Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Libya and Germany

Politicians across Europe must now be hurriedly purging their photo albums, removing all the handshakes with Gaddafi they've had taken over the past decade of rapprochement. Because it's Europe, not the USA, which has most vigorously supported the Libyan dictator, and which should be most ashamed at how they put business above human rights. Germany, sending civil engineers to develop Libya's infrastructure. France, selling weapons and buying oil. Italy, trying to stop the arrival of migrants across the Mediterranean. And Britain, mainly through Tony Blair's peculiar compulsion to embrace every dictator available.

Here I'll pick on Germany -- not for being the worst, but because the German media is so far showing remarkably little awareness of the country's complicity with the Libyan regime.

Let's go back to 2004. The four countries above had secured the lifting of the EU arms embargo against Libya. Denmark and Sweden had mentioned human rights, but the general feeling was that, by abandoning its biological weapons program and renouncing international terrorism, Libya had conceded on all the truly important issues.

No sooner was the embargo lifted, than German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder landed in Tripoli with an entourage of 25 businessmen. In passing he praised what he called the 'political change' in Libya. But his main reason for visiting was the promotion of German business. Openly so, and with the support of much of the German political spectrum, from his own center-left SPD, through the pro-business FPD to the conservative CDU. So he shook hands, made introductions, closed deals. He was photographed in an elaborate tent, and at an oil well, looking equally out-of place in both locations.

What didn't emerge until four years later was that, alongside oil and engineering negotiations, Schroeder was fixing up a deal whereby elite German commandos would train the Libyan security services.

This caused controversy when it emerged in 2008. Not as military support for a dictator -- the €43m of German jammingelectrical equipment* bought by Libya in the last 2 years has raised few eyebrows -- but because it was being provided by German security personnel, and thus involved sharing state military know-how with a potential enemy.

In fact, the Byzantine structure of the deal shows everybody knew they were bending the rules to breaking point. The German officers would receive €15,000 each, paid by a private security firm which in turn got a €1.6m cheque from Libya. They would take time off from their elite anti-terrorist unit. Their superiors thought they were vacationing in Tunisia, though the German embassy in Libya knew their real purpose. The officers set up shop in a barracks in Tripoli, where for 6 months they taught their Libyan counterparts how to storm buildings, board ships and operate out of helicopters.

Training can't be identified in the same way as you might see 'Made in Germany' on a used shell. But it's no less real; we can be sure that a hundred or so of the Gaddafi loyalists struggling to keep control of Tripoli have been trained by the German security forces.

[There's much, much more to say on this theme, a whole decade of shameful behaviour that wasn't even kept secret. How Europe, terrified of refugees, wanted a well-armed authoritarian regime as a buffer-zone against African migrants. How weapons shipments were banned simply through fear they'd go to Sudan, not from any concern about Gaddafi having them. How Switzerland tried to punish Gaddafi's son for assaulting his staff, enraged Libya, and was brought into line by other European states desperate to keep trade going. But it'll all have to wait for tomorrow]

* The figure of €43m of 'jamming equipment' was taken from the EU Observer. They in turn got it from an EU report. However, as far as I can see the original source refers to electrical equipment in particular, not specifically jamming. Sorry about that confusion, especially since the €43m for jamming equipment now seems to have spread throughout twitter.

--Dan

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