Fair-ish and Balanced-ish
Sunday, December 28, 2003
Libya and Weapons of Mass Destruction
With Libya's recent plans to become WMD-free, it is of interest to look over Libya's WMD programs to see just how much Libya is actually giving up. It appears that Libya has small and not particularly significant biological and nuclear WMD programs. It's chemical weapons program is significantly larger and more developed, however, it has suffered considerable setbacks prior to it's abolishment. As a general rule of thumb, Libya's efforts to obtain WMD have been hampered by lack of skilled personal.
It appears that Libya has a small biological weapons program located at a number of universities. They may have received assistance from Iraqi and ex-South African scientists. However Libya's poor technological base and old UN sanctions have limited any successes that this program may have had. There is very limited evidence that the program has gone beyond the research and pilot plant stage. Research appears to focused on anthrax and botulinium toxin.
In Qadhafi's early years he has publicly stated support for Libya obtaining nuclear weapons, however, in more recent years he has suggested the opposite. Libya current operates a small research nuclear reactor (the Tajura Nuclear Research Centre), and has plans for a considerably larger reactor (however this appears to have collapsed). It appears that Libya's nuclear program is at the research stage, lacking the equipment and expertise to move onto the large scale production required to construct a functional nuclear weapon.
Out of all of Libya's WMD programs, chemical weapons appear to be it's biggest success story. The Rabta plant has been described as the world's biggest chemical weapons plant, however this refers to surface area not production capabilities. It was estimated that Libya produced around 100 tons of mustard gas in the 1980's, however this may be an overestimation. Thanks to international pressure, Rabta was closed down in 1990, two years after it opened. It was converted to a pharmaceutical plant in 1995. After the closure of the Rabta plant, secret construction of an underground chemical weapons plant started (named Tarhunah). It's construction was rapidly detected, and US pressure appears to have lead to construction activity being halted prior to completion in 1997.
Libya's WMD program were a very poor return on investment. Large sums of money were spent to produce research programs which don't appear to be going anywhere and two chemical plants that Libya dare not turn on. It may well be, that Qadhafi has given Bush and Blair very little in practical terms.
Federation of American Scientists