[News] Global NATO and the recolonisation of Africa

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Sep 15 12:10:46 EDT 2011

Global NATO and the recolonisation of Africa

Lessons from the Libyan intervention

Horace Campbell

2011-09-15, Issue <http://www.pambazuka.org/en/issue/547>547

‘If there was any uncertainty about the real 
mission of the United States, France, Britain and 
other members of NATO in Libya, these doubts were 
clarified with the nature of the military 
campaign against the people of Libya,’ writes Horace Campell.

If there was any uncertainty about the real 
mission of the United States, France, Britain and 
other members of NATO in Libya, these doubts were 
clarified with the nature of the military 
campaign against the people of Libya that had 
been orchestrated under the mandate of the United 
Nations Security Council. It was a new kind of 
war, using third party forces in order to silence 
the global peace forces who were opposed to 
further military intervention. A robust 
propaganda and disinformation campaign by the 
corporate media covered up the real content of what was happening.

The economic crisis inside the Eurozone was too 
deep, however, and some of the members of NATO 
were hesitant about this recolonisation of 
Africa. France was desperate to get in on the act 
of intensifying the exploitation of African 
resources. France had not been a big player in 
Libya (a former colony of Italy) which until 
recently was Africa’s fourth-largest oil 
producer, and possessing one of the continent’s 
largest oil reserves of some 44 billion barrels – 
more than Nigeria or Algeria. France was also 
aware that Libya sits on the Nubian Sandstone 
Aquifer, an immensely vast underground sea of 
fresh water. The government of Libya had invested 
US$25 billion in the 
Man-made River Project, a complex 4,000km long 
water pipeline buried beneath the desert that 
could transport two million cubic metres of water a day

The energetic activities of Nicolas Sarkozy in 
guiding the military intervention took centre 
stage, while the US military could claim to ‘lead 
from behind.’ When France called a celebratory 
conference of ambassadors to rally them for the 
new imperial vision, Mr Sarkozy said Libya proved 
‘a strong contrast’ to past European weakness, 
and justified his decision to integrate France 
into NATO’s military command in 2009. The nature 
of this war organised from the air with proxy 
armies and private military contractors showed 
the way for dictatorships like Qatar and Saudi Arabia to fight for ‘democracy.’

This intervention clarified for many African 
military forces that their alliance with the 
United States and France will not spare them when 
it is in the interest of the NATO forces to 
dispense with former allies. Muammar Gaddafi had 
enabled the imperial forces by financing their 
governments, purchasing junk as weaponry and 
cooperating with their intelligence agencies. The 
news about the cooperation of Gaddafi with 
British and US intelligence services along with 
their collaboration in relation to ‘enhanced 
interrogation techniques’ (translated as 
torture), the exchange of information and the 
secret transfers of opponents and ‘terror’ 
suspects should clarify to all that Muammar 
Gaddafi was no anti-imperialist. More damaging 
has been the most recent news of the regime’s 
collaboration with human traffickers to use 
African immigrants as political football in his 
conflict with Europe. When the rebels were at the 
gates of Tripoli, the Gaddafi government worked 
with human traffickers to release African 
migrants who wanted to go to Europe. Hundreds 
left Libya then and drowned in the Mediterranean 
Sea. (See 
planned to flood Europe with migrants as final revenge’).

But the crux of the matter of the relationship 
between Africa and Libya can now be seen in the 
killing of Africans in Libya on the grounds that 
they were and are mercenaries. These racist 
actions by the so-called ‘rebels’ were reported 
from the start of this ‘humanitarian’ 
intervention but at the point when these 
hodge-podge forces entered Tripoli, there was 
fresh evidence of the wanton killings of black 
Africans. Africans who escaped the pogroms 
reported the killings and this information had 
been in the public domain for months. Now it 
seems the world is paying attention after Amnesty 
International put out a report that Africans are 
being killed in racist attacks. So pronounced 
have been these racist killings that liberal 
organs such as the New York Times had to write an 
editorial on the killings. There has been no word 
from the United States or the information section 
of the AFRICOM. Though there have been with small 
stories in the British press, when British prime 
minister David Cameron, French president Nicolas 
Sarkozy and other NATO celebrants made their 
flying victory visit to Libya, they were silent 
on these racist attacks against black Africans as 
they shuttled between Tripoli and Benghazi trying 
to iron out how to cut French oil companies into 
the restructuring of the oil industry in Libya.

The African Union has condemned the racist 
attacks and maintained that political 
negotiations are still necessary. Jean Ping, 
chairperson of the Commission of the African 
Union, decried the attacks on black Africans and 
reiterated the reasons why the African Union 
wanted to see an inclusive government in Libya. 
Jean Ping declared, the ‘Blacks are being killed. 
Blacks are having their throats slit. Blacks are 
accused of being mercenaries. Do you think it's 
normal in a country that's a third black that 
blacks are confused with mercenaries?’

Ping continued, ‘There are mercenaries in Libya, 
many of them are black, but there are not only 
blacks and not all blacks there are mercenaries. 
Sometimes, when they are white, they call them “technical advisors”.’

This reminder, that Libya is in Africa and that a 
third of the country is black is for those forces 
who are celebrating the success of a NATO mission 
to protect Africans which has ended up killing 
Africans. Africans do not consider the NATO 
mission a success. In fact, this has been a 
disaster for peace and reconstruction in Africa. 
The Russians and Chinese do not consider this 
operation a success but the leaders of Africa and 
the leaders of the BRICS societies have awoken 
too late to the new form of imperial intervention using Global NATO.

The one positive impact of this new imperial 
adventure is to send alarm bells among all of the 
military forces in Africa aligned to the West. 
The other impact is to alert the popular forces 
to the reality that governments with big armies 
are literally ‘paper tigers.’ Proper organising, 
political education, and disciplined activity by 
the working people can shift the international 
balance of power and rid Africa of other long 
serving despots. There is a new scramble for 
Africa and the progressive forces will have to 
learn the lessons from the new multilateral 
imperial interventions that are now being planned by Global NATO.


The history of NATO and the history of Libya are 
intertwined in many ways. It was two years after 
the formation of the North American Treaty 
Organization that Libya became independent in 
1951. However, for the Europeans the strategic 
importance of Libya during the Second World War 
and the memory of the siege of Tobruk were too 
fresh in their minds for NATO to give up Libya 
entirely. The compromise was that NATO and the US 
would maintain a military presence. The US 
established a base called Wheelus Air Base in 
Libya. This base was called a ‘Little America’ 
until the US was asked to leave after Gaddafi 
seized power in 1969. The US had been scheming to 
get back into Libya since then. For a short while 
Gaddafi was supported as an anti-communist 
stalwart, but later he became a useful nuisance 
shifting as friend and foe over the years. As the 
US fabricated the myth of al Qaeda in the 
Maghreb, cooperation was extended to this leader 
but Gaddafi was opposed to the establishment of 
US and French military bases in Africa. Now we 
are informed through the military gossip sheet 
Stars and Stripes that NATO is considering the 
establishment of an air squadron in Africa to 
assist African governments. This is how it was 
reported in ‘Stars and Stripes’ (29 August 2011).

‘While not formally assigned to AFRICOM, the 
squadron has been formed to conduct missions 
primarily in Africa, with a focus on building the 
air mobility capacity of African militaries.’

The next question that was posed by peace 
activists was whether this was a prelude for the 
building of another AFRICOM and NATO facility in Africa.

NATO had been formed as an alliance ostensibly to 
defend Western Europe against the Soviet Union. 
Charles De Gaulle had pulled France out of this 
alliance in 1966 after it became clear that this 
military alliance was dominated by the USA and 
Britain (supporting their military industries). 
Usually, when an alliance is formed for a 
specific purpose such as halting the spread of 
communism, that alliance is folded when the 
mission is complete. Hence, after the fall of the 
Soviet Union in 1991, it was expected that the 
mission of NATO would be scaled down.

Instead, NATO has expanded seeking to encircle 
Russia by expanding its membership to include 
former members of the Warsaw Pact countries. For 
over 79 days NATO bombed Kosovo in 1999 as it 
gave itself a new mission to expand US military 
power right up to the doorstep of Moscow. 
Gingerly, NATO expanded under President Clinton 
from 12 members to 16, then to 19, then to 26 by 
2004, and by 2009 to 28 members. Despite vocal 
opposition from Russia, the discussion of 
expanding NATO proceeded to develop the idea of Global NATO.

After Charles De Gaulle had left NATO in 1966, 
Nicolas Sarkozy rejoined in 2009. France had been 
working within Europe to challenge the dollar and 
the US on a global scale but after the reactions 
about ‘freedom fries’ during the Iraq war, French 
military planners retreated and decided to throw 
their lot in with the crusaders in Washington. 
This new posture towards the crusaders and 
neoconservatives in the USA was also a nod to the 
growing strength of the Jean-Marie le Pen and the 
National Front type organisations in France and Europe.

Using the War on Terror and the wars in 
Afghanistan as the justification, the rationale 
of the militarists for a global role of NATO 
began to take shape and the idea of NATO was 
debated in military journals. One of the writers 
on this concept was Ivo Daalder, the US 
ambassador to NATO. This was an ambassador who 
had understood the long history of financial and 
military cooperation between the Netherlands, the 
United Kingdom and the United States. In an era 
when capital was truly transnational, and the 
hedge fund managers and oil companies had no 
loyalty to a particular country, international 
capitalists wanted a new military force, mobile 
and well equipped for the new scramble for African resources.

In one such musing by the new defence specialists 
is the thinking that, ‘The concept of a Global 
NATO is used above all in connection with two 
leitmotifs – on the one hand the idea of the 
alliance becoming a global strategic actor 
(functional globalization) and on the other the 
notion of a NATO whose membership is in principle 
global (institutional globalization). The two 
dimensions can, however, scarcely be separated 
from one another but instead are intertwined.’

This discussion under the idea of the 
‘institutional globalization of NATO’ maintained 
that the security threats to capitalism were 
global and that NATO should consider itself as a 
‘concert of democracies’ keeping order 
internationally. Within these journals the idea 
was floated that NATO should be expanded to 
include Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and possibly Brazil.

After encircling Russia the clear posture was for the encirclement of China.

The rationale was simply that the ‘operational 
level of NATO is the entire globe.’ In 2002, NATO 
had declared, ‘to carry out the full range of its 
missions, NATO must be able to field forces that 
can move quickly to wherever they are needed, 
sustain operations over distance and time, and achieve their objectives.’

Despite these lofty positions of the strategic 
planners, NATO was bogged down in Afghanistan. 
The prolonged crisis of capitalism inside the 
Western world meant that citizens had no appetite 
for an expanded imperial role, until Gaddafi gave 
NATO the excuse to seek to operationalise the 
idea of Global NATO by promising to kill the 
citizens of Benghazi who he called rats and vermin.


After the embarrassment of the support for the 
genocidaires in Rwanda in 1994, the French 
military establishment had taken a low profile 
and sought to gain respectability for its 
military interventions in Africa by seeking 
international mandates. For over forty years 
France had intervened militarily in Africa, 
because Africa was central to its entire military 
strategy. Without the wealth of Africa, France 
would be a minor power with as much influence as 
Austria. French imperialism was particularly 
aggressive in Africa. When the United States 
decided to compete with France by establishing 
the Africa Crisis Response Initiative (a 
precursor to the US Africa Command), France 
objected. Soon, the French understood the 
hegemonic intentions of Rumsfeld and Cheney so 
the French cooperated in operations in the 
Democratic Republic of the Congo, all the while 
seething that Rwanda had left the umbrella of 
francophonie. By the time of the establishment of 
the US Africa Command, France was cooperating 
fully with the United States while stepping up 
its cultural and commercial presence in Africa.

One golden opportunity for France to put the 
image of defenders of genocidaires behind them 
came in Cote D ‘Ivorie when France sought a UN 
mandate to maintain its military forces in that 
country, a force that had occupied that African 
country for 40 years. In 2011, Laurent Gbagbo 
became another enabler of overt French 
intervention by his intransigence over vacating 
the presidency. Sarkozy eagerly went in to ‘restore democracy.’

As the self-declared gendarme of Europe, France 
was taken aback by the uprisings in Tunisia and 
Egypt in January. The French offered support for 
the leader of Tunisia, Ben Ali but the removal 
was too swift and soon after the Egyptian 
revolution changed the military balance in world 
politics. NATO panicked and Sarkozy took the 
initiative to mobilise for the intervention in 
Libya when Gaddafi gave the Europeans the opening 
by his wild statements. The Egyptian revolution 
had far reaching consequences for Israel and for 
Europe. The Libyan intervention served many 
purposes, gaining more unlimited access to oil 
and water in Libya while standing poised to stab 
the Egyptian revolution in the back.

For decades, France had mooted the idea of a 
Mediterranean Union to extend the power of France 
in North Africa. France had worked closely with 
the monarchy in Morocco to block the independence 
of Western Sahara and coveted the wealth of the 
region. More importantly, French oil companies 
had been left behind after Gaddafi opened up the 
petroleum sector of Libya for western firms. 
Italian, British and US oil majors were competing 
with Russian, Chinese, Indian and Turkish 
interests. German industrial and financial power 
was stronger in Libya than French. Sarkozy wanted 
to change all of that when faced with the most 
serious banking crisis in France.

When the February 17 uprisings erupted in Libya, 
French intelligence was alert and Sarkozy 
mobilised the British and later the US Africa 
Command to intervene using the UN formulation of 
Responsibility to Protect, under the cover of the 
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. 
China, Russia and Brazil acted irresponsibly, by 
either abstaining in the vote or sanctioning the 
vote with their silence. South Africa and Nigeria 
(under heavy pressure from the Obama White House) 
voted for the resolution to establish a no-fly 
zone. South Africa later backtracked opposing the 
bombing of Libya claiming that the NATO forces 
had gone beyond the mandate of the UN Security 
Council Resolution. Better late than never, the 
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Africa 
maintained a principled position and led the 
position that the roadmap of the African Union 
was the only way forward for a resolution of the 
internal political problems in Libya. But France 
and Britain were salivating over a re-division of the oil resources of Libya.

This intervention was under the umbrella of the 
UN and so this was another foray of Global NATO. 
Yet, most NATO members understood the reasons for 
Sarkozy’s energy. Of the 28 members of NATO, the 
majority refused to participate in this attack. 
The Prime Minister of Poland declared that the 
attack on Libya was for oil. There were only 
eight members (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, 
Italy, Norway, Spain, UK and the United States) 
that participated in this operation (called 
United Protector). The members could not even 
agree on a command structure so the US put up the 
Africa Command as the Front and called their 
operation, Operation Odyssey Dawn. The French 
called their action, Opération Harmattan. The 
British called their involvement Operation Ellamy 
while the Canadians termed theirs, Operation Mobile.

The Germans understood the double-dealing of 
Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany even pulled its crews 
out of NATO support aircraft. Turkey was opposed 
to the NATO operation and the dysfunction of this 
operation became evident after one month. 
Recriminations started between these ‘partners’ 
with some members claiming that others were not 
pulling their weight. Space does not allow for a 
full examination of the thousands of sorties of 
NATO in Libya after seven months. The full 
day-to-day roster of their military and naval 
operations to oust Gaddafi is in the public 
domain on the internet. African popular leaders 
can read the day-to-day strategic operations to 
see the full weakness of NATO. The Chinese have 
written on the dysfunction of NATO and one writer 
An Huihou wrote that the operation in Libya was 
‘Not a real success for NATO.’ This Chinese 
writer called for negotiations but the Chinese 
political leadership publicly support the roadmap 
of the African Union. More importantly, while the 
Chinese pulled their citizens out of Libya, there 
was not even a word of protest from China over 
the killing of Africans in Africa when the 
imperial forces were using a UN mandate called 
Responsibility to Protect. In order to pacify the 
Chinese leadership, the energetic Sarkozy had a 
flying visit to Beijing, promising that Chinese contracts would be honoured.

We will have to revisit this aspect of the war at 
another moment, but for this submission it is 
important to understand the new forms of intervention.


It must be stated that the mobilisation of the 
international peace forces against NATO has 
always been a consideration for the planning of 
Operation United Protector. It is now time to 
place the opposition to militarism with clear 
focus on the private military corporations who 
act outside of the law. Inside the United States, 
the then Defense Secretary, Robert Gates told 
West Point cadets in March that, ‘In my opinion, 
any future defense secretary who advises the 
president to again send a big American land army 
into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa 
should have his head examined’. The Pentagon was 
afraid of being bogged down and although the 
peace movement had the Obama administration on 
the defensive, some sections this movement did 
not distance itself from Gaddafi while they 
condemned the killing of innocent civilians by NATO jets.

European workers, faced with the double dip 
recession where the banks were calling on the 
governments to impose austerity measures, were 
lukewarm toward the Libyan operation, so the 
invaders had to find a novel way for intervening. 
This intervention then took the form of bombings 
by NATO, on the ground special forces from the 
French and British commandos with air and ground support from Qatar.

On 4 September 2011, the New York Times reported 
the coordination in this way, ‘The United States 
provided intelligence, refueling and more 
precision bombing than Paris or London want to 
acknowledge. Inevitably, then, NATO air power and 
technology, combined with British, French and 
Qatari “trainers” working “secretly” with the 
rebels on the ground, have defeated the forces of 
Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.’ Other newspaper 
accounts reported that ‘former soldiers from an 
elite British commando unit, the Special Air 
Service, and other private contractors from 
Western countries were on the ground in the Libyan city of Misrata.’

The Guardian in England said contractors were 
helping NATO identify possible targets in the 
heavily contested city and passing this 
information, as well as information about the 
movements of Gaddafi’s forces, to a NATO command 
centre in Naples, Italy. The newspaper reported 
that ‘a group of six armed Westerners had been 
filmed by the Al Jazeera TV network talking to 
rebels in Misrata; the men fled after realizing they were being filmed.’

Initially, the United States Africa Command took 
credit for the NATO operations in Libya, but when 
it seemed as if the entire operation was bogged 
down, there were efforts to bring in Special 
Forces and private security personnel using Qatar 
as the front and paymaster. Indeed, the use of 
fronts such as the Emir of Qatar pointed to a new 
form of global militarism. Blackwater, (now 
called Xe) the US private military firm for hire, 
had moved to establish its headquarters in the 
Emirates, specifically Abu Dhabi. In a detailed 
article in the New York Times entitled, 
‘Blackwater World Wide’, we were given one window 
into the various front companies of Blackwater 
and the integrated nature of the CIA/Blackwater 
operations. We were then told that Blackwater did 
not want to recruit Muslims because Muslims would 
be reluctant to kill other Muslims. When the 
rebels entered Tripoli, the same talking heads in 
Washington that were opposed to the intervention 
were now praising this new kind of cooperation 
between the US military and Global NATO

Future researchers on the ‘special operators on 
the ground’ in Libya will be able to list the 
names of the Private Military Contractors who 
were involved in this war. When the leaders of 
the National Transitional Council needed money to 
pay the private contractors and to bribe regional 
leaders, the Global Nato diplomats promptly 
called for the unfreezing of the assets of Libya, 
even while the African Union was protesting the killing of black Africans.


In less than three weeks, the General Assembly of 
the United Nations will meet and the leaders of 
Global NATO will seek to silence the members of 
the African Union. The African Union has been 
lobbying the Group of 77 as they seek to bring to 
the attention of the world the reality that the 
UN Security Council mandate of responsibility to 
protect did not extend to black Africans. Even at 
this late moment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 
in South Africa is correct to stick to the call 
for the African Union roadmap. Experience 
elsewhere in Burundi and Uganda after wars of 
intervention showed that it is only the long-term 
and pedantic work for peace that can end the 
fighting. There must be negotiations with an 
international peacekeeping force that excludes 
the eight NATO countries that violated the 
mandate of the Security Council. The National 
Transitional Council is deeply divided and 
negotiations will be needed so that they do not 
kill each other as they already started to do 
when they killed Abdel-Fattah Younis, the general 
who had defected from Gaddafi to the Benghazi 
side. It is only a matter of time before it 
becomes clear how Abdelhakim Belhadj (sometimes 
written Belhaj) of the Libyan Islamic Fighting 
Group (LIFG), graduated from detention at 
Guantanamo Bay to be one of the ‘rebel’ leaders 
and leader of the Tripoli Military Council. 
Anyone who followed the US destabilisation of 
Somalia can understand how those who are one day 
called the worst terrorists are the next day the best allies of the USA.

Ultimately, it is not in the interests of Global 
NATO for the fighting to end in Libya insofar as 
the lack of clarity on the future of the Egyptian 
revolution will require imperial forces to stab 
the revolution in the back. This is where Qatar 
and Saudi Arabia have proven their use for the 
western ‘concert of democracies.’ Qatar in Libya 
and Saudi Arabia in Bahrain have shown the world 
that the intervention of the West was not for humanitarian reasons.

Muammar Gaddafi had enabled the imperial 
intervention by his close collaboration with 
their intelligence agencies. These intelligence 
forces used their closeness to fight and remove 
his family from power after 42 years. During the 
initial stages of the integrated Qatar/special 
forces/private military contractors assault on 
Tripoli, the spokesperson for Gaddafi boasted 
that the regime had 65,000 armed personnel ready 
to defend Tripoli. Yet, when the Special Forces 
of NATO and Qatar showed up in Tripoli, the 
Gaddafi forces were nowhere to be seen. This is 
because the ‘paramilitary forces of Libya under 
Gaddafi were better at internal repression than 
in dealing with foreign threats. Libya had a 
number of paramilitary forces and security 
services. They acted as a means of controlling 
the power of the regular military and providing 
Gaddafi and his family with security.’ Gaddafi 
was a leader with billions of dollars who did not 
know how to buy weapons and maintain them. Thus 
when a real war emerged, Gaddafi who had been 
spending about a billion dollars per year on 
weapons was full of bluster but had no real army. 
Western military analysts had studied Gaddafi 
very closely and had told anyone who wanted to read that,

‘Libya had to keep many of its aircraft and over 
1000 of its tanks in storage. Its other army 
equipment purchases require far more manpower 
than its small active army and low quality 
reserves can provide. Its overall ration of 
weapons to manpower is absurd, and Libya has 
compounded its problems by buying a wide 
diversity of equipment types that make it all but 
impossible to create an effective training and support base.’

The same military analysts who were writing on 
the absurdity of the military planning and arms 
purchases of Gaddafi came from countries that 
were competing to sell Gaddafi new weapons. Today 
we are told that the National Transitional Council needs new weapons.

In another offering it will be necessary to fully 
examine the lessons of the NATO intervention for 
the African freedom struggle. It will be 
necessary, then, to sum up the Gaddafi role in 
Africa and the African Union. Until that time, it 
is sufficient to say that the operations of 
Global NATO has awakened many leaders to the 
reality of the ways in which third parties and 
private military forces will be used to invade 
Africa. Even the former president of Nigeria, 
Olusegun Obasanjo has had to speak out forcefully 
against NATO in Libya. While these leaders are 
speaking, the rank and file in Africa are paying 
attention to the fact that France, Britain and 
the USA will go to all lengths to invade Africa 
in the new scramble for resources. General Carter 
Ham of AFRICOM has already travelled to Nigeria 
to enact the drama on the stage that had been set 
up by former US ambassador to Nigeria, John 
Campbell who predicted that Nigeria will break up 
within 16 years. General Carter Ham urged 
partnership between the government of Nigeria and 
AFRICOM knowing full well that such a partnership 
would be to fulfil the wishes of those who do not 
want to see the unity and peace of Nigeria and Africa.

China, Russia, Brazil and India will have to make 
a choice. They will either be integrated into the 
spoils of the current scramble for land, oil 
water and seeds or will join with the people of 
Africa to democratise the United Nations and 
support the forces of peace and reconstruction. 
China has sent one signal by becoming the 
principal paymaster for Europe becoming the 
stopgap for the crisis in the Eurozone.

Africans may believe in Ubuntu but they will 
never forget. The day will arise when the idea of 
Responsibility to Protect will be used by a democratised United Nations.


* Horace Campbell is professor of 
African-American studies and political science at 
Syracuse University. He is the author of ‘Barack 
Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary 
Moment in the USA’. See <http://www.horacecampbell.net>www.horacecampbell.net.
* Please send comments to 
or comment online at <http://www.pambazuka.org/>Pambazuka News.

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