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Why the West has hit Libya

world Updated: Mar 22, 2011 00:36 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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Away from principles of democracy, the need to secure oil supplies and tackle a history of appeasement toward Muammar Gaddafi are some of the less-publicised reasons for Europe taking on a leadership role in prodding the world to act over Libya, analysts say.

Days into the enforcement of a no-fly zone and with the US continuing to take a backseat, there is much speculation over the surprising swiftness with which France and Britain have galvanised European military action on Libya.

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While the UN resolution authorizing the enforcement of a no fly zone is aimed at protecting civilians and backed by the Arabs, it is also pushed by a mix of unstated personal and political factors rooted in Europe. In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron defended committing British forces by declaring the action "necessary, legal and right" - just two years after a Labour government struck a deal that saw Britain release a cancer-struck Libyan convicted of terrorism charges from a Scottish jail, ostensibly on "compassionate grounds."

Ordinary Britons continue to be deeply uncomfortable at the freeing of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted for the 1988 bombing of a Panam jet that killed 270 people over Lockerbie, Scotland. The move was also slated by American politicians. The Libyan intervention, said Cameron's former speechwriter Tony Birrell, could be "the moment that forces a Prime Minister to make the tough calls that can end up defining them."

Even more than Cameron, it is French President Nicolas Sarkozy who has led calls for military intervention. His reasons could be far more personal than Cameron's: in 2007, Sarkozy became the first western leader in decades to welcome Gaddafi on an official state visit. With his approval ratings sinking to record lows last year and a presidential election due in summer 2012, Sarkozy has strong domestic political reasons to be seen to be acting swiftly and decisively.

Italy has more reasons to be wary of events in Libya than Britain or France. Libya's most important European economic partner, Italy sources some 25 percent of its oil imports and 10 percent of its gas from Libya and billions of Euros are tied up in infrastructure and security projects in the country.

Some strategic analysts, however, disagree that domestic political reasons characterize European action. "This is a European, American and Canadian action supported by a UN resolution aimed at protecting civilians - they will deny that it is about Gaddafi," said Christian Le Miere of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

However, Le Miere told HT, the prospect of large-scale immigration from North Africa is an overriding concern in Europe, particularly Italy. The reason for the European activism was "proximity to Libya."

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