The New York Times reported yesterday that Libya had successfully destroyed the country’s chemical weapons stockpile at the end of January. The effort, supported by the United States, was conducted by contractors trained in Europe at a site southeast of the capital, Tripoli.
The New York Times piece suggested that this effort was conducted under a “a cloak of secrecy,” but the activities have been both public knowledge and actively reported on. Last May, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, reported that Libya had destroyed approximately eighty-five percent of its declared “Category 1” chemical weapons stocks. Category 1 consists of “Schedule 1” chemical agents as defined by the international Chemical Weapons Convention and munitions filled with those agents. Also, at a hearing on the Political, Economic, and Security Situation in Africa in November before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Amanda Dory specifically noted the the chemical weapons “abatement” program being conducted at Waddan.
Regardless of how well known or not the program was, it is still an important development. Libya continues to face significant instability following the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. International partners, including the US, are to begin work this year to train a “General Purpose Force” to provide the foundation for national security forces, but militias continue to operate with impunity across the country. Attempts by the government to crack down on them have been met by violence and kidnapping, including the abduction just this past week of four Egyptian diplomats.
Since 2011, there have also been concerns about the proliferation of weapons in general from the country, including conventional weapons like man-portable surface-to-air missiles. The potential threat of Libya’s chemical weapons stockpile was recognized immediately, and securing it was an important part of the little publicized US Operation Odyssey Guard, which followed the end of NATO’s Operation Unified Protector. The destruction of Libya’s chemical weapons stockpile marks a major milestone in international efforts to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and potentially serves as a model for the more publicized effort in Syria, as well as in other countries party to the Chemical Weapons Convention working to eliminate their stockpiles in the face of complicated circumstances.