Jean pascal Zanders*                                                                                                      ...
Although less spectacular in its pronouncements, the                 building for filling the chemical into plastic contai...
back. None of the accusations were ever corrobo-                                   tracked bulldozer running over them on ...
the destruction activities scheduled for March have                               to intervene military. Hence claims of d...
Floor plan of a chemical weapons facility in Rabta, as included in the court documents concerning the 1990 trial    of Ger...
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20110300 Iss Libya Uprising And Cw

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Amid the growing violence in the Libyan uprising, there are fears that Gaddafi will unleash chemical weapons on his own people. In fact, Libya’s chemical weapons capacity is at best limited, and using it poses a logistical challenge – and even a threat to Gaddafi’s own forces.

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20110300 Iss Libya Uprising And Cw

  1. 1. Jean pascal Zanders* march 2011 ThE rETUrn of GaddafI and hIS chEmIcal wEaponS SpEcTrE Mustafa Abdel Galil, who resigned as Libya’s justice © HUSSEIN MALLA/AP/SIPA minister on 21 February 2011, alleged three days later in an interview with the Arabic-language news net- work Al Jazeera that Colonel Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi would not hesitate to unleash his chemi- cal and biological weapon (CBW) arsenal against the protesters who are threatening to break the Libyan strongman’s hold on power. However, how credible is Galil? A return to ‘Auschwitz-in-the-sand’ Libya used to maintain a major chemical weapon (CW) production plant at Rabta, southwest of the capital Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi Tripoli. Throughout 1988 and early 1989, public evi- dence of the armament programme was mounting.1 liferator in Special National Intelligence Estimate 11- The proof consisted less of spy or satellite pictures 17-83 of 15 September 1983. According to unspeci- of the factory than of involvement of West European fied reports, Gaddafi had also received a tonne of the companies in the design, supply of equipment and nerve agent tabun from France. A 1984 Israeli report construction of the facility. Chancellor Helmut Kohl contradicted the allegations about Tripoli’s chemical and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher denied capability, stating that the Libyan stockpile was uncon- the increasingly public (and mainly US) allegations of firmed. Public reports remained discrepant. According involvement by German companies and individuals, to an article quoting British intelligence sources in and resisted calls to halt the proliferation flows and the British Sunday Telegraph of 23 November 1986, strengthen national export controls. German firms were Tripoli had passed on the Soviet Scud-B warheads by then also known to have played a significant (but to Syria and Iran. The Soviets vehemently denied by no means unique) role in building up Iraq’s chemi- having supplied Libya with chemically capable war- cal warfare capabilities against Iran and the Kurds. heads. Other elements of the story did not stand up In utter exasperation over Germany’s state of denial, to empirical scrutiny, so that many doubts about its New York Times columnist, William Safire, launched veracity persisted. On the contrary, many indicators a scathing attack against Germany’s complicity in the that had surfaced during the discussion rather sug- construction of ‘Auschwitz-in-the-sand’, as he called gested that at that time either Libya did not possess the Rabta plant.2 Few opinion pieces have ever had CW or that its stocks were insufficient to sustain a such an immediate policy impact. chemical warfare campaign. Notwithstanding, CW installations continued to be identified across Libyan The United States first labelled Libya as a CW pro- territory. At the beginning of 1988, US sources pointed to a site at Matan-as-Sarra, in the south-eastern cor- 1 . For an extensive discussion, see Jean Pascal Zanders, ‘Mechanisms be- ner of Libya and about a hundred kilometres above hind the Imhausen-Rabta Affair’, in Jean Pascal Zanders and Eric Remacle (eds.), Chemical Weapons Proliferation: Policy Issues Pending an Interna- the border with Chad. At various times, other locations tional Treaty, Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Conference on Chemical War- were cited, such as the region around Sabhah in the fare, Free University of Brussels, 16 March 1990 (Centrum voor Polemologie, Vrije Universiteit Brussel: Brussels, May 1991), pp. 3–40. south-west of the country. 2 . William Safire, ‘The German Problem’, New York Times, 2 January 1989, available from URL <http://www.nytimes.com/1989/01/02/opinion/essay- the-german-problem.html>. * Jean Pascal Zanders is a research fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies1 European Union Institute for Security Studies
  2. 2. Although less spectacular in its pronouncements, the building for filling the chemical into plastic containers German Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) generated a was just completed and sufficient containers for 150 steady stream of intelligence assessments concern- bombs were thought to be ready, while five new ones ing Libya’s interest in CW. As early as April 1980 it were being added to the stockpile every day. The in- reported that Gaddafi wanted to establish a domes- telligence report also stated that the plant was now tic production capacity and was trying to obtain the under complete Libyan military control and that was raw materials from European countries. In July 1983, ready for full-scale manufacturing of mustard gas and it informed the Bonn government that the plant was nerve agents. However, the BND, which had been located near Bu Kemmesh (Abu Kammash) and had briefing the USA on the new developments for several started production of mustard agent at the end of months, rejected the possibility of a nerve agent pro- 1981. It rescinded this assessment in October 1988. duction capacity. It added that the Libyans had been using makeshift production methods for the 30 tonnes Meanwhile, the BND was receiving numerous reports of blister agent, resulting in extensive corrosion to from both Western and Eastern sources that German the unsuited equipment. Many of those claims were firms were involved in the construction of a CW pro- of course as much designed to pressure the German duction plant at the Tajura nuclear research centre. government to tighten up its export control regulations In January 1986, it stated that a section for the pro- for dual-use technologies as to compel Gaddafi to duction of mustard gas had been newly constructed. abandon his weapon programme under international A month later, the centre was also connected to the pressure. Their exactness was at the time the subject manufacture of the nerve agent sarin. of intense debate, but confirmation of the facility’s pur- pose and capacity size came when court proceedings of the German company Imhausen and the Belgian shipping agent Crosslink became publicly available in the early 1990s. Libya consistently denied all allegations and main- tained that it only possessed a pharmaceutical plant near Rabta, suggesting that the fresh accusations are part of new US disinformation campaign. On 14 March 1990, the factory was severely damaged by a mysteri- ous fire, which, according to Libyan sources, put the plant out of operation. US sources stated that it had resumed operations by mid-May. In the middle of the 1990s the US alleged that the country had moved its CW production installations to an underground facility near Tarhuna, some 60 kilometres southeast of Tripoli. A digital map of Libya dating from the 1980s indicating areas with This CW complex was never confirmed, despite satel- known chemical weapons production facilities lite imagery of tunnel entrances. A German intelligence briefing on 22 June 1987 re- ferred for the first time to Rabta, just north of Garian. Chemical warfare allegations The plant was expected to start daily production of 1-3 tonnes of sarin from September 1987 onwards. The allegations about the CW production installa- During the second half of 1988, new details started tions during the 1980s were accompanied by claims emerging at a dramatic pace and specific German of chemical warfare. Gaddafi became embroiled in companies involved in the plant began to be identified. a limited war with neighbouring Chad; in December International attention now specifically turned to the 1986, the Chadian government of President Habré ac- Rabta site and all the other previously named loca- cused Libya of using chemicals and napalm against tions disappeared off the radar. Speculation, however, its troops. It repeated its claims in September 1987, mounted as to how ready the plant was and about its apparently after the announcement of a cease-fire production capacity. On 7 March 1990, an anonymous on the eleventh. Accepting the assertions, the United US official claimed that the plant had begun manufac- States had already sent 2,000 gas masks to Chad in turing of small quantities of mustard and nerve agents, September. US sources also referred to earlier alle- but had no yet reached full production capacity. In con- gations of Libya’s resort to chemical warfare agents trast, the US Defence Intelligence Agency asserted during the 1983 war with Chad. They added that the that the Libyans may already have manufactured up attack backfired, killing a number of Libyan soldiers as to 30 tonnes of mustard agent. Furthermore, another a consequence of malfunctioning munitions or blow-2 European Union Institute for Security Studies
  3. 3. back. None of the accusations were ever corrobo- tracked bulldozer running over them on a hard tarma- rated by independent sources, not even by members cadam road at Al Jufra. Besides the weapon holdings, of the French forces present in Chad. The Chadian Libya had also declared an inactivated CW produc- Permanent Representative to the United Nations did tion facility (Rabta) and two storage sites.4 Later it not refer to these accusations in his August 1987 emerged that Libya had declared three production fa- report on the war to the Security Council. cilities, which include ‘STO-001 Mobile Units’ located in Tripoli, and might have comprised a bomb-filling While the crisis over the Rabta complex was reach- plant or a production plant awaiting installation else- ing its climax in mid-January 1989, Libya was again where, ‘Rabta Pharmaceutical Factory 1’, and ‘Rabta accused of launching chemical attacks. Sudanese Pharmaceutical Factory 2’. The division of Rabta is rebels claimed that in late 1988 Libyan pilots, flying based on the type of CW activities having taken place for the Khartoum government, which incidentally was there. No Libyan declarations identify other CW pro- also backed by the USA, dropped chemical bombs duction sites, including the often-named Sabhah and on a garrison at Nasir in southern Sudan. Allegations Tarhuna.5 were denied by all sides involved. Tripoli was also said to have flown chemicals it had obtained from Iran into Under the terms of the CWC, the equipment in Factory Somalia on 7 October 1988. Francesco Rutelli of Italy’s 1 had to be destroyed as it was specifically dedicated Radical party, asserted that these agents had been to CW production. The building has now, with approval used to bombard rebels in northern Somalia, add- of the 2004 OPCW Conference of the States Parties ing that the Somalian president had been to Libya to (CSP), been converted for peaceful uses and is sub- obtain more CW. These charges too were disavowed ject to a special inspection regime for converted pro- by both governments. duction facilities. Factory 2 could be entirely converted for peaceful purposes as the CSP decided to accept Facts behind the stories Libya’s argument that its equipment was not part of the former CW programme. The Rabta plant now manufactures pharmaceuticals. The STO-001 Mobile On 19 December 2003, Libya formally announced Units were destroyed under OPCW supervision. its renunciation of non-conventional weapons and its commitment to dismantle any such weapons in its Libyan destruction activities were heavily funded by possession. A trilateral process involving the United the United States, which was scheduled to deliver States and the United Kingdom was initiated and a high-temperature incinerator. However, problems helped to established an onsite assessment of actual arose over the terms of the contract and the amount weapon capabilities. US and British experts confirmed of US financial assistance and Gaddafi cancelled the the presence of a limited ageing, but viable CW stock- contract in June 2007. This was a major factor con- pile and production capacity, but no biological weapon tributing to Libya missing an important CWC-defined (BW) programme. Libya confirmed its commitments destruction deadline and having to request the OPCW under the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, for an extension. In its request, it also cited strong, but and quickly acceded to the Chemical Weapons otherwise unspecified opposition to the destruction Convention (CWC) on 5 February 2004. Early in March activities by civil society.6 the country submitted its obligatory initial declaration. In February 2011, in the midst of the uprising, the At the March 2004 session of the Executive Council OPCW stated that almost 13.5 metric tonnes of mus- of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical tard agent or 54% of the initial stockpile had been de- Weapons (OPCW), the international body overseeing stroyed, as well as nearly 40 per cent of the precursor CWC implementation, then Director-General Rogelio chemicals required to manufacture the agent.7 The Pfirter stated that Libya had destroyed 3,563 aerial country no longer has any delivery systems for chemi- bombs, each designed to carry 48 litres of chemical cal warfare agents. OPCW inspectors are permanently agent in an array of 1-litre plastic canisters, and de- present when destruction activities take place. Twice clared possession of, inter alia, 23.62 metric tonnes a year they also visit the CW storage sites to check on of mustard agent, over a thousand metric tonnes of seals and have thus far not detected any activities in- Category 2 chemical agent precursors, and almost dicating a revival of the weapon programme. However, 2,000 metric tons of precursors for CW manufactur- ing.3 4 . Ibidem, pp. 5 and 8. 5 . Editorial, ‘Libya and ‘dual use’’, CBW Conventions Bulletin, no. 65 (Sep- tember 2004), p. 2. Starting on 29 February, the empty bomb casings had 6 . Martin Matishak, ‘Libya requests another extension to chemical weapon been crushed by means of a 70-tonne heavy-duty destruction deadline’, Global Security Newswire, 21 October 2009. 7 . Arthur Max, ‘Watchdog says Libya destroys chemical weapons’, The 3 . ‘Developments in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Examiner, 23 February 2011, URL <http://washingtonexaminer.com/news/ Weapons’, CBW Conventions Bulletin, no. 64 (June 2004), p. 2. world/2011/02/watchdog-says-libya-destroys-chemical-weapons>. 3 European Union Institute for Security Studies
  4. 4. the destruction activities scheduled for March have to intervene military. Hence claims of documentary had to be postponed until the Libyan government can proof of Gaddafi ordering the Lockerbie bombing or clarify the situation and conditions at the CW sites to warnings of the regime perhaps resorting to CBW. the OPCW. The facts, however, appear clear. US and UK in- Popular revolution and the CW threat spectors uncovered a BW programme that did not reach much further than lukewarm intent. The CW programme was a much more serious proposition. Galil’s claim bathes in an aura of truth. During the However, bulk agent production had been limited to 1980s and 1990s many reports based on Western in- a single agent of World War I vintage, namely mus- telligence assessments discussed Libya’s interest in tard. Being a viscous liquid, it evaporates rather slowly CBW, as well as in nuclear weapons. The confirma- in temperate climate zones. Its greatest military rel- tion of the Rabta production plant just after the 1980- evancy in the past was therefore area denial to enemy 88 Iran-Iraq war with its extensive CW use by Iraqi troops. A second ‘advantage’ was the long-term inca- forces had come to an end, posed a serious challenge pacitation of exposed soldiers due to the lengthy and to the then existing norm against chemical warfare. complicated healing process. Large numbers of casu- Furthermore, since seizing power in a coup in 1969, alties could therefore overwhelm battlefield casualty Gaddafi became firmly associated with the concept of management and logistics. However, it is also slow- state-sponsored terrorism. He financially and materi- acting, with symptoms first appearing between 2 and ally backed Arab-nationalist groupings attacking Israeli 24 hours after exposure. Use of mustard agent may its Western allies, and similarly supported extreme left help the Libyan leader deter future attacks, but would entities or right-wing nationalists terrorising societies hardly stop an ongoing assault. All of this is of course in Europe and Japan during 1970s and 1980s. His under the assumption that he can take control of the acts culminated in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 remaining bulk agent stored at the destruction facil- over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on 21 December ity near Rabta and somehow transport it back to his 1988, killing 270 people aboard the plane and on the stronghold in Tripoli. ground. Libya became even more isolated and subject to ever stricter international sanctions. Of no strategic Second, 23 agent tonnes of mustard is not all that mili- utility like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi reigned as tarily significant. During the night of 12–13 July 1917, the West’s principal bogeyman. His erratic and eccen- German forces used mustard gas for the first time tric behaviour, often on public display, hardly gave any when they fired some 50,000 shells into the Ypres sa- cause to challenge his international portrayal. Hence lient for an estimated agent weight of 30–35 tonnes. the reasons why the international press has eagerly Production plans typically envisaged 10 tonnes or picked up on Galil’s chemical warfare spectre. more per day. So, Libya’s declared stockpile for a pos- sibly two-decade armament effort is hardly impres- International attitudes towards Libya switched almost sive. Given the internationally supervised destruction overnight in 2003 after Gaddafi indicated his willingness activities since the country acceded to the CWC, that to pay compensation to the relatives of the Lockerbie amount has shrunk to just over 9,000 tonnes. victims and dismantle his non-conventional weapon programmes under international supervision.8 Ample Finally, Libya seems to have developed only a single fossil energy resources and opportunities for Libyan delivery system: the aerial bomb. The totality of this investments in Europe remade the Libyan leader into was destroyed within weeks of Libya having joined the an acceptable, if not welcome partner to Western po- OPCW. How the regime would disseminate the agent litical, economic and cultural elites. The daily images today is unknown. Considering that Gaddafi’s last and reports of state-encouraged violence to quash loyal units and mercenaries would not have had any the revolt in February and March 2011 easily restores training in handling chemical warfare agents, they just Gaddafi’s international pariah image. Some defectors might become the first victims of any such plan. from his government clearly seek to carve out a role for themselves in the post-Gaddafi Libya or at a mini- So, although Galil’s claim may seem to bathe in an aura mum want to avoid any domestic or international liti- of truth, it is not rooted in fact. Should he know other- gation against them for past criminal involvement. Or wise, then he conspired with the regime in misleading they may want to entice the international community the OPCW and the international community. 8 . For a more detailed discussion of the Libyan approaches, John Hart and Shannon N. Kile, ‘Libya’s renunciation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and ballistic missiles’, SIPRI Yearbook 2005: Armaments, Disarma- ment and International Security (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2005), pp. 629–648.4 European Union Institute for Security Studies
  5. 5. Floor plan of a chemical weapons facility in Rabta, as included in the court documents concerning the 1990 trial of German company Imhausen who constructed the CW facility Legend: 1. Underground storage tank 21. Cylinder filling station 2. Above ground storage tank 22. Storage for liquid products 3. Solid compounds - Drying 23. Warehouse 4. Solid compounds - Storage 24. Open-air equipment storage 5. Distillation 25. Measuring observatory 6. Solid or liquid compounds 26. Laboratories and social building 7. Nitrogen tank 27. Oil tank 8. Vapour installation 28. Burst pipes [Not indicated on floor 9. Water processing installation plan] 10. Compressed air installation 29. Torch 11. Refrigerant installation 30. Porter’s house 12. Cooling water installation 31. Cold water installation 13. Electricity installation 14. Brine installation 15. Emergency electricity installation 16. High and low voltage distributer 17. Production 18. Vacuum installation 19. Waste water and dilution installation 20. Exhaust gas absorption installation5 European Union Institute for Security Studies

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