We republish below an article by Tony Norfield that looks at the economic background to the NATO intervention in Libya and in particular the role of Britain. British imperialism has long had an interest in the country and is fighting hard to keep its influence as a new regime looks set to take over. For more on the importance of imperialism to the modern day British economy, see the same author’s The economics of British Imperialism
by Tony Norfield
These are some factors to bear in mind when assessing the fall of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya:
- The European powers are now best placed to gain influence in Libya, especially Britain, which had already led the way in rehabilitating Libya back into the imperialist fold under Gaddafi. Britain’s BP had already struck oil and gas exploration deals with the regime in 2007 – its ‘single biggest exploration commitment’. Alongside this, the LSE (latterly dubbed the ‘Libyan School of Economics’ after the Saif Al-Islam fiasco) was busy mentoring the Libyan elite in the wonders of ‘governance’. This was no doubt encouraged by the UK Foreign Office in order to gain influence over a new generation of rulers.
- Libya is a rentier state, with the main spoils from energy revenues going to Gaddafi and his clan. There was normally enough left to distribute to other clans to keep them quiet; if not, then political repression kept the regime in place. However, political unrest grew after the Arab spring, which appeared to open up the possibility of regime change to Gaddafi’s disparate clan rivals. Gaddafi was fine for Britain and other powers while he was unchallenged and was becoming a stable partner. Post-Tunisia and post-Egypt, he was not.
The Libyan Investment Authority had been responsible for investing surplus oil funds and had assets valued at over $50bn in mid-2010. Before the sanctions on Libya earlier this year, it had already been suckered by western banks into loss-making bets on things like Société Générale shares and investments promoted by Goldman Sachs, and others, that lost almost all their value. Apart from the potential oil and gas revenues, control or influence over these funds will also be of great interest to western powers.
The NATO attack on Libya was initially promoted by Britain and France. Starting out under the usual false flag of ‘humanitarian intervention’, it quickly became an overt means of promoting regime change by backing one side in a civil war. The Libyan rebels in Benghazi quickly fell into the arms of western powers, with British intervention to open up ‘discussions’ being prominent. Since the end of July, the National Transitional Council has had an ambassador in London, after the expulsion of Gaddafi’s staff. The British have also been releasing previously-frozen Libyan funds held in London to finance the NTC. Today, the Financial Times reports that Britain’s office in Benghazi (!) has deployed a UK-led ‘international stabilisation response team’ to back up the NTC and ‘a separate British team is helping to build command and control capacity and assistance including communications kit and police training’.
The US provided most of the firepower for the attack on Libya, but has effectively been sidelined by the British and the French. Italy, busy with the Berlusconi show, has had little role, despite being the previous colonial power and having extensive economic and financial relationships with the country. Over 20% of the Libyan Investment Authority’s $6bn equity investments are in Italian companies, eg Unicredit and ENI.
So far, Libyan events look like a big success for British imperialism: regime change to a more pliant group, big deals ahead, and at a cost of less than £300m for the military budget. But the ‘new Libya’ will still be fought over by the other powers, and the US will be unimpressed with spending $1bn to subsidise British strategy.
In the early hours of this morning, speaking on the Libyan opposition’s TV network, Mahmoud Jibril, chairman of the NTC said ‘Libya is for everyone and will now be for everyone’. He meant that all Libya’s people would now participate in building the country, but the real message for imperialism is that Libya is now up for grabs.
 See the BP website: http://www.bp.com/genericarticle.do?categoryId=2012968&contentId=7033600
 See ‘Cameron welcomes Gaddafi retreat’, Financial Times, 22 August 2011.