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Missile Overview

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Author Topic: Missile Overview  (Read 2194 times)
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« on: February 26, 2011, 04:23:31 pm »

Updated September 2009
Chemical Overview

Allegations that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini ordered the deployment of the blister agent sulfur mustard in Libya imply that the state's first experience with chemical weapons occurred during the 1920s. Libya did not begin to build an offensive chemical warfare (CW) program until the mid-1980s. [1] Once the decision to develop an offensive CW capability had been taken Libya rapidly erected a production facility near the village of Rabta. Despite the investment of significant amounts of time and resources the development of Libya's chemical weapons facilities could not have had the success it did without the assistance of foreign suppliers, the majority of which came from Western Europe.

Throughout the 1990s Libya's relations with the international community were highly contentious, in part due to the threat represented by what was at the time believed to be an expansive Libyan CW capability and its related refusal to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). In addition to the generalized objection to chemical weapons that existed in the international community there was a strong concern in the international community that Libya might provide chemical weapons to terrorist groups or even employ them directly in one of its own government sponsored covert terrorist actions. [2] Libya finally agreed in late 2003 to cease its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including CW, and to open its doors to international inspections. Libya became a party to the CWC in early 2004 and began the process of destroying its chemical weapons arsenal and facilities under international verification shortly thereafter. Although there was good initial progress, most notably in terms of destroying the Libyan stock of CW munitions the process has since stalled and Libya has made no progress towards destruction of its stock of CW agent or precursors. Libya has pledged to fulfill its destruction obligations by 2011 and although the international community has expressed its disappointment at the slow progress towards complete destruction of the Libyan CW arsenal as yet no concerns have been expressed that Libya might have decided to retain its CW stocks in violation of its CWC obligations.


In the absence of a full account describing the internal debates and planning of the Libyan government in the 1980s conclusions regarding the motivation behind Libya's decision to pursue the development of an offensive CW capability must be somewhat speculative. However, on the basis of available information several factors seem to have been important.

First, it represented a bid by Libyan dictator Colonel Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi to compensate for Libya's military weaknesses at both the tactical and strategic levels relative to its likely opponents. The primary focus of attention in Western discussions of Libyan motivations was Israel's larger, and much more capable, conventional military force, especially its air force, but attention was also drawn to Israel's nuclear capabilities. However, an additional, and potentially a more important consideration for Libya may have been the Libyaian military which was a rival for leadership in the Arab world, was allied to the United States (a Libyan enemy), and was suspected of maintaining a strong CW capability. Tensions between these two countries were quite high on a number of occasions in the 1980s with both countries mobilizing their forces to their mutual border on at least one occasion. Libya embarked on a full-scale effort to develop CW capabilities as the most cost-effective means of bolstering its overall military posture, which lacked effective conventional military forces or nuclear weapons. According to Western and Libyan exile sources, Libya's effort to acquire chemical weapons was coupled with an aggressive effort to acquire ballistic missiles that could be used for long-range delivery. Because chemical weapons are cheaper to produce, and the facilities for their production easier to conceal than nuclear weapons they were also more appealing.

A second motivating factor for the development of a CW capability in the 1980s may have been the desire to counter-balance the Israeli nuclear arsenal. Once the Libyan effort to obtain its own nuclear capability was thwarted the leadership may have elected to turn to a different advanced weapon system that held out the prospect of exercising a deterrent effect on Israel by holding its population at risk. Libya's official position was that it did not have a CW program and chemical production facilities were intended solely for peaceful purposes. [3] But as demonstrated by the Libyan government's revelations in late 2003 about the true extent of its CW program, these denials demonstrated al-Qadhdhafi's past history of covert proliferation.

Finally it is worth noting that the Libyan CW effort did not exist in isolation. The Libyan program was one of several contemporaneous CW efforts in the Arab world that combined the construction of CW facilities and the amassing of CW arsenals with the development or acquisition of long-range missile capabilities. In addition to the previously mentioned Libyaian CW capability there were also programs in Iraq and Syria. It is possible that Libya felt some pressure to match the efforts of these other leading Arab states. In this regard it is noteworthy that in the course of the 1990s the Libyan CW program seems to have lost much of its perceived value as national efforts were redirected towards the development of a nuclear weapon. This reduced priority followed on the heels of the elimination of the Iraqi CW capability and reduced confidence in the assertion that Libya possessed chemical weapons. Additional factors may have been the overall decline in the price of oil during the 1990s that limited the Libyan state's resources combined with tightened restrictions on the export of chemical production machinery and chemical precursors.

During the mid to late 1980s, Libya began the construction of three chemical weapons facilities. The first was located 75 miles south of Tripoli at a site called Rabta. The facility, named Pharma-150, posed as a pharmaceuticals facility to conceal the nature of its offensive chemical weapons program. Construction at Rabta was completed in 1988, after which the facility was able to manufacture at least 100 metric tons of blister and nerve agents over the next three years. [4] Libya built the second facility called Pharma-200 underground at an army base 650 miles south of Tripoli at Sebha. The third chemical weapons facility built in Libya during the 1980s was Pharma-300 or Rabta II located south of Tripoli at Tarhuna. This site promised protection from air attacks by building two 200-450 ft. tunnels covered by 100 ft. of sandstone shields and lined with reinforced concrete. [5] For the international community, the development of these three sites were cause for alarm as Libya's government under al-Qadhdhafi had proven unpredictable after a series of incidents including threats in May 1981 that Col. Al-Qadhdhafi was planning the assassination of U.S. diplomats in Rome and Paris and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland by Libyan intelligence officers on 21 December 1988. [6]

As allegations filtered in claiming that the Rabta plant was potentially the most expansive chemical weapons facility in the world, the United States in particular became increasingly concerned with al-Qadhdhafi's willingness to utilize chemical weapons. Libya had already resorted to chemical warfare on a small scale as an asymmetric response to conventional military inferiority. In September 1987, Libya's military operation in Chad was near defeat following a series of dramatic reversals. When Chadian forces, with French support, launched a surprise attack on a military base inside Libya, al-Qadhdhafi ordered his forces to attack the Chadian troops by dropping Iranian supplied bombs containing sulfur mustard from an AN-26 transport aircraft. [7] Although this use of chemical weapons was not extensive enough to be militarily decisive, it demonstrated Libyan willingness to ignore international norms and was sufficient to alarm the international community.

Therefore, when the United States caught wind of allegations that the Rabta plant was capable of producing roughly 10,000 lbs. of chemical agents such as Sarin and Tabun per day, it prepared to launch a pre-emptive air strike to destroy the facility. [8] (Note: it is not evident how the 10,000 lb per day value was determined; hypothetical calculations of production quantities often represent idealized scenarios that are rarely realized, as is evident from Libya's declared CW stocks that are much smaller than such a calculated capacity would indicate.) In May 1990 a fire at the Rabta site was reported to have destroyed the facility's production capabilities. The report was based on leaks from U.S. intelligence sources and came just before a planned U.S. attack on the facility aimed at eliminating its capability to produce any additional CW agent. [9] It was subsequently discovered that the smoke seen in the reconnaissance satellite photos was, in fact, caused by a pile of burning tires a significant distance from the buildings at the Rabta facility. This revelation discredited the reports claiming that the facility had been damaged and the United States called the fire a hoax intended to discourage U.S. military action against Libya's CW facilities.

During the late 1980s the involvement of foreign companies in supplying Libya's chemical weapons program with materials, technology, contractor services and technical expertise began to be exposed. In January 1989, the world found out that Imhausen-Chemie, a West German chemical company, had been serving as the "prime contractor" for the facility at Rabta since April 1980 while several other West German companies had been involved in the program to lesser degrees. [10] These revelations made West Germany the focus of international criticism, even though countries such as Belgium, France, Denmark, East Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Yugoslavia, China and Thailand had also participated in the development and equipping of Libya's chemical weapons program. Nevertheless, a number of countries reacted to international pressure spearheaded by the United States and took steps to ensure that companies under their jurisdiction ceased transactions with Libya that might support the further development of Libya's chemical weapons program. A total of three Imhausen employees, including the director, were convicted of illegally supplying CW materials to Libya in October 1991 and a fourth German national was convicted in 1996 for facilitating Libya's acquisition of computer technology and other equipment to enhance chemical weapons development. It is not clear how much impact the measures aimed at isolating Libya and limiting its access to foreign suppliers of equipment and precursors had. However, it may be the case that they were a factor in the reduction in CW activities in the 1990s.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which had been opened for signature in January 1993 entered into force on 29 April 1997. Despite participating in the convention negotiations, Libya did not sign, joining Libya and other Arab countries in rejecting the treaty. The Arab position was aimed at pressuring Israel as a response to that country's continued refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and maintenance of a secret nuclear weapons arsenal. In a development that can seen retrospect as highly significant, Libya attended the first CWC Review Conference (RevCon) from 28 April to 9 May 2003 as a non-state party.

Throughout 2003, Libyan and British officials engaged in increasingly detailed secret negotiations aimed at finding a way to normalize Libya's relations with the international community. By October 2003, Libya had consented to U.S. and British investigators examining laboratories and military facilities to verify the state and extent of Libya's WMD programs including its CW program. Finally it was agreed that in December, Col. Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi would publicly announce his pledge to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the IAEA Safeguards Agreement and the Biological Weapons Convention, the Additional Protocol of the IAEA Safeguards Agreement, the Biological and Chemical Weapons Treaty, and to rid Libya of all WMD, including chemical weapons.

Finally, on December 19, 2003, the Libyan government surprised the world by publicly announcing its decision to abandon its programs for developing weapons of mass destruction and intention to immediately open its WMD facilities to international inspections. According to published reports, Libyan leader al-Qadhdhafi's renunciation of WMD followed nine months of secret negotiations with the United States and Britain. Until its WMD program was officially acknowledged, Libya's official position was that it did not have a CW program and that its chemical production facilities were intended solely for peaceful purposes. [11]

On 20 February 2004, the OPCW received a partial declaration from the Libyan Government detailing the country's chemical weapons stockpiles. In the following weeks, OPCW inspectors monitored the destruction of 3,500 aerial bombs designed to deliver chemical agents and began the process of verifying Libya's initial declaration in which the Libyan Government claimed possession of 50,700 lbs. of mustard agent and 2.9 million lbs. of nerve agent precursor chemicals. On 19 March 2004, OPCW inspectors confirmed the presence of 20 metric tons of sulfur mustard and enough precursors to produce approximately three thousand of tons of sarin nerve agent. The limited size of the Libyan arsenal was a surprise in some quarters, being significantly less than was expected based on statements by Western sources in May 1990 which alleged that Libya had the capability to produce as much as 4.5 metric tons per day. Although the Libyan arsenal proved to be less than expected, and although the program appeared to have been largely inactive for some time the elimination of Libya's chemical weapons capabilities represented a significant reduction in the global CW threat.


Since renouncing chemical weapons and joining the CWC Libya has sought to play an active role in the operations and activities of the OPCW. It regularly attends meetings and has sent representatives to a number of regional events. Furthermore Libya has on a number of occassions called on other regional states to follow its example and join the Convention. Despite swift initial progress in destroying munitions the process of destroying Libya's existing CW agent stocks has since been slower than expected. In December 2006 Libya secured an extension of its destruction deadlines from the OPCW giving it until 31 December 2010 to complete the process. Although Libya and the United States initially agreed to cooperate on, and share the cost of, destroying Libya's CW agent stockpile this agreement was repudiated by the Libyans in June 2007. It is generally agreed that the agreement was ended due to disputes over bureaucratic arrangements and the distribution of costs. Neither the United States, nor any other party has indicated that they see the breakdown of this agreement as a sign that the Libyans are stepping back from their CWC commitments. As of early October 2008 no new agreement for international funding of the Libyan CW demilitarization effort has been put in place.
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