ABSTRACT

On December 19, 2003, after almost four decades of WMD procurement efforts, the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya announced its unilateral relinquishment of all types of weapons of mass destruction and of ballistic missiles with a range of over 300 km and a payload of more than 500 kg. The declaration had been preceded by several months of intense secret negotiations limited to a small circle of Libyan, British and US government officials, and took most non-proliferation analysts, practitioners and politicians by surprise. Given Muammar Gaddafi’s typically confrontational and rather deviant behavior toward the international community, very few observers had thought it likely that the Libyan leader was about to forgo the country’s weapons of mass destruction.1 Thus, Libya’s rollback of its nuclear weapons program is one of the prime examples of nuclear reversal and deserves major attention both from a theoretical and policy perspective. This is even more true given the recentness of the development: no other country has since performed a similar about-face in its general foreign and security policy and in its nuclear policy in particular. However, the analysis that follows will also reveal that Libya is not only an interesting case in terms of its initial interest in and later dismissal of the nuclear option. An aspect of the Libyan case that is at least equally striking – and one that deserves further attention – is the inconsistent political commitment to the nuclear weapons program and the rather volatile government support it received.2 The analysis begins with a depiction of Libya’s political, strategic and ideological context. This is followed by a historiographic reconstruction of the country’s nuclear program. The principal readings of the case are explicated; potential weaknesses in the currently prevailing explanations, as well as gaps in research, are identified and described. In the second part of the chapter, the Libyan case is then examined through a “pragmatist lens.” It is argued that the country’s proliferation policy was not simply based on purported, objective threats or on the state’s pre-defined situation within its security environment, but on intersubjectively shared beliefs regarding Libya’s identity, its position in the international system and its role conception. Thus, the goal is to uncover how threat perceptions, interests or preferences – which ultimately led to the non-acquisition of nuclear weapons – emerged.