Imperialist war for oil in Libya and the MENA region

Imperialist intervention in the name of oil has caused unspeakable harm to civilian lives and property

(This article was first published by the Philippine Online Chronicles)

The conflict in Libya has taken on a new dimension with the so-called “no-fly zone” resolution of the United Nations (UN) Security Council. The said body’s Resolution 1973 has given members the green light to “take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack” by Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and “to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights” over the beleaguered country.

Immediately, France has deployed fighter jets over Libya and bombed a number of pro-Qaddafi tanks as French President Nicolas Sarkozy declare that “we are intervening to allow the Libyan people to themselves choose their destiny” and “to protect the civilian population from the murderous folly” of the Qaddafi regime. American and British ships followed, firing cruise missiles at Qaddafi’s radar systems, communications centers, and surface-to-air missile sites as US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron echo the statement by Sarkozy.

Behind the pretext of preventing more civilian casualties, the ultimate political objective of the military intervention in Libya is to unseat Qaddafi at all costs. As British Foreign Affairs Secretary William Hague has proclaimed, “Gadhafi must go”. France has earlier declared that it recognizes the rebel Libyan National Council as the “sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people”. The National Council has been set up by the rebels as the political body that will oversee the transition period in a post-Qaddafi Libya.

MENA’s oil riches

But the control of oil has always been the overarching context in the long and bloody history of imperialist intervention in the Middle East and North Africa or the MENA region where majority of the planet’s oil resources can be found. The industrial world consumes much of the planet’s oil resources – the US alone accounts for almost 23 percent of global oil consumption while the European Union (EU) comprises almost 17 percent. But they do not have enough oil in their own territories to satisfy the ever growing needs of their factories, militaries, and populations. Proved US oil reserves are just about over 1 percent of the world total and the EU, just less than 0.4 percent. Imperialism knows very well that who controls the world’s oil resources rules the world.

Thus, from orchestrating coup d’état to unseat Iran’s Prime Minister in 1953 to outright war of aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq to install puppet regimes under the guise of post-9/11 war on terror, the US, Britain, and company have repeatedly intruded in the region to keep control of its oil. Countries in the MENA region together account for more than 39 percent of oil traded internationally and 35 percent of global production, according to the US Congressional Research Service (CRS). More importantly, the MENA region holds almost 59 percent of the world’s proved oil reserves.

Libya is the second largest oil producer and exporter in North Africa behind Algeria. At 1.8 million barrels per day (MBD), Libya’s production is 2.1% of world production, while its exports of 1.5 MBD account for 2.9 percent of global exports. More than 90 percent of Libyan oil exports are shipped to Europe where more than 40 percent go to Italy, more than 20 percent to Germany, more than 7 percent to France, and smaller shipments to Spain and Greece. But its oil resources are greatly under-utilized considering that Libya has some 47 billion barrels of proved oil reserves – the largest in North Africa and 3.5 times the size of Algeria’s oil reserves. Libya’s oil reserves are also the sixth biggest in the whole MENA region behind Middle Eastern giants Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the ninth largest in the world. Moreover, only a quarter of Libya’s surface territory has been explored so far, making industry experts believe that new discoveries will dwarf the size of its current proved oil reserves.

Oil TNCs in Libya

It is not as though the West does not have access to Libyan oil. Even after Qaddafi has nationalized the oil industry, some transnational corporations (TNCs) continued their exploitation of oil in Libya through production sharing arrangements with the National Oil Corporation (NOC), a set up that Qaddafi had to enter into because of these TNCs’ monopoly over production and exploration technology, not to mention their overwhelming control over marketing networks worldwide.

At present, the biggest and most active foreign oil company in Libya is Italy’s ENI through its affiliate Agip North Africa BV that has been operating in the country since 1960 and produces about 16 percent of Libyan oil output. American oil companies Conoco Phillips, Amerada Hess, and Marathon, meanwhile, have a joint venture deal with the NOC to form the Waha Oil Co. This company controls four oil fields in Libya, including the Gialo oil field which contains the largest know onshore reserves in the country with 4 billion barrels. After the lifting in 2004 of the economic sanctions imposed by the US against Libya for allegations of terrorist activities, more foreign oil companies have entered the country including Royal Dutch Shell and American TNCs Chevron Texaco and Occidental Petroleum. Even the overseas retailing and marketing arm of Libyan petroleum products – the Tamoil – has been taken over by the Americans through a 65 percent stake by US-based investment group Colony Capital. All in all, more than 50 international oil companies are reportedly operating in Libya today where the government plans to expand oilfield investment to $10 billion by 2014 to increase potential production.

Consolidating control

So what can be the plausible explanation behind the imperialist powers’ adamant campaign to topple the Qaddafi regime? Note that Qaddafi has been from the onset an unreliable or unpredictable leader as far as the imperialists are concerned. The concessions he has given to the West notwithstanding, Qaddafi for the most part of his 42-year rule has been at odds with Western powers, i.e. he challenged the oil cartel by nationalizing Libya’s oil in the 1970s, sided with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, supported liberation movements, etc.

The wave of uprisings – which apparently is being fuelled by the economic crisis (MENA historically has the highest unemployment rate among all regions in the world) and calls for political reforms – that challenge mostly decades-old regimes in MENA is being hijacked by the US, Britain, and France to install a more reliable regime in Libya to consolidate Western control not only in the said country but in the entire oil-rich region. The imperialist powers have already lost two of their most trusted allies with the ouster of the 23-year old Ben Ali regime in Tunisia and the 30-year old Mubarak regime in Egypt.

They have thus decided to take a more decisive and direct role in managing the unrest, not to protect the civilians as they claimed – there are no no-fly zones in Yemen and Bahrain, two long-time strategic US allies where the dictators have been violently repressing anti-government protests including killing 50 protesters in a Yemeni university – but to ensure that Western interest in the region’s oil resources will not be undermined. As explained by a retired US military official who helped impose a no-fly zone in Iraq, the Americans pick their fights “based on where resources are and where it most affects” them.

Imperialist intervention in the name of oil has caused unspeakable harm to civilian lives and property. The US war of aggression in Iraq has so far claimed more than 92,000 civilian lives (according to US Army documents leaked by the WikiLeaks), orphaned 35 percent of Iraqi children, and created 4.7 million Iraqi refugees. The world should not allow the US and other Western powers to make Libya another Iraq. The sovereign right of the Libyan people to resolve their internal conflict must be respected. (end)

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