Qaddafi met Keynes. The War in Libya as an Internal Affair

di Dario Fazzi,

Dictatorships always cost. Internally, they are inefficient in terms of political freedom, human rights safeguard, and private entrepreneurship. Internationally, they constantly undermine global security, distort free trading, and often benefit from the fact that they operate beyond any common rule, acting as pure free-riders. Such elements could be enough to explain why many contemporary democracies are pursuing the aim to make the world free from dictators. There are, however, several other current and more specific reasons that can highlight UK’s and France’s decisions to wage war against Qaddafi’s Libya. To recognize them, it is possible to analyze some political and economic data, which have to take into account the difficulties governments had to face with a mounting global crisis, the forerunning ghost of recession, and the necessity to ask for «tears and blood» from their citizens.

As regards France, economic pressures made the war not so attractive in many ways. Sarkozy, as many European colleagues of him, is by now forced to impose restrictive measures on French economy, which are highly unpopular mostly among workers and which are to be accepted just when an all but easy electoral campaign is approaching. Qaddafi was a major partner for Mediterranean European nations, due to his proximity and to the quality and the low-price of his natural reserves. Italians and French did not lose an opportunity in the past to do business with the Colonel, without asking for any form of internal Libyan democratization. Only in 2009, for example, «Britain, France and other European states sold Libya over $470m-worth of weapons»[1].

But the war could also open new intra-European scenarios: indeed, the war would represent a clear move against Germany, the only continental competitor of that country. Libya was the fourth oil and gas exporter to Germany and Berlin considered Libyan natural reserves of strategic relevance. War would foster the freeze of that Franco-German cooperation that represented the engine of European integration. War would also enhance a (re)new(ed) alliance across the English Channel[2].

Furthermore, in early 2011, as the rising Arab protests imposed certain moral issues that simply could not be ignored anymore, French-Libyan economic relations were being menaced by those nations which were opposing the sanctions against the Colonel. As results, Abdeljalil Mayouf, director of the information at the Oil Department of the former Libyan government, declared that Libya would have no problems to prefer Brazil, China or Russia as its best commercial partners. Therefore, patience and previous appeasement were being overrun by economic motivations. The possibility that Libya would increase its trading relationships with those countries which were not supporting international sanctions would mean the loss of billions of French (and Italian too) investments. ENI, OMV, and Total France highly pressured their government’s officials to restore the Libyan market and safe their dividends. But, on the other hand, Russian Gazprom, Neft, and Tafneft, as well as Brazilian Petrobras, were expecting to make billions of dollars in oil revenues from already reached agreements with the former Libyan government of Qaddafi[3]. In the game that global oil corporations were playing before the war, European companies were being highly menaced by their Latin American and Russian rivals. Recognizing it, France launched several investment plans made by agricultural projects and tourism development, through a real estate branch of a national investment fund named LAP (Libyan Africa Portfolio). So, since France was trying to diversify its investments in the African country, it fundamentally needed two things: first, a change of the Libyan internal political leadership, in order to establish in that country a more sympathetic government even less disposed to open its arms to emergent economies; second, the availability of the future Libyan government to invest in the modernization of the country, by opening its borders and renewing its infrastructures. War could easily reach both objectives. Reconstruction will boost those forms of investment French were trying to do.

Thus, beyond the ethereal appearance of the Premier Dame, Sarkozy’s France had pushed up its great military budget. Defense ministry has planned a 2011 budget of 31 billion euros[4]. Almost five billions are intended for the maintenance and the use of the Rafale and Mirage jets (a one-hour flight of these planes costs between 10,000 and 13,000 euros). A total prevision of the war costs stated that France would spend around 250 billion euros, depending from the duration of the conflict[5]. It is easily understandable that such an investment was oriented to produce certain incomings for French companies; otherwise, it will condemn them to a marginal position.

Affected by similar exigencies, British cabinet gathered momentum and decided to participate in the conflict. On November 2010, France and Great Britain had signed a treaty of mutual military assistance (even nuclear exchanges) that bound the two national defense forces together[6]. A war would be the best test-field for that agreement.

When Middle-Eastern popular dissent was growing and crumbling fragile and illegitimate regimes, his majesty’s government expressed some crucial concerns. In an afflatus that remembered Blair’s apology for his connection with Bush’s obstinacy, the mood inside British official circles became that «inaction [was] a decision, a policy with consequences». The escalation of violence against civilians turned public attention to Libya and then it seemed obvious to act[7]. Cameron defined the action against Qaddafi as necessary, legal and right. Soon after him, Sarkozy added that the vague but vigorous «universal conscience» could not tolerate such kind of crimes[8].

Libya, it is true, retains only less than 2% of the world’s oil reserves and its gas is hardly cheap from a British point of view. Hence, pressing commercial exigencies seem had no role in pushing lib-dem government ahead with the dismissal of the Libyan regime[9]. Accordingly to a more accurate analysis, however, that is not entirely true. Indeed, in 2010-15, British defense expenditure was supposed to grow at an annual rate of nearly 2%, even though it will probably face a decline by a value of «approximately $10m, according to market data from ICD research titled UK Defence Industry – Market Opportunities and Entry Strategies, Analyses and Forecasts to 2015». Hence, the UK needs to continue to be engaged in war scenarios, if it want to preserve similar rates and so compensate the losses derived from the market (or, as an alternative, it has to open new markets via new and friendly governments). That was exactly what Great Britain did in the period 2005-09, when UK defense expenditure annually increased at a rate of 1.50% and was valued at just under 65 billion dollars. This growth was primarily due to the UK’s involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in UN peacekeeping missions[10].

As someone arguably said, the war would drum boom in Britain[11]. But how? At the moment the country is living an era of widespread cuttings. About 65,500 British citizens had to face an average weekly cut of £41, while the government has admitted that over £100 million has been already spent. «The UK government has already deployed four Apache attack helicopters, each costing £30 million pounds. By the first Apache attacks on 4 June, in which seven Hellfire missiles were fired, the UK government had to pay £427,000». Many NGO are arguing that the cost of every Tornado jet is £35,000 per hour, while every Typhoon jet reaches £70,000 per hour[12]. In August 2011, First Sea Lord Admiral Stanhope said the Royal Fleet can fight for 90 days more before it has to make serious cuts in firepower elsewhere. Timely, Cameron stated the war already cost 200 million pounds, but he was promptly contradicted by several military aides, who alarmingly warned that the campaign would reach the figure of 1 billion by September, thus exhausting British reserves[13]. Numbers that taxpayers, facing a bill of around £3 million a day for Britain’s part in the offensive against Libya, will hardly continue to support.

So, from an internal point of view, why do French and British governments continue to wage war against Libya until Qaddafi’s defeat? Intervention continues to appear economically suitable. On the one hand, it permits the two countries to pave the way for their future investments in Libya, with the auspicious target to prevail over their European partners when the reconstruction of that country will begin. On the other hand, facing the dangers of the economic crisis and pressured by their citizens who are paying the costs of that crisis, the two governments had the necessity to find a way to stimulate their public sectors. In the end, continuously growing military spending still seems to be one of the best options.


Questa voce è stata pubblicata in Europa Occidentale/Western Europe e contrassegnata con , , , , , . Contrassegna il permalink.

Una risposta a Qaddafi met Keynes. The War in Libya as an Internal Affair

  1. Pingback: World In Progress No.9 | World In Progress

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