer post-intervention opportunities for economic developments (which translates as jobs). Also, the West, especially the USA, feeling caught out from events in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as still smarting from Iraq and Afghanistan, no doubt see intervention as an opportunity to ‘reset’ the relationship with the Islamic world.
I welcome the potential that this intervention has to reduce bloodshed and create a situation for political resolution. But at the same time I am wary of the global consequences, and the resulting blood-letting, that this intervention may provide the foundation for. And the neo-imperialist aspects of this intervention needs to be kept in mind too. So, very mixed feelings…