Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
U.K. Could Grab Libyan Mustard Agent, Sources Say
Elite British military personnel are preparing for a potential mission to take control of Libya's small stockpile of mustard blister agent, preventing the warfare material from being used against opposition forces to the Qadhafi regime or acquired by extremists, the London Telegraph reported today (see GSN, Feb. 28).
Members of the British army's Special Air Service are believed to already be in the North African country, where they helped safeguard hundreds of oil company employees.
Prior to the beginning of unrest in February, Libya had been working toward the elimination of its lethal chemical arsenal as mandated by the Chemical Weapons Convention. The nation is said to have destroyed more than 50 percent of its roughly 25-metric-ton cache of mustard agent. Libya was slated to eliminate its remaining stockpile by May, but achievement of that goal appears unlikely given ongoing fighting in the country, experts have said. The country also possesses chemical agent precursor materials.
The remaining mustard agent is reportedly in storage at Libya's Rabta chemical weapons site, located roughly 50 miles south of Tripoli (Winnett/Watt, London Telegraph I, March 2).
Opposition forces in possession of Zawiya, a city 30 miles west of Tripoli, on Monday repelled an attack from forces loyal to dictator Muammar Qadhafi. Regime supporters were also beaten back in their attempt to reoccupy the city of Zintan, located 75 miles south of the capital, the Associated Press reported (Maggie Michael, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, March 1).
The United States has yet to request that British special forces seize the chemical warfare agents held by Libya, U.K. sources said. Operations scenarios, however, are being developed to address "every eventuality," officials told the Telegraph.
One-time British Prime Minister John Major suggested that outside military intervention could occur if Qadhafi sought to use the lethal chemicals. Major recalled that during the first Gulf War, one of the primary military concerns was the potential for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to use his chemical arsenal against U.N. coalition forces.
"He didn’t. I think he understood that the world would descend upon him in the most terrible way if he did," Major said. "And I very much hope that the same point will apply to Colonel Qadhafi in Libya" (Winnett/Watt, London Telegraph I).
As Tripoli has already destroyed its stockpile of aerial munitions that could have carried the mustard agent, it would be difficult to leverage the remaining material in an air attack against opposition forces. However, the stockpile is "still a concern," a high-ranking U.K. source told the Telegraph (London Telegraph II, March 1).
A high-ranking U.S. official played down the Libyan chemical weapons security issue, saying that defenses around the blister agent and precursor materials -- stored in containers at three desert sites south of the capital -- had been strengthened following the outbreak of protests, the Washington Post reported on Monday.
The administration official would not detail how site security was strengthened or how the United States knew that the defenses had been bolstered.
The Post's accounting of where the chemical agent is held appears to differ from reports indicating the material was centrally located at the Rabta site.
“We have continued to urge the Libyans to safely complete destruction of their remaining chemical weapons agent as quickly as possible," the unidentified official said. "As part of that process, the Libyans have taken appropriate steps to secure their CW (chemical weapons) from unauthorized access."
He continued, "We have no information to suggest that recent events in Libya have impacted these security provisions or placed Libya’s CW material at risk of unauthorized access."
Washington, however, views "the possibility of CW material falling into the wrong hands (as) deeply concerning," the official said, stating that "we are doing what we can to maintain awareness as to the security of these materials."
"The entire stockpile of agent was supposed to have been destroyed in a destruction facility at Rabta, 65 kilometers southwest of Tripoli, by the end of last year, but because of delays only about 50 percent of the original 25 metric tons of agent has been destroyed to date," chemical weapons expert Jonathan Tucker said.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, "We believe that whatever they have at this point is not in weaponized form."
Another potential security concern is a nonmilitary atomic research reactor located in Tajura, roughly 10 miles east of the capital, British WMD expert Wyn Bowen said.
"It's something to think about in terms of securing," Bowen said (Jeff Stein, Washington Post, Feb. 28).
In 2003, Qadhafi announced he would give up his quest to acquire a nuclear weapon. The next year his government handed over equipment that included a largely complete bomb design and 4,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges capable of generating bomb-grade material (see GSN, March 1).
The U.S. Senate yesterday by unanimous consent approved a resolution calling for the imposition of an international no-fly zone across Libya, Agence France-Presse reported (Agence France-Presse/Channel News Asia, March 2).
The Obama administration, however, has notably not joined calls by British Prime Minister David Cameron for NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Libya, emphasizing instead a cautious approach to any potential military involvement in the conflict. Cameron appeared to backpedal on the matter as well and said the United Kingdom would not do anything more at this point than communicate with opposition forces, the London Guardian reported yesterday (London Guardian, March 1).
Nov. 8, 2013
This report is part of a collection examining implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to implement measures aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring NBC weapons, related materials, and their means of delivery. It details implementation efforts in Central America, South America and the Caribbean to-date.
Oct. 31, 2013
This CNS issue brief examines the lessons learned from dismantling Libya and Iraq's chemical weapons programs and what these two cases presage for disarmament in Syria. In particular, this article explores the challenges relating to ensuring material and physical security for both inspectors and the chemical weapons stockpile itself; verifying the accuracy and completeness of disclosed inventories; and developing effective monitoring and verification regimes for the long-term. The conclusion examines recommendations stemming from this analysis.
This article provides an overview of Libya’s historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.