The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Libya to give up WMDs

In a completely unexpected announcement, Libya's Muammar Qadhafi has said that he would give up his WMD program, allow inspectors unconditional access and sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The news was broken by British PM Tony Blair, who also broke the news last week that Saddam Hussein had been captured. According to Blair,

"Libya came to us in March following successful negotiations on Lockerbie to see if it could resolve its weapons of mass destruction issue in a similarly cooperative manner."

A few moments later, President Bush made a similar announcement. Some excerpts from his speech:

Talks leading to this announcement began about nine months ago, when Prime Minister Tony Blair and I were contacted through personal envoys by Colonel Qadhafi. He communicated to us his willingness to make a decisive change in the policy of his government.

At the direction of Colonel Qadhafi himself, Libyan officials have provided American and British intelligence officers with documentation on that country's chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programs and activities. Our experts in these fields have met directly with Libyan officials to learn additional details.

Opposing proliferation is one of the highest priorities of the war against terror. The attacks of September 11th, 2001, brought tragedy to the United States and revealed a future threat of even greater magnitude. Terrorists who kill thousands of innocent people would, if they ever gained weapons of mass destruction, kill hundreds of thousands without hesitation and without mercy. And this danger is dramatically increased when regimes build or acquire weapons of mass destruction and maintain ties to terrorist groups.

Libya has long beensuspected of possessing chemical and biological weapons and of having ambitions to develop nuclear weapons, although these efforts may have slowed down in recent years. Among the more outlandish scenarios for Libya's WMD program is one scenario that it is building an underground nuclear research facility in a mountain in its south. Another claims Libya is cooperating with Egypt on a nuclear program. Both have never been officially confirmed and the second seems particularly unlikely, although it has been mentioned by the Wall Street Journal.

But UN officials have said that they believed Libya was close to building a nuclear weapon.

This announcement is a major coup for Blair and Bush and can be interpreted as a sign that the war on Iraq has been successful in scaring other anti-US leaders to become more cooperative. This may also explain Qadhafi's extremely collaborative (and expensive) settlement of the Lockerbie affair earlier this year. Bush drove that message in his speech:

All of these actions by the United States and our allies have sent an unmistakable message to regimes that would seek or possess weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons do not bring influence or prestige. They bring isolation and otherwise unwelcomed consequences.

And another message should be equally clear: 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. With today's announcement by its leader, Libya has begun the process of rejoining the community of nations.

I would love to know how and why the unpredictable Qadhafi made the decision to take this step, particularly as there have not been public threats against Libya, unlike Iraq, Syria and Iran. What is certain is that whether one likes or dislikes Bush, this is a great diplomatic success.