Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Failure to rid Libya of Muammar al-Qaddafi has serious implications for Europe
To date, most Westerners have watched with both interest and increasing concern as events in the Middle East have unfolded. Most have assumed that the damage to Western interests would be to oil prices which indeed are beginning to show a dramatic rise. While Libya only produces 1.8 billion barrels of oil per day, its sweet crude is highly desired, especially in Europe to which it sends most of its exports. As foreign oil companies have shut down operations, the state owned National Oil Company has forfeited its ability to produce oil since it is largely dependent on foreign workers and technical personnel to run Libya's oil industry.
Another problem that is only beginning to emerge is the impact events in Libya could have on the southern European cone and indeed the European Union. If the violence continues to escalate and the Eastern part of the country, which has already been able to break from Muammar al-Qaddafi's control, enters into conflict with the West, where the Libyan capital of Tripoli is located, we can expect to see an intensification of the problems that Tunisia has already experienced since the overthrow of former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, namely a flood of migrants leaving the country for southern Europe.
The country most affected by such migration would be Italy, which has already experienced the arrival of Tunisians who have fled their country's economic problems, only made worse by the disruption of finance, trade and industry after Ben Ali's fall. If unrest spreads to Algeria, we could see even more migrants leaving North Africa for southern Europe, a dangerous scenario for countries like Spain and Italy that are suffering from weak economic growth and high unemployment.
Italy faces perhaps the most dire consequences as a result of the unrest in Libya. It is heavily dependent on Libya for its natural gas, and its semi-state owned energy giant, ENI, is heavily invested in Libya. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has maintained close ties to Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, ties that are just now being examined with a fine tooth comb by the Italian press. Already embroiled in a sex scandal, for which he is soon to stand trial, Berlusconi is in no position to exert national leadership. As Italy's economic crisis grows, Berlusconi will be hard put to persuade Qaddafi to end the bloodbath against his own people, a bloodbath that has resulted from orders to his praetorian guards and mercenary forces to attack demonstrators with deadly force.
Italy, already on the verge of a financial crisis on the order of Greece and Ireland, is ill equipped to absorb the double blows of a loss of energy and ENI revenues, on the one hand, and the massive influx of Libyan and other North African refugees, on the other. In other words, the Libyan uprisings could be the straw that breaks the camels' back - the "tipping point" as it were - to send Italy into an economic tailspin.
If we add a major financial crisis in Italy to the European Union's other travails - namely to possibly have to bail out the Spanish and Portuguese economies, following similar bailouts for Greece and Ireland, we begin to see that what is occurring in the Middle East should not be viewed as a "spectator sport." What is happening there is not a gladiatorial sporting event, but rather the beginnings of political, social and economic transformation of the region that could have major consequences for the global economy.
Thus it is in the interest of the United States and its democratic allies around the world to press the UN Security Council to enact drastic measures to end the bloodshed in Libya. The fact that the Qaddafi regime has engaged in massive human rights violations is clear from only a cursory perusal of the media. What then should the UN do?
First, unless Qaddafi orders his forces to immediately stand down and stop killing protesters, the UN Security Council should order the freezing of all Libyan assets abroad, including those of Qaddafi's family. Second, it should impose a "no-fly" zone on Libya which would prevent Qaddafi from bringing in more sub-Saharan mercenaries to kill Libyan civilians. Third, the UN should impose a naval blockade that would prevent any oil from leaving Libya. Finally, the Egyptian and Tunisian governments should be asked to seal their borders with Libya to prevent all but humanitarian goods from entering the country (but not prevent Libyans fleeing to safety from leaving).
Unless action is taken quickly, Libya could face a civil war and thousands more Libyans could be killed. We need recall the actions of the late Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad when he ordered his air force to bomb the city of Hama in February, 1982, to put down an uprising by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood that killed or injured an estimated 17,000 to 40,000 of the city's residents. Likewise, Saddam Husayn bombed the Kurdish city of Halabja in March 1988 with chemical weapons killing thousands of the city's residents, when he thought the Kurds there were supporting the Khomeini regime in Iraq's 1980 to 1988 war with Iran.
Muammar al-Qaddafi is of the same ilk as the former Syrian and Iraqi tyrants and we can expect the same results if the violence is not brought to an end quickly. Forcing Qaddafi from office now - an action that should only take place under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council - will not only be in the interest of Italy and the European Union, but prevent the type of bloodbath in Libya from which the country might not soon recover.