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August 27, 2018
EU Deepens Ties With Libya, Syria

Paul Kerr

The European Union took steps in October to engage more broadly Syria and Libya, two countries whose proliferation behavior had been previously an obstacle to deeper ties.

The EU foreign ministers agreed Oct.11 to lift completely an almost 20-year arms embargo on Libya, a step that allows EU countries to export arms and other military equipment to that country. Such transfers, however, are still governed by the EU’s Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, as well as national export control laws. The Code of Conduct, which is not legally binding, lists several criteria to guide EU members’ arms sales. It also requires a state approving a weapons transaction that has been denied by another member to consult with the government who initially vetoed the sale. (See ACT, May 1998.)

The push for lifting the embargo on Libya came from Italy, which wants Tripoli to be able to purchase military equipment so that it can better patrol its maritime borders and prevent illegal immigration. “[C]ooperation with Libya on the topic of migration has become a pressing matter,” the foreign ministers said in an Oct. 11 statement.

The EU imposed the embargo in 1986 in response to Libya’s involvement in several terrorist incidents. Later that year, following the bombing of a Berlin nightclub, the EU also imposed several other restrictive measures, such as limiting the travel of Libyan diplomats. The EU, however, lifted these other measures in 1999, several months after the UN Security Council suspended similar sanctions. The Security Council permanently lifted its sanctions in September 2003, but the EU arms embargo remained in place. (See ACT, October 2003.)

The foreign ministers’ statement acknowledged the progress Libya has made in resolving concerns surrounding its past terrorist activities, including compensating families of the victims of the Berlin attack, as well as the bombing of two civilian airplanes. The ministers also noted Libya’s December 2003 decision to dismantle its chemical and nuclear weapons programs, as well as its missiles with ranges exceeding 300 kilometers. (See ACT, January/February 2004.)

The EU still has “concerns” about such issues as Libya’s human rights record, according to the statement, but will still adopt a policy of “engagement” with Libya in addition to lifting the embargo.

Since Libya’s December disarmament decision, the United States has moved rapidly to establish ties with Libya, most recently lifting its remaining economic sanctions on Tripoli in September. Washington, however, maintains arms restrictions on arms shipments to Libya. (See ACT, October 2004.)

Negotiations With Syria Move Forward

Meanwhile, the European Commission—which formulates policy proposals for the EU and manages the EU bureaucracy—announced Oct. 19 that it had formally concluded negotiations for an EU-Syria Association Agreement. The agreement, similar to those the EU has made with other Mediterranean countries, must now be approved by the Council of the European Union, which represents the EU’s member-states.

The agreement includes a framework to conduct “regular political dialogue” and “foresees the creation of a free-trade area between the EU and Syria,” according to a commission press release.

The agreement also includes a clause requiring Syrian “cooperation to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.” This is the first such agreement to be negotiated since the EU agreed in November 2003 to include a “non-proliferation clause” in future pacts with non-EU countries.

The specific language of the relevant clause in this agreement has not been released. However, a model EU text specifies that the parties agree to “contribute to countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery through full compliance with and national implementation of their existing obligations under international disarmament and non-proliferation treaties and agreements and other relevant international obligations.”

According to the model text, the countries should also agree to take “steps to sign, ratify, or accede to… and fully implement all other relevant international instruments.” In addition, they should establish an “effective system of national export controls” for WMD-related goods. However, the text also indicates that these two provisions might be considered on a “case-by-case basis.”

Syria’s pursuit of WMD has long been a concern. The United States has stated that Syria possesses chemical weapons and is pursuing an offensive biological weapons capability. U.S. officials also sometimes name Damascus as covertly seeking nuclear weapons, but the public official evidence for this is thin. (See ACT, May 2003.)

Syria is a state-party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and has signed but not ratified the Biological Weapons Convention. These agreements prohibit Damascus from possessing both nuclear and biological weapons, respectively. Syria is one of only 11 countries that have not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention), although it has acceded to the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibiting biological and chemical weapons use in war.

Syria possesses several hundred Scud B, Scud C, and SS-21 tactical ballistic missiles. The missiles’ estimated maximum range of approximately 500 kilometers enables Syria to target all of Israel and much of Turkey. There are no international agreements prohibiting the possession of such missiles.