Commentary. A real arms embargo should begin by putting a stop to the “legal” arms trafficking by the main countries engaged in stoking the fires of war in Libya.

The real reason the Libyan arms embargo is a joke

After the EU Foreign Ministers’ Council on Libya, Luigi Di Maio said he was pleased with the outcome: “We all agree to create a mission that blocks the flow of arms into Libya,” with the EU committed to a naval, air and land mission to block the entry of weapons into the country. However, the announcement showed the mark of the deep European divisions on the reception of migrants—with strong dissent from Austria and Hungary, and not only—to such an extent that Di Maio hastened to add: “If it creates a ‘pull factor,’ that is to say, the ships attract migrants, the mission will be stopped.”

That’s equivalent to saying that if desperate refugees should “take advantage” of the arms embargo, then it would be better to just let the war continue after all. Another blow against the agreement is the strong skepticism of the United Nations: Stephanie Williams, the deputy of the UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salamè, has said that “the arms embargo [in Libya] has become a joke,” pointing to no less than 150 violations of the truce. 

You don’t have to be any kind of expert to understand one thing: if we really want to start an arms embargo in Libya, which has been wracked by internal war between the factions that inherited the disaster of the 2011 NATO war, followed by the war-by-proxy—given the sheer number of interests and states involved—between the “officially recognized” government of al-Serraj in Tripoli and the Cyrenaica government of General Haftar, then we must concretely accomplish one task: namely, block the export of arms to this country at war.

It would also be necessary to pursue a policy of slowing down the global arms market, since both arms and wars are spreading out like an epidemic. The Italian arms exports are worth about €5 billion a year, with about half of it destined for North African countries like Libya and the Middle East. So, how can there be an effective arms embargo if Italy, the country proposing the measure, is among the main suppliers of the opposing fronts on Libyan soil? 

There is a strong likelihood that it will all devolve into a joke. Especially since our ally Turkey, a NATO bastion with Trump at its side, is happy to deal in NATO weapons together with us and the Middle East region, while we are certainly not slowing down when it comes to delivering arms orders to Egypt. Quite the contrary—thanks to the tireless work of our embassy in Cairo, which has become a proud citadel of business, these days we have made agreements for new arms supplies (in terms of both ships and planes) worth $9 billion.

Now, Minister Di Maio has declared that the Sophia mission “no longer exists” and is talking about a new “naval and air mission, and with ground resources too.” But which air forces, and with what mandate, would actually block the flying cargo transports bringing NATO weapons to the Turkish forces stationed in Misrata, or Russian weapons to the Egyptian forces which are funneling weaponry—with funding from the monarchies of the Gulf, behind the back of the Muslim Brotherhood—to the government in Cyrenaica, on the same Misrata front but on the “enemy” side? And, once again—whose “boots on the ground” will be able to control the borders of Tunisia, Egypt, the immense area of the Sahel, Mali, Niger and Chad (a total length of border of more than 5,000 kilometers)? And, finally, what will the actual punishment be for a country that violates the embargo?

A real arms embargo should begin by putting a stop to the “legal” arms trafficking by the main countries engaged in stoking the fires of war in Libya. Countries such as the United States, which, under Trump’s leadership, has hastened to deliver an arsenal of weaponry worth $100 billion to the very “democratic” Saudi monarchy, which has lined up behind Haftar. It’s not clear in what way this window-dressing “agreement” could ever be put before the United Nations Security Council, run the gauntlet of an endless list of vetoes from all sides, and actually become a real—and very necessary—mission to block the spread of war.

One element is immediately evident: the new yellow-pink government in Italy, although claiming to do so “without its knowledge,” is still pursuing the same instrumental foreign policy that Matteo Salvini pursued when he was behind the desk of Minister of the Interior—above all, one prone to the blackmail of the United States and subordinate to their strategies for the Middle East. 

No wonder we’re discovering that Italy is not part of the European group that is taking shape and aiming to push for upholding the international legitimacy of the UN Resolutions regarding Palestine, which speak of “two states,” and rejecting the “deal of the century” with which Trump would permanently deliver the Palestinian occupied territories into the hands of the State of Israel, its colonies and its own “Great Wall,” with no possibility of appeal and no option but to accept a few scraps of land and a condition of apartheid.

Our Italy cares more about its “excellence” in the production, import and export of weapons than about human rights, as demonstrated by the government’s silence—for instance, about the “business as usual” arrival of the Bahri Yanbu ship in the port of Genoa, carrying a cargo of death destined for the Saudi-allied operations in the war in Yemen, whose victims are mostly thousands of civilians. 

So, what is the point of supplying another bloody Middle Eastern land with piles of weaponry while announcing an embargo regarding the war in Libya, which worries us only because we fear the arrival of desperate refugees, which have now become targets in the fighting, and we’re worried about the fate of its energy resources? 

“The greatest structure of sin is the war industry itself”—how can it be that only Pope Francis is saying this out loud, while one can hardly find it among the main issues animating the protests and meetings of the left and of the unions?

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