Matteo Capasso, European University Institute, Italy
Since 2011, mainstream narratives have presented the ongoing destruction of Libya as the result of historical and internal grievances leading up to a civil war, with devastating consequences for the population. While it is true that the interrelated economic, political and social crises have deepened, the conflict among the various parties—primarily the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Government of National Accord (GNA)—has reached a stalemate. I argue that analyses which place too much emphasis on the local dynamics ignore the important role of the global capitalist order in Libya’s past and present. Thus, it is imperative to provide an alternative reading that demonstrates how the current war is the result of a progressive re-articulation of the country’s economy into the global one via war and militarism.
In the spirit of the main question discussed during the POMEPS thematic workshop on ‘Frozen Conflicts,’ the aim of this paper is to assess whether the MENA region is undergoing an interregnum phase, whereby the region is being held in place and time by the emergence of failed states and frozen conflicts, and what this new regional equilibrium tells us about the global order. At first glance, it might seem appropriate to label many of these ongoing conflicts affecting the MENA region (Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, etc.) as ‘frozen.’ The concept mirrors the situation of many countries in the region. That is, armed hostilities have de-escalated and there is scant capacity or willingness on the part of either local actors or their international patrons to proceed toward a peace treaty or a political solution that could satisfy the various interests at stake. However, if we accept uncritically the current situation as ‘frozen,’ we potentially risk underestimating the ongoing changes and, more importantly, the geo-political/economic relevance of these wars. In fact, as Samer Abboud remarks in his paper, the ecologies of conflict and violence that characterise the MENA region today are less about paralysis and inertia and more revealing of the existence of fragmented visions of global and regional orders. Drawing on the Astana process activated in response to the Syrian conflict, he argues that these talks mirror the progressive retrenchment of the liberal order and the emergence of illiberal actors, who have appropriated liberal language for illiberal ends.
While I agree with Abboud’s challenge on the necessity of unpacking the linkages between the various ecologies that define the ontologi(es) of these conflicts, I take a different approach to explain the current status of the MENA region and the global order. In fact, I explore the question of the interregnum—and the pervading sense of war in which the everyday of people is enmeshed (Hermez, this volume)—as processes that analytically can be traced to the contradictions of the dominant international model of economic accumulation: neoliberal capitalism. Taking the Libyan case as an example, I explore the constitutive relationship between violence and politics in the making of the capitalist world-system and the role of MENA within it.
Methodologically, it is important to highlight that I do not take the nation-state as the privileged unit of analysis. The process of capital accumulation, and thus market relations, do not begin and end at geopolitical boundaries, nor do movements of capital and labor. I consider contemporary states as part of the broader historical setting that has emerged from the international character of capital and its markets. Similarly, while the actions of individuals and their ideologies are important details that help to explain the course of history, they are not its over-determining elements. I approach individuals and ideologies as representatives of class interests that have become subordinated to the interests of the capitalist world-system, thus inherently linked to the material reality that sustain their power. In doing so, my aim is to avoid reducing politics and history to a grotesque fight between ‘irrational’ individuals and ‘dangerous’ ideologies or, as Gramsci argues, to turn history into a treatise on teratology. I stress this point because, in our dominant model of economic accumulation, wars are waged to sustain capital expansion and the permanent search for ‘monsters’ and ‘crises’ to fight has become a fundamental need rather than a rigorous analytical exercise.
What follows is divided into three sections: First, I trace the progressive unmaking of the Libyan social formation, which demonstrates the need to understand its current war vis-à-vis the rise of war and militarism as dominant processes of capital accumulation and production at the global level. Subsequently, I assess Libya as part of the wider MENA region and the related refugee crisis. I conclude by arguing for the urgency of capturing the linkages between these wars and the contradictions generated by neoliberal capitalism in order to break this frozen cycle of violence.
Re-articulating Libya: From Decolonisation to War
After the 1969 al-Fath revolution, the Libyan government pursued a revolutionary project of national independence, while also advocating for a radical change in the relations of domination in the international order. For the Libyan revolutionaries, the process of national liberation required a wider restructuring of the process of unequal exchange and the power hierarchies that allowed the US-led imperialist order to dominate the Global South. If we acknowledge the political valence of anti-imperialist and socialist ideas to the practices of the Libyan government since the early years of the 1969 revolution—rather than succumbing to a history of teratology—it becomes easier to understand how crucial was the struggle over the power to imagine alternative paths to development and regional cooperation which might regain the power to shape one’s economy, culture and society. As part of this anti-imperialist project, numerous political and economic initiatives were undertaken in order to improve the living conditions of the population, including the nationalization of the oil industry in 1973, the construction of infrastructural and redistributive programs, as well as the support of revolutionary movements worldwide and the pursuit of projects of regional integration.
Those programs, however, were undermined as a result of the intertwined political, military and economic measures that the US and its allies adopted in order to weaken the achievements and ambitions of the Libyan revolution. For example, Libya provides financial and military aid to states that shared its vision, considering this a necessary step to fulfill its anti-imperialist struggle. However, the US CIA believed that Libya provided military and financial aid to ‘radical’ regimes and ‘terrorist’ groups to undermine US interests in the Third World. Inevitably, an undeclared war against Libya began, reaching a turning point, first during the long military confrontation in Chad; and second following the imposition of international sanctions in 1992, imposed as a result of a 3-year investigation into the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. The US and UK governments concluded that two Libyan subjects had orchestrated the attack as retailiation for the 1986 US bombing of Libya. Initially, the Libyan government rejected these accusations and proposed to establish a ‘neutral’ international court for the trial of its two citizens. In complete breach of international law, in particular the Montreal Convention of 1971 that granted Libya the right not to extradite the suspects, both the UK and the US rejected the proposal, denouncing it a sign of blatant obstruction. Yet, the UN sanctions rested on evidence of Libyan involvement in terrorism that ‘has not been made public, has been confused in the public mind with a request for extradition or a surrender of Libyan nationals that has no legal basis, and […] demonstrates an unequal application of law and power.’
The earlier military defeat in Chad and the burgeoning weight of the international sanctions triggered a slow re-structuring of the class structure of Libya’s state-elites, gradually transforming it. The changing geopolitical conditions represented a major ideological defeat for the Libyan regime, one ironic consequence of which was the ruling class becoming more integrated with international financial capital and losing its autonomy over economic policies. Like many other Arab republics, this shift marked the emergence of a merchant/comprador class, which kept extracting wealth from national resources without reinvesting it for the development of the country. Thus, the formerly nationalist and anti-imperialist elites began to enrich themselves through rent-seeking and parasitic commercial activities, systematically transferring their wealth abroad, instead of investing in national or regional enterprises. In this context of geopolitical uncertainty and constant threat of war, further aggravated by the multi-lateral sanctions that progressively dismantled the infrastructural and redistributive achievements of the past decades, ‘network of privileges’ and less progressive structures began to appear. The result of these changes inevitably translated into the emergence of socio-economic inequalities, the increasing use of corruption and political repression (such as the Abu Salim prison massacre), declining job opportunities and revival of tribal affiliations as both tools of control and valves of a societal safety net.
Understanding these developments after 1990 allows us to answer the question of how the 2011 uprising led, on the one hand, to a large mass movement of Libyans who angrily protested in the streets and, on the other hand, the speedy mobilization of the military power of NATO to direct the course of events. These two processes were not exclusionary but rather the ’logical’ outcome of the long ‘war’ unleashed on the Libyan government beginning in the late 1970s and which had eroded its economic and political achievements. Therefore, as the protests were hijacked by a regime-change operation, the integration of Libya into the global economy also changed. It was no longer a case of capital flight–the investment funds of Libyan authorities being relocated in the US or Europe to the detriment of the local population–as had taken place in the previous decade. Rather, war and militarism emerged as the new mechanisms of capital accumulation at the global level, thus changing radically the ways in which Libya—its land and people—enter the global circuits of capital even as the country descended into ongoing destruction.
Warring Region or Securing Profit
Rosa Luxemburg was one of the first analytical thinkers to argue that military ventures abroad are necessary, if not vital, to maintain the expansion of imperialism worldwide. This proposition helps to explain both the false narratives that Western states used to invade Iraq in 2003 and the 2011 NATO-led intervention in Libya. Both military ventures were undertaken to complete policies that had been preceded by years of coercive diplomacy and multilateral sanctions. Moreover, I argue that the outcome of the US invasion of Iraq—that is, 17 years of ongoing war—requires us to revisit its initial purposes. More specifically, I propose that war and militarism are no longer a means to an end, such as the construction of a free-market society; rather, militarism creates the present reality that is sustained by endless war.
Currently, militarism has become the way through which the MENA region and the global South at large are being re-articulated into the global economy. At the same time, this newly emerging configuration remains linked to the increasing central role that the military-industrial complex plays in the political and economic spheres in countries of the global North. Many analysts have demonstrated how the US government adopted a blind faith in militarism and the use of war that, in turn, accelerates the hollowing out of its democratic structures. Unfinished wars abroad have sown a sense of fear, violence and insecurity at home, all of which have escalated under the current Trump-led administration. Throughout the years, vast financial and human resources have been devoted to ‘homeland security’ and the militarization of society, resulting in human, mental and psychological damage.
War per se has become a sphere of production, accumulation and investment that: 1) is re-articulating the MENA region in the global economy; and 2) sustains the power of the current global capitalist order. By locating what is happening in Libya and other MENA countries (Iraq, Syria, Yemen) in this scenario of perpetual war, it becomes possible to understand how the NATO-led intervention did not simply fail because it lacked a plan for the aftermath. Rather war sustains war through securitization, border surveillance, arms sales, private military companies and the creation of logistics spaces. For example, in Libya, in the aftermath of 2011, the ensuing struggle over state institutions and the monopoly of violence has intensified the struggle over rent-seeking activities among rival armed groups. A case in point is the situation in Tripoli, where four militias have consolidated their position and established the basis for a predtory economy based on violence. From 2012 to early 2014, the primary source of finance for militias was funds specifically allocated to these groups via the defence and interior ministries, which covered the salaries of individual militiamen. By inflating payrolls and operating expenditures, militia leaders and their political allies were able to accumulate wealth, which they partially reinvested in heavy weapons and other capital-intensive equipment to continue the war to continue. However, as state funding contracted in successive years, armed groups searched for other ways to finance themselves. Kidnappings soared in Tripoli during 2015 and 2016, the vast majority of which were undertaken for financial motives. During the same period, protection rackets emerged, with armed groups ‘taxing’ local markets or private businesseses in exchange for ‘security.’ Such activities also characterize the political/economic practices of the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar, who has set up an institutional body called ‘The Military Investment and Public Works Committee.’ This body undertakes predatory activities, such as confiscating properties, extorting private economic actors and taking control of public projects. Those practices then lead to the imposition of monopolies over the smuggling of hard currency and refined fuel products, which further enable the LNA to survive and maintain power by paying off its supporters. The final and key step involves the reinvestment of these funds in the security-military complex to solidify or maintain their power, such as weapons that, at times, are not even delivered.
The peculiarity of these markets of violence lies in how they link the nonviolent commodity markets with the violent acquisition of goods. At the same time, the high levels of societal militarization do not translate into peace or security for the communities living there. For example, since August 2020, in areas controlled by both factions (GNA and LNA), numerous Libyans protested the new everyday reality of power and water cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet the protests often met with an indiscriminate use of violence. The consequences are largely detrimental to the majority of the population, since the provision of goods and services can become tightly linked to people’s support for a certain armed group or gang. The founding role of violence and militarism for accumulating resources—and thus political and economic capital—allows militias to govern largely without the support of the majority or any form of accountability.
These Libyan maladies should be understood in relation to—not divorced from—the interests of regional and international actors. The UAE’s intervention, for instance, derives from the country’s wider strategy to create logistical spaces as a “key mechanism for inserting market imperatives into ‘humanitarian’ activities.” The adventurism of regional actors, in turn, is linked directly to the increasing securitization and international arms’ sales to the region. As the Forum of Arms Sales notes, US arms’ sales to the MENA in 2019 increased 118% compared to 2018, reaching a sum of $25.5 billion. In the past five years (2014-2019) there has been a dramatic increase in the sale and flow of weapons from European countries and Russia to the MENA region, and many of these weapons eventually are diverted to their local proxies in Libya, Syria or Yemen. Italy, for instance, has managed to sell a total of €1,334 billion of armaments to countries in the Middle East and Africa. The so-called ‘refugee’ problem unleashed by the collapse of Libya further illustrates this self-fulfilling cycle, as revealed by the contradiction between the huge swathes of far-right political propaganda circulating within Europe on the costs of hosting and controlling refugees coming from Libya, Africa and the MENA on the one hand, and on the other the extent of European powers’ (and their regional allies) involvement in the war through the sale of arms and the construction of surveillance and humanitarian infrastructure in the same region.
What is most striking is how the war industry profits from both sides of the tragedy: First, by fueling conflict in the region; and second, by providing the infrastructure and technology to stop refugees from coming to Europe. In a similar fashion, the same Libyan coast guards trained by the EU agency Frontex set up to prevent migrants’ boats from reaching Europe, were discovered to be working with smugglers, while committing human rights abuses against migrants. Top European arms sellers—Finmeccanica, Thales and Airbus—are the same beneficiaries of EU-provided border security contracts. In such a context, one should consider how the Libyan war reveals further the involvement of the war industry via the border wall construction between Libya and Tunisia undertaken jointly by Germany and the US, French military operations in the Sahel, AFRICOM military bases or the new EU digital surveillance installation on the coast of Tunisia, ‘ISMariS.’
Therefore, I argue that the academic and policy worlds must start analyzing these links between systemic inequalities and the processes of capital accumulation at home and abroad, taking place via war and militarism. In doing so, the question at hand is not whether the US or the international community should intervene in the MENA region. Rather, as I propose in the following section, systematic change requires centering and understanding the appetite for war and militarism driving the global capitalist economy.
Is There a Way Forward?
Capitalism, as a historical process shaping the social relations of production, requires precarious and exploitable workers to facilitate the accumulation of profits for those owning capital. In the global North, it opposes the welfare state in order to create those precarious lives and also supports wars to exploit the patriotism of workers and to delude them into believing their destruction in war is heroism. In this climate of privatization and shrinking public budgets eroding the welfare state, some politicians encourage workers to perceive immigrants and refugees as competitors for wages and welfare. As capitalist leaders like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump demonstrate; they play on the fears of workers by championing anti-immigrant policies rather than promoting higher wages and better social welfare. For the global South, military intervention and the subsequent fight against migration allow further pauperization of people. Their precarious labor is characterized by poor wages, insecurity in the continuity of work, emergence of slave-like labor regimes,  if not outright death in war, or while attempting to reach Europe.
This picture signals a passage to a state of increasing inequality worldwide, but also reveals the intimate linkages between the global North and South, thus indicating that the nature of the struggle required to finding a way forward can only be a systemic and international one. The international leading model of economic development that Europe and the US are supporting is not sustainable. Indeed, the policies of the Trump administration certainly are accelerating its destructive potential, although it is unclear at this stage to what extent a potential win of the Democratic presidential candidate might trigger a change of this course. In this regard, it is indicative to ponder on what the current UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, replied when a grassroots campaign motioned the UK government to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia due to the calamities taking place in Yemen: We can’t because other countries would “happily supply arms” to Saudi Arabia if Britain stops. Johnson’s reply is much more than geopolitical realism, it captures how war and militarism have become a new paradigm of economic investment, driving the market-logic and taking over the world of politics and international relations.
Therefore, it is possible to conclude that conflicts in the MENA are frozen, but so are any imaginable policy options devised to help the MENA region that do not tackle the impact of capitalist exploitation. Neoliberalism is the attempt to protect capitalism against social democracy. As I aimed to discuss in this paper, the protracted wars in the MENA require the willingness to think radically differently, curbing or putting an end to a system of economic accumulation whose internal contradictions have brought us here. Are we ready to change course of action as we witness a global economic order sustained by endless wars and increasing inequalities? Seriously addressing the reasons for these frozen conflicts provide us with a unique opportunity to re-orient policies toward the global necessity of developing a sustainable model of economic development that confronts these new modes and paradigms of capital expansion, war and militarism, at home and abroad. For this to happen, I argue that it is imperative to start 1) comprehending how the MENA region is being re-articulated in the global economy; and 2) building a new international democratic socialism that puts emphasis on mutual cooperation, the protection and guarantee of the economic rights of the most marginalized and poorest classes, while renouncing exploitation and profit. There will be no escape from these interminable wars until this reality is recognized and tackled.
Concretely, enforcing an arms’ embargo in Libya is a fundamental step but it requires a global regulation of the arms’ industry, just as much as a Global Green New Deal that would reduce the power of the fossil fuel industry worldwide. It is not enough to turn militaries and armies ‘green-friendly’ in non-combat bases. We need to account for wasted lives and pollution that wars generate in the MENA and beyond, as part of the polluting footprint of the war industry. There is a need to promote peace in school education, while showing how the exorbitant budgets assigned to military spending could be better used to guarantee people’s health and education, at home and abroad. International developmental organizations should aim to bring back questions of food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture, aiming to undo the existence of food dependency mechanisms. There needs to be a push toward a truly interconnected world based on equal exchange of resources and technologies. The actions of Libyans protesting in the street during the pandemic, or the refusal of Italian dockworkers to load power generators onto a Saudi cargo ship carrying arms to be used in the plundering of Yemen are glimpses of another possible and desirable world. They remind us that a way forward exists, but the courage to undertake this path might be found more among the powerless popular classes, than among the ruling ones.
 Andreas Bieler, Adam David Morton , Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).
 Philip McMichael. ‘Incorporating Comparison within a World-Historical Perspective’ American Sociological Review 55(3): 385-397 (1990).
 Giovanni Arrighi. The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Time. (London: Verso, 2009)
 In biology, teratology refers to the study of congenital abnormalities and abnormal formations in plants and animals. In this paper, I borrow this word from the work of Antonio Gramsci who uses it to refer to the methodological anti-historicism adopted to judge—rather than study—the past as ‘irrational’ and ‘monstrous,’ which implies the adoption of a metaphysical position. See Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowel Smith (eds.) Selection from The Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, p. 449 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1971).
 Priya Satia. Time’s Monster: History, Conscience and Britain’s Empire (London: Penguin Book, 2020).
 This section provides a summary of a recent research paper I published, for more details see: Matteo Capasso. ‘The war and the economy: the gradual destruction of Libya’. Review of African Political Economy (Latest Articles, 2020), 1-23.
 For a thorough discussion of Libya’s support to revolutionary groups, many of which the US and its allies designated as terrorist groups, as well as the Lockerbie bombing, see Capasso, ‘The war and the economy,’ pp. 7-11.
 Central Intelligence Agency. ‘Libya under Qadhafi: A Pattern of Aggression.’ May 27, 2011. https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP91B00874R000200110027-0.pdf.
 Alfred Rubin. ‘Libya, Lockerbie and the Law.’ Diplomacy and Statecraft 4(1): 1–19 (1993).
 Kadri, Arab Development Denied.
 Steven Heydemann. Networks of Privilege in the Middle East: The Politics of Economic Reform Revisited (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
 Mabrooka al-Werfalli. Political Alienation in Libya: Assessing Citizens’ Political Attitude and Behaviour (Reading: Ithaca Press, 2011).
 Rosa Luxemburg. Accumulation of Capital, available online at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1913/accumulation-capital/ (1913).
 Sami Hermez. War is Coming: Between Past and Future Violence in Lebanon (Philadelphia: University of Penn Press, 2017).
 See for example, Andrew Bacevich (2020) Will 2020 Finally Kill America’s War Fetish?, available at: https://newrepublic.com/article/158092/will-2020-finally-kill-americas-war-fetish; and Chalmers Johnson (2010) Dismantling Empire: America’s Last Best Hope. Metropolitan Books.
 Jessica Katzenstein (2020) The Wars Are Here: How the United States’ Post-9/11 Wars Helped Militarize U.S. Police, available at: https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2020/Police%20Militarization_Costs%20of%20War_Sept%2016%202020.pdf
 See, for example, Catherine Luiz and Andrea Mazzarino. 2019. War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. NYU Press.
 This aspect is also highlighted by Al-Hamdani’s contribution in this POMEPS issue.
 Wolfram Lacher and Peter Cole. Politics by Other Means: Conflicting Interests in Libya’s Security Sector (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, 2014).
 Noria Research. Predatory Economies in Eastern Libya (Geneva: Noria Institute, 2019).
 Bel Trew. ‘Libya’s beleaguered general Haftar swindled out of millions by western mercenaries and businessmen’ The Independent June 10,2020 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/libya-haftar-uk-us-tripoli-war-arab-armed-forces-military-a9558906.html.
 See, for instance, Y. Abulkher. Tripoli’s Electricity Crisis Policy Brief and its Politicisation (The Hague: Cligendael Institute, April 2020) https://www.clingendael.org/sites/default/files/2020-04/PB_Libyas_electricity_crisis_April_2020.pdf.
 Rafeef Ziadah. ‘Circulating Power: Humanitarian Logistics, Militarism, and the United Arab Emirates’. Antipode. 1-9 (2019).
 Dominic Dudley. ‘U.S. Arms Sales To The Middle East Have Soared In Value This Year’ December 16, 2019 Forbes,
 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. ‘Global arms trade: USA increases dominance; arms flows to the Middle East surge’ March 11, 2019 https://www.sipri.org/media/press-release/2019/global-arms-trade-usa-increases-dominance-arms-flows-middle-east-surge-says-sipri.
 Giorgio Beretta. ‘Export armi: l’Italia ne vende la metà in Africa e Medio Oriente’ May 15, 2019 Osservatorio Diritti https://www.osservatoriodiritti.it/2019/05/15/export-armi-italia-vendita-nel-mondo-paesi/.
 Mark Akkerman. Border Wars: The Arms Dealers Profiting From Europe’s Refugee Tragedy. (Amsterdam: Transnational Institute, 2019), https://www.tni.org/en/publication/border-wars. See also the more recent report by David Vine, Cala Coffman, Katalina Khoury, Madison Lovasz, Helen Bush, Rachael Leduc and Jennifer Walkup, Creating Refugees: Displacement Caused by the United States’ Post-9/11 Wars (Brown University: Watson Institute, 2020).
 Benjamin Bathke. ‘When helping hurts – Libya’s controversial coast guard, Europe’s go-to partner to stem migration.’ Infomigrants.net July 24, 2019 https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/18196/when-helping-hurts-libya-s-controversial-coast-guard-europe-s-go-to-partner-to-stem-migration.
 Nick Turse. ‘Pentagon’s Own Map of U.S. Bases in Africa Contradicts its Claim of ‘Light’ Footprint.’ February 2, 2020 The Intercept, https://theintercept.com/2020/02/27/africa-us-militarybases-africom/.
 Mathias Monroy. ‘EU Pays for Surveillance in Gulf of Tunis.’ June 28, 2020. https://digit.site36.net/2020/06/28/eu-pays-for-surveillance-in-gulf-of-tunis/.
 Lucia Pradella and Rossana Cillo. ‘Bordering the surplus population across the Mediterranean: Imperialism and unfree labour in Libya and the Italian countryside.’ Geoforum (2020).
 See also the conditions of the white working classes in the US: Anne Case and Angus Deaton (2020) Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020).
 Max Ajl. A People’s Green New Deal (London: Pluto Press, forthcoming).
 Christian Sorensen. Understanding the War Industry (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2020).
 Rob Wallace (ed.). Dead Epidemiologists: On the Origins of Covid-19 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2020).
 Habib Ayeb and Ray Bush. Food Insecurity and Revolution in the Middle East and North Africa: Agrarian Questions in Egypt and Tunisia (London: Anthem Press, 2019).