The war against Libya has ignited a heated conflict within NATO. After several days of negotiations, the 28 members of the military alliance were unable to agree on the command structure for the action against Libya. On Monday, the conflict escalated to the point where the German and French delegations walked out of a NATO Council meeting on the war.
Finally, it was agreed that NATO would monitor the arms embargo against Libya by sea—a secondary military task. Germany, which is not participating in the war against Libya, then withdrew its warships from the NATO flotilla in the Mediterranean.
The most steadfast opposition to NATO assuming command of the war has come from France and Turkey, although for opposed reasons. France is afraid of losing its leading role in the war, while Turkey objects to a NATO dominated by French interests and is insisting on a greater role for the United Nations.
France played a leading role in both the preparation for war and the initial military strikes. The overthrow of the dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia, both of which have close economic and political relations with France, was a blow to French influence in North Africa. The events in Libya offered an appropriate opportunity for a counter-offensive.
At an early stage, the French government established contact with the opposition in Benghazi and sought to create a humanitarian pretext for a military intervention. France was supported by Britain and the United States. These powers are pursuing two main goals in the war against Libya: the installation of a puppet regime that gives them greater access to Libyan oil and the establishment of a base of operations to contain and suppress the revolutionary movements in the region.
Thanks to the support of the United States, France was able to push through a resolution in the UN Security Council which gave the green light for an attack on Libya. Washington ensured that the methods and goals of the war would be as vague and broad as possible and exerted pressure on Russia and China to prevent them using their veto power.
Facing potential political opposition at home and keen to avoid the impression in the Arab world that the US was leading yet another war against Arab and Muslim populations, President Obama left his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, to hog the limelight. For his part, Sarkozy hoped to score a foreign policy coup and improve his political standing in France, where his poll numbers have fallen to record lows.
In reality, the United States is playing the leading role in the war. French planes were allowed to fire the first shots, but the vast majority of missiles and bombs have come from American ships and planes. Overall control of the operation lies with the US Africa Command based in Stuttgart, Germany.
Obama would prefer to transfer leadership of the operation to NATO, which is in any event dominated by the US military. He has the support of Britain, Italy and also Germany. France, however, has so far prevented the transfer of command to NATO, arguing that the transatlantic alliance has a poor reputation in the Arab countries. In fact, Sarkozy fears losing control over the course and outcome of the war, should NATO assume control.
Behind the heated arguments about command structures are very definite economic and geopolitical interests. The Globe and Mail spoke frankly about the plundering of Libya’s resources at the heart of the imperialist intervention. In a blog post appearing Wednesday, the newspaper wrote: “Even as the Libyan war just gets underway, the economic war over Libya’s treasures has already begun.”
According to Le Monde: “The Western oil companies, and especially European, have a lot to lose and maybe even more to win in the game in which they were forced to participate by the Libyan rebellion.”
In 2009, France imported 9 percent and Italy 25 percent of their oil requirements from Libya. Last year, over half of Libyan oil exports went to Italy, Germany and France.
In addition to the Italian oil company Eni and France’s Total, the Spanish oil company Repsol, Austria’s OMV and Germany’s BASF subsidiary Wintershall operate in the Mediterranean country. Before the war, the Italian group Eni was pumping 250,000 barrels a day from Libya, five times as much as Total.
A new transitional government, brought to power by NATO bombs, would presumably redistribute the oil concessions to the benefit of the belligerent countries. On the other hand, Gaddafi has threatened to nationalize the oil companies operating in the country and award the concessions to China, India and Brazil, should he survive the war. The warring countries have much to lose if they fail to overthrow Gaddafi.
Italy in particular, has reacted bitterly to France’s aggressive posture. Prior to the war, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had built close ties with Libya and hesitated for some time before breaking with Gaddafi. Italy’s energy supplies depend largely on Libyan oil and gas, and Libya has invested billions in Italian companies.
Although Italy is participating in enforcing the no-fly zone with its own aircraft and has made its military bases available for the ongoing operations, it is insisting that NATO take over command.
From the start, Germany has expressed reservations about the military action. It abstained on the vote in the UN Security Council and has clearly distanced itself from France.
Berlin has long resisted France’s efforts to expand French influence in the region at Germany’s expense. In 2008, Sarkozy’s plans for a Mediterranean Union met with fierce resistance in Berlin. In 2007, the German government prevented a European Union intervention in Chad, urged by France. Paris has responded to the growing pressure from Berlin by working more closely with Washington and London.
This development has reached a new stage in the Libya conflict. Relations between Berlin and Paris are more poisoned than at any point since the Second World War.
In Le Figaro, a senior French diplomat threatened the Germans with “incalculable political costs” following the country’s abstention in the Security Council. For their part, German government representatives have not tired of emphasizing that the Libya war is an adventure with unpredictable risks.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s attitude is also meeting with fierce resistance in Germany. Large sections of her own party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), as well as the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Greens, believe that seeking a rapprochement with Russia at the expense of Germany’s traditional ties to the West is a catastrophic mistake.
Ironically, Merkel is in a similar situation as her predecessor, SPD leader Gerhard Schröder. His growing rapprochement with Russia met with increasing opposition, including from his Green Party coalition partners, and contributed to the premature end of the SPD-Green coalition in 2005.
The fact that Merkel now faces similar problems demonstrates that the current situation is an expression of powerful objective tendencies. Germany’s position at the heart of Europe, its lack of indigenous energy resources and raw materials, and the voracious demands of its export industry are increasingly bringing it into conflict with France, England and the US.
Fueled by the international economic and financial crisis, mounting domestic social tensions, and the eruption of popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, deep fissures are appearing in the European Union and NATO.
These differences have intensified significantly since the Bush presidency and the Iraq war. At that time, Eastern Europe, fearful of Russian influence, moved closer to the US, while Germany and France sought a compromise with Moscow.
Now, Germany and Eastern Europe are coming into increasing conflict with the old Western core of NATO. In addition to the Mediterranean countries Italy, France and Spain, traditional transatlantic allies such as Denmark and Norway are participating in the Libya war. Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria as well as Germany, however, have declined to participate.