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Libya op: Humanitarian? Bah, it's about oil silly!

Last updated on: March 29, 2011 19:29 IST

Libya op: Humanitarian? Bah, it's about oil silly!

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Richard M Bennett
Whatever the humanitarian stance taken by the leaders in Washington, London and Paris, the real catalyst for action in Libya is not the deaths of countless civilians, but the need to secure the supply of oil to an increasingly thirsty developed world, argues Richard M Bennett.

It must be more than a little difficult for the elected leaders of the Western world to claim the moral high ground while authorising the deliberate targetting of the leaders of largely third world or so-called 'enemy States' for assassination and their nations for regime change.

Whether this is by the use of poison or exploding cigars in the case of Cuba's Fidel Castro or by the use of highly sophisticated guided weapons in the case of Serbia's Slobodan Milosovic or the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is less important than the belief in Washington, London and perhaps Paris than they alone have the right to order the untimely deaths of foreign leaders.

It is widely accepted that many other leaders have died as the direct or indirect involvement of the Western democracies and these must include Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1961; Rafael Trujillio in the Domican Republic in 1961 and Salvadore Allende in Chile in 1973.

The maverick former MI5 officer David Shayler and Richard Tomlinson of MI6 have both vigorously claimed that Britain's intelligence services had attempted to assassinate Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in February 1996.

Now suspicion is growing that Libya's Colonel Gaddafi is once again being singled out for termination, a suspicion fuelled by an apparent public dispute between Britain's miltary leadership who deny that there is any intention of killing or overthrowing Gaddafi and the Conservative-Liberal democratic coalition government who point blank refuse to rule this out as a sub-text to the UN agreement on imposing a 'No-Fly Zone.'

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Image: A burning picture of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi
Photographs: Reuters
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How are tanks, trucks and infantry 'airborne assets'?

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Many Arab nations who reluctantly signed up to this operation apparently did so on the understanding that a 'No Fly Zone' would mean just that... stopping the Libyan Air Force from attacking rebel-held towns and cities.

While this may indeed prove to be a valid excuse for attacking air defence sites and even airfields, it would seem perverse in the extreme to try and claim that tanks, trucks and infantry are 'airborne assets.'

It would seem increasingly likely that the real intention of the political leadership in the US and in particular the UK and France is regime change and that the 'accidental' death of the Libyan leader would be a significant milestone towards achieving this aim.

The British coalition government is guilty of sending out mixed signals over whether it believes Gaddafi could or should be targeted under the terms of the UN resolution authorising military action in Libya.


Image: France's President Nicolas Sarkozy greets Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at the Elysee Palace ahead of wider international talks on Libya in Paris
Photographs: Benoit Tessier/Reuters
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Divided: British military and political leadership

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On March 20, British Defence Secretary Liam Fox when asked if it was possible to hit Colonel Gaddafi 'without unacceptable civilian casualties', replied: 'Well that would potentially be a possibility.'

While on the same day Pentagon spokesman Vice-Admiral William Gortney said, 'We are not going after Gaddafi. At this particular point I can guarantee he is not on the target list.'

Clearly highlighting the rift between the British military and political leadership, on March 21 the defence chief, General Sir David Richards stated that Gaddafi is 'absolutely not' a target.

'It is not something that is allowed under the UN resolution and it is not something that I want to discuss any further.'

Downing Street sources, however, quickly replied: 'The government sources say it is legal under the UN resolution to target Colonel Gaddafi. Sources say under the UN resolution 1973 the coalition have the power to target Gaddafi if he is a threat to the civilian population of Libya.'

The source added that 'Gen Sir David Richards was wrong to say it is not allowed under the UN resolution. However, sources declined to say whether this meant Gaddafi was a target.'


Image: The pilot of a Royal Air Force Tornado jet taxis along the runway at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, northern Scotland
Photographs: Russell Cheyne/Reuters
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Catch-22 for Arab League

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B Raman, a former deputy head of intelligence at India's Research and Analysis Wing, said on March 21: 'The No Fly Zone was authorised by the UNSC to protect the civilians from air strikes by the Libyan air force. States of the Arab League supported the proposal for a No Fly Zone under the impression that it meant patrolling by the planes of the members of the coalition in the Libyan skies in order to immobilise the Libyan air force.'

'The UNSC resolution has been interpreted by the US, the UK and France as authorising not only the immobilisation of the Libyan air force, but also its destruction on the ground. Hence, the repeated air and missile strikes for three nights in succession on ground positions in Tripoli, the capital, and other areas under government control.'

Raman goes on: 'The reported destruction by a missile strike of a building near Gaddafi's place of residence under the pretext that it housed the command and control of Libyan air defence forces has given rise to suspicions that the Western-led coalition has arrogated to itself without the authority of the UNSC the objective of removing Gaddafi through military action.'


Image: A French naval crew prepares Rafale fighter jets aboard the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier
Photographs: ECPAD/Reuters
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Shouldn't the world's leading democracies be better than this?

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'There have been vague answers from Western leaders to the question as to Gaddafi's removal is one of the objectives of the military action. While the Americans have been somewhat vehement in their denial, the British have not been. While denying that Gaddafi is a direct target, the British do not rule out the possibility of his becoming an indirect victim of the air and missile strikes.'

In an article 'This is war. Skip the hand-wringing about assassinations' published in August 2003, John Yoo, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Law concludes: 'No law prohibits the targetting of specific enemy leaders in war. Assassination is different: The murder of a public figure for political reasons.'

'The murders of Martin Luther King Jr, John F Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln were assassinations. By contrast, the killing of the enemy in combat is protected by the laws of war. As Hugo Grotius, the father of international law observed in 1646, "It is permissible to kill an enemy. Legitimate military targets include not just foot soldiers, but the command and control structure of an enemy's military, leading up to its commander-in-chief."'

There are, however, great risks and enormous moral issues inherent in the use of assassination as an adjunct to foreign policy and to put it in simple language; shouldn't the world's leading democracies be better than this?


Image: People look at components of missiles sent from a US Air Force F-15E fighter jet
Photographs: Suhaib Salem/Reuters
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Those targetted will seek to retaliate in kind

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Can it really be beyond the wit of the West's political leaders to find an intellectually acceptable and effective alternative to a descent into the gutter along with the terrorist, the criminal and the dictator?

If this somewhat different view is treated with derision by the media or widely dismissed as naive, unrealistic and bound to end in failure by assorted pundits, then, of course, it must be pointed out that those so targetted will undoubtedly and indeed quite properly have the right to seek to retaliate in kind.

As most counter-terrorism experts would probably admit there is simply no way to guarantee 100 per cent the safety of any of the world's major leaders, not even the president of the United States.

Terrorists or dictators seeking revenge only have to 'get lucky' a very few times to result in a quite significant cull of Western political leaders.

Targetting an enemy's leadership for assassination is not new, but the willingness to resort to this tactic certainly now appears to be becoming an almost fully functioning part of modern warfare.

The personalisation of conflict in aiming to eleminate named individuals is in effect an admission of failure by the Western democracies and is a further indication of a return to the brutish methods of the Middle Ages when respect for life and human rights were at an all time low.


Image: The USS Barry launches a Tomahawk missile during Operation Odyssey Dawn in the Mediterranean Sea
Photographs: Reuters
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Why not intervene in the Ivory Coast, Yemen?

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There are, of course, many other lessons to be drawn from the current Western military intervention in Libya. Not least among them is that if a country has oil and is militarily at a significant disadvantage then it is far more likely to be targeted for regime change if a suitable excuse can be found.

Far more innocent civilian lives have recently been lost in various other conflicts in the Ivory Coast, Yemen and elsewhere. However, there appears to be little Western interest in the fate of the people in any of these countries and even less appetite for a military involvement.

Although both the Ivory Coast and Yemen in particular match the parameters laid down by the UN in order to sanction intervention in Libya, one essential element is missing; neither country is a significant oil producer!

Whatever the humanitarian stance taken by the leaders in Washington, London and Paris, the real catalyst for action is not the deaths of countless civilians, but the need to secure the supply of oil to an increasingly thirsty developed world.

Equally there remain many regimes with appalling human right records which are often well armed and supported by the same Western powers now proudly parading themselves as the saviours of the Libyan people.


Image: Protesters display placards during a rally after Friday prayers at the Blue Mosque in Taguig, Manila
Photographs: Erik de Castro/Reuters
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There appears to be no limits to the greed and violence of nations

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Few of these regimes seem to be high on the Western list for removal or targetting their leaders for assassination. Only those unwise enough to threaten the supply of oil become worthy of serious attention, while those priviledged to be counted as a 'friend and ally' of the West as in the case of Saudi Arabia, hardly a country noted for its tolerence or respect for human rights, are encouraged to indulge in their own military interventions.

The increasing willingness of the West to engage in the use of force and to sanction the deliberate targetting of a country's ruler should be more than enough to cause many a sleepless night in energy rich, but militarily weak nations.

There appears to be no limits to the greed and violence of nations determined to maintain their high standards of living at any and all costs, as long as the final cost is mainly to the undeveloped, poverty stricken and largely defenceless third world.

The writer cannot be alone in finding it distinctly uncomfortable and genuinely disquiteing that so many of the leaders of the Western democracies when faced with a percieved political or economic problem apparently so quickly resort to the use of military action and even assassination in order to change a troublesome regime into something far more acceptable and ultimately maliable to Western requirements!


Image: Anti-American protests are now common in the Islamic world
Photographs: Reuters
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