U.S. Intervention in Libya Undermines Nonproliferation Strategy

Recent votes in the House and Senate have brought U.S. military involvement in Libya back into focus, particularly regarding the 1973 War Powers Resolution. Although the effectiveness and constitutionality of the American contingent within the NATO intervention deserve scrutiny and debate, it may adversely affect nonproliferation efforts by the U.S. and its allies.

In 2003, the U.S. convinced the Libyan government, led by President Muammar Gaddafi, to abandon its nuclear, chemical, and long-range missile programs. As an incentive, the U.S. guaranteed full diplomatic relations and an end to all sanctions. Although this exchange did not result in regime change, it did end the country's WMD program without forcing the U.S. to becme involved in a lengthy foreign occupation. Until the recent Arab Spring, Gaddafi’s Libya posed no threat to U.S. interests. The two countries were allies. 

The current campaign in Libya, however, has undermined what would have been a victory in the global nonproliferation campaign. Attacking a country — such as Libya — which abandoned the pursuit for nuclear weapons voids the incentives that brought about abandonment in the first place. Whether or not NATO should have intervened in Libya is an entirely separate issue; however, what remains post-intervention is a weakened bargaining stance for U.S. attempts to reign in nuclear development by rogue states. 

Back in March, a North Korean Foreign Ministry official remarked that Libya had made a grave error in trading its nuclear program for better relations with the West. Citing the examples of the Soviet Union's engaging in nuclear reductions and Iraq's allowing UN weapons inspectors into the county, North Korea is now as galvanized as ever to continue improving its nuclear arsenal. 

Historic precedence indicates that countries like North Korea and Iran — members of what was called the "Axis of Evil"— have everything to gain from continuing their nuclear arms programs. Iraq, the only country in the supposed "axis" to be confronted with military action, was the only country that the U.S. knew did not have nuclear capabilities. For all the post-9/11 fear-mongering about smoking guns and mushroom clouds, the fact that two anti-American regimes successfully initiated nuclear weapons programs while we chased the specter of Saddam Hussein's long-abandoned WMD programs paints a picture of U.S. incompetence and inconsistency in nonproliferation policy. 

In order for nonproliferation to be successful, the U.S. and its allies will have to make deals with the devil. Incentives will have to be dangled in front of very unsavory regimes in order to limit and secure nuclear materials. In the end, however, the U.S. will still be engaged with and influencing actors whose actions are driven by their own interests. The true danger lies in these regimes' allowing terrorist networks — whose interests are driven by a perversion of religion and a lust for self-destruction — to possess one of these weapons.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Doug Scott

Doug Scott lives and works in Arlington, VA.

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