Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Libyan Chemical Weapons

Libya's supply of mustard gas was completely destroyed in January 2014. The United States and Libya destroyed the arsenal of chemical arms over three months, starting in November 2013. The arsenal included hundreds of bombs and artillery rounds filled with deadly mustard agent dating back to the regime of Moamer Gaddafi. The weapons were destroyed using a special oven in the desert. The technology came from a Swedish company, and the Libyan contractors were trained in Germany. "This is the culmination of a major international effort to eliminate weapons of mass destruction from Libya and to ensure that they never fall into the hands of terrorists," Andrew C Weber, assistant secretary of defence for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, was quoted by the New York Times on 03 February 2014.

Libya isn't completely free of potential chemical weapons. It still has some chemical precursor materials, dubbed Category 2 chemicals. Nearly 850 tons of precursor materials for chemical weapons remain. The OPCW's Luhan said the chemicals are stored safely on a military base and monitored by cameras. These are fairly routine industrial grade chemicals which can be used to make chemical warfare agents as well, and that's why they have to be destroyed. By the end of 2016, at the latest, Libya aims to be free of chemical weapons and precursor materials - provided no more nasty surprises are discovered in the desert.

The destruction of Libya's chemical weapons began in 2004 when Libya joined the Chemical Weapons Convention. At the time it declared 24.7 metric tons of mustard gas, 1,390 metric tons of precursor chemicals and 3,563 aerial bombs containing chemical weapons. After Gaddafi was toppled by a popular uprising and killed in October 2011 the new Libyan leadership discovered nearly 2 tons of mustard gas that was already loaded into hundreds of bombs and artillery shells. Libya had previously submitted a detailed plan for the destruction of the remaining chemical weapons stock with a new planned completion date of December 2016. Destruction operations were planned to resume in March 2013.

The Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force for Libya on February 5, 2004, and Libya made its initial declaration in March 2004. Tripoli declared a CW stockpile, CWPFs and chemical industry facilities under Article VI of the Convention. In 2004, Libya had declared a stockpile of bulk liquid sulfur mustard, jellified mustard heel, and liquid precursors. Transitional National Council (TNC) forces during the unrest discovered undeclared Chemical Warfare (CW) weapons or material in Libya which they have since declared to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Libya's TNC indicated they intend to cooperate with the international community regarding CW stockpiles in Libya including the destruction of CW material. Libya had destroyed 13.48 MTs, or 51.21% of its declared stockpiles of Category 1 chemical weapons and 555.71 MTs, or 39.64% of its Category 2 chemical weapons.

Italian leader Benito Mussolini reportedly authorized the use of gas bombs against Libyan rebels in 1929. T One report claims that 24 mustard gas bombs were dropped on a Libyan oasis in 1930. he Libyans were probably the victims of mustard gas attacks.

Libya had limited success with its chemical warfare program. Libya has experienced major setbacks to its chemical warfare program, first as a result of intense public scrutiny focused on its Rabta facility in the late 1980s and more recently on its Tarhuna underground facility. Nevertheless, Libya retains a small inventory of chemical weapons, as well as the a CW agent production capability.

American efforts set back Libya's CW programs about ten years by focussing international attention on the Rabta and Tarhunah facilities and by preventing Libya from obtaining needed chemicals, equipment and experts. Libya, after spending a great deal of money, has only a small amount of agent and two facilities it dares not use for their intended purpose. If Qadahafi had been left undisturbed, he could have had thousands of tons of a variety of chemical agents and the ability to produce much more at will.

During the 1980s, Libya succeeded in producing up to 100 tons of blister and nerve agent at its Rabta facility, built with foreign assistance.

Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi has shown that he is willing and capable of using chemical weapons and missiles against his enemies. In 1986 and 1987 the Government of Chad accused Libya of using toxic gas and napalm against central government forces and against rebel forces. Libya may have used mustard gas [possibly Iranian-supplied] delivered in bombs by AN-26 aircraft in final phases of the war against Chad in September 1987. The wind blew the agent back onto the Libyan forces.

In the early 1990s, Qadhafi turned to private contractors from Thailand and other countries to construct facilities for storing a variety of chemical weapons, including nerve gases. The government of Thailand moved in 1993 to prevent its citizens from assisting Libya's chemical weapons build-up. The United States welcomed this action by the Thai government.

Qadhafi had not given up the goal of establishing his own offensive chemicals weapons capability and Libya continues to pursue an independent production capability for the weapons. Qadhafi did not appear likely to sign or ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. However, Libya remains heavily dependent on foreign suppliers for precursor chemicals and other key equipment. UN sanctions have severely limited that support. Finally, while Libya's ability to deliver any of its existing stockpile of chemical agents is not great, the threat to Egypt, US forces in the region, or NATO cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Libya saw the United States as its primary external threat, owing especially to US support for United Nations sanctions against Tripoli for its refusal to turn over suspects in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am 103. Although Libya's capabilities to use chemical agents and missiles are limited, Qadhafi could provide these weapons to states or terrorist groups he supports and that support him in return.

Qadhafi's major limiting factor was Libya's lack of a sufficient technological infrastructure to support domestic development of NBC weapons and missiles. All Libyan programs must rely on significant infusions of foreign equipment, technology, and expertise. Only Libya's chemical warfare program has made any demonstrable progress developing facilities capable of supporting large-scale indigenous programs.

Despite ongoing embargoes and an unsettled domestic situation, Qadhafi supported development of NBC weapons and missile capabilities. His view apparently was that these weapons can advance his international position, can serve as deterrents against the West's sophisticated weaponry, can be used to intimidate neighboring states, and can serve as cheaper alternatives to more expensive conventional systems.

In addition to an inadequate infrastructure, Libya has serious economic problems that threaten the regime and complicate its long-term goal of establishing domestic production capabilities. Libya's economic problems result from insufficient economic development outside the oil sector, economic and financial mismanagement, the absence of private enterprise, and corruption.

Following the suspension of UN sanctions in April 1999, Libya reestablished contacts with illicit foreign sources of expertise, parts, and precursor chemicals in the Middle East, Asia, and Western Europe.

Libya publicly indicated its intent to join the CWC. Under the CWC, Libya would be required to declare and destroy all chemical weapons production facilities and stockpiles, make declarations about any dual-use chemical industry, undertake not to research or produce any chemical weapons, and not to export certain chemicals to countries that have not signed the CWC. Libya would also be subject to challenge inspections of any facility, declared or not.

On 19 December 2003 Libya agreed to destroy all of its chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons. The surprise announcement followed nine months of secret talks between Libyan, American, and British officials. Libya agreed to abide by the Chemical Weapons Convention, and to allow for immediate inspections and monitoring.

A team of American and British intelligence officers spent about two weeks Libya in October and again in December 2003. US and UK specialists invited to Libya said they found few surprises in Libya's chemical weapons program. The US and UK learned that Libya had 24 metric tons of mustard agent (Pre-2003 estimates were 100 metric tons) produced about a decade earlier, as well as 3,500 unfilled aerial munitions, including hundreds of 250-kg aircraft bombs capable of dispersing the mustard agent in combat (estimates believed 1,000 250-kg bombs). During the visits, the team of US and UK inspectors went to dozens of sites related to Libya's nuclear effort, chemical stockpile and missile program. Libya revealed the existence of precursor materials used to develop nerve agents. Libya had also conducted experiments on the nerve agents sarin and soman.

A small desert ranch near Tripoli, described as a turkey farm, was actually a hiding place for hundreds of chemical bombs. The mustard gas and nerve agents were stored separately. Libyans took American inspectors right to them, but it was not a place the US would have looked.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons supervised the destruction of about 3,000 chemical bombs and warheads, which was completed in March 2004. Even with inspections and Qadafi's announcement, as of 2005, the U.S. Intelligence Community claim that Libya had been considerably less forthcoming about the details of its chemical weapons efforts than about its nuclear and missile programs. However, analysts interviewed by the I.C. agreed that if Libya maintained any biological or chemical programs, they would be small-scale.

Libya had destroyed about 13 MTs by April 2012. Further to a decision by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Conference at its Sixteenth Session (C-16/DEC.11), a national paper by Libya on the progress made on the completion of the destruction of its chemical weapons, including information on measures to accelerate such progress, as well as on appropriate measures in order to meet the planned completion date (EC-69/NAT.2, dated 18 June 2012), was considered and noted by the Council, along with comments on the issue.

Libya requested and received approval in January 2005 to convert the CWPFs in Pharma 150 at Rabta to purposes not prohibited by the CWC. In February and March 2004, under the oversight of OPCW inspectors, Libya completed destruction, and activities related to destruction, of its declared Category 3 CW unfilled aerial bombs. In addition, it secured all sensitive CW materials, agents, and equipment pending their elimination under the CWC.

Libya made significant progress in the elimination of its CW stockpile and facilities during the 2004-2005 timeframe. The progress included submitting to the OPCW its detailed plan for the destruction of the mobile units that were declared as CWPFs, as well as all other spare and dismantled equipment from the Al Rabta CWPFs. Libya destroyed its solid Category 2 CW, i.e., precursor chemicals, in 2005 under the auspices of the OPCW TS. The TS also confirmed the destruction in March 2005 of Libya’s mobile units that were declared as CWPFs, and of the specialized CW production equipment.

The Libyans began the conversion of the two former CWPFs at Al Rabta in January 2005, which included the dismantling of the CW production facilities, the elimination of all declared spare and dismantled equipment under full verification measures, and inspection by the OPCW inspectors. The TS informed States Parties that Libya planned to complete the conversions by January 2008. Libya later indicated it expected to complete conversions by December 31, 2009,[4] and succeeded in accomplishing the conversions on time.

In July 2005, Libya requested U.S. assistance in destroying its remaining CW and precursor chemicals. Libyan officials told the United States that Libya’s cabinet had refused funding and desired U.S. assistance to demonstrate strong U.S.-Libyan political ties. The United States responded that it was prepared, in principle, to assist Libya in meeting its CWC obligations, provided that: (1) it was understood that Libya remains ultimately responsible for destroying its CW stockpile and meeting its treaty obligations, including approved destruction deadlines; (2) U.S. funds were available; and (3) the United States and Libya were able to conclude the necessary implementing agreements and arrangements, including liability responsibility and cost-sharing by Libya.

In December 2006, the United States and Libya signed a government-to-government contract to provide financial and technical support to design, build, and operate a chemical weapons destruction facility (CWDF). Negotiations with a U.S.-designated firm to design and build a CWDF were initiated as agreed under the government-to-government contract. However, in June 2007, Libya terminated the Libya contract following a 30-day notification, citing disagreement in the negotiations with the U.S.-designated firm.

In July 2009, Libya reported the reloading of mustard, pinacolyl alcohol and isopropanol from leaking storage containers at Ruwagha. In April 2010, Libya began destruction by hydrolysis of the precursors, phosphorus trichloride and thionyl chloride, at Ruwagha with the Libyan-designed Ruwagha Hydrolysis and Neutralization System (RHNS). This was quickly halted due to technical difficulties. Libya then ordered from the Italian firm SIPSA a skid mounted hydrolysis unit that was scheduled to, but did not, start up at Ruwagha in December 2010 as the RHNS-2. SIPSA was also contracted to construct a skid mounted hydrolysis unit, RHNS-1, to meet the 1 percent and possibly the 20 percent deadlines for destruction of its Category 1 sulfur mustard stockpile. The skid unit was planned to be installed at Ruwagha and operate in the November to mid-December 2010 time frame.

SIPSA was also contracted to fabricate, deliver and install equipment for the Rabta Toxic Chemical Destruction Facility (RTCDF) with delivery scheduled for December 2010, installation to be completed by January 31, 2011, and start-up to occur in March 2011, to meet the 45 and 100 percent destruction deadlines for the Category 1 stockpile. The facility would include a furnace for mustard, 2-chloroethanol and tributylamine incineration, a rotary kiln to incinerate contaminated dunnage and other combustible items, an autoclave to destroy mustard heel in polyethylene containers and a hydrolysis unit to be used for unspecified purposes. The hydrolysis unit would in part be constructed from equipment salvaged from the RNHS-2.

In light of further delays in Libya’s CW destruction program, in November 2005, CSP-10 agreed further to extend Libya’s 1, 20 and 45 percent deadlines “in principle,” with specific dates to be proposed by Libya by March 31, 2006. EC-46 in July 2006, recommended approval of the all the dates requested by Libya. In December 2006, CSP-11 established the following dates for the intermediate Category 1 destruction deadlines: 1 percent, May 1, 2010; 20 percent, July 1, 2010. and 45 percent, November 1, 2010, and granted an extension to December 31, 2010, of the deadline for destruction of all Libya’s Category 1 CW; and called upon Libya to destroy all of its Category 2 CW no later than December 31, 2011. At the Destruction Informals prior to EC-57 in July 2009, Libya announced that it might have difficulty in achieving the 1 percent deadline of May 1, 2010, due to “environmental concerns,” and in August 2009 formally indicated that it could not meet the second set of extended deadlines.

EC-58 in October 2009, recommended extending the Libyan Category 1 intermediate destruction deadlines to: 1 percent, November 1, 2010, 20 percent, December 15, 2010, and 45 percent, January 31, 2010. CSP-14 in December 2009, granted these intermediate Category 1 CW destruction deadlines, and amended the 100 percent deadline to May 15, 2011. In September 2010, Libya reported that due to necessary technical specification changes and to destruction facility design changes that it would need to further extend its 20 percent and 45 percent Category 1 intermediate deadlines to March 30, 2011, and April 25, 2011, respectively. These extensions were granted by CSP-15 in November 2010; the 1 percent and 100 percent deadlines established by CSP-14 remained the same. Libya was reported to have destroyed one percent of its Category 1 stockpile on October 31, 2010, and achieved 22.33 percent destruction prior to December 31, 2010.




NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list