Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Oil, Terrorism, and Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Libyan Diplomatic Coup

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Oil, Terrorism, and Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Libyan Diplomatic Coup

Article excerpt

For almost three decades Libya was considered a "pariah state" based on its involvement in terrorist operations against Western targets and its efforts to acquire and develop chemical, biological, and nuclear capabilities. Since the late 1990s there has been a dramatic shift in Tripoli's attitude toward international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This essay seeks to examine the reasons for this change in Libya's policy, and its impact on the country's hydrocarbon industry and global energy security. The study suggests that economic stagnation, multilateral economic and diplomatic pressure, and new regional and international dynamics, forced the Libyan leadership to change course.

Key Words: Libya; International terrorism; WMD; Al-Qadhafi; Oil; Natural gas.

In December 2003 an announcement was made simultaneously in Washington, London, and Tripoli to the effect that the Libyan leader Mummar al-Qadhafi had promised to terminate his country's efforts to acquire and develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and to fully cooperate with the international community to destroy them. This dramatic development brought high and unusual praise to the Libyan leader by the United States and the British governments. In a reference to al-Qadhafi, President Bush said: "Leaders who abandon the pursuit of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them will find an open path to better relations with the United States and other free nations."2 The British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a similar statement: "The Libyan leader had made a courageous decision. Libya's actions entitle it to rejoin the international community."3 In short, al-Qadhafi's initiative was presented as an example that other countries with suspected non-conventional programs and capabilities should emulate.

This announcement was preceded and followed by equally significant steps to end Libya's international isolation and pave the way for Tripoli to re-join the global economic and diplomatic system. Most notably, Libya officially accepted responsibility for terrorist attacks carried out by its intelligence officers and agreed to pay financial compensation to the families of the victims of these attacks. To reward Tripoli for this huge transformation from a "pariah state" to a partner in the war on terrorism and an adherent to the international norms against the proliferation of WMD, the decade-long United Nations sanctions were lifted in September 2003. London re-established diplomatic relations with Tripoli (severed in 1984) and Washington substantially eased its economic sanctions (imposed in the late 1970s and reinforced in the 1980s and 1990s). These concrete steps to normalize economic and diplomatic relations with Tripoli were accompanied by two unprecedented symbolic gestures - the British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Libya and met with its leader, and al-Qadhafi was invited to Brussels where he met with the European Union's top officials. In other words, Libya's two decades of trade restrictions and unilateral and multilateral sanctions came to an end in the early 2000s. To be sure, the European Union and the United States still have some concerns about the regime in Tripoli, but Libya is seen now as a country with which the international community can do business.

Libya is a large country with a small, though rapidly growing, population (less than six million people in 2004). Its long confrontation with the West started shortly after al-Qadhafi toppled the conservative monarchy in September 1969. The new Libyan leader blamed the United States, Britain and Israel for underdevelopment and backwardness in the Arab world. He saw himself as the legitimate heir of the late Egyptian President Gamal Abd al-Nasser and sought to position himself as the new champion of Arab unity and liberation. His economic and political philosophy was documented in the "Green Book," a combination of socialism and Islam, so that his critics in the Arab world joked, "Qadhafi's Libya is like a melon, green on the outside, but red on the inside. …

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