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Defense Ministry Under Qadhafi

The annual session of the People's General Congress [Libya's parliament] at Sirta between July 1-4, 1995, voted to maintain Col. Abubaker Jaber Younes in his post as defence minister and armed forces commander-in-chief. The confirmation seemed purely formal, because the Defence Ministry ceased to exist in 1991. By 2000 the General People's Congress, the highest legislative and executive body in Libya, approved a sweeping overhaul of the government, replacing the prime minister and foreign minister and scrapping 12 ministries. The five ministries remaining at central level - foreign affairs, African Unity, finance, information, justice and public order-- might also be abolished at a later date.

Before the coup that brought Colonel Muammar al Qadhafi to power in 1969, Libyan national security clearly meant protection of the reign of King Idris and of the national development goals his regime had adopted. Insurance against potential external threats was sought through various compacts with Western powers-- principally the Libyan-United Kingdom Treaty of Friendship of 1953, which granted the British continued use of their World War II Al Adem (Al Adam) Air Base near Tobruk (Tubruq). A similar treaty in 1954 perpetuated use of Wheelus Air Base, near Tripoli, by the United States Air Force. Meanwhile, the monarchy devoted its own resources to the business of warding off domestic threats--largely arising from its faction-ridden army.

After Idris was deposed, Qadhafi insisted on the early termination of the treaties that gave Britain and the United States permission to maintain forces on Libyan soil. The country's energies were turned to the cause of pan-Arabism and to supporting fellow Arab countries in their conflict with Israel. The armed forces were doubled in size but, until 1973, the expansion was grounded on a reasonable balance that took into account the country's available resources and the fact that its neighbors were neither aggressive nor naturally hostile. Qadhafi became frustrated over Egypt's failure to consult with Libya in prosecuting the 1973 war against Israel and the fading of his pan-Arabist ambitions in the failure of the unions concluded with Egypt and Syria and later Tunisia. New revenues derived from the escalating price of oil were now available, and the Soviet Union was prepared to supply arms that Western powers had vetoed. For Moscow, the appeal was, first, the commercial one of a cash customer and, second, the potential of Libya as a new client state in the Mediterranean area, following the Soviet 1972 expulsion from Egypt.

Only gradually did the extent of Qadhafi's arms appetite become apparent. To Libya's existing fleet of Mirage aircraft from France, large numbers of Soviet fighters were added, including the up-to- date MiG-25. Although Libya had only 7 percent of the population of France, Libya's inventory of over 500 combat aircraft was roughly equivalent to that of France. A force of 3,000 tanks was purchased, although only one-third could be deployed with active units. Its hitherto inconsequential navy was outfitted with submarines and high-speed missile boats. Because voluntary enlistments were wholly inadequate to man the new equipment, conscription was introduced in 1978.

Because the inflated arsenal could not be justified by any perceived threat to the nation's borders, there was initial speculation that Libya was becoming a Soviet surrogate in Africa, stockpiling modern weapons for future adventures on that continent. This notion, however, was contradicted by Libya's evident determination to employ its newly purchased arms as it saw fit. Its alignment with Moscow, although based on parallel interests, was a limited one that did not extend to Soviet bases on Libyan soil.

In the decade between 1973 and 1983, arms acquisitions amounted to US$28 billion, of which US$20 billion worth had originated with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. But the quantity and sophistication of the new weaponry outstripped the ability of the limited skilled personnel to employ it. In spite of a multitude of foreign technical advisers and trainers, a shortage of qualified personnel needed to operate and maintain the military hardware persisted. Moreover, the wide range of models and countries of manufacture has created logistics and maintenance problems.

The Libyan armed forces have not, in fact, thus far played a significant role in Qadhafi's declared objective of the destruction of Israel by united Arab might because Libya's direct involvement in the Arab-Israeli wars has been negligible. Nonetheless, Qadhafi often has been a divisive element in the Middle East.

Libya's acknowledged sponsorship of terrorism for the purpose of "liquidating" exiled opponents of the regime and of punishing moderate Arabs and others regarded as opposing the primary purpose of defeating Israel has brought it into conflict with the West and particularly the United States. Hostile encounters with United States military, especially the American retaliatory bombing attack of 1986, demonstrated serious weaknesses in Libya's threat perception and defense posture. The incidents, however, caused many African and Middle Eastern countries briefly to band together in public support of Libya and in condemnation of the United States.

In little more than a decade, Qadhafi effected a transformation of Libya into a militarized nation. The armed forces were rapidly expanded, acquiring greatly enhanced firepower and mobility. The able-bodied civilian population was formed in well-equipped militia units. Libya's new military establishment and arsenal have enabled Qadhafi to project his radical vision and ambitions beyond the country's borders. In spite of frequently irrational and inconsistent behavior, he has advanced Libya to the forefront of politics in North Africa and thrown its weight against peaceful settlement in the Middle East.

As affirmed by Qadhafi's public statements, his primary purpose in the Libyan arms buildup is destruction of Israel. The armed forces, however, have not been shaped to confront Israel directly nor has Qadhafi been eager to commit Libya to battle with Israel in alliance with other Arab powers. To a limited extent, he has used his arms inventory as a stockpile, supplying weapons selectively to those countries and groups most opposed to Israel's existence. His rhetoric has been devoted to appeals to develop a combined Arab and Islamic force strong enough to wage a successful "holy war" against Israel.

In 1987 most observers doubted that either the Libyans or the Soviets viewed the stored Soviet equipment as an arms depot prepositioned for eventual use by Soviet forces in action in North Africa. The matériel has been purchased outright by Libya at a considerable sacrifice to the country's economy. In spite of large numbers of Soviet advisers and support personnel, the unused equipment reportedly has not been maintained in an adequate state of readiness to be employed at short notice. Anticipated use by the Soviet forces presupposes close cooperation and approval by Qadhafi of Soviet operations in North Africa, but other evidence suggested that he was far from willing to agree to a more active Soviet role in the area.

The traditional mission of Libyan armed forces has been to protect Libya's territorial integrity and national sovereignty. Normally, the limited capability of neighboring states to threaten Libya's borders would not justify a primed and powerful defense arm. Qadhafi, however, has inflamed relations with all of his neighbors on one or more occasions. In the late 1980s, the military remained ready for possible open conflict with Egypt, whose moderate policy toward Israel Qadhafi viewed as a provocation. Libya's buildup of naval and air strength helped to protect the country's exposed Mediterranean coastline against attack and gave Qadhafi a tangible means for enforcing Libya's claim to the Gulf of Sidra and its natural resources as Libyan territorial waters. Moreover, submarines and fast-attack craft with missiles gave Libya a potential striking power that even major naval forces in the Mediterranean were forced to heed.

Libya's arms buildup and demonstrated mobility provided the indispensable underpinning to Qadhafi's efforts to play a leading role in African politics by extending his influence, particularly to the Sahelian nations to the south. Libyan involvement has taken the form of subversion, military assistance, and direct military intervention aimed at winning other countries to support Qadhafi's radical policies or supplanting existing governments with others more amenable to him. Libya's efforts to dominate the Sahel presented a more imminent threat because of the military weakness, poverty, and unstable government in the area. In addition, territorial claims have been advanced against Chad, Niger, and Algeria.

In October 2006, the General People's Committee issued a decree announcing the establishment of a new National Security Commission. The commission was an over-arching body bringing together the existing security sectors and responsible for both internal and external security. Ghadaffi's fourth-eldest son, Moatassim, was named as the new National Security Consultant and the head of the committee, effectively making him the country's official security chief. The specific functions of this body and the way in which it fits into the hierarchy of the Libyan security establishment remained characteristically opaque. The body was temporarily suspended in January 2010, but reinstated shortly afterwards and its staff returned to their posts. Then in April 2010 it was reported that the Commission had been brought under the supervision of the Foreign Affairs Secretariat, run by the former head of external security, Musa Kusa.

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Page last modified: 23-10-2013 19:12:58 ZULU