A Useful Enemy? Libya, the United States, and the Making of Insecurity

By Jacob A. Mundy
Submitted to Session P4742 (The Prize?: Energy, Security, and Expertise, 2017 Annual Meeting
Intl Rltns/Aff
Libya; Maghreb;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
A near perfect storm of crises confronted US policy towards the Middle East in the late 1960s and early 1970s. On the security front, the intensification of the Arab-Israeli conflict hastened the end of longstanding arrangements underwriting North Atlantic dominance over the global system of oil production and distribution. As waves of resource and infrastructure nationalization brought an end to this old regime, a new financial crisis was also emerging, the end of Bretton Woods. The solution to this crisis was not only fiat currency but also the increasing use of arms sales to Middle Eastern states to recirculate dollars back to the United States, notably led by Saudi Arabia and Iran. Preexisting conflicts were not only used to justify the expansive militarization of the Middle East but new threats were constituted as well. In this context, the radical internationalist ambitions of the early Gaddafi regime in Libya were easily articulated within the political economy of the “armadollar-petrodollar coalition” vis-à-vis Kissinger’s repatterning of US security relations across the Middle East and North Africa. Gaddafi used his state’s vast oil wealth in the 1970s not only to fund resistance and terrorist organizations, he also built one of the largest and ultimately most useless militaries from armaments purchased from the Soviet Union. Using a combination of quantitative, archival, and secondary sources, this paper aims to rethink the geopolitical functions of Libya during the initial securitization of the Gaddafi regime in the 1970s. In so doing, this paper will not only elaborate the global political economy behind Middle Eastern insecurity, it will also account for the emergence of durable images of the Gaddafi regime that played into US reactions to the 2011 crisis in Libya.