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Superpower interests at stake in Libyan conflict

Written by: Nick on

Nick G.               28 April 2019

The recent outbreak of violence in Libya is continuing testimony to the US imperialism’s inability to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Good at pushing regimes from their place on the wall, invariably the result has been utter chaos and instability.  Libya is a classic example of this.

Having succeeded in fomenting opposition to former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, US imperialism and NATO member states provided air power and direct military aid to opposition groups, resulting in al-Qaddafi’s overthrow and murder.  However, rivalries among the rebel groups prevented any stable, nation-wide state institutions from being established. A transitional government based in Tripoli was so insecure that for a time it had to meet on warships out in the Mediterranean. Eventually it ceded authority to a General National Congress elected in a limited part of western Libya whilst ISIS kept control of areas around Sirte and CIA asset General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army retained control of much of the east were a separate government entity, the House of Representatives, ruled.
The current round of fighting broke out on April 4 when Haftar's Libyan National Army advanced on Tripoli, the seat of the internationally recognized and UN-backed government, striking the outskirts of the capital city.

US imperialism seeks to exploit uncertainty

As Haftar’s forces advanced rapidly on Tripoli, the US hastily withdrew troops based in Tripoli that were ostensibly employed to counter ISIS-Libya.  The real reason, suggested by several observers, was that Trump did not want to defend the UN-backed Tripoli government against the man who was poised to take over the country – Haftar had lived for many years within ten minutes of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia and is regarded as Washington’s man in Libya. His forces also control most of Libya’s oil reserves although negotiations about sale and export of Libyan oil is meant to be conducted through the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation (NOC).

When Haftar first advanced on Tripoli, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “We have made clear we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital.” That was on April 7. Eight days later, on April 15, Trump intervened, reversing Pompeo’s policy. A statement by the White House said ““President Donald J. Trump spoke on April 15, 2019, with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar to discuss ongoing counterterrorism efforts and the need to achieve peace and stability in Libya.

“The President recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system. “

So, in US imperialism’s view, Haftar is the man to restore Humpty Dumpty to stability, meaning control under US imperialist domination.

What does China want?

China also wants stability in Libya and has mainly pursued its interests through the Tripoli authorities although it has also kept in touch with the eastern government.  In the chaos surrounding Gadaffi’s overthrow and murder, China evacuated its citizens and Chinese business in Libya was suspended. It took some time for Chinese operations to resume in Libya, but they had been making spectacular progress in recent times, much to the chagrin of the US.

In July 2018, Libya and China signed a memorandum of understanding by which Libya would join the Belt and Road Initiative. This came during a meeting in Beijing where the two sides discussed the return of Chinese companies to resume their stalled projects in Libya, as well as the Chinese role in finding a peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis and its contribution to the reconstruction of Libya.

Last September, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Serraj announced that Chinese companies were welcome to resume operations in Libya. "Chinese companies in the past played an important role in Libya's development and construction process and gained a good reputation," he said, adding that Libya "offers opportunities to invest in multiple areas."

Like US imperialism. Chinese social-imperialism (socialism in words, imperialism in deeds) is after Libyan oil.  China resumed purchases of Libyan oil in 2017. Exports of Libyan oil to China doubled in 2018. PetroChina has an annual contract with Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) to buy Libyan crude oil. The only problem is that much of it is controlled by the US-backed Haftar, hence China’s continuing dialogue with the eastern government backed by Haftar.

But it is not just oil that is motivating China.  It also sees Libya as a market for its telecommunications giants, Huawei and ZTE. Adel Ehmedat, a director of Libya’s General Authority of Communication and Informatics, has said that that “Huawei and ZTE provide a great service to the Libyan telecommunications sector, in terms of the development of telephone networks, mobile and fixed-line billing systems, as well as technical support for training and provision of spare parts.”

Who else is playing in this game?

Russia, France, Britain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are also trying to get what they can out of Libya’s deteriorating situation. Russia is now a major regional player given its assistance to Syria, and tends to cooperate with China militarily and diplomatically. France and Britain both have oil companies seeking to get back into Libya.  France in particular has good relations with Haftar.  Egypt wants Haftar in control and sees him as a political counter to the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence throughout the region.  The Saudi’s and the UAE also support Haftar. But each of them also has its own interests and these contradictions make a united pro-Haftar front quite unstable.

The whole situation is a tragedy for the people of Libya.  Libya’s future should be decided by the Libyan people themselves, free of the rivalries and self-interest of superpowers and regional despots.

The independence, territorial integrity and national sovereignty once enjoyed by Libya was destroyed by imperialism.  Imperialism can not have any role to play in restoring it.


Superpower interests at stake in Libyan conflict
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