Vol. 4 Num 213 Wed. December 31, 2003  

Bottom line
Seismic shift in Gaddafi's policy

On 19th December, both the US President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that Libya's strongman Colonel Mu'ammar Gaddafi had agreed to destroy the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) including the Scud missiles. Western powers have hailed Col. Gaddafi's decision as "huge statesmanship and courage".

It has been revealed that Libya has: Tonnes of mustard gas and other chemical weapons materials; Bombs made to carry mustard gas; Facilities that could manufacture germ weapons; Scud missiles; A more advanced nuclear programme than previously known (much advanced than that of Iranian programme).

The agreement came after nine long months of secret negotiation by the US and British officials in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks ( France and Germany remained in the dark and they are not happy about it). Tripoli acted swiftly to prove its commitment by meeting UN nuclear arms inspectors on 20th December. Libya also agreed to take steps to go through a verifiable process to destroy the chemical and biological weapons and on 23rd December four British officials are reported to have met three Libyans in London to put into writing Tripoli's commitment to destroy the WMD.

Many argue that this course could have been easily adopted with the Saddam Hussein regime and the chaotic conditions in the post-war Iraq would not have arisen. The stance of France and Germany about resolving political disputes through negotiation or soft power has been found to be valid. Furthermore fighting terrorism with war is like fighting fire with petrol. War is fuel for terrorism, not a deterrent. .

The weapons deal with Libya was hailed as a triumph of diplomacy. The question is why did Gaddafi agree to it? Some of the possible reasons are enumerated below:

First, Libya has been under crippling sanctions from the US. Its petrol industry has worn out and needs new equipment. It is the US companies that could do it. Libya agreed to destroy the WMD in return of lifting US sanctions on Libya so that US companies can return to strike commercial deals with it.

Second, Libya's leader has realised that his zeal to transform Libya's society through his "Green Book" philosophy has ended in failure. The philosophy was based on Islam, Arabism and socialism. Libya has not been getting richer but poorer because of sanctions. Libya's main income is oil and unless it is modernised, there is no hope getting its national wealth increased. Libya remained isolated since 1993 until this year because of its involvement the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie in Scotland. Gaddafi wanted to join the mainstream of world community for national interests and the only way to quicken it is to agree to destroy the WMD.

Third, the stubbornness and defiance of Saddam Hussein did not in the long run pay. The world scenario has changed with the September 11 attacks. It has given rise to unilateralism of the mighty powerful US. Although Saddam's capture does not justify the original reason for invasion of Iraq, it is a deep humiliation for Saddam Hussein to be in the custody of the US..

Fourth, the concept of pan-Arabism advocated by Gaddafi for a new world order turned out to be illusory. He proposed several abortive declarations of union with Arab countries: Egypt and Syria (1969), Egypt (1972), Tunisia (1974), Syria (1980), Chad (1981) and Morocco (1984). Relations with these states have been strained on occasions, with Libya being accused of destabilising other governments. It was involved in a lengthy and unnecessary war with Chad until 1987. He was deeply frustrated with policies of many Arab States toward the Western powers and often Libya with its hardline clashed with pro-US Saudi Arabia. At one stage he threatened to withdraw his country from the Arab League.

Fifth, his failure to spread pan-Arabism has led him to advocate pan-Africanism from mid 90s.. He wanted to integrate all 51 African countries into a powerful force like the European Union. He was instrumental in changing the name of Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to African Unity (AU) in 2002. His dream of African unity has also ended in failure.

Sixth, the Libyan deal follows the earlier Iranian decision to submit to rigorous UN inspection of its nuclear enrichment programme so as not to use nuclear plants to produce nuclear weapons. Iranian decision was also the result of diplomatic negotiations by three big European powers--Britain , France and Germany. Libya considers that these two events will put immense pressure on Israel to destroy WMD by the Western powers including the US.


The Libyan leader has toyed with the idea of building a political and economic force from the Third World to counter the influence of the Western powers. He saw that during the three decades his dream was not fulfilled. He has realised that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the equation of global power has dramatically changed. The US has become the lone superpower and this eminent position of the US does not seem to disappear within his life-time. He is now in his 60s and has finally adopted a policy of pragmatism in a unipolar world. By agreeing to eliminate WMD, Gaddafi, once one of the region's most fervent anti-Western powerful leaders, seems to distance himself from the ideologies he had earlier pursued.

The Libyan leader hopes that the deal will eventually lift US sanctions and lead to resumption of diplomatic relations with the US, cut off since 1981. Col. Gaddafi's first name is 'Mu'ammar' that in Arabic means "long-lived". He has survived as a leader since 1969 and is likely to continue to do so, especially after the stunning deal with the US and Britain. This brings to mind what Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) once said: " Survival is a thing not beyond the bounds of possibility."

Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.