Reality Check: Libya and Iran

Daryl G. Kimball

In the past month, two states long suspected of pursuing weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—Iran and Libya—have been persuaded to allow intrusive international inspections. Although some in the Bush administration believe the threat of pre-emptive war forced the issue, the reality is different and more complex. Rather, each case demonstrates the importance of preventive diplomacy, international nonproliferation treaties and inspections, and economic sanctions and incentives designed to compel compliance.

Last year, special International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections revealed that Iran has conducted secret nuclear activities with bomb-making potential. The Bush administration and a tough IAEA report kept the matter on the front burner. Yet, it was French, German, and British diplomats who ultimately persuaded Iranian leaders to agree to an additional protocol allowing tougher IAEA inspections and temporarily stop uranium enrichment activities. In return, the Europeans are offering closer technical and economic ties.

Libya went even further. President Moammar Gaddafi announced December 19 that Libya would verifiably dismantle its biological and chemical weapons capabilities. Gaddafi also agreed to eliminate Libya’s aging Scud missile force, as well as halt suspected nuclear weapons-related activities.

Libya’s announcement is clearly part of a broader effort to end years of suffocating sanctions for its past support for terrorism and WMD ambitions. Early last year, Libya finally settled claims concerning its role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, prompting the United Nations to lift sanctions. British and U.S. officials deserve credit for closing the deal, but Gaddafi initially contacted officials in London with the hope that discarding his WMD programs might lead to better relations with the United States and Europe.

Both states must now follow through on their important nonproliferation commitments by fully and promptly cooperating with IAEA inspectors. Iran should be pressed further. Even with strict compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran might someday withdraw from the treaty and build nuclear weapons. To remove doubts about the peaceful purposes of its nuclear program, Iran should permanently freeze uranium-enrichment activities, which could be used to make bomb material.

Verifying Libya’s pledge to end its biological and chemical weapons capabilities and ballistic missile work will require a more creative approach. There is no standing inspectorate for ballistic missile control and, due to U.S. opposition, there is no verification system for the 1972 Biological Weapon Convention. Libya has not yet signed the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which allows for on-site inspections. The UN Security Council should consider giving the job to the UN Monitoring and Verification Commission, which was created to deal with the same types of weapons in Iraq.

The United States should respond with positive measures, including the lifting of remaining WMD-related sanctions, if these states demonstrate that they have indeed chosen to forswear these dangerous, destabilizing, and expensive weapons. Such a course would make it clear to others that compliance with the nonproliferation regime is more beneficial to their security than the pursuit of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

At the same time, U.S. and European policymakers must address weaknesses in their nonproliferation strategies, highlighted by the Iranian and Libyan cases. The IAEA’s investigations will certainly show that the Iranian and Libyan nuclear programs received vital technical assistance from other states, including Pakistan.

Unfortunately, past and current U.S. administrations have chosen not to deal with all proliferators with the same vigor. As Undersecretary of State John Bolton boldly stated to Arms Control Today in a November 14 interview, “There are unquestionably states that are not within existing treaty regimes that possess weapons of mass destruction legitimately. We’re not trying to have a policy that attempts to cover each and every one of those circumstances.” The United States can no longer afford to focus on the WMD programs of its adversaries while ignoring the proliferation behavior of its friends and allies, especially the three nuclear-weapon states that are not NPT members: India, Israel, and Pakistan.

The international community should build on recent progress in Iran and Libya with energetic diplomatic efforts in other areas of tension around the globe. The United States and the international community must also work harder to achieve a more open, transparent, and secure world through tougher inspections everywhere. By promptly ratifying the IAEA Additional Protocol, reducing the role of nuclear weapons in its own security policy, and following through with its own NPT disarmament commitments, the United States can help encourage others to join the protocol and turn away from nuclear weapons.




Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) are members of the Senate Armed
Services Committee. Levin is the committee’s ranking Democrat.

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