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Libya

Biological

Last Updated: January, 2015

Libya signed the Geneva Protocol of 1925 in December 1971, but declared that if other signatory states threatened Libyan security by violating the protocol, Libya could do the same. [1] Libya then signed the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention (BTWC) without reservations in 1982. [2] Between 1982 and late 2003, and particularly in the 1990s, Libya faced repeated allegations that it was pursuing  an offensive biological warfare (BW) capability and had produced limited quantities of proscribed biological agents. In December 2003, Libya renounced its pursuit of all WMD development activities, including BW. [3]

Inspections following the 2003 WMD renunciation, however, revealed "no evidence of an expected small scale Libyan biological weapons program has been uncovered." [4] As of 2005, U.S. intelligence reports refused to confirm that Libya ever sought or actively pursued biological weapons. [5] Additionally, Libya's official chemical weapons declarations, confirmed by international inspectors, revealed a much less sophisticated capability than intelligence assessments during the 1990's had depicted. [6] While fewer written accounts of Libya's biological weapons program exist, a similar overestimation may have occurred. Since the overthrow of the Qadhafi regime in 2011, Libyan authorities have cooperated in full with the international nonproliferation community and have indicated no interest in reconstituting a WMD program. Moreover, since Libya’s historical BW program remains unconfirmed, and given that Libya still lacks the infrastructure and human capital to support advanced dual-use research, near-term Libyan pursuit of biological weapons appears unrealistic. [7]

History

Throughout the 1990s, various assessments identified Libya as a probable violator of its BTWC obligations. U. S. Department of State Compliance Reports from 1991 to 2001 consistently cited unspecified evidence that Libya, "[was] seeking to acquire the capability to develop and produce BW agents." [8] In 1993, Russian Foreign Intelligence offered the assessment that "there is information that Libya is engaged in initial testing in the area of biological weapons." [9] Between 1993 and 1995, Dr. Wouter Basson, the architect of South Africa's biological weapons project, made numerous trips to Tripoli. [10] By early 1995, U.S. intelligence sources claimed that Libyan leader Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi was attempting to recruit South African scientists previously involved in developing weapons used to assassinate opponents of the apartheid regime for Libya's own biological weapons program. [11]

In 1996, the U.S. Department of Defense alleged that the Libyan BW program "[was] in the early research and development stage." [12] Libya's BW capabilities allegedly included an unconfirmed number of microbial and toxin agents, although Libya reportedly had not yet succeeded in its efforts to develop effective delivery systems. [13] Despite lacking any firm information pointing to the locations of the facilities believed to be manufacturing BW agents, experts proceeded to publicly speculate that Libya's chemical weapons plants at Rabta and Tarhunah, might also contain biological research facilities. [14] Failing to identify the purpose of 2,000 miles of piping at Rabta and Tarhunah, observers began raising alarms about a potential clandestine biological weapons facility. [15]

However, even if Libya possessed agents, Joshua Sinai notes that its program lacked weaponization capabilities and would have needed several years to develop them. [16] From a state military perspective, biological agents are useful only insofar as they can survive the processes of being attached to missile warheads or other delivery systems and are subsequently disseminated and dispersed at the proper altitude. [17] Nevertheless, the possibility that Libya possessed BW agents not only would have represented progress in this direction, but also raised bioterrorism concerns in light of Qadhafi’s record of supporting terrorism. [18]

In 1998, a U.S. congressional task force report alleged that Iraqi-Libyan chemical and biological weapons collaboration dating back to the early 1990s. Specifically, the report claimed that Libya had agreed to sustain and fund the Iraqi nuclear program in exchange for biological weapons technologies. [19] Additionally, the report alleged that Iraq had sent a dozen scientists to Tripoli to develop General Health Laboratories, reportedly a biological warfare complex disguised as a medical facility, and that Libya was particularly interested in anthrax and botulism. [20] May 2002 allegations that Libya had been seeking to acquire BW technology from Cuba further damaged Libya's international relations, especially with the United States. [21] A November 2003 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report concluded that "evidence suggested that Libya also sought dual-use capabilities that could be used to develop and produce BW agents." [22] Importantly, although the CIA reported dual-use equipment acquisition, it stopped short of fully alleging that Libya sponsored a BW program. Throughout this time period, from 1993 to 2001, U.S. WMD compliance reports consistently listed Libya as a likely BTWC violator. [23]

In December 2003, after a period of lengthy negotiations with the United States and the United Kingdom, Libya agreed to open its WMD programs to international inspection and accept their elimination in return for a normalization of its international relations.

Recent Developments and Current Status

As part of its announcement on 19 December 2003 that it would dismantle its WMD programs, Tripoli also agreed to adhere to its BTWC commitments. Following this announcement, U.S. and British representatives entered Libya to monitor and verify the destruction of Libya's WMD. Inspectors did not locate evidence of an advanced BW program, but they did corroborate that Libya possessed a limited BW research and development program. Although U.S. and British inspectors met with many Libyan officials, scientists, and technicians, they were not able to fully clarify the extent of the Libyan BW effort. Their Libyan interlocutors either denied any knowledge of the existence of an offensive BW program, or claimed that such work had not progressed beyond planning before being cancelled at the express order of Libyan leader Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi.

However, despite efforts to procure dual-use technologies, Libya did not have the technological capabilities to weaponize biological agents irrespective of any interest in doing so. In return for accepting international inspections, Libya expected the trade sanctions imposed since 1992 to be lifted, and the United States responded by lifting WMD-related sanctions in 2004. [24] In 2006, the U.S. Department of State removed Libya from its list of State Sponsors of Terror, resulting in the lifting of further sanctions. [25] Although the media speculated during the 2011 Libyan uprising that Qadhafi might use biological weapons against rebel forces, Jean Pascal Zanders astutely observed that "Libya is unlikely to use biological weapons because it has none." [26] A 2012 U.S. Department of State report further supports this conclusion stating that "available information in 2011 did not indicate that...Libya...[was] engaged in activities prohibited by the BWC." [27]

Since international inspections revealed no evidence of a biological weapons effort, it is unlikely that the Libyan government sponsored any extensive covert initiatives. As of 2005, U.S. intelligence could not confirm any historical Libyan desire for biological weapons. [28] Therefore, if Libya decided to pursue a biological weapons program in the future, it would likely be forced to rely on its dual-use infrastructure to build up that program. Despite better access to legitimate international commerce since 2003, Libya has a very small civilian biotechnology community, and its biosciences infrastructure remains ill-equipped for undertaking a biological weapons program. [29] While Libyan publication activity has increased significantly for bioscience since 2003, it remains miniscule when compared with the activities of Egypt, Israel, South Africa, Iraq, and even individual U.S. institutions. [30] The global bioscience industry, which relies heavily upon university collaboration and industrial clusters, will continue to find Libya to be an unattractive investment opportunity in the near-term. [31] It is therefore unlikely that Libya will possess a robust biosciences dual-use infrastructure anytime in the foreseeable future.

Sources:
[1] Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), SIPRI Yearbook 1980 (Taylor & Francis Ltd. and Crane, Russak & Company, 1980), pp. 376-378.
[2] "Ratifications to the BTWC," SIPRI, 1995-2004, projects.sipri.se.
[3] Patrick E. Tyler, "Qaddafi's New Tune Confounds," The New York Times, December 30, 2003, www.iht.com; "Libya to Eliminate Weapons of Mass Destruction," JANA, December 19, 2003, in FBIS Document GMP20031219000267, December 19, 2003.
[4] "Unclassified Version of the Report of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction," Washington, DC, Government Printing Office, 2005, p. 253, www.gpoaccess.gov.
[5] The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, "Report to the President of the United States," March 31, 2005, p. 255.
[6] Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, "Initial Inspection in Libya Completed" OPCW News and Publications, March 22, 2004, www.opcw.org; Judith Miller, "World Briefing Middle East: Libya: Inspectors Confirm Chemical Arms," The New York Times, March 23, 2004, p. 14.
[7] The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, "Report to the President of the United States," March 31, 2005, p. 255.
[8] Milton Leitenberg, Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat (Carslile, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, United States Army War College, December 2005), p. 13; and the 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 2001 editions of: U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control and Nonproliferation Agreements and Commitments."
[9] Russian Federation Foreign Intelligence Service (translation), "Proliferation Issues: A New Challenge After the Cold War, Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction," March 5, 1993.
[10] Tom Manigold and Jeff Goldberg, Plague Wars (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1997), pp. 268-275.
[11] James Adams, "Libya Reportedly Seeking Biological Weapons Program; South African Angle," The Sunday Times, February 26, 1995, p. 1.
[12] Proliferation: Threat and Response (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, April 1996), p. 27.
[13] Philip Finnegan, "Libya Ceases Work on Chem Factory," Defense News, December 16-22, 1996, p. 1.
[14] Joshua Sinai, "Libya's Pursuit of WMD," The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 4, No. 3, Spring-Summer 1997, pp. 92-99.
[15] Bill Gertz, "Satellites Spot Poison-Bomb Plant in Libya," The Washington Times, March 5, 1991, p. 3; Tom Manigold and Jeff Goldberg, Plague Wars (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1997), p. 268.
[16] Joshua Sinai, "Libya's Pursuit of WMD," The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 4, No. 3, Spring-Summer 1997, pp. 92-99.
[17] Joshua Sinai, "Libya's Pursuit of WMD," The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 4, No. 3, Spring-Summer 1997, pp. 92-99.
[18] Joshua Sinai, "Libya's Pursuit of WMD," The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 4, No. 3, Spring-Summer 1997, pp. 92-99.
[19] Yossef Bodansky, "The Iraq WMD Challenge — Myths and Reality," U.S. House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, February 10, 1998.
[20] Yossef Bodansky, "The Iraq WMD Challenge — Myths and Reality," U.S. House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, February 10, 1998.
[21] "Cuba Markets WMD Technology to Iran, Libya," Vol. 4, No. 180, Middle East Newsline, May 15, 2002, www.menewsline.com; "U.S. Warns Libya, Syria to End WMD Programs," Vol. 4, No. 168, Middle East News, May 7, 2002, www.menewsline.com.
[22] CIA, "Attachment A: Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, January 1 to June 30, 2003."
[23] Milton Leitenberg, Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, United States Army War College, December 2005), p. 13; U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control and Nonproliferation Agreements and Commitments," 2001.
[24] "Bush Eases Many Sanctions on Libya," Reuters, April 24, 2004.
[25] Elise Labott, "U.S. to restore relations with Libya," CNN, May 15, 2006, www.cnn.com.
[26] The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, "Report to the President of the United States," March 31, 2005, p. 255.
[27] 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.
[28] Jean Pascal Zanders, "Uprising in Libya: The False Specter of Chemical Warfare," WMD Junction, May 19, 2011, www.nonproliferation.org.
[29] "Egypt and Libya discuss scientific cooperation," MENA (Cairo), April 27, 2003, in LexisNexis Academic Universe, www.lexisnexis.com.
[30] A Scopus® affiliation search for "Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" yields a total of 18 institutions that have published 325 biomedical research papers since 2004, with over 10% of these publications appearing in Libyan journals. Libyan research has yet to appear in any of the Institute for Scientific Information's top 10 impact factor journals. Comparisons over the same period of time with Egypt (150 institutions, 19,994 bioscience publications), South Africa (454 institutions, 30,363 bioscience publications with 342 in high impact factor journals), Israel (261 institutions, 57,560 bioscience publications with 1,454 in high impact factor journals), and Iraq (48 institutions, 842 bioscience publications with 5 in high impact factor journals) provide necessary context. Also note that the University of California at Berkeley, the most prolific publishing institution in the United States, on its own produced 18,291 bioscience publications with 1,579 in high impact factor journals.
[31] National Research Council, Innovation in Global Industries: U.S. Firms Competing in a New World (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2008), pp. 231-271.

Get the Facts on Libya
  • Purchased uranium enrichment technology and nuclear weapon design plans from the A.Q. Khan network
  • Still possesses 846 MT of chemical precursors slated for destruction by December 2016
  • Received missile technology assistance from China, the DPRK, Germany and Iran

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury 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. Copyright 2016.