Libya Pledges Military Trade Curbs, but Details Are Fuzzy

Paul Kerr

Building on its December 2003 decision to give up its nuclear and chemical weapons programs, as well as its long-range missiles, Libya announced May 13 that it would halt its military trade with countries it deems a proliferation threat. U.S. officials said Libya was following through on a private pledge to Washington to discontinue such dealings with Syria, Iran, and North Korea. But a subsequent Libyan statement called into question whether this commitment actually extended to Syria.

According to a May 13 statement carried on Libyan television, Libya has pledged that it “will not deal in any military goods or services with countries Libya considers to be a source of concern for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction [WMD].” Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton told reporters the same day that Tripoli “has assured the United States and the United Kingdom that its renunciation of all military trade…includes North Korea, Syria, and Iran.” In April, a Department of State official told Arms Control Today that Tripoli had given Washington such a private assurance, but the Bush administration was waiting for Tripoli to announce it publicly. (See ACT, May 2004.)

Libya’s public pledge appears to differ from Bolton’s characterization. According to Agence France Presse, Libya’s foreign ministry stated May 14 that its previous day’s statement “cited no country and was not aimed at Syria,” adding that “Tripoli cannot say that Syria has WMD since it is a peaceful country whose land is occupied and is threatened by Israel.” Asked to comment on Libya’s response in a May 17 interview, a State Department official replied, “[W]e have our list [of countries].”

Bolton also said May 13 that Libya “will shortly announce its pledge to renounce trade in missiles and missile-related equipment and technology with countries that are not members of the Missile Technology Control Regime [MTCR].” The 33-member MTCR is an export control regime that aims to limit the spread of ballistic and cruise missiles. Syria, Iran, and North Korea are not members. Part of Libya’s December agreement was to forswear missiles that do not conform to MTCR guidelines, defined as applying to missiles capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload 300 kilometers or more.

The practical effects of Libya’s commitment are uncertain. Bolton argued that Libya’s decision could impact North Korea’s weapons programs because Pyongyang uses hard currency from weapons sales to finance them. The only example of Libyan weapons purchases from North Korea Bolton offered was Libya’s Scud C missiles, but those have been eliminated. (See ACT, April 2004.) A November 2003 CIA report covering the first half of 2003 identified North Korea as a key supplier to Libya’s ballistic missile programs.

Bolton did not mention Syria or Iran as suppliers of military technology to Libya, although the CIA report identified Iran as a supplier to Libya’s ballistic missile program.

Responding to reporters’ questions, Bolton indicated that Libya’s statement does not apply to Pakistan, even though the main supplier for Libya’s nuclear weapons program was a network run by A. Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, March 2004.)