Sanctions helped curb Libyan ambitions




By Mark Huband in London

Financial Times, 20 December 2003

Despite a series of setbacks in its development of weapons of mass destruction programmes in the 1980s, Libya has at various times been seen by experts as a significant threat.

However, these assessments have been drastically modified in recent years as the isolation of Muammer Gadaffi’s regime and the impact of sanctions after the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing deprived it of a technical base on which to build its WMD programmes.

It sought help in obtaining nuclear technology from a number of countries, including China and Pakistan in the 1970s, although Col Gadaffi later declared: “We consider nuclear weapons production a great mistake against humanity.” Even so, a 10 MW nuclear research reactor was supplied by the Soviet Union in 1979 at Tajura near Tripoli, the capital.

The suspension of UN sanctions in 1999 accelerated the pace of procurement efforts in Libya’s drive to rejuvenate its ostensibly civilian nuclear programme, a US Central Intelligence Agency report stated in 2002.

In January and November 2000, the report said, Tripoli and Moscow renewed talks on co-operation at the Tajura Nuclear Research Centre and discussed a potential reactor deal. “Should such civil-sector work come to fruition, Libya could gain opportunities to pursue technologies that could be diverted for military purposes,” the CIA report concluded.

Libya’s biological warfare programme is believed to have remained in the early research and development phase, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), which tracks WMD developments around the world.

FAS analysts say that it may have created the capacity to produce small quantities of usable agent, though it is not thought to have gone beyond the laboratory stage. The CIA report assessed its efforts as intended for significant expansion, however.

The country’s development of chemical warfare programmes was limited, as a result of intense public scrutiny focused first on its Rabta facility in the late 1980s and more recently on an underground facility at Tarhuna.

Intelligence reports stated that it had a small inventory of chemical weapons, as well as the production capability to make chemical warfare (CW) agent. Before closing its Rabta plant in 1990, the regime succeeded in producing up to 100 tonnes of blister and nerve agent at the site, FAS reported. Although the site was re-opened in 1995, ostensibly as a pharmaceutical plant, the facility was still believed to be capable of producing CW agents.

The 2002 CIA report said that after the suspension of UN sanctions, Libya re-established contacts with sources of expertise, parts and precursor chemicals abroad, primarily in western Europe. The report concluded that Libya “still appeared to have a goal of establishing an offensive CW capability and an indigenous production capability for weapons”.


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