This week President of Malta George Vella, expressed his concern at the unfolding situation in Libya where forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar are attempting to take control of the capital Tripoli, the seat of the UN-recognised government, led by Fayez al-Sarraj.

He was very critical of the international community which seems content to just look the other way as fighting engulfs the country. He stated that this latest conflict is certainly not in the interest of Libya, and has already led to a large number of casualties. He also expressed his opinion that Malta could well be flooded by refugees if the war gets out of control and leads to a humanitarian disaster.

I believe he is right on all fronts. I would simply add that continued conflict in Libya will also harm our economy, as had happened when it had last escalated into a civil war in 2011. At that time, the Maltese government had worked hard to manage the influx of persons coming to Malta from Libya and to minimise the negative impact on our economy.

Trouble in Libya does spell a big threat to us.

It needs to be stated that the fundamental reason for the current conflict in Libya is an economic one – who will control the reserves of oil and natural gas of the country. The European Union has sought to push for a political solution to the issue. However, the EU cannot take a major foreign policy decision unless all members agree. And in this case, France is backing General Haftar for its own economic reasons. This has nothing to do with democracy in Libya. It has to do only with oil and gas.

Maltese businesses have learnt how to keep on operating in Libya in spite of the political uncertainty

It needs to be remembered that it was France that had unilaterally decided to attack Libya, which eventually resulted in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

In the United Nations, we have a similar situation. The US and Russia opposed a call for a ceasefire from being formally tabled in the UN Security Council. Russia and the US were backed by France and the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Sadly, it needs to be noted that the position of Russia and the US (who finally agreed on something) is dictated purely by economic considerations.

It has nothing to do with the presence of Islamists in the Tripoli based government. It has to be admitted that this is just an excuse.

Malta no longer depends on Libya’s cheap oil like it did at the time of Gaddafi and Mintoff. However, there is still a significant Maltese economic presence (by our standards) in Libya. Maltese businesses have learnt how to keep on operating in Libya in spite of the political uncertainty.

However, this last armed conflict may lead to France, Russia and the US, together with some countries in the Middle East, exerting such a big influence in Libya with a view to sharing the economic spoils. Moreover it is not guaranteed, that once the current conflict is settled (probably with the victory of General Haftar’s forces), each of these three countries will not seek to edge the other two out, thereby leading to further conflict.

Our country cannot afford to have such conflict on our doorstep. Admittedly, as the President of Malta said, Malta can only exert “moral pressure”. Otherwise we are just spectators watching the situation unfold, with all the threats that it brings about.

Within a global context, we can also note that we are putting the clock back to the 1970s and early 1980s, when the foreign policy of the leading nations was not guided by concepts such as human and minority rights, but by their desire to have the largest possible share of the economic pie.

This certainly cannot be good news for Malta.

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