In recent years our relationship with Libya has been fundamentally transformed…They are an essential partner in the fight against terrorism and it is in the UK’s interests for this co-operation to continue. Gordon Brown in a letter to the IRA Victims’ Lawyer
I always find it remarkable how, in diplomatic circles, terrorists one minute can be transformed into opponents of terror the next. The redemption of Libya has been rapid. Previously the basket-case of the Middle East, Libya was welcomed into the diplomatic fold by Tony Blair while Saddam and Iran were being excommunicated. Gordon Brown and George Bush continued the process of diplomatic normalisation for a state that has done little to change its colours.
We all know that this is all to do with oil supplies – and nothing at all to do with any sea-change in outlook or behaviour on the part of Colonel Gaddafi. Libyan oil production was 1.8 million barrels per day in 2006, giving Libya over 60 years of reserves at current production rates if no new reserves were to be found. Even better, Libyan oil is cheap to extract and easily transported to Europe.
Previously when economic sanctions were in place against Libya – and when Libya, in return, bank-rolled and armed the IRA – finding and bringing to production new oil fields was severely hampered. Libya needs the expertise of Western oil companies – just as Western oil companies depend on Libya.
The oil companies also mix in high places and have advisers with clout. For Tony Blair it would have been a little too obvious for him to have taken a high paying executive role with one of the major oil companies. Instead he has accepted a part-time role as a senior adviser to the Wall Street bank JP Morgan Chase.
On November 26th last year JP Morgan put out a media statement stating that, “The expansion of our global physical capabilities in oil represents a clear commitment to our clients. It demonstrates that we are looking to partner with them on a much more strategic level by offering them tailored end-to-end solutions, linking their physical activities with their risk management objectives,” said Roy Salame, head of Global Oil Marketing. “Most importantly, our physical capabilities have leveled the competitive landscape and provided our sales force with a critical new tool to significantly grow market share.”
It has been reported that JP Morgan agreed to pay Mr Blair a package worth $1m for his “advice”. It’s also convenient that Mr Blair also happens to the Peace Envoy to the Middle East on behalf of the the US, EU, UN and Russia – collectively representing the biggest oil producers in the world.
According to the U.S. Department of State’s annual human rights report for 2007, Libya’s authoritarian regime continued to have a poor record in the area of human rights. Some of the numerous and serious abuses on the part of the government include poor prison conditions, arbitrary arrest, and political prisoners held for many years without charge or trial. The judiciary is controlled by the government, and there is no right to a fair public trial. Libyans do not have the right to change their government. Freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion are restricted. Independent human rights organizations are prohibited. Ethnic and tribal minorities suffer discrimination, and the state continues to restrict the labor rights of foreign jobs.
Meanwhile those who suffered the consequences of Libya’s cynical use of terrorist organisations to bust oil sanctions – people in Northern Ireland and Great Britain who suffered as a result of Libyan actions – are to be side-lined in the government’s plans to embed Western oil companies in Libya. This must, surely, be cynical government at its worse.