In his remarks on Wednesday, August 31, to a world gathering of French diplomats, French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised NATO alliance support for the Libyan rebels as an "indispensible tool" and the most important result of the war, despite Washington’s decision to take a back seat.
"For the first time, NATO was put at the service of a coalition led by two determined European countries, France and Great Britain," he noted in tones hinting at his pride in restoring France to its former imperial glory by the decision to join NATO military intervention in Libya for toppling Muammar Qaddafi.
The French president's Sarkozy's boast of a successful European war is only partly justified. While America handed the lead roles to Britain and France, neither could have captured Tripoli without US satellites, spy planes and ordnance and Qaddafi would still have been ensconced in Bab al-Aziziya.
But although the war is not over, Sarkozy can afford strut like a victor after pocketing a letter from the Libyan rebels promising France priority access to 35 percent of Libyan oil.
Prior to the conflict, Libya was producing 1.6 million barrels of oil per day. Its potential, drawing on a reserve of 44 billion barrels – the largest in Africa – is seriously underexploited. This means France is assured of potential access to 15 billion barrels of oil and a boost to world oil power rank level with the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait which have comparable reserve capacity.
The rebels' promises stay on paper until the Libyan war is over
The Libyan rebels may be presumed to have also given guarantees of a cut in Libyan oil reserves to British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the Qatari ruler Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, whose air force and special units took part in the NATO operation from the word go in the third week of March.
International financial and oil circles tell DEBKA-Net-Weekly that the UK, Doha and Italy may have to make do with access to smaller portions of Libya's oil treasure than France – not more than 6-8 billion barrels each. But even those quotas would help London and Rome pull themselves out of their economic crises and open credit lines for them with international banks for investment in the development of Libya's oil resources.
Qatar's world status as an energy producer would also be enhanced. The emirate is already the world’s largest liquefied natural gas-LNG producer, selling an annual 42 million metric tons across the globe.
While these figures appear to assure the countries taking part in the development of Libyan oil reserves a rosy future and abundant financial gain, the reality could be quite different, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources explain:
1. As long as Libya remains at war, there is no knowing who will end up in control of Tripoli. Therefore, the rebels' promises to their NATO backers may never leave the paper they were written on.
Furthermore, about 60 percent of the promised oil reserves are buried under the sands of southern Libya in regions still controlled by Muammar Qaddafi and his loyalists.
US may make oil technology available to European powers – for a price
2. Even though the French oil giant Total has plenty of oil exploration experience in Africa, the firm does not command the advanced technology for digging wells and producing oil in massive quantities across vast desert regions. The United States alone has this technology and the necessary funding.
3. This deficiency is shared by the Italian oil giant ENI, which calls rebel chiefs almost daily to make sure of its place in Libya's post-war oil rush, Britain’s BP, Anglo-Dutch Shell and Qatar Petroleum.
4. It will be up to France, Britain, Italy and Qatar to determine where to start development operations for new wells in the near term and which regions to leave for a couple of decades in the future. This will depend on the availability of investment funds, whether profitability based on future oil prices can justify the amounts invested and the cost of the bank loans to hand.
5. Our sources note that the Obama administration is sticking to its decision to take a back seat on Libya – both on the military side of the NATO operation and the sharing-out of oil spoils among its participants.
The US will no doubt agree to let France, Britain and Italy have the use of its advanced technology and funding for getting the oil out of the ground, but will exact from them all a hefty percentage of their revenues. In this way, America will profit from the Libyan oil bonanza without risking its arm in the military operation or shouldering responsibility for Libya's future in its aftermath.