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14. Libya’s renunciation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and ballistic missiles



I. Introduction

II. Background

III. The trilateral process and the lifting of sanctions

IV. Assessments of Libya’s activities

V. Libya’s nuclear weapon programme

VI. Libya’s biological and chemical weapon programme

VII. Libya’s ballistic missile programme

VIII. Conclusions


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In a joint statement with the UK and the USA on 19 December 2003, Libya publicly renounced nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons and agreed to restrict itself to the possession of ballistic missiles with a range of no greater than 300 km. In 2004 details of an informal nuclear weapon suppliers’ network emerged and a new basis was provided for evaluating the proliferation assessments that governments had made in the past.


A number of possible factors have been cited to explain Libya’s decision to renounce NBC weapons and medium- and long-range missiles. Bush Administration officials have portrayed it as a vindication of the administration’s robust approach to combating the spread of NBC weapons. However, there has been disagreement over whether—or to what extent—the administration’s counter-proliferation strategy should be credited for Libya’s decision. Some observers have described it as part of the Qadhafi regime’s long-term diplomatic efforts to overcome two decades of political and economic isolation. Until 2004 Libya had been subjected to one of the most stringent of all UN sanctions regimes linked to its involvement in a number of violent incidents during the 1980s, for which it subsequently admitted at least partial responsibility.


Before 2003–2004, public information about Libya’s biological weapon- and nuclear weapon-related activities did not reflect the actual situation, while information regarding the country’s missile programme and, to a lesser extent, its chemical weapon (CW) programme was more accurate. Until recently, most authoritative or official information regarding suspected Libyan NBC weapon and missile programmes was contained in status-of-proliferation reports and statements issued by the USA and other states. Some information was also released as a consequence of criminal proceedings against individuals and companies which had violated the sanctions regime.


Libya has a modest civil nuclear infrastructure, centred on the Tajura Nuclear Research Centre (TNRC) near Tripoli. The TNRC is the site of a 10-megawatt (MW) research reactor that was completed with Soviet assistance in 1981 and placed under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.


Libya received considerable foreign assistance to procure sensitive nuclear materials, technologies and components. Much of this assistance was provided by a sophisticated clandestine network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, characterized by some as the ‘father’ of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon programme. Beginning in 1997, the Khan network supplied Libya with centrifuges and related components for an undeclared uranium-enrichment programme. It also gave Libya documentation related to nuclear weapon design. However, the relatively low technical absorption capacity of Libya’s scientific–industrial base meant that these ‘short cuts’ did not bring Tripoli appreciably closer to achieving a nuclear weapon capability.


During the trilateral process, no concrete evidence of an existing biological weapon programme was uncovered. The UK and the USA reportedly hold the view that certain agricultural and pharmaceutical facilities ‘were established with biological weapons also in mind’.


Libya declared 3563 empty CW air bombs, 23.62 tonnes of sulphur mustard and more than 3000 tonnes of CW precursors. Libya stated that it had never transferred CW and declared that it had an inactivated CW production facility at Rabta and two CW storage facilities.


The bulk of Libya’s ballistic missile inventory consisted of ageing FROG and Scud-B missiles that had been imported from the Soviet Union. Libya’s missile development was hampered by the imposition of UN sanctions between 1992 and 1999, which restricted the flow of ballistic missile technology. The country reportedly had some success in circumventing sanctions and obtaining missile-related components and technology from companies in China, India and the former Yugoslavia. In the 1990s, Libya also maintained cooperation with Iran in developing missile technology and components. It does not appear that Libya had an active programme under way to develop a missile delivery system for nuclear warheads.


In September 2004 the USA announced that its verification of the dismantling of Libya’s NBC weapon programmes, including ‘MTCR-class missiles’, was ‘essentially complete’.

Dr John Hart and Shannon N. Kile