Libya: resistance exposes divisions in NATO strategy

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 222 August/September 2011

What was intended as a show of NATO strength is turning into a demonstration of division and weakness. The attackers thought it would take a few weeks to overthrow the Libyan government but the war is now into its fifth month with no victory in sight. The imperialists are negotiating with the government but require a concession on Colonel Gaddafi’s role to save face. Trevor Rayne reports.

From 31 March to 18 July NATO flew 15,669 sorties over Libya, an average of 128 a day, and 5,902 strike sorties when bombs and missiles were launched, 48 per day. By 13 July the Libyan government said that NATO had killed 1,108 civilians in and around Tripoli and wounded 4,537 others. That is, on average, nine civilians killed and 39 wounded each day for 122 days.

A NATO commander claimed that satellite dishes on roofs were evidence of ‘Command and Control Centres’. NATO bombed a meeting of religious leaders seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict, bombed homes, a public bus, a hotel and the National Downs Syndrome Centre; it has twice attempted to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi and his family. Health authorities report an increase in strokes, miscarriages and stress-related illnesses in targeted areas.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox admitted, ‘I’m afraid I think the chance of opposition forces entering Tripoli is unlikely in the near future.’ On 10 July French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said of the Libyan government and the Benghazi-based opposition Transitional National Council (TNC), ‘They can talk to each other because we have shown there is no solution through force… We must now sit around a table. We will stop bombing as soon as the Libyans start talking to one another and the military on both sides go back to their bases.’ The British and US governments responded with calls for Colonel Gaddafi’s removal.

On 17 July Fox accused other NATO members of not doing enough to support the organisation’s missions, including in Libya. He had already asked his US counterpart, Leon Panetta, for more US help with intelligence, surveillance and aerial refuelling. Britain and France are dependent upon the US to help them sustain the war on Libya. Consequently, the US can dictate the terms of the war to them.


As the conflict has gone on so divisions within NATO and between NATO and other states have become more apparent. On 17 March Germany sided with Russia, China, India and Brazil in not voting for UN Resolution 1973 which NATO used to legitimise its attack. South Africa voted with the US, Britain and France. Recently both Russia and South Africa have condemned NATO for exceeding the terms of the Resolution. Italy’s President Berlusconi said he was opposed to the war from the start and the Dutch Defence minister described it as ‘naive’ to believe bombing would get rid of Gaddafi.

Factions of the US ruling class are opposed to another war effort, with its accompanying costs and inextricable commitment. In the US Congress they accused President Obama of being in violation of the War Powers’ Act by committing US forces to war without Congressional approval. A 24 June vote to restrict funds for the war on Libya was defeated by 180 to 238, but a vote to authorise military action was defeated 123 to 295. This restrains what the US, Britain and France can do in Libya, particularly the prospect of an occupation force.

Visiting NATO headquarters in Brussels on 10 June, US Defence Secretary Gates said, ‘the mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country – yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the US, once more, to make up the difference’. Gates criticised Germany, Poland, Italy, Spain and Turkey for being unwilling to commit resources to the war on Libya.

The heads of the British Royal Navy and Royal Air Force warned that the war was becoming unsustainable. Prime Minister Cameron reprimanded them, ‘you do the fighting and I’ll do the talking’ and said, ‘Time is on our side, not on Gaddafi’s side.’ But that time depends upon the will of the US state and it is the US ruling class that will demand rewards from the spoils of victory – should it arise.

Tripoli prepares

Over 30 countries, including the US, but excluding Russia and China, recognise the TNC as the ‘legitimate government authority’ in Libya. This could give the TNC access to some of the £38 billion of Libyan government money frozen in US accounts. British Foreign Secretary Hague said that £100 million had been transferred to the TNC. The TNC is an imperialist construction, including CIA agents and former Libyan government functionaries among its leaders; it has hired Patton Boggs as it public relations firm. Patton Boggs previously served former Egyptian President Mubarak. Media demonisation of Colonel Gaddafi preceded the attack on Libya. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch found no evidence supporting claims, disseminated by Al Jazeera, of Libyan government soldiers committing mass rape and of the supposed imminent massacre in Benghazi in March 2011. Human Rights Watch reports that ‘rebel fighters and supporters have damaged property, burned some homes, looted from hospitals, homes and shops, and beaten some individuals alleged to have supported government forces’.

On 27 June the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Colonel Gaddafi, members of his family and the government security chief for ‘crimes against humanity’. By freeing up funds for the TNC and issuing arrest warrants the imperialists are encouraging defections from the Libyan government to the TNC. Britain’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell explained that he did not want to see members of the government’s ‘revolutionary councils’ in Libya banned from the political process after Gaddafi goes, ‘When Tripoli falls, someone should get on the phone to the former Tripoli head of police and tell him he’s got a job.’ (Financial Times 29 June 2011).

Mitchell foresees ‘UN peacekeeping troops [being] deployed quickly after hostilities ceased…’

The people of Tripoli are preparing to confront British government plans. They have mounted large pro-government rallies and are armed with a street defence plan. All people aged 18 to 65 are accepted as volunteers and given training in the weapons allocated to them. The defence groups, organised into units of five or six people, are equipped with rifles, grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and booby-traps. They will fight guerrilla war if attacked on the ground.

The war has cost British people £260 million so far. Workers in Britain must oppose this attack on Libya mounted by the same ruling class that now attacks our own livelihoods and conditions.


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