The brutal 42-year-old dictatorship of Muammar al-Qadhafi is close to collapse and his own whereabouts are unknown. But the confusion over the Libyan situation cannot obscure the problems caused by the military intervention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). Heavy fighting continues in and around the capital, Tripoli, with Nato giving heavy bombing and shelling support to the rebel body, the Transitional National Council (TNC); and atrocities by both sides have been reported. This is, in large part, the outcome of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 — which bars landings by foreign forces but allows member states to use “all necessary means” (diplomatic terminology for military action) to ensure Libyan compliance with the Resolution. Humanitarian intervention as conceived by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France under cover of the U.N. has meant using highly advanced weaponry in helping the TNC, which includes militant Islamists of the sort who have been fighting Nato and other western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade, to bring about violent regime change. This western commitment to regime change, which could not have been achieved without Nato bombing, amounts to a total U-turn from the time, barely a year ago, when the same leaders were making much of Mr. Qadhafi in order to win access to Libya's substantial oilfields.
The entire rebellion and the Nato campaign are riddled with inconsistencies. Western proponents initially claimed the campaign would be over in days. It has lasted six months, is yet to end, and has cost the U.S. alone more than a billion dollars. Secondly, there are severe tensions among the TNC's three main factions; it is still not known who murdered the rebels' top officer, General Abdel Fattah Younes. Furthermore, many leaders among Libya's 140 tribes, including longstanding Qadhafi supporters, will want office in the new order. Above all, the western powers will almost certainly exact a heavy price for supporting the uprising. Their demands are likely to include — as they did in Iraq — preferential, if not monopoly, access for western oil corporations. It is no coincidence that as reports emerged of the rebel advance on Tripoli, the price of Brent Crude fell 1.7 per cent to $106.8 per barrel in futures trading. There are also likely to be lucrative contracts for western companies to rebuild Libyan cities; and the European Union members of Nato may want the new government to impose tight controls on Libyan migration to the EU. In effect, the U.S., Britain, and France, with help from Italy, have used the U.N. and Nato to bring about regime change and pull off a gigantic oil-grab.