Thursday, July 25, 2013

Libyan Disarmament: A Model for Current Nuclear Weapon States?

Libya, a country struggling to maintain stability and order in its post-revolutionary phase, is renowned in the international community for its disarmament efforts in 2003 and its ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In March of 2003, former President Muammar Qaddafi renounced Libya’s weapons of mass destruction programs and allowed IAEA inspectors into the country to verify that Libya was in fact making significant steps towards nuclear disarmament.

Libya, along with South Africa, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine are among the few states that formerly had nuclear weapons stockpiles but disarmed and became non-nuclear weapon parties to the NPT.

Qaddafi’s decision to renounce Libya’s nuclear weapons programs is viewed as an international success because it set a model for current nuclear weapons states to follow suit. The decision to disarm demonstrates to the international community that “it is never too late to make the decision to become a fully compliant NPT state,” as Stephen Rademaker, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, stated during the NPT Review Conference in May 2005.

It is not known exactly what caused President Muammar Qaddafi to renounce Libya’s nuclear weapons programs but one theory is that Qaddafi acted out of fear of US invasion following the invasion of Iraq. The events that occurred in Iraq sent a message to nuclear weapon states that the cost of pursuing WMDs is very high.

How, then, did Qaddafi’s decision to renounce nuclear weapons affect the country? Most notably, Libyan-Western relations were dramatically improved, with the Security Council lifting former sanctions imposed on Libya.


During the 2011 civil war, disarmament efforts in Libya were halted as the rebel militias fought against forces loyal to Qaddafi. However, the country is now resuming their efforts to rid of all remaining chemical weapons and programs.

When chemical weapons were found in Libya in late 2011, former Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril announced the discovery of the weapons and that foreign inspectors would be in the country to further investigate. Jibril stated, “By making this announcement, we reaffirm that the new Libya is a peaceful Libya, a Libya that abides by international law, a Libya that aims for development before anything else for the good of its people.”

In a recent trip to Tripoli in July 2013, I spoke to a number of people about their opinions on the current state of the country, their feelings on NATO’s intervention, and their hopes for Libya’s future. What I discovered during these conversations was that, despite the perceived anti-Western sentiment in Libya by Americans, average Libyan citizens actually spoke very highly of many Western countries such as the US who supported them during the revolution. In fact, a 2012 Gallup poll reported that 75% of Libyans aged 15 and over favored NATO’s military intervention in 2011. What this shows us is that improved relations between Libya and the West have led to benefits for all parties.

During NATO’s intervention, there was a fear that without the “safeguard” provided by nuclear weapons, Libya would not be able to protect itself against a foreign occupation. However, no such thing happened and NATO retreated shortly after the overthrow of Qaddafi.

More than ever, Libyans are reaching out to the West for development. Construction can be seen all over as Western companies begin opening branches in Tripoli. However, the true outcome of the revolution will be determined by the policies set out by the new government so it may be too soon to speak about the hope for a thriving democracy.

The future of Libya is uncertain at this point and many Libyans express contempt for the slow and stalled rebirth of their country due to the failures of the General National Congress. However, Libya is a party to the NPT, the country has improved relations with the West, they have overthrown a dictator of 42 years, they are extremely oil-rich, and there is the possibility for growth of democracy. Libya’s future is looking brighter than ever before.


In 2003, Libya made the decision to comply with international law and abide by the NPT by renouncing nuclear weapons. Since then, Libya has taken other significant steps to strengthen ties with the West and now, although they are still in the very early stages of development, it seems as though the country has a promising future. Libyans are finally free and happier than they have been in years.

We can only hope that Libya’s decision will provide an incentive for other nuclear weapon states to follow suit in their efforts towards disarmament in order to create a safer world for future generations.


Amber Giallo is an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Barbara and an intern at NAPF.

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