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The situation in Libya and the Gulf



The failure of cultural dependence in Libya?

In my recently published book: “Oman and Britain’s changing military relationship: Dependence or special relationship?” I outlined a theory of “security dependency”, specifically in relation to Oman. A large part of this theory is “cultural dependence”. This is a theory developed by Seers, Mohan and others that a leader’s ideas are shaped by their education, advisors, workforce and dependence on other’s methods. (There are other facets to this theory, considering things such as a “brain drain” and an addiction to Western technology which are not relevant here.) In this way the leader’s ways of thinking about things are shaped by the hidden curriculum of the educating country and this leads to a propensity to favour that country. In this way, until the leader gains access to other viewpoints they will be “trapped” in a dependent relationship. As I put it in relation to the Omani Sultan and Britain ‘… all of the Sultans’ ideas were shaped by Britain and he only had access to British viewpoints. This means that his socialisation, ideas and mind-set were predominantly British, affecting the way he considered things and keeping him dependent on British ideas and Britain in general.’[1]

Whilst this is true of Oman and Britain’s relationship it seems to have failed with regards Libya. Saif Gaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, studied at the LSE in Britain from 2003 -2008 gaining an MSC and a Phd[2]. Therefore similar to the argument I made in my book about Sultan Qaboos, you would expect Saif Gaddafi to be more reasonable, more westernised and more favourable to Britain than his father. Whilst it is possible that he is more this way inclined than his extreme father, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of the kind of cultural effect that would be expected or that happened with Sultan Qaboos. (Sultan Qaboos is well known as an anglophile, having studied in Britain and serving with the Cameronians. He enjoys the music of Gilbert and Sullivan and favours British businesses, techniques and advisors) As Saif Gaddafi has been shown on the television holding a gun and declaring that his father will not give up power and for the protestors to prepare for civil war, he has also given lectures in favour of his father and the regime, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that Britain has anymore influence on him than anyone else so this cultural affect doesn’t seem to have occurred here. Why this is the case is a bit of a mystery. It may be to do with the fact that Saif only did postgraduate study in Britain, where students are taught to develop their own ideas much more and therefore there is much less of a hidden curriculum, or it may be that it was to do with the perception of and treatment of Libya (unlike Oman) as a pariah state and therefore Saif was disinclined to adopt British ideas or to gain favour for them. This is a mystery which only he can answer but it is clear British influence did not spread here the way it has for many other countries. Still every rule has its exceptions.

The Ugly Side of “Strategic Influence”

Recently we have seen the ugly side of Britain’s policy of selling arms to Middle Eastern countries. The idea, which was articulated by Jones and Stone,[3] was that by selling arms to Middle Eastern countries, Britain would gain a strategic influence over them. As I explained it in my book ‘Jones and Stone argue that the sale of arms is more than just a commercial practice, it also mutates into strategic interest. Therefore greater political weight is attached to arms sales than just commercial benefit. The sale of arms usually involves sophisticated weaponry that requires a level of involvement from the supplier country (in the form of advisors/training). Due to the scope of the deal, this allows the supplier country to exercise considerable influence in the defence policy of the supplied state.’[4] This helped to produce a dependent relationship which benefits British business, but also allows Britain to exert strategic influence over the rulers of these countries in order to promote British foreign policy goals such as democracy.

In the events of the protests of the last months we have seen the ugly side of this policy. Whilst it was clear that Britain was able to exert influence of these countries because of the arms sales (and other reasons), their foreign policy goal of promoting democracy was severely damaged when in Bahrain and Libya, British arms were used against pro-democracy movements. This led to the criticisms of Western hypocrisy, (especially when David Cameron took arms sellers with him on Gulf peace talks) which to an extent is true but British arms sales have always been about more than just arms as I have shown above. It now seems clear that in very repressive countries such as Libya, this policy was a bad one, if the ultimate goal for Britain is democracy and this is a big if. Whilst I have no doubt that Britain supports democracy and wishes for Middle Eastern countries to be democratic, when the policies of advancing democracy and advancing British business interests cannot be run side by side, I’m not sure if democracy will come out on top. Britain seems content to use democracy as a tool, only fully advocating it (though always genuinely supporting it) when it suits them. The proof of this is seen in Britain’s willingness to support Mubarak and its dealings with Gaddafi, the speed and circumstances in which Britain turned on these leaders shows that it was only willing to genuinely support democracy when the time was right.

Military Action

Britain with France has to its credit, seemed to be leading the way to try and support the rebels in Libya but is in a quandary about what to do about Gaddafi. I’m not sure, beyond military action, what can be done to remove him. Military action in my opinion should be out of the question because of the Iraq debacle and the fact it would hinder a new Libyan government as it would bring with it new accusations of Western interference. Military or other action needs to come from the Arab countries to give it legitimacy, and to their credit they seem to be making headway with this, agreeing with the no-fly zone. I feel it is unlikely the Arab countries will get too heavily involved however, for fear of provoking their own populations (especially as potential allies such as Oman and Bahrain are facing their own protests at the minute). The only Arab country who may be able to support to a good level and who is willing to is Egypt following its revolution but it has its own problems and is unlikely to get involved. Therefore even if the current action is successful in removing Gaddafi, the subsequent regime that he will be replaced will be hindered by the assistance of the West. Just look at what happened with post-Saddam Iraq. The problem for the West is that they really have to get involved for fear of being hypocrites of the highest degree. This is really the West’s last opportunity to win over the people of the Middle East, if they don’t back up their words with actions now, after so long preaching they could lose the region for ever. Cynics may suggest that the West is only getting involved to protect its own business interests. There is a degree of truth here (you don’t see the West getting directly involved in supporting pro-democracy movements in Zimbabwe for example) but I think this current action serves two ends for British foreign policy. This is that it protects British business interests and promotes democracy at the same time, it therefore matches well with British foreign policy ends. In this vein, whilst I think the action is a bit misguided and hasn’t properly learnt the lessons of history, I can tolerate the current action, as long as it doesn’t escalate into a full blown conflict like Iraq again.

The effect of Gaddafi being removed would be huge, he represents the most oppressive regime in the region and if he can be toppled, anyone can. On the other hand, if he defeats the rebels, all Middle Eastern leaders may feel that it is their interests to fight protests, if they start at all. Things for the rebels do not seem to be going well recently, I wish them luck in their struggle for freedom and commend them for their bravery. Daniel Pipes put it best ‘How deeply satisfying will it be to watch as a brave and desperate people sweep this eccentric, nasty, and repressive tyrant into the dustbin of history. How gratifying that he has alienated nearly the entire world, even the U.N. Security Council. May his ugly example serve as a permanent warning to other dictators who make war on their populations.’[5] Hopefully we will be talking about 2011 as the year of freedom, the year of democracy.


[1] Carlton, C (2010) Oman and Britain: Oman’s Changing Military Relationship with Britain: Dependence or Special Relationship?, Saarbrucken: Lambert Academic Publishing, pp. 52-53

[2] Sellgren, K (2011) ‘LSE investigates Gaddafi’s son plagiarism claim’, BBC News, 1st March 2011, available from (www.) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-12608869, accessed 13/03/11

[3] Jones, C and Stone, J (1997) ‘Britain and the Arabian Gulf: New Perspectives on Strategic Influence’ International Relations, Volume XIII, Number 4 (April 1997) Aberystwyth: The David Davies Memorial Institute of International Studies, pp. 1-24

[4] Carlton, C (2010) Oman and Britain: Oman’s Changing Military Relationship with Britain: Dependence or Special Relationship?, Saarbrucken: Lambert Academic Publishing, p. 20

[5] Pipes, D (2011) Gaddafi’s Fin de Régime, available from (www.) http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2011/02/gaddafi-fin-de-regime#continued, accessed 14/03/11

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