Saving the world, one barrel at a time

Originally published in MIT's The Tech Blogs on March 27, 2011

It’s amazing what a little oil under your territory can do for er… freedom and democracy. Check it here, one among many other front-page world reports of this March 21, 2011:

Allied forces strike Gadhafi compound; leader’s whereabouts unknown

By the CNN Wire Staff

March 21, 2011 3:48 a.m. EDT

Indeed, compared to such giants as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, Libya is not such a huge player in the global oil industry, contributing only about 2 percent of the world’s daily oil production.

Having said this, the oil Libya produces is an important component of Europe’s supply, and of Italy’s imports especially. According to the EIA, in 2009 Libya supplied Italy with 31 percent of its needs, contributing the most of any nation. It also supplied 8 percent of Germany’s net oil imports, and 7.6 percent of France’s.

As for the United States, Libya exported an estimated 80,000 BOPD to the US in 2009. Despite the sharp decrease since the highs of 117,000 BOPD in 2007 due to the economic slowdown and drop in demand, companies like US-based Exxon and Chevron made million-dollar deals in Libya, together with others, such as Total, BP and Shell. And for all the drive and violent efforts now to oust Gadhafi out of power, it’s only a few weeks ago that the US and Europe were all on much nicer terms with the Libyan dictator and rubbing shoulders with him on behalf of oil corporations which were seeking to do business in the country.

So even when we have passed the point of peak oil, continued production from Libya will remain key to maintaining balance between supply and demand.

Now, it doesn’t take a PhD in political sciences or international relations to see why, with so many internal armed conflicts around the world, Libya got ‘miraculously’ selected by the UN, US and EU as the place for them to step in.

Far from me the idea that the people of Libya do not urgently need humanitarian aid and deserve all the help they can get to ensure the respect of their human rights. With this in mind, the Western mission’s stated goals of protecting the Libyan people and facilitating access to humanitarian aid, as it goes about its military air offensive, are certainly noble goals. Only, if Western powers are so concerned about these issues, what are the chances that the spoils of Libyan oil will not drain but to a select few, as they have done in the past? The oil money faucet has done very little practical and useful for the people in the region, and now that it is slowly ebbing, I do not see this situation changing for them any time soon. At least not while strongmen and other corrupt types are wrestling control of oil – the main, if not only, source of income in the region.

The ideal, healthiest, and perhaps even life-saving strategy for the Libyans to get their act together would be to better handle their oil economy, guarantee higher returns from it, and invest it in the diversification that will be so much needed when oil prices drop and the gravy train ends. This will take working on their own long-term self interests – which may not necessarily align with those of the United States and the West…

For now, and especially since the start of the airstrikes, the Libyan economy looks more like a rickety train heading in the opposite direction and likely to derail and crash any minute.

Which leads me to the airstrikes. When it comes to the use of military force in foreign policy and international conflicts, my stance is pretty simple, not to say simplistic. It has its roots in my childhood: When my big brother would tease me as a child and teenager back home in Belgium, telling me I was fat and had hairy legs [being dark-haired, I think he had a point about the latter!:)..], I would start tightening my fists and getting ready to hit him, upon which he would tell me: “Defend yourself with your tongue, not your fists,” i.e. with words, not violence. That brotherly philosophy has defined my own thoughts on foreign [and other] relations for life: I’m all for debate and negotiations and 100 percent against the use of force and violence in any situations. And this goes also for US foreign policy.

To keep applying this logic on the most simple, even superficial level to the situation in Libya, it becomes quickly clear that US and European involvement, not to say through military force, is an incredibly bad and risky idea.

For the United States, barely coping with foreclosure and unemployment crises among other economic woes while spending $700 billion a year on defense, going into a third world conflict must sound like a bad joke to the ears of its citizens.

But ‘joking’ apart, there are real risks. With memories of her parent’s accounts of World War I and her own experience of the five years of World War II still fresh in her mind, my 83-year-old mother predicts that this Western intervention and Libyan war could well spark World War III.

While this prognostic may sound a little extreme, one cannot but acknowledge that the whole Mideast region is currently boiling with revolutionary ire, with the whole world’s eyes on it. And now, with American forces and ships already based nearby Libya and plans to deploy fighter-bombers, tankers and other weaponry along Europe’s southern borders [according to AP], with the Obama administration’s less than clear schedule and end date for the attacks and US involvement, and Gadhafi himself publicly vowing retaliation and that this would be a long war, promising “We will fight you if you continue your attacks on us,” my mother could be excused for her dramatic thinking…

In any case, some in Washington or other places seem to be asking for it… After all, The New York Times in a March 21 front page report specifically quoted an unnamed [but interestingly selected:)] rebel in Libya, identified only as “a doctor” as saying “If the international community takes care of the supply lines, I assure you that we can take care of whatever is inside Misurata. (…) We want the international community to go all the way to bomb this bloody dictator into submission.” And the same article cites United States Africa Command Head Gen. Carter F. Ham as saying that “he expected additional countries to join the operation ‘in the coming days’,” and French and American militaries as saying that “Quatar would join the military operation.”

So, plenty of plans to keep the Libyan Battle going.

Anyway, it’s good and reassuring to know that should events take such a turn as towards a Third World War, we in the West will all be in capable, protective and high-technologically equipped hands. Indeed, just a couple more years to go, and NATO’s brand new mega-sized headquarters, currently being built in front of the existing one in Brussels at an estimated cost of 1 billion euros, to cite NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaking in a Feb. 7 press conference, will be ready to accommodate the staff of about 4,000. According to NATO’s Web site:

“The new Headquarters will be designed around staff needs. A state-of-the-art building will ensure maximum flexibility so that working space can be configured in different ways to suit individual and collective needs. New restaurant, leisure and support facilities (shops, banks) will bring working and living conditions closer together and provide staff with better overall services on site.

(…) Nations agreed that NATO needed and deserved a new building for the new millennium to reflect its success as an organisation and its new missions and activities.”

According to French military news website Secret Défense, France is the fourth contributor to the project, with 110 million euros, or 10 percent of its total costs, behind Britain, Germany and the United States…

No doubt the new structure will be instrumental in helping allied members to develop better defense and global security, but also ultimately, er… freedom and democracy.