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March 13, 2011

Comments

alle

Given that much of the Libyan state has since the late 70s been replaced by a Gordian knot of pro-Qaddafi ideological networks (Popular Committees, Revolutionary Committees, Volcano Committees, security services, etc.), I think Qaddafi's loss of control is most likely to translate into state collapse, although some local structures may remain standing.

From what sparse info there is, I get the sense that that's what's going on in Eastern Libya right now. Security units are not simply switching sides, but more often imploding, with soldiers heading home or making for the border. Power has shifted over to local groups (defecting officers and politicians, powerful families, tribal leaders, etc.), and despite the National Council bravado, they don't seem to be able to move anything above company-level. Ras Lanouf and other areas have been defended by armed locals, and perhaps some volunteers, but not by any rebel army. More like "nascent warlordism" than "rebel control".

So, yes, both the sabre-rattling (no-fly & shifting around naval units) and other forms of public pressure (sanctions, statements), do serve important purposes. They can, as you pointed out, help mobilize the opposition side and shore up a central power. In that way the bluster makes a lot of sense, at least until developments on the ground can call the bluff.

But also, and more immediately: public pressure can cause splits in the Qaddafi camp. It's about making clear to Qaddafi's second-tier commanders that he's going down, and they must jump ship or be dragged down with him. An internal coup would be the by far least bloody way out of this, and infighting that incapacitates Q's armed forces is the next best thing.

The rebels are unlikely to be able to make headway against the loyalists on their own whatever happens, in the short term at least. So if there's really a plan here, it hinges on a revolt in Tripoli or a US military strike. Not sure either is likely to materialize, though...

Richard J

A recent troll round Foyles led to a copy of Kenneth Pollack's [1] Arabs at War landing in my 'to read' pile. I suspect I should bump it up.


[1] I know...

CharlieMcMenamin

Of course, there is a further potential twist to the nightmare: a NFZ, whether implemented by the Arab League with covert backing of the West or just directly by NATO itself, which hampers Gaddafi sufficiently to prevent the advance towards Benghazi but still doesn't actually provide the impetus for any kind of effective political or military unity on the 'rebel' side.

Which sounds to me like a recipe for Somalia on the Med,roughly speaking. Or Black Hawk Bogged Down.

Richard J

I wouldn't go that far, CMcM - I'm suspecting the two end states are likely to be either Kurdistan or Basra, i.e. a limited quasi-autonomy or mass executions, with an unfortunately greater probability of the latter.

CharlieMcMenamin

Richard: I'm not predicting anything. I simply don't know enough to go there - & the current confused reporting isn't helping me a lot on this front. I'm painting scenarios, that's all.

Richard J

the current confused reporting isn't helping me a lot on this front

Oh, that's true. I can't quite see Libya becoming a completely failed state - there's enough oil there for someone to ensure a government, no matter how unpleasant, stays in place. After all, unlike the minerals in the Congo, shipping oil about the place requires a significant amount of proper and coordinated infrastructure in place.


CharlieMcMenamin

"..shipping oil about the place requires a significant amount of proper and coordinated infrastructure in place

Interesting point. Does anyone who knows something of the oil industry care to define the minimum level of 'proper and co-ordinated' infrastructure it takes to defend a oil supply line? In my ignorance I would have thought it implied three elements:
1. A guarded compound at the well head - which, to be frank, the petrochemical multinationals could probably sort out for themselves at a push;
2. A port or other export facility which could well be run by a purely local quasi-state/militia if sufficiently well armed (cf the perhaps over optimistic scenario of 'Gaddafi as Mayor of Tripoli' which was being kicked around last week in discussion);
3. Some means of protecting hundreds of miles of pipeline from sporadic threats from whoever might have the ability and desire to threaten to cut it.

No.3 seems to me to be the biggest ask. But maybe someone else knows better?

Guano

"Does anyone who knows something of the oil industry care to define the minimum level of 'proper and co-ordinated' infrastructure it takes to defend a oil supply line?"

At some stages in the 1992 - 2002 period, Angola effectively consisted of a safe area in the south-west, a number of guarded oil installations along the coast in the north and the offshore rigs. This led to press stories about Chevron compounds guarded by Cuban mercenaries. With most of the oil offshore or near the coast the question of pipelines did not arise. Where pipelines are needed, they are indeed the weak link.

ajay

This may be helpful:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/22/us-libya-oil-factbox-idUSTRE71L32J20110222

Most of the oil is exported through ports in the east; most of the wellheads are in the Sirte Basin, the largest of whose fields is the Sarir field.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarir_field

From the map, it would seem that either side would have no problem in blowing the pipelines running from Sarir to the coast.

alle

There are oil fields in both s/w and s/e Libya, but the eastern portion dominates. The main oil ports are, not coincidentally, the very same places where there's fighting right now - Zawia, Marsa el-Brega, Ras Lanouf and a few others deeper up in rebel country.

Good article by Anthony Shaheed on the lack of governance in the east:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/07/world/africa/07rebels.html?pagewanted=all

cian

I think Nigeria demonstrates that it doesn't require an awful lot to disrupt even the most sophisticated oil operation.

Richard J

Friends and relatives who've worked as expats in the Nigerian oil industry make it sound like you're working under constant siege conditions - armed escort to and from the airport and your compound, which in turn is guarded like a military encampment.

Stephen

A friend of mine who nearly got a job as a sub-contractor in Nigeria certainly got that impression. Apparently he'd have been spending all his time either in the compound, or on his way to sites in a helicopter or ground convoy.

CharlieMcMenamin

Again, I'm happy to be corrected - but aren't the major Nigerian oil fields offshore? If I'm right, doesn't this mean the whole 'how do you protect a pipeline' (or decide when to pay blackmail money for not having it attacked) question work out rather differently than it might in a Libya without effective centralised control?

Guano

Some of the Nigerian oil fields are onshore in river deltas, and that is where the trouble is: easier access by troublemakers than by whoever is paid to guard the pipelines. Protecting pipelines may even be easier in the open desert.

john b

Also, the Delta regions of Nigeria are populated, whereas the open desert isn't. This means that you need dedicated military groups staging planned attacks, rather than locals taking advantage of opportunities to make a few bob.

This is why the expats in Nigeria are held under such tight security - not because the region is under general conditions of lawless terror, but because a white chap wandering around on his own represents a hundred years' local wages in ransom cash.

So the incentives for any group of villagers who spot such a gentleman to tie him up and sell him to people who know how to negotiate ransoms are high. Unlike South American kidnapping, there's a good return rate and low damage/death rate - however, the oil companies prefer not to have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to rescue some idiot who fancied a wander if they can help it.

Chris Williams

Hmm... Most of what I know about camels, 4wd vehicles, short-delay fuses, and heavy machine guns is also about Libya, and if I'm right, I'd really, really, hate to be the guys with the job of guarding the pipelines from even a moderately annoyed bunch who wanted to destroy them.

ajay

Most of what I know about camels, 4wd vehicles, short-delay fuses, and heavy machine guns is also about Libya

You are still at the Open University, right? Interesting syllabus they have there. Eclectic is the word, I think.

Richard J

Ah, ajay, what do you think the OU's really for? Why would the government want to identify keen, inquistive, mature and self-reliant individuals?

Richard J

BTW, it's not so much saboteurs I was thinking of, more having decent roads, telecoms, &c. &c. so that you can keep up the maintenance schedules.

skidmarx

Kevin Maguire on Sky's Press Preview last night spotting an obvious Whatabout: where's the Bahraini NFZ?

CharlieMcMenamin

Richard,
I presume that the problems of maintenance of desert pipelines have been solved in peacetime. I was more musing on how far such solutions might continue to work if, as jamie's original post invited conjecture on, we got to a place where disconnected armed units were wandering about trying to avoid the wrath of a wounded victor of a civil war in a country massively dependent on oil exports.

Cian

Also, the Delta regions of Nigeria are populated, whereas the open desert isn't. This means that you need dedicated military groups staging planned attacks, rather than locals taking advantage of opportunities to make a few bob.

Well that's one interpretation I guess. I know a few people who've worked there, and I sometimes wonder. Do they know? Would they work in the Congo?

CharlieMcMenamin

Skidmarx: Craig Murray has a theory on the lack of a NFZ-in-Bahrain debate:

"A senior diplomat in a western mission to the UN in New York, who I have known over ten years and trust, has told me for sure that Hillary Clinton agreed to the cross-border use of troops to crush democracy in the Gulf, as a quid pro quo for the Arab League calling for Western intervention in Libya."

jamie

I think the stamp was put on the meat in Bahrain when Gates went to Saudi at the weekend. Don't see the need for a deal, though. The Saudis are deploying to protect the position of the Fifth Fleet, as far as the US is concerned, which is something that the Saudis and other GCC regimes are also invested in, which is why Qatari troops are there as well. And I don't detect much enthusiasm from the US about intervention in Libya. The NFZ proposition has always been made dependent on the willingness of regional actors to take the lead politically, I suspect on the calculation that they won't.

Cian

I doubt the fifth fleet is the top of anyone's mind, the US included. More a domino theory/keep those fecking shi'ites out.

alle

The Saudis are moving in because this takes place on top of that, and a Shiite-dominated, Iranian-aligned democratic Bahrain would be this close to both.

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