Was Libyan WMD Disarmament a Significant Success for Nonproliferation?

Was Libyan WMD Disarmament a Significant Success for Nonproliferation?

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Sammy Salama

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies


In a stunning declaration on December 19, 2003, the Libyan government announced its intention to fully disarm its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) arsenal. The Libyan government charted this new course after many years of diplomatic and economic isolation, which was the product of its rogue behavior in past decades. In addition, Libya's announcement that it would unilaterally disarm its entire WMD arsenal came on the heels of nine months of secret negotiations with American and British officials. It appears clear that Libya's decision was to some strong degree the result of diplomatic carrots and sticks, but certainly a variety of factors may have influenced Libya's decision to renounce its WMD arsenal and pursue unilateral disarmament at this time.

This issue brief will examine the reasons behind Libya decision to disarm, the benefits that Libya's unilateral disarmament has provided to the United States, and the true extent of Libya's WMD arsenal, including an assessment of whether these programs had in fact been exaggerated for political effect. Also, this brief will attempt to answer the question of whether Libya's decision to disarm and give up its WMD arsenal was indeed a significant success for nonproliferation.

In a stunning declaration on December 19, 2003, the Libyan government announced its intention to fully disarm its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) arsenal, stating:

In view of the international environment that prevailed during the Cold War and the tension in the Middle East, the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah (GSPLAJ) has urged the countries in the region to make the Middle East and Africa a region free of the weapons of mass destruction. As its calls have received no serious response, the GSPLAJ had sought to develop its defense capabilities. Libyan experts have conducted talks with experts from the U.S. and the UK on GSPLAJ activities in this field. The Libyan experts showed their (U.S. and UK) counterparts the substances, equipment and programs that could lead to production of internationally banned weapons. These are centrifuging machine and equipment to carry chemical substances….

According to the talks held between the GSPLAJ, the USA and the UK, which are two permanent members of the (UN) Security Council that is responsible for the preservation of international peace and security, Libya has decided, with its own free will, to get rid of these substances, equipment and programs and to be free from all internationally banned weapons. Libya has also decided to restrict itself to missiles with a range that comply with the standards of the MTCR surveillance system. It will take all these measures in a transparent way that could be proved, including accepting immediate international inspection.

The Libyan government charted this new course after many years of diplomatic and economic isolation, which was the product of its rogue behavior in past decades. In addition, Libya's announcement that it would unilaterally disarm its entire WMD arsenal came on the heels of nine months of secret negotiations with American and British officials. Subsequent to its December 2003 declaration, Libya signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in January 2004 and the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in March. It appears clear that Libya's decision was to some strong degree the result of diplomatic carrots and sticks, but certainly a variety of factors may have influenced Libya's decision to renounce its WMD arsenal and pursue unilateral disarmament at this time. Among them, two of the most prominent considerations were the prospect of lifting American economic sanctions and the resumption of trade with the United States, and Libyan leader Mu'amar Gadhdhafi's likely fear of a preemptive attack and regime change in Tripoli following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in the spring of 2003 and the ensuing occupation of Iraq by U.S.-led coalition forces.

This issue brief will examine the reasons behind Libya decision to disarm, the benefits that Libya's unilateral disarmament has provided to the United States, and the true extent of Libya's WMD arsenal, including an assessment of whether these programs had in fact been exaggerated for political effect. Also, this brief will attempt to answer the question of whether Libya's decision to disarm and give up its WMD arsenal was indeed a significant success for nonproliferation.

The Reasons Behind Libya's Unilateral Disarmament

Tripoli's decision to disarm has provided Libya with formidable long term diplomatic and economic benefits. Libya is able to rejoin the community of nations as a member in good standing after decades of being ostracized as a rogue state. Libya's branding as a rogue state was imposed by various prominent members of the international community, and was due largely to Libya's past support for terrorism in the 1980s, including its complicity in the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, many of whom were Americans. These past nefarious activities caused the individual countries such as the United States to impose sanctions on Libya, as well as the United Nations (UN). In turn, Libya's decision to forego its WMD programs was preceded by a long-negotiated agreement to financially compensate the Pan Am victims' families with $2.7 billion, which together allows Libya to come in from the cold, having made reparation for its past deeds and demonstrating a willingness to turn a new page with the international community. The settling of these outstanding issues and concerns were the predicate necessary for Libya to rejoin the community of nations.

In addition to the diplomatic gains, Tripoli's decision to give up its WMD arsenal has brought about the end of the crippling economic sanctions under which the country has long suffered. Indeed, Libya stands to gain significantly from increased trade with the West and resultant income from oil sales. Prior to the UN and U.S. economic sanctions that began in 1980s and that included a U.S. ban on the purchase of Libyan oil by American companies, the United States had been a major consumer of Libyan oil. The sanctions, however, left Libya unable to sell its most profitable export, which caused the country's economy to suffer greatly. The UN sanctions were suspended in April 1999 after Libya extradited the two suspects accused of bombing Pan Am 103 to stand trial in Scotland. It was not until Libya's decision to surrender its WMD arsenal and end its support for terrorism, however, that the U.S. government suspended many U.S. economic sanctions, thus permitting American oil companies to invest and trade with Libya once again. These developments will provide a several billion dollar infusion into the Libyan economy and new jobs for thousands of Libyans.

In addition, it has been argued by many supporters of the Bush administration's post-9/11 policy of preemption that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq influenced Qadhdhafi, who wanted to avoid sharing his fate. Among the proponents of this view, U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abrams stated that the invasion of Iraq "did not escape the attention of the Libyan leadership." Many have drawn a more direct correlation between Libya's decision to capitulate to international demands and the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S.-led coalition forces. They point to the timing of Libya's concessions less than a week after the capture of Saddam Hussein 10 miles south of Tikrit, and the reported statements of Libyan President Qadhdhafi to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi including, "I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid." Under-Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith drew a direct link between Libya and the Bush administration policy of preemption, stating that Libya decision to unilaterally disarm and "open up" was a victory for the Bush administrations global war on terrorism. Mr. Feith has commented that Qadhdhafi wanted to get off Washington's bad list and "it became more urgent for him to get off the bad list when he saw the fate of the Taliban regime and the Saddam Hussein regime."

Others disagree, however, arguing that Libya's disarmament had little to do with the invasion and occupation of Iraq. According to this view, Libya's decision to disarm reflects the tail-end of many years of diplomacy between Libya and the West that was aimed at resolving various issues, including Libya's compensation for the families of the Pan Am 103 terrorist bombing, Libya's overall support for terrorism, the lifting of economic sanctions, and the surrender of Libya's WMD arsenal. In fact, former Clinton administration official Martin Indyk indicated that as early as May 1999, at the outset of secret negotiations with American officials, Libya offered to give up its WMD arsenal. At that time, Tripoli was suffering through major economic difficulties brought on by the ongoing international sanctions and flawed domestic economic policies. In particular, Libya was unable to import oilfield technologies necessary to expand their oil production due to the economic sanctions. Libyan President Qadhdhafi is said to have realized at some point that in order to relieve Libya's economic strife, he needed to mend fences with the United States. Mr. Indyk has explained that at the time the U.S. government was more concerned with resolving issues related to the Pan Am 103 attack, including securing compensation for the victims' families and getting Libya out of the terrorism business. It was assessed then that Libya's modest chemical weapons arsenal and infant nuclear program were not an imminent threat, and as a result, there was no urgency driving the U.S. to accept Libya's offer to surrender its WMD. This, in turn, raises questions about whether the Bush administration and Tony Blair's administration in the United Kingdom chose to have Libya declare its intention to relinquish its WMD programs in December 2003 in order to imply the success of American and British actions in Iraq.

Benefits for the United States from Libya's Disarmament

The Libyan decision to disarm was undoubtedly a great political victory for the Bush and Blair administrations. Though it remains debatable whether Libya's disarmament came as a result of Qadhdhafi's fear of invasion, or his desire to get the economic and diplomatic sanctions lifted off Libya, or perhaps a combination of both, the fact that the United States and its allies were able to disarm an established rogue regime without using force or having to directly commit military or economic assets, was a coup of sorts. Unlike Iraqi disarmament which required many years of diplomatic jousting, full United Nations sanctions, and two major military conflicts in 1991 and 2003, the disarmament of Libya did not cost the United States any treasure or military lives. That alone is a major diplomatic victory for President Bush and the Prime Minister Blair.

On the practical side, Libya's decision and the resulting end to economic sanctions allows the emergence of a new supply of oil that is outside the Persian Gulf and overseen by a secular regime. Currently, Libya is estimated to possess a formidable 36 billion barrel natural oil reserve, which the Libyans look forward to selling to the United States for a hefty profit. And conveniently, Libya's announcement of its intention to disarm comes at a time when the United States is attempting to reduce its dependence on Saudi Arabia's oil amid concerns related to the Saudi domestic landscape and the increased insecurity of Americans in Saudi Arabia. While Libya's oil reserves account for less than 14% of Saudi Arabia's immense oil reserves, access to Libyan oil does provide the United States with some important advantages. First, Libya is an extremely secular Arab regime that has no connections to fundamentalist jihadi networks such as al-Qai'da. This means that unlike in Saudi Arabia or other such nations, Libya's current government is a stable entity that does not face an upsurge of domestic religious fundamentalism. There are no suicide bombings, nor attacks against, or kidnappings of, westerners in Libya. Secondly, due to the secular orientation of the Libyan people and government, western visitors and workers will surely be treated favorably, most importantly as sources of increased income for Libya. Indeed, after many years of economic sanctions, the Libyan government and its citizenry are eager to export their oil and improve the economic situation in their country. Moreover, unlike Saudi Arabia which is considered the holy soil of Muslims and therefore is perceived to be off limits to westerners by Islamic fundamentalists, Libya has no such stature and, as a result, the presence of large number of Americans and westerners in the country is not likely to enrage anyone.

Equally important, Libya's decision to abandon its WMD programs and mend fences with the West will also benefit the West through getting Libya's help in the global war against al-Qai'da. The secular Libyan regime is a genuine enemy of al-Qai'da and Usama bin Laden's brand of jihadi fundamentalism, and likewise, the Libyan government sees such fundamentalist jihadi organizations as the foremost threat to their rule. While it is not often publicized, the Qadhdhafi regime issued the first official international Interpol arrest warrant against bin Laden and three of his associates on March 16, 1998. bin Laden remains wanted by the Libyan government for killing two German citizens in Libya on March 10, 1994. One of the two victims is believed to have been a German counter-intelligence officer. In this regard, Libya is an important American ally in the war against terrorism. Libya can and does provide the West with important intelligence on al-Qai'da's network in North Africa. Due to their mastery of the Arabic language and cultural mannerisms, Libyan intelligence agents can be an even greater asset to their western counterparts in identifying and penetrating al-Qai'da outfits and cells, which is certainly a much needed skill in the current global war against terrorism.

Were Libya's Nuclear Capabilities Exaggerated for Political Effect?

It appears that in the eagerness to take credit for Libya's WMD disarmament as a validation of their policy of preemption, some Bush administration officials may have exaggerated the true extent and potential of Libya's nuclear program. On March 15, 2004 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, American officials displayed 55,000 pounds of nuclear equipment and components, and more than 4,000 centrifuges that were removed from Libya two months earlier in January. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham proclaimed the surrender of Libya's nuclear equipment as a "big, big victory" for nonproliferation, claiming that it constituted "the largest recovery, by weight, ever conducted under U.S. nonproliferation efforts." Another administration official stated, "A year ago it would have been hard to imagine we would be sitting here in a parking lot in Tennessee looking at centrifuge from the Libyan nuclear weapons program. A year ago Libya did not admit to having a weapons program." A Republican congressman from Tennessee called on the voters in England to see for themselves the consequences of Prime Minister Blair's "courage" for allying himself with President Bush.

However, upon closer examination of what was actually displayed in Oak Ridge, some nonproliferation specialists have become doubtful of the administration's claims. David Albright, former nuclear inspector and current head of the Institute for Science and International Security, has stated that official claims about the Oak Ridge display were not true, and that the 4,000 centrifuges discussed and partly shown in the display were only the centrifuge casings, not entire operational centrifuges that include the rotors. Mr. Albright stated, "We doubt they had more than two which had rotors…. make no mistake, the Libyan program was very serious and we're glad it's stopped… The problem from our point of view is that the White House, which basically organized the briefing, is so focused on claiming credit that it's willing to exaggerate."

Fully operational gas centrifuges contain approximately 100 components, but the vast majority of gas centrifuges brought from Libya did not contain many of the internal components that are crucial for their operation, including rotors that spin at supersonic speeds to enrich uranium hexafloride gas. Without these internal components, these machines have no nuclear utility. It appears that Libya had the centrifuge casings but did not posses many of the internal components that are much more difficult to manufacture and to obtain. Hence, Libya was actually several years away from obtaining any real uranium enrichment capability and, in essence, had no actual ability to produce nuclear weapons.

It is unclear why some members of the Bush administration may have fallen victim to political opportunism in the form of exaggerating Libya's nuclear capability. This is perplexing simply because Libya's disarmament is quite significant regardless of how many active centrifuges or other materials Libya actually possessed. At the most basic level, Libya was a genuine rogue regime that had pursued various WMD programs. Libya is also one of the few nations to actually deploy WMD on the battlefield since the end of the World War II, which reportedly occurred when it used chemical bombs filled with mustard gas against Chadian forces in 1987. Combined with Libya's known support for terrorism, there was no need to stretch or exaggerate the facts about Libya's nuclear capability, as disarming a leader like Qadhdhafi of his WMD and convincing him to turn his back on terror, can be viewed as a significant political victory for any U.S. administration, regardless of the actual nuclear inventory on hand.

Extent of Libya's Actual WMD Arsenal as Disclosed Post-December 2003


  • 1.7 tons of UF6 gas.
  • 9-machine L-1 gas centrifuge cascade, complete and under vacuum with all the needed pipes, electrical connections and process equipment installed.
  • 19-machine L-1 gas centrifuge cascade. Ten of the centrifuges were installed but not under vacuum.
  • 64-machine L-1 gas centrifuge cascade. Rotors placed in a position ready for installation, but not yet fully installed.
  • Parts for additional 128 L-1 gas centrifuges.
  • Two L-2 gas centrifuges.
  • 13 kilograms of 80% HEU-235 and 3 kilograms of uranium, in the form of fresh fuel inside fuel assemblies
  • Approximately 4,000 casings for L-2 gas centrifuges. It is not clear how many if any of these casings contained the rotors needed to operate the machine.
  • Additional parts for L-2 gas centrifuges.
  • 2,263 tons of uranium oxide that could potentially be converted to UF6 gas, then enriched if the Libyans eventually were to develop adequate conversion and enrichment capabilities.

Gas centrifuges are the machines needed to enrich Uranium. UF6 is the uranium gas that is fed into gas centrifuges and spun at extremely high speeds to produce enriched uranium. L-1 is the designation for an old European gas centrifuge design also known as the P-1 or G-1. L-2 is a more advanced gas centrifuge design that uses rotors made of maraging steel as opposed to the L-1's aluminum rotors. It has been alleged that A.Q. Khan, the illustrative so-called father of Pakistan nuclear bomb program, stole blue prints for the L-1 and L-2 centrifuge designs when he was an employee of the European nuclear consortium named Urenco in the 1970s. Some assert that Pakistan built its enrichment process by duplicating these designs, which came to be known as P-1 and P-2. Enriching the amount of U-235 needed for the production of one nuclear bomb requires running approximately six tons of UF6 gas in 750 gas centrifuges for one year. As is evident from the inventory of actual nuclear components and equipment that were in Libya's possession, Tripoli was far away from achieving an adequate enrichment capability necessary to produce sufficient quantities of HEU and from achieving any real nuclear weapon production capability.


  • 3,563 unfilled chemical aerial bombs.
  • 23 tons stockpile of mustard gas.
  • 1,300 tons of chemical precursors that could be used to produce Sarin and other chemical agents.

All of these materials related to Libya's chemical arsenal were destroyed under United Nations (OPCW) supervision in March 2004 or thereafter.


  • 5 Scud-C missiles with a range of 800km.
  • Hundreds of Scud-B missiles with a range of 300km.

As part of its unilateral disarmament and the surrender of all its WMD arsenals, the Libyan government promised U.S. officials that it would comply with the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and either destroy or convert its ballistic missile arsenal into shorter range defensive weapons. As of December 2003, the Libyans committed themselves to limiting their entire missile arsenal to a 300km range. As for the five Scud-C missiles that Libya had received from North Korea, Tripoli sent the missiles to United States for "safekeeping." Tripoli has also promised to end all military trade with North Korea. As for the hundreds of Scud-Bs that Tripoli received mainly from Moscow during their Cold War-era alliance, the Libyans have pledged to carry out irreversible modifications in order to limit the missiles' range and to convert them into purely defensive systems. Libya has even agreed to allow U.S. and British officials to monitor the conversions and modifications to their ballistic missile arsenal.

Overall, when reviewing the actual inventory of Libya's nuclear, missile and chemical programs, it easily apparent that Libya possessed a modest WMD arsenal in comparison to other rogue regimes. The only WMD or related delivery systems that Libya actually possessed were their chemical and missile arsenals. Although Tripoli admitted to its past attempts to obtain biological weapons, no evidence up to this point have been found to support a substantive Libyan biological program. In addition, Libya's modern chemical weapons arsenal was outdated and modest. Moreover, Libya's nuclear program was relatively young in scope in comparison to other states that are pursing nuclear technologies, such as North Korea and Iran. Finally, although Libya possessed a good number of ballistic missiles, only a few were of significant range and load capability. The Libyans did not test the missiles that boasted a consequential range, including the Korean supplied Scud-C that is believed to be capable of traveling 800km. In short, Libya's arsenal of WMD was relatively modest and did not provide the country with an adequate deterrent against established military powers.

Was Libyan WMD Disarmament a Success for Nonproliferation? Absolutely!

In spite of the earlier noted exaggerations of the maturity of the Libyan arsenal by some U.S. officials, which was possibly to make Libya's disarmament appear more dramatic, Libya's decision to disarm unilaterally is nevertheless very significant to nonproliferation efforts for the following reasons:

First, it removed an additional WMD arsenal from the hands of a rogue regime. Simply put, from a non-proliferation standpoint, the fewer WMD arsenals there are in the world, the better it is, regardless of their size or potency. Libya's decision to disarm certainly eliminated many tons of mustard gas and heralded the surrender of various equipment, parts and designs that may potentially be used for nuclear weapon production. Given that Libya is one of the few nations since World War II to actually have deployed and used WMD in battle, this disarmament is undoubtedly significant.

Second, Libya's decision to disarm exposed the nuclear black market scheme emanating from Pakistan and helped to shut it down. Libyan admissions to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about where they were able to procure their materials, equipment and designs were the most definitive expose of A.Q. Khan's role in the vast black market network. In spite of years of denials, these revelations by Libya forced the Pakistani government to acknowledge its role in these black market networks, which caused the network to unravel and prompted a public apology from Khan on Pakistani national television. While the role of Pakistan in supplying nuclear fissile material enrichment technologies to North Korea and Iran was revealed and discussed prior to Libya's decision to unilaterally disarm, the Libyan revelations put Khan and his black market associates on center stage. These revelations began when Saif Qadhadafi, the son of the Libyan president, publicly admitted in an interview with the London's Sunday Times that Libya paid "millions of pounds" for nuclear technology from Pakistan. He said, "We dealt with an underground network of middle men and secret workshops… This piece from here, that piece from there." Shortly after these revelations emerged, Pakistan's nuclear black market ring became the center of global media frenzy and official inquiries. It was revealed that in return for the millions of pounds that Libya paid to Khan and his network, the Libyans received tens of P-1 Gas Centrifuges and parts for 128 more, UF6 gas, and manufactured parts for thousands of P-2 gas centrifuges from Scomi Precision Engineering in Malaysia. In addition, it appears that as a bonus, Khan's Khan Research Labs (KRL) provided the Libyans with an old Chinese nuclear warhead design. The Pakistanis supplied documents that included step-by-step detailed instructions on how to assemble an implosion-type nuclear warhead. These instructions were reportedly wrapped in two white plastic shopping bags from Good Looks Tailor, a Pakistani clothing shop.

In total, these revelations made by Libya to the IAEA and the U.S. government forced Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to admit his country's role in the nuclear black market and to fire Khan, a national hero in Pakistan, from his post as scientific advisor and place him under informal house arrest. On February 5, 2004, Khan publicly admitted and apologized for his role in the nuclear black market telling his countrymen on national television that, "I take full responsibility for my actions and seek your pardon." Later in February, however, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf expressed anger during a televised speech about Libya's revelations that exposed Pakistan's culpability in the black market transfer of nuclear weapons technology, calling Libya's (and Iran's) behavior the betrayal of Pakistan by its "Muslim brothers."

And yet, the Libyans have remained unapologetic about their revelations to the IAEA, likely because the Pakistani nuclear transfers were not an act of charity among "Muslim brothers", but rather a business arrangement that cost Libya many millions of dollars over the years. More so, it has become known that some of the equipment Libya received through the Pakistani black market network was second-grade and, in some cases, even defective. For these reasons, it does not appear that the Libyans felt any sense of overwhelming gratitude or an obligation to participate in a cover-up to the benefit Pakistan. And, in turn, Libya's revelations helped to decidedly expose long-suspected dealings that had the potential to threaten international security.

Third, Libya's decision to disarm unilaterally sends a message to other proliferators and rogue regimes that they too can come in from the cold to rejoin the international community, provided of course that they too give up their WMD and support for terrorism. It is too soon to tell if any other rogue regimes will follow suit, but an important example has been set by the Libyan case. In abandoning its WMD and committing itself to financially compensate the victims of its sponsorship of terrorism, a regime that for two decades was considered among the foremost rogue regimes in the world was able to begin a new chapter with the West.

Fourth and perhaps most important, the Libyan disarmament was a victory to the so-called soft approach, which is a pattern for disarmament that may be utilized more effectively in the future. In essence, Libya's disarmament may be seen as the largest gun buyback program in history and similar to the types of programs in urban areas where local police departments offer cash inducement for turning in guns, no questions asked. In Libya's case, this approach was able to secure the full disarmament of a rogue regime without a direct military confrontation. As seen in Iraq, the cost of disarmament through military engagement has resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 American soldiers as well as thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians. The Iraqi action will also cost hundreds of billions of dollars, while turning a once-stable secular country into a hub of radical fundamentalist Islamist terrorism. The Libyan case clearly offers an alternate approach in which not a single American or Libyan is killed, and in an arrangement that actually will prove financially profitable for both countries. This model for disarmament may become a benchmark arrangement to bring other rogue regimes in the Middle East to adhere to nonproliferation agendas, including surrendering their WMD arsenals in return for greater inclusion in the international community and other financial inducements.

Specifically, under certain circumstances and with proper such inducements, it is possible that Syria and Iran could be induced to adhere to a similar disarmament arrangement. Of course, the situation in these other Middle East regimes is quite different from the case with Libya. Iran is a nation with extensive nuclear and missile programs that have progressed far further both in size and scope than Libya's infant nuclear program and modest chemical and missile arsenal. Furthermore, Iran is territorially much larger and more populated with a far more sizable conventional military capability than Libya. Iran also maintains connections to political and militant organizations in the Middle East that are capable of exacting a heavy price on the United States in the event of a preemptive invasion under the auspices of disarming the country of its WMD. In addition, Iran is a significant exporter of oil to the global market and enjoys extensive trade with Russia, Europe and Saudi Arabia. As a result, Iran does not share Libya's economic near-desperation, which in turn put Qadhdhafi in a more amenable position. In short then, Iran is currently in a much stronger political, military and economic position than Libya, and thus, for Iran to unilaterally relinquish its nuclear and missile programs would take far more involved diplomatic negotiations that address the grievances of both the United States and Iran. Iran will require significant diplomatic and economic incentives from the West that Libya was not in a position to demand.

As for Syria, it shares many similarities with Libya. During the Cold War, Syria was a Soviet client state that received military and financial aid from the USSR. As a result of the end of the Cold War, Syria lost its major diplomatic and military backer. Since then, Syria has been relatively isolated both diplomatically and economically, though it enjoys trade and relatively good relations with Europe. Syria's bilateral trade with the European Union amounts to approximately $7.2 billion, which amounts to approximately 60% of Syria's export tally. Meanwhile, in May 2004 the Bush administration imposed U.S. economic sanctions on Damascus due to its alleged support of the Lebanese Hizbollah and Palestinian militant groups, and for its failure to stop militants from entering post-war Iraq where they reportedly fight against U.S.-led coalition forces. These sanctions have put Syria in a more difficult position economically. Like Libya, Syria finds itself in considerable economic need, though the situation is not as dire as was the case in Libya. But perhaps most important, just like Libya, Syria has only a relatively modest WMD arsenal, which likely consists primarily of short range ballistic missiles and an alleged chemical weapons program, which Syria denies possessing. Similar to Libya's relatively modest WMD arsenal, Syria's arsenal does not provide sufficient deterrent against the United States, if the latter wished to disarm the Syrian regime by force. For that, Syria will be a more likely than Iran to yield to pressure to abandon its WMD in return for economic and financial inducements. Moreover, like Libya, the secular Ba'ath regime in Syria is vehemently opposed to Usama bin Laden and his fundamentalist jihadi aspirations. Syria was one of the first targets of fundamentalism when the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood launched a failed revolt against the Syrian regime in the town of Hama in 1981. At that time, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad brutally suppressed the revolt, killing many thousands of fundamentalists and civilians. Post 9/11, Syria provided the United States with some of the most helpful information on al-Qai'da and in particular the terror cells in Germany where ringleader Muhammad Atta and many of his accomplices resided and operated. Syria would be an invaluable asset in the war on terror, if fences between it and the United States can ultimately be mended.

And yet, unlike Libya, Syria was involved in various wars with Israel, which continues to maintain control over significant territory that Syria deems its own. As a result, any resolution of the Syrian-Israeli territorial dispute would likely be a precondition required by Damascus before it would concede to any serious shift in policy leading to unilateral disarmament. Syria is highly unlikely to surrender its WMD arsenal in the absence of peace treaty with Israel and the return of the Golan Heights which Israel occupied in June of 1967. Such acquiescence without settlement of the outstanding issues with Israel would be perceived by the Syrian government and its civilian population as tantamount to surrender. Also unlike the Libyan case, such an endeavor will surely demand a major multinational effort by the United States, Syria, Israel, the United Kingdom, as well as other countries. While not impossible, such an arrangement is much more complicated and comprehensive than Libya's simple tit-for-tat disarmament deal with the United States and the United Kingdom. In short, while Syria is generally in a similar position as Libya and hence is likely to be susceptible to an offer of coming in from the cold in return for unilateral WMD disarmament, such a scenario is dependant, first and foremost, on Syria's ability to repatriate land lost to Israel in previous wars.


Following decades of conflict and rogue behavior, Mu'ammar Qadhdhafi is seeking to come in from the cold and mend fences with the international community. On December 19, 2003, the Libyan government surprised the world by announcing its intention to unilaterally disarm by relinquishing its weapons of mass destruction and turning its back on terrorism. The Libyan regime also agreed to furnish the families of the 1988 Pan Am 103 terror attack with significant financial compensation. Although the reasons behind this Libyan change of heart are still under debate, the consequences and effects are very real. Libya's decision to come in from the cold provides it and the United States with tangible political and economic benefits. More so, as a genuine opponent of Usama bin Laden and his brand of jihadi fundamentalism, Libya comes out as a natural ally of the West in the war against terrorism. Perhaps the most significant result of Libya's peaceful disarmament is that it provides a model for similar future arrangements wherein other rogue regimes may also come in from the cold, giving up their deadly arsenals in return for economic and political benefit.

Time will tell if this mutually beneficial arrangement can be successfully applied to other countries in the Middle East, in particular Syria or Iran. Such arrangements will surely be more difficult to facilitate due to the added political complexities related to these two nations, especially as Iran's superior nuclear and missile programs dwarfs Libya's actual capabilities. One thing is for certain, however. In this global war on terrorism, the United States and the West can benefit greatly from gaining the help of Middle Eastern governments that, while hostile to Western interests during the Cold War, can today be valuable allies in this war against al-Qai'da and the bin Laden brand of militant Islamist fundamentalism, which espouses equal opportunity hatred to secular Muslim governments, Shi'a Muslims, and against Western powers and their continued presence in the Middle East.


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  • Jennifer Loven, "Libya will give up weapons program, allow inspectors, Bush and Blair say," Associated Press, December 19, 2003,
  • Interpol Arrest Warrant File No. 1998/20232, Control No. A-268/5-1998. Brisard Jean-Charles, Dasquie Guillaume. "Forbidden Truth." (New York: Thunder Mouth Press, 2002), p. 156. For a more recent version of the arrest warrant issued against bin Laden,
  • Tim Appenzeller, "The end of cheap oil," National Geographic, June 2004.
  • "US slaps trade sanctions on Syria," BBC, May 11, 2004,
  • William J. Broad, "Uranium Traveled to Iran via Russia, Inspectors Find," New York Times, February 28, 2004,
  • "Press release by inspector general of police in relation to investigation on the alleged production of components for Libya's Uranium enrichment program," Malaysian Police (Polis Diraja Malaysia), February 20, 2004,
  • Douglas Frantz and Josh Meyer, "For sale: nuclear expertise," Los Angeles Times Service, March 7, 2004.
  • Andrew Koch, "More details of Libyan WMD revealed," Jane's Defense Weekly, March 31, 2004,
  • Seymour Hersh, "The Deal: Why is Washington going easy on Pakistan's nuclear black marketers?" New Yorker, March 8, 2004,
  • Judith Miller, "U.S. Says Libya Will Convert Missiles to Defensive Weapons," New York Times, April 11, 2004,
  • David Rennie, "US unveils spoils of Libyan nuclear victory," Daily Telegraph, March 16, 2004,
  • "White House Exaggerated Extent of WMD Breakthrough," Independent, March 26, 2004,
  • "A 'Big, Big Victory' Was Attained in Combating WMD," Nuclear News, June 2004,
  • John Lancaster and Kamran Khan, "Pakistan Fires Top Nuclear Scientist," Washington Post, February 1, 2004,
  • Joby Warrick and Peter Slevin, "Libyan Arms Designs Traced Back to China," Washington Post, February 15, 2004,
  • Gaurav Kampani, "Proliferation Unbound: Nuclear Tales from Pakistan," CNS, February 23, 2004,
  • "Text of Dr AQ Khan's public apology," Daily Times, February 5, 2004,
  • Bill Gertz, "Libyan Sincerity on Arms in Doubt," Washington Times, September 9, 2004.
  • CNS Middle East page,

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Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Material of Mass Destruction will build upon programs such as Cooperative Threat Reduction. (CNS)

Weapons of Mass Destruction in Central Asia


Weapons of Mass Destruction in Central Asia

The weapons of mass destruction (WMD) nonproliferation and disarmament activities in Central Asia in the decade following the end of the Cold War. (CNS)


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