Balancing their own interests – the Western debate about military intervention
After Iraq and Afghanistan, most Muslims are deeply hostile to any idea of Western interference in Muslim lands. Yet the calls for intervention in Libya seem to be on-going, with conflicting messages from different countries. Europe has appeared divided. This week’s EU summit statement, which calls for Gaddafi to go, does not rule out intervention in the long term, but puts conditions for taking any action in future. First, they said, “a demonstrable need” means attacks from the air on civilians or use of chemical weapons. Second, “a clear legal basis” – meaning a UN security council resolution or action under the Geneva convention if Gaddafi is found guilty of crimes against humanity. Third, “support from the region” means the African Union and the Arab League would have to back the action. On this last matter, the puppet regimes that make up the Arab League have given their consent.
Western countries do not intervene militarily for humanitarian reasons. They weigh up commercial, economic, strategic, and security interests for their country, as well as political interests for the incumbent government in front of their own populations. If, after all due considerations the label of ‘preventing a humanitarian catastrophe’ can be made to fit – it is labelled as such, and action is called for on these grounds.
The current Western push for military intervention seems to have been limited by some governments in Europe – and to some extent the US. However, no one has ruled it out in principle, keeping all their options on the table, as the players weigh up the balance of interests for their countries.
Germany’s Angela Merkel led the majority of states in Europe in blocking calls by the UK’s David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy of France for air strikes and a no-fly zone – something not currently being promoted in Washington at present – although Hilary Clinton’s references to ‘terrorism’ etc are ominous.
The cavalier calls for a no-fly zone were rebuffed by EU Foreign affairs spokeswoman Baroness Ashton who argued that such a zone could end up killing large numbers of civilians. One EU diplomat said: “The risks are high for potential civilian casualties and potential collateral damage. The efficiency of a no-fly zone is very questionable.”
David Cameron has emerged as the west’s strongest advocate for intervention. Some have argued that the self-confessed ‘heir to Blair’ is surrounded by neocons in his cabinet. But his strident remarks have made him look foolish and inexperienced to others, who say Britain could not possibly mount such an operation alone; not after it failed to find enough chartered aircraft to evacuate its own citizens, and its plans to scrap its flagship aircraft carrier Ark Royal. Even proposing a joint EU operation is not really credible, with one conservative critic mocking Cameron that Gaddafi would not be shaking with fear at the thought a no-fly zone policed by the Greek Air-force, launching off Belgian aircraft carriers.
Britain’s main goal is to secure its oil contracts. It has good links with all factions in Libya. Its main goal is to prevent a clash between them in such a way that it can continue to maintain its interests. The EU fears for a destabilised Libya and for a refugee crisis that would increase economic, social and political strains in countries that already oppose immigration.
However, all players are looking to entice the United States to lead the way. Yet, the US. watching from afar, with little concern about a refugee crisis, will be thinking ‘what is in it for us?’ Figures within the Libyan opposition who defected from the regime, as well as the old regime itself, have historically closer diplomatic ties with the UK, so a US-led intervention would largely stabilise things for Britain and Europe’s benefit – not their own. And which American President, seeing his country’s troops entrenched in two overseas conflicts, could justify to his electorate that they should be engaged in a third without some meaningful gain. America’s greater fear is Bahrain-Saudi instability – which has far greater implications for their imperiled economic recovery than the crisis in Libya – especially since threats to rising oil prices due to uncertainties about Libya’s 3% contribution to the world oil supply has been offset by increased production by Saudi Arabia for the time being.
So, what could change the balance of arguments in the coming weeks and months? A significant worsening of civilian casualties in Libya? In such a situation, the pressure on world leaders to be seen to act would consequently increase. The emergence of a strategic opportunity for the US? If America saw that intervention could provide real benefits for it in the region – for example a permanent base, or greater control over the oil markets – it may well change its mind about intervening. Indeed, just before last years ‘State of the Union Address’, some in the United States were arguing that a militarised policy against Iran might act as a badly needed economic stimulus, and it is possible they might return to that argument in North Africa.
There are many things that might change the arguments for western governments. However, Muslims must argue against Western intervention on principle and expose the false justifications. Islam does not allow foreign powers to intervene for their own gain, even under the pretext of helping to save lives. Any humanitarian help and stabilisation should come from nearby Muslim armies – particularly in nearby Egypt. The west will welcome further divisions of Muslim lands, and conflicts between states, so they can act as power brokers. It is only a sincere Islamic leadership that will help the people, and unify them to stem the threat of ‘civil war’ and stem the unfolding bloodshed where the law is the criterion for action, and not financial or strategic interests.