Wednesday, 14 September 2016

'Humanitarian Intervention' in Libya

The UK parliamentary report on the 2011 intervention in Libya and its aftermath gives an interesting summary of events. The whole thing, in President Obama's words, became a 'shit show'. However, the real lesson that comes from reading the report is how calls for 'humanitarian intervention' are a cover for big power interests. In this case, it turns out that even these interests were not fully thought through by the key advocates for intervention, first France, then the UK and the US.

The Libya report is published today, now that a certain David Cameron is not in the embarrassing limelight. One note in the report, however, sums up the general stance taken by British politicians: the House of Commons voted by 557 to 13 in favour of British intervention. Of the 13 opposed, just 8 were from the Labour Party, two were from the Conservative Party, two were from the SDLP and one was a Green MP.

Such parliamentary reports aim to identify problems ... so that they may be avoided next time. This report has been relatively prompt in the making, but during the five and a half years since the Libyan intervention, the major powers have not been slow to get involved in plenty of other mischief and destruction.

A concluding note on France's rationale for intervening in Libya (the report spends little time on the UK's), taken from a US State Department report of a meeting in April 2011 with French intelligence agents. President Sarkozy's plans in Libya were reported to have been driven by:

a. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production,
b. Increase French influence in North Africa,
c. Improve his internal political situation in France,
d. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in
the world,
e. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to
supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa.

So much for Bernard-Henri Levy and the humanitarian 'public intellectuals'.

Tony Norfield, 14 September 2014

PS: For those interested, the Parliamentary debate on intervention in Libya was on 21 March 2011. Details of who said what are available in the Hansard report here.


Dida said...


I searched the Hansard Report you linked to (with a basic Find 'France'search) and found no reference to Sarkozy's malevolent reasons for intervention you listed, excepting one which refers to French domestic politics: 'France’s speed of action seems to suggest that President Sarkozy is motivated at least in part by his domestic concerns'p 777.

Is there any chance for a page number to that excerpt from the US State Department report? I know I'm somewhat late, 5 years after your posting, but that's the serendipitous nature of the Internet. Thank you.

Dida Selim said...

Tony, Please disregard my previous comment, if you have received it. I just realized I was searching the wrong report. I found the reference you quoted and thank you for alerting us to this sample of imperial reasoning.