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Overview Last updated: April, 2015

In 2003, then Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Qadhafi renounced all of his regime's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs, after more than three decades of extensive efforts to develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and their delivery systems.

Libya likely began its WMD and ballistic missile programs out of a desire to increase its influence in both the Middle East and Africa, and in response to other regional players'—and especially Israel's—alleged unconventional weapons programs. After agreeing to disclose and dismantle all WMD programs in 2003, Qadhafi's government cooperated with American and British experts to do so, with dismantlement of the nuclear program completed and verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2004. In August 2011, Qadhafi's government was ousted when rebel forces captured Tripoli in the final stages of the Libyan civil war of 2011.

In November 2011 officials of the Libyan transitional government notified the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of two previously undisclosed caches of chemical weapons (CW). [1] The OPCW subsequently verified their existence and confirmed their transfer to a destruction site. [2] Equipment malfunctions and the outbreak of hostilities had halted the destruction process in February 2011; however, Libya submitted a detailed destruction plan in May 2012 indicating that it would resume operations in March 2013 and complete them by December 2016. [3] Current Libyan behavior indicates a willingness to comply with the international nonproliferation regime. In February 2014, Libya announced the completed destruction of its stockpile of usable chemical weapons, and reaffirmed its goal to complete the destruction of remaining Schedule 2 chemicals by December 2016. [4]

Nuclear

Soon after Qadhafi's 1969 assumption of power, Libya initiated a decades-long clandestine effort to develop nuclear weapons. Although Tripoli ultimately failed to acquire nuclear weapons, it succeeded in acquiring some key fuel cycle capabilities, including a legally obtained 10MW research reactor from the USSR in the 1980s, and clandestinely purchased enrichment technology and nuclear weapons design plans from the AQ Khan network in the 1990s. [5] Libya revealed the full extent of its clandestine nuclear weapons program in 2003 when Qadhafi pledged to renounce all WMD programs and to adhere to the commitments Libya had previously made with its 1975 ratification of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). While the international community had not been fully aware of the extent of Libya's illicit nuclear activities prior to this time, it soon became clear that despite its efforts, Tripoli was still many years away from a nuclear weapons capability when it renounced its program in 2003. [6]

To ensure sufficient IAEA oversight of the dismantlement of its nuclear program, Libya signed the Additional Protocol on 10 March 2004, disclosing the existence of numerous previously undeclared nuclear facilities. [7] Libya also ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in January 2004, and the Treaty of Pelindaba (or African Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone) in March 2005. In 2008, the IAEA announced that Libya had fully cooperated with the Agency and that its future activities in Libya would be strictly routine in nature. [8] Libya presently possesses a Soviet-supplied 10MW IRT-1 research reactor at the Renewable Energies and Water Desalination Research Center (REWDRC). Following the IAEA's announcement,, Libya began actively seeking foreign assistance to develop its sea water desalination capabilities and other peaceful applications of nuclear technology. However, the Civil War of 2011 and the ensuing political chaos have since compromised these pursuits. Following Qadhafi's overthrow, the IAEA has made efforts to continue inspecting Libya's remaining nuclear-related stockpiles, including ordering the investigation of the storage of 6,400 barrels of uranium yellowcake at a former military facility in 2013. [9]

Biological

Libya does not possess an offensive biological weapons program, and despite past BW ambitions, is widely believed to have failed to develop biological weapons as a result of a poor biotechnology and industrial base. Despite joining the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in January 1982, Tripoli explored the feasibility of an offensive biological weapons program by attempting to procure Iraqi, South African and North Korean assistance in the 1990s. [10] While previous reports accused Libya of purchasing biological weapons applicable equipment from South Africa in 1994, and of unsuccessfully attempting to recruit South African scientists to aid in a BW program, more recent intelligence reports cannot confirm these allegations. [11] Ultimately, Tripoli's BW efforts remained limited in size and never progressed beyond the research and development stages; according to one Libyan official, they never even progressed beyond the planning stages. [12] Following Libya's renunciation of WMD in 2003, U.S. and UK inspectors found no evidence indicating an offensive biological weapons program. [13] Libya's Rabta and Tarhunah chemical weapons facilities, and the General Health Laboratories medical facility near Tripoli, allegedly hosted Libya's limited BW research program. [14] Although the media speculated during the 2011 Libyan uprising that Qadhafi might use biological weapons against rebel forces, a U.S. Department of State report released in 2012 showed that "available information in 2011 did not indicate that...Libya...[was] engaged in activities prohibited by the BWC." [15]

Chemical

Libya no longer possesses an offensive chemical weapons program, but prior to renunciation of its WMD programs, Tripoli possessed a moderately capable chemical weapons arsenal. In the 1980s, Libya constructed three chemical weapons research, development, and production facilities at Rabta, Tarhuna, and Sebha. [16] Libya is often named as one of the few countries that deployed chemical weapons in a conflict, against its Southern neighbor Chad in 1987. After Libya's renunciation of WMD in 2003, U.S. and British officials visited Libya to inspect research and production facilities and assist with preparations for Libyan accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Libya became a party to the CWC in February 2004 and submitted a report to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in which it declared 24.7 metric tons of mustard agent and 1,390 metric tons of nerve agent precursor chemicals — an inventory miniscule in size compared with prevailing public U.S. intelligence assessments. [17] A subsequent independent U.S. government commission characterized the U.S. intelligence performance regarding Libyan CW as "modest," and indicated that overall assessments suffered from "fundamental analytical error." [18]

In November 2004 the OPCW granted a Libyan request to convert Rabta Pharmaceutical Factory 1 and Rabta Pharmaceutical Factory 2 (Phase II), which had served as chemical weapons production facilities, into pharmaceutical plants to produce low-cost vaccines and medicines. [19] In December 2006, Libya was granted an extension of the deadline for the final complete destruction of its CW stockpiles to December 2011. In February 2011 equipment malfunctions at the facility in Ruwagha followed by the outbreak of an armed uprising halted destruction operations. [20] Prior to the shutdown, Libya had eliminated all of its declared CW munitions and 13.5 metric tons (55%) of its known sulfur mustard stockpile. [21] Upon returning to the country after the end of the conflict in November 2011, the OPCW confirmed that the full stockpile of declared undestroyed sulfur mustard and precursors remained in place. [22] The Libyan transitional government also revealed the existence of two previously undeclared storage sites. [23] In January 2012 OPCW inspectors verified the presence of additional filled munitions and a small stockpile of sulfur mustard. [24] Under the supervision of the OPCW, Libyan officials transferred these chemical weapons to the destruction facility at Ruwagha. [25] From 2 April to 4 May 2013 Libya destroyed 8.82 metric tons of sulfur mustard at Ruwagha and by May 2013 Libya had destroyed 22.3 metric tons, or 85 percent of its Category 1 chemical weapons. [26] In February 2014, Libya declared that its stockpile of usable chemical weapons had been entirely destroyed, and indicated that it planned to complete destruction of its precursor chemicals by December 2016. [27]

Missile

Libya first acquired Scud-B missiles in the early 1970s from the Soviet Union. In the early 1980s, Libya accelerated its efforts to obtain longer-range ballistic missiles with the al-Fatah missile program, which had an envisioned range of approximately 1,000km. [28] Engineers formerly working for China and the German firm OTRAG allegedly provided technical and material assistance to the al-Fatah program, but the system was never completed. [29] After the United Nations suspended sanctions against Libya in 1999, which had crippled Tripoli's missile program, the country received increased technical and structural assistance from countries such as Iran, North Korea, China, India, and Russia. [30] In conjunction with its December 2003 agreement to renounce WMD, Libya pledged to eliminate ballistic missiles capable of traveling more than 300km with payloads of 500kg. [31] In October 2004, the U.S. State Department announced that it had verified the complete dismantlement of Libya's WMD programs, including its MTCR-class missiles. [32] Libya's current missile arsenal is outdated, consisting primarily of Soviet-era Scud B and FROG 7 systems acquired in the 1970s, and French-made Exocet anti-ship missiles. Libyan missile brigades remain in a state of disrepair, lacking organization, contemporary equipment, and capable personnel. However, in August 2011, Libyan forces launched three Scud-B missiles against rebel forces in the final stages of the Libyan civil war. [33] Prior to the removal from power of the Qadhafi regime, Libya planned to upgrade its missile forces with Russian equipment. According to a 2012 report by the U.S. Department of State however, "prior to the collapse of the Qadhafi regime in 2011, available information indicates Libya was acting consistently with the commitment it made publicly in December 2003." [34] Still, it remains unclear how the political changes in Tripoli will affect these plans. Libya is not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

Sources:
[1] Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, "OPCW Inspectors Verify Newly Declared Chemical Weapons Materials in Libya," OPCW News & Publications, 20 January 2012, www.opcw.org.
[2] Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, "OPCW Inspectors Verify Newly Declared Chemical Weapons Materials in Libya," OPCW News & Publications, 20 January 2012, www.opcw.org.
[3] Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, "Libya: Facts and Figures," www.opcw.org.
[4] "Libya 'Destroys all chemical weapons'," BBC, 4 February 2014, www.bbc.co.uk.
[5] Gordon Corera, Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity, and The Rise and Fall of the A.Q. Khan Network, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) pp. 106-126.
[6] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya," International Atomic Energy Agency, 20 February 2004, www.iaea.org.
[7] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya," International Atomic Energy Agency, 20 February 2004, www.iaea.org.
[8] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya," International Atomic Energy Agency, 12 September 2008, www.iaea.org.
[9] Kelsey Davenport, "Libyan Uranium Stocks Flagged for IAEA," Arms Control Association, January 9, 2014.
[10] "Biological, Libya, Proliferation," Jane's CBRN Assessments, 18 January 2010, www.janes.com.
[11] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats, Second ed. (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005), p. 324; and The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, "Report to the President of the United States," 31 March 2005, p. 255.
[12] "The Proliferation of Chemical and Biological Weapons Materials and Technologies to State and Sub-State Actors," Testimony by Jonathan B. Tucker before the Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services of the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs," 7 November 2001; and The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, "Report to the President of the United States," 31 March 2005, p. 255.
[13] Sharon Squassoni, "Disarming Libya: Weapons of Mass Destruction," CRS Report for Congress, 22 September 2006, http://fpc.state.gov.
[14] "Biological, Libya, Production Capability," Jane's CBRN Assessments, 18 January 2010, www.janes.com.
[15] Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments, prepared by the U.S. Department of State, August 2012, p. 8.
[16] "Chemical, Libya, Proliferation," Jane's CBRN Assessments, 20 January 2010, www.janes.com.
[17] "OPCW Inspectors Return to Libya," Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, www.opcw.org.
[18] The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, "Report to the President of the United States," 31 March 2005, pp. 258-260.
[19] Sharon Squassoni, "Disarming Libya: Weapons of Mass Destruction," CRS Report for Congress, 22 September 2006, http://fpc.state.gov.
[20] Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, "OPCW Inspectors Return to Libya," 4 November 2011, www.opcw.org.
[21] Arthur Max, "Watchdog says Libya destroys chemical weapons," Associated Press, 23 February 2011; "OPCW Inspectors Return to Libya," 4 November 2011, OPCW, www.opcw.org.
[22] "OPCW Inspectors Return to Libya," 4 November 2011, OPCW, www.opcw.org.
[23] Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, "OPCW Inspectors Verify Newly Declared Chemical Weapons Materials in Libya," OPCW News & Publications, 20 January 2012, www.opcw.org.
[24] Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, "OPCW Inspectors Verify Newly Declared Chemical Weapons Materials in Libya," OPCW News & Publications, 20 January 2012, www.opcw.org
[25] Jeremy Binnie, "Inspectors Confirm Ghadaffi Failed to Declare All Stocks of Chemical Weapons," Jane's Defence Weekly, 26 January 2012.
[26] "Libya Destroys Bulk Mustard Agent Stocks," Global Security Newswire, 7 May 2013, www.nti.org.
[27] "Libya 'Destroys all chemical weapons'," BBC, 4 February 2014, www.bbc.co.uk.
[28] "Briefing — Ballistic Missiles, Libya," Jane's Defence Weekly, 10 March 1999, www.janes.com.
[29] Joseph Bermudez, "Ballistic Missile in Development in Libya," Jane's Intelligence Review, 1 January 2003, www.janes.com.
[30] "Ballistic Missile Capabilities in the Middle East," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 2002, www.carnegieendowment.org.
[31] Sharon Squassoni, "Disarming Libya: Weapons of Mass Destruction," CRS Report for Congress, 22 September 2006, http://fpc.state.gov.
[32] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal, and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats, Second ed. (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005), p. 321.
[33] "NATO Says Gaddafi Forces Fire Three Scud-type Rockets," Reuters, 22 August 2011.
[34] Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments, prepared by the U.S. Department of State, (August 2012), p. 30.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Get the Facts on Libya

  • Purchased uranium enrichment technology and nuclear weapon design plans from the A.Q. Khan network
  • Still possesses 9 metric tonnes of mustard gas, with additional stores potentially discovered in late 2011
  • Received missile technology assistance from China, the DPRK, Germany and Iran