The 1969 overthrow of King Idris and his pro American monarchy put Libya on a collision course with the United States.
Libya’s new ruler, Mu’ammar Qaddafi had expansionist plans. Libyan oil would provide the financing.
The Libyan oil boom turned into a frenzy when the Six-Day War closed the Suez Canal in 1967. About the same time, experts predicted political stability in Libya for years to come.
On September 1, 1969, the world found out that the experts were wrong. In the early morning hours a group of radical young military officers, led by Mu’ammar al Qaddafi, gained control of the Libyan military. Their coup had been years in the making. Inspired by Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, they had decided that their path to power was not through party politics but through the military.
Qaddafi saw himself as the embodiment of the Arab world. One of the first acts of his new Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) was to shut down British and American military bases in Libya and expel the large Italian population. He closed all Catholic churches in the country and ordered their crosses removed and their contents sold at auction.
He also hated Israel, fostered military ties with the Soviet Union, and established links with terrorists and their organizations.
In December 1969, a counter coup was aborted. Qaddafi had consolidated his powers. It was time for him to deal with the oil industry. By now, Libya was supplying 30% of Europe’s oil and was known as the gas station of Europe.
In January 1970, the RCC called for an increase in the posted price of oil, an action that would plump up Libya’s profits. Timing was fortuitous. The Suez Canal remained closed, and an oil pipeline had ruptured in Syria. Although there was no shortage of oil, there were major transportation problems that Libya’s proximity to the Mediterranean could work around.
Eventually a Libyan agreement was negotiated, raising Libya’s share of the oil profit from 50 to 55%. More importantly, according to Yergin:
The Libyan agreements decisively changed the balance of power between the governments of the producing companies and the oil companies. For the oil-exporting countries, the Libyan victory was emboldening; it not only abruptly reversed the decline in the real price of oil, but also reopened the exporters’ campaign for sovereignty and control over their oil resources, which had begun a decade earlier with the foundation of OPEC, but then had stalled. For the companies, it was the beginning of a retreat.
The Jersey director who had responsibility for Libya has said: “The oil industry as we had known it would not exist much longer.”
An Occidental manager said: “Everybody who drives a tractor, truck, or car in the Western world will be affected by this.”
The world’s relationship with Libya would soon change further. In 1981, retaliating for suspected terror links, the US President Ronald Reagan invalidated the use of US passports for travel to Libya. In 1982, the US banned imports of Libyan oil as well as a number of exports to Libya.
On December 21, 1988, Pan Am flight 103, traveling from London to New York, exploded over Lockerbie, in southern Scotland. All 259 people on board along with 11 people on the ground were killed. Two Libyans were charged with the bombing. Rumors were floated that Qaddafi had ordered the bombing.
In April 1986, Reagan blamed Qaddafi for a terrorist raid in West Berlin. According to Walter LaFeber in America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-1996:
He called him “the mad dog of the Middle East” and ordered a bombing raid that killed Qaddafi’s adopted daughter and injured at least a dozen other people.
In 1989, as reported in The New York Times (January 4, 1989):
American warplanes shot down two Libyan fighters that displayed ‘clear hostile intent’ in international waters off the Libyan coast . . .
The incident . . . took place at a time of increasing American concern about a chemical plant in Libya that Washington contends was built to manufacture chemical weapons.
. . . American officials, aware of speculation that the Administration was drawing up plans to attack the plant, insisted that the downing of the two jets had no connection to American efforts to prevent Libyan production of poison gas. The aerial clash occurred more than 600 miles from the plant.
Libya . . . asserted that its planes, Soviet-made MIG-23’s, were unarmed and on routine patrol when the American F-14’s carried out a “premeditated attack” from a carrier in the Mediterranean.
Now, let’s fast forward.
Today, with Qaddafi holding on precariously to power, Libya is no longer the gas station of Europe.
Interestingly, Libya ranks as only the 17th largest oil producer in the world. The US imported 32,000 barrels of crude per day in December 2010, representing an average of approximately 0.37% of daily US crude imports that month.
Instead of oil, in the midst of the uncertainty surrounding the “Arab spring,” Europe is much more concerned with the impact of uncontrolled migration from Libya, and the impact it would have on the European social, cultural, and economic fabric. In March 2011
The French minister for European affairs, Laurent Wauquiez, said . . . that the influx of immigrants from Libya is a real risk for Europe that must not be underestimated . . .
We must defend our frontiers on a European level, said Wauquiez. What we’re talking about isn’t a few tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who could arrive in Europe: It’s potentional 200,000 to 300,000 this year.
Brussels, on the other hand, argues that the number of potential migrant lies somewhere between 500,000 and 700,000 people.
These concerns come as migrant populations in Europe — particularly those with strikingly different ways and beliefs — arouse fear and mistrust.
No-flight zone anyone?
I’d love your comments.
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[…] If you’re interested in oil you might want to read some related posts: Libya’s Cold war Residual: Oil or Migration? […]