The Clandestine Building of Libya's Chemical Weapons Factory: A Study in International Collusion


From 1980 to 1989, Libya acquired the necessary ingredients to construct an elaborate chemical weapons production facility. Although the United States and other nations opposed this acquisition, Libya's Middle Eastern neighbors supported it. Yet the primary physical assistance came from West German firms that willingly allowed their products to be assembled into a facility to produce chemical weapons. This riveting account by Thomas C. Wiegele, whose incisive research was supported by a grant from the United States Institute of Peace, documents Libya's successful clandestine effort.

The United States was reluctant to provide detailed public information regarding Libya's quest, and Libya refused to reveal any definitive information, insisting that it was not building the facility. In the end, it was West Germany and its commercial firms that, after initially withholding information, released official documentation regarding their involvement with Libya. Wiegele analyzes the elaborate scheme used to funnel chemical-processing equipment from western Europe to Libya, drawing on press revelations and a lengthy report issued by the Kohl government. This report proved to be a key document as it revealed German knowledge of Libyan chemical weapons activities through information generated by Bonn's own intelligence and diplomatic agencies.

According to Wiegele, one of the problems in controlling the development and proliferation of chemical weapons is the ready availability of the substances used to create the weapons. Since many of these substances are used to produce nonmilitary commodities, such as pharmaceutical, fertilizer, petrochemical, and pesticide products, they can be easily bought through common commercial channels.

Wiegele wisely treats the Libyan case as a critical international situation and not as a crisis. He views Libya's quest as a serious and prolonged action that has had no immediate effect on power distribution in the international community and has not yet posed a direct challenge to the security of any individual nation. Nevertheless, he stresses Libya's potentially destabilizing effect in the Middle East and elsewhere. He is likewise aware that important connections, both operational and theoretical, may exist between Libya's attempt to build a chemical weapons factory and the events in Iraq that resulted in the war in the Middle East in January 1991.

Turning to a broader arena, Wiegele explores the concept of deception and lying in international affairs. He believes that it is critical for students of international relations to develop a more comprehensive literature about and an understanding of the concept of deception because deception seems likely to play an increasingly important role in the high-technology orientation of present-day international relations.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Carbondale
Publication year:
  • 1992


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