Libya gives up its non-existent WMD


The world is getting safer by leaps and bounds.  States that don’t have, and never have had, weapons of mass destruction are giving them up.  First, there was Iraq: it was made to give them up by decisive military action by the US/UK.  And now Libya has volunteered to give them up – as a consequence of the decisive military action against Iraq, we are asked to believe.


The latter decision was so historic that the Prime Minister felt obliged to announce it to the nation on the 9pm News on BBC1 on a Friday night (19 December 2003) from his own constituency.  He told the nation:


“Libya has now declared its intention to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction completely.  … This courageous decision by Colonel Qadhafi is an historic one.  I applaud it. ”


What the Prime Minister didn’t tell the nation was that Libya hadn’t got any weapons of mass destruction, and never had.


Nor did he tell the nation that Libya’s weapons of mass destruction programme was, in the words of Dr Mohammed ElBaradei, the Director General of the IAEA, “in the very initial stages of development” (Guardian, 30 December 2003).


In subsequent days, the word in the press was that Libya had a programme to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons production.  Here is what Dr El Baradei had to say about that:


“We haven’t seen any industrial-scale facility to produce highly enriched uranium.  We haven’t seen any enriched uranium.” (ibid)


The Libyan Foreign Minister, Abdulrahman Shalgam, told a press conference that Libya’s weapons programmes had been “at a laboratory level”.


Straw’s programmes

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, made a statement to the House of Commons on 5 January 2004 on this historic development.  He was more circumspect than the Prime Minister had been on 19 December.  He echoed what the Government now says about Iraq, and talked a lot about weapons “programmes” and very little about weapons.  Specific detail was noticeably absent.


On nuclear weapons programmes, the only detail he gave was:


Libya acknowledged to us that it was developing a nuclear fuel cycle intended to support nuclear weapons development. A team of British and American officials were given access to projects at more than 10 sites. Those projects included uranium enrichment. Libya had not yet developed a nuclear weapon, but it was on the way to doing so.”


In other words, unlike its near neighbour Israel, Libya has no weapons of mass destruction, and wasn’t within an ass’s roar of developing them.  The likelihood is that its embryonic programme isn’t even active, that Libya had given up the attempt to develop nuclear weapons long ago.


The Government likes to describe chemical and biological weapons as “weapons of mass destruction”.  But even if you accept that absurd definition which puts, for example, World War I mustard gas in the same category as the bomb that wiped out Nagasaki, it looks as if Libya still hasn’t any “weapons of mass destruction”.


On chemical weapons, Straw told the Commons:


“Libya provided to us evidence of activity in the chemical weapons field, including significant quantities of chemical agent and bombs designed to be filled with chemical agent.”


That carefully avoids saying that Libya had usable bombs filled with chemical warfare agent – which could reasonably be described as chemical weapons.  It must be assumed that if Libya possessed actual chemical weapons, Straw would have said so.


Straw didn’t volunteer what chemical agent Libya possessed in significant quantities, or what quantities were significant, or whether the agent was effective for warfare or had degraded into harmless sludge.  MPs made no effort to find out.  In the press, it is suggested that the agent in question is World War I mustard gas. 


As for biological weapons, it is clear from Straw’s remarks that Libya hadn’t even got a development programme, let alone a functional end product.  Straw told the Commons:


“The team of British and American specialists was given access to scientists at research centres with dual-use potential to support biological weapons-related work.”


Note the use of the word “potential”.  There are probably hundreds of laboratories within a few miles of the House of Commons with “potential” to support biological weapons-related work.


All sides of the Commons accepted the Government’s view that this non-event was a historic triumph for British diplomacy.  Some went so far as to say that it justified the invasion of Iraq, which, it was said, had frightened Colonel Gaddafi into coughing up his non-existent weapons.


The irony is that the end result of this historic disarmament exercise will be a Libya that is more effective militarily.  The Libyan Foreign Minister told CNN:


“It’s a critical deal for Libya, because first of all we will get access to defensive weapons and no sanctions on Libyan arms imports anymore.  We will get access to the know-how and technology in sectors which were banned...and (which) Libyans were prohibited to study.”


Not a bad deal for Libya.  And a good deal for British arms firms.


Israel’s weapons

In all the hype about Libya’s historic renunciation of “weapons of mass destruction”, very little was said about the one state in the Middle East that definitely possesses nuclear weapons and lots of them (and probably possesses chemical and biological weapons as well).  Blair’s broadcast to the nation on 19 December didn’t mention Israel, nor did Straw’s statement to the Commons on 5 January. 


To her credit Labour MP, Joan Ruddock, brought the matter up in the Commons.  She was the only MP to do so.  She asked:


Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the progress that is being made in Libya, and indeed in Iran, is to be continued and sustained, Israel too must surely be brought within the ambit of international disarmament agreements?”


In reply, Straw revealed that the UK has “long had a policy of seeking a nuclear-free area in the whole of the Middle East”.  One could be forgiven for being unaware of this policy, the fulfilment of which requires Israel to give up its nuclear weapons.  The Government has been completely silent about that demand, in contrast to non-existent nuclear weapons of Iraq and Iran.


Straw’s answer continued:


“At the same time, what would also greatly ease the security situation would be for the Arab and Islamic states to recognise Israel's right to exist within international borders and to cease to threaten its very existence. That, frankly, is what places Israel in a different security category from any other country in the world.”


So, there you have it: uniquely in this world, Israel needs to have nuclear weapons – because Arab and Islamic states “threaten its very existence”.  The Government’s long held policy for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East will have to wait a while longer.



The backdrop to this “historic” announcement about Libya’s abandonment of “weapons of mass destruction” has been the settlement with Libya over Lockerbie, when Libya agreed to pay compensation to the victims’ families.  It did so, even though the conviction of its intelligence agent, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, for the bombing was an obvious miscarriage of justice.  Al-Megrahi’s lawyers are about to present a submission to the Scottish criminal cases review commission, in an attempt to get his conviction re-examined on appeal.


It is regularly stated in the press that, as part of this settlement, Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing, and the Government continues to give that impression without saying so explicitly.  In his Commons statement on 5 January, Straw said that discussions with Libya over several years had led “to Libya agreeing to pay compensation to the families of those killed at Lockerbie, and to the Libyans accepting full responsibility for the actions of their officials”.


He repeated the latter phrase more than once in answer to questions that day.  What he didn’t say was that Libya has never accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing.  To do so would require it to state clearly that al-Megrahi is guilty of the Lockerbie bombing, and that he was acting on behalf of the Libyan state when he carried it out.  Libya has never done so.


In the course of settling the dispute over Lockerbie, Libya wrote a letter dated 15 August 2003 to the President of the Security Council, which triggered the lifting of UN sanctions against it.  (The text of the letter is appended to a press statement issued by Foreign Office Minister, Denis MacShane, on the same date).  All the letter says about Libya accepting responsibility for Lockerbie is that it


“has facilitated the bringing to justice of the two suspects charged with the bombing of Pan Am 103, and accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials” (paragraph 3)


That does not say anything about al-Megrahi’s guilt, nor even that he was one of Libya’s “officials”.  Libya has not accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing at all, but bizarrely the Government is prepared to give the impression to the world that it has.


Bizarre compensation

Another bizarre aspect of the Lockerbie settlement is the compensation arrangements.  These are not a simple matter of each victim’s family getting $10 million with the lifting of UN sanctions, but depend on US policy towards Libya.  Only 40% of the $10 million, that is, $4 million, was paid with the lifting of UN sanctions, and the total amount will only be paid (a) if US sanctions are lifted, and (b) if Libya is removed from the US list of states that support terrorism.


The full story is that with the lifting of UN sanctions, each family received $4 million.  If US sanctions are lifted, each will receive another $4 million, and if the US removes Libya from its list of states that support terrorism, each will receive another $2 million.  But, if the latter two events don't take place by May this year, although another million will go to each family (which means that each family will receive at least $5 million in the deal), the rest of the money will then revert to Libya, that is, 50% of the original $2.7 billion.


Despite Libya’s renunciation of “weapons of mass destruction”, President Bush has renewed US sanctions against Libya within the last few days.  But it is odds on that they will be lifted before the May deadline, and Libya will be taken off the US list of states that support terrorism, not least because US oil companies are champing at the bit to do business with Libya



Labour & Trade Union Review

January 2004