Intervention in oil states part of new world order

Our obsession with the misfortunes on our doorstep have distracted us from the agonies being piled on peoples of other countries by our European and North American allies, writes Vincent Browne.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, with yet more civilians last weekend being slaughtered in Afghanistan on the authorisation of our scheduled May visitor, about whom we are so excited. That same prospective visitor has led a war on yet another country, Libya, under a pretext so feeble as to be contemptuous. And not a word of complaint or even concern by our Minister for Foreign Affairs (do we have a Minister for Foreign Affairs?).

Resolution 1973 of the UN Security Council, passed on 17 March, authorises member states of the UN "to take all necessary protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack" and also authorises member states "to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with [a] ban on flights".

How this is justified by the UN Charter is not at all clear, for Chapter VII of the Charter, which deals with threats to peace and acts of aggression, envisages military action "to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security". International peace and security is not an issue in Libya.

Only of late, under pressure from the US, has Chapter VII been extended to include entirely arbitrary "humanitarian interventions" in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

Barack Obama claimed on television on Monday evening last that intervention in Libya was motivated by humanitarian concern for the life of civilians there. But such humanitarian concern seemed not to arise at all when the dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia responded brutally to rebellions and seemed to have no applicability to events in Bahrain and Yemen, where civilians have also been killed in rebellion against dictatorships.

In uneasy appreciation of this contradiction, Obama added: "It was not in our national interests to let that [the attack on civilians in Libya] happen."

It was in the US national interest to court Muammar Gadafy right up to a few months ago. Less than a year ago Hillary Clinton welcomed Gadafy's son, who was also the Libyan national security minister, to the state department in Washington when she spoke of the administration's wish to "deepen and broaden our co-operation" with the Gadafy regime. In February, another of Gadafy's sons, Khamis, was on a state department guided tour of the US, visiting US military installations.

Explaining why the US was keen to involve itself in Libya and not in other states where rebellions were being crushed, Denis McDonough, the US deputy national security adviser, said: "We don't make decisions about questions like interventions based on consistency of precedent. We make them based on how we can best advance our interests in the region."

The conference of 40 countries convened in London yesterday to "discuss" Libya was the device to prepare for a new administration in that country that is pliant to the US and to the EU. That incipient administration is already in being, the Libyan Interim Transitional National Council led by Mahmoud Jibril, a PhD graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and former head of Gadafy's national economic board, which had close links with the London School of Economics.

Another key member of the national council is Ali Tarhouni, an economics professor at the University of Washington, who is the designated new minister for finance.

Mahmoud Jibril has had a series of meetings over the last few days with Nicolas Sarkozy and Hillary Clinton and, amid claims by the US and Nato, that the assault on Libya is simply to protect civilians and not to occasion a regime change, a regime change is precisely what it is all about.

And isn't it curious that alone of all the Arab dictatorships, where rebellion is under way, it is the one in the country with the most oil reserves that is the target of a military onslaught and regime change?

Sarkozy said at the EU summit last weekend that there was now a new world order arising from resolution 1973, a model of "world governance" based on "responsibility to protect". William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said last week at an African summit sponsored by Rupert Murdoch, that events in north Africa and the Middle East were already set to overtake the 2008 financial crisis and 9/11 as the most important development of the early 21st century.

That new world order of which Sarkozy spoke, consolidates a de facto reality that states that fail to defer to the interests of the world's lead states are in danger of military intervention on some pretext or other. Those states that do defer can feel free to deny their citizens the most basic of human rights, without fear of consequences.

And there is a further reality. A new scramble for Africa is under way, led by two competing powers, US and China. A scramble, of which Libya is a part, which will see the rape of that continent, again, of its natural resources and the ravaging of the lives of its people.