The NATO campaign in Libya in 2011 is widely regarded as a success for the West but one of the unintended – if predictable – consequences is that it makes dealing with a nuclear armed North Korea much more difficult in 2013.
In recent weeks Kim Jong-un, the 29 year old who has inherited the dictatorship of North Korea from his father, has been sabre-rattling on a global scale. He has worried many millions by threatening to use his country’s nuclear weapons.
Barack Obama has been trying to deal with any immediate threat to US allies in the region – notably South Korea – and to the US itself. The ultimate end of his policy is that North Korea should give up its nuclear weapons capability altogether. This is not new. Bill Clinton and George W Bush reached agreements with North Korea, in 1994 and 2005 respectively, under which the US would provide money, food and political recognition and in return North Korea would suspend its nuclear programme and ultimately give it up altogether.
A major problem with any attempt to persuade Kim Jong-un that he should disarm his nuclear capability is what the West did in Libya after Colonel Gaddafi, in the words of Tony Blair, “gave up his country's nuclear weapons program and stopped sponsoring international terrorism.”
There have only ever been five voluntary nuclear disarmaments - Gaddafi’s was the fifth and the most surprising. The others were three ex-Soviet states which found themselves with nuclear weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union and apartheid South Africa which disarmed before black majority rule.
Kim Jong-un and his advisers will surely be aware of the essentials of the following chronology relating to Gaddafi.
- Gaddafi led a coup in 1969. For the next thirty years or so, he was an enemy of the West and was held responsible for a number of terrorist outrages
- Libya surprised the world by announcing that it would disarm its nuclear weapons on 19 December 2003.
- The key part of the 2003 deal was George W Bush, fresh from regime change in Iraq, explicitly guaranteeing there would be no such policy in Libya. An expert, Professor Jentleson, wrote in the academic journal International Security in 2005, that: - “The repeated assurances the US and Britain gave Libya about not pressing for regime change were absolutely crucial.”
- When IAEA and US inspectors visited Libya in January 2004 they found that Gaddafi’s nuclear weaponry was significant and larger than they had presumed
- On 27 January 2004, a plane left Libya with the first consignment from its nuclear arsenal. The White House hailed Libya for its co-operation and said its good faith in dismantling weapons would be reciprocated
- Libya became an ally in Bush’s “war on terror” and sanctions were lifted
- In 2006 and following, Nicolas Sarkozy allegedly accepted more than £43 million pounds in funding from Gaddafi. A formal investigation started in France this month.
- In 2007, George W Bush sent the first US ambassador to Tripoli for 35 years and in 2008, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice visited Tripoli
- On 9 July 2009, Gaddafi met Obama. The White House said that Obama '' wants to see cooperation with Libya continue in sectors such as Tripoli's decision a few years ago to give up its nuclear program, an absolutely voluntary decision that we consider positive."
- On 21 December 2009, a plane removed the last nuclear material from Libya
- In March 2011, only 15 months later, NATO attacked Libya and effected regime change. Gaddafi was targeted personally. In one attack one of his sons and three of his grandchildren were reported to have been killed.
- On 20 October 2011 Gaddafi himself met a gruesome end.
To the regime in North Korea the lesson must surely be that they cannot trust any security guarantees they are given in exchange for nuclear disarmament. They will conclude that if Gaddafi had retained his nuclear weapons, in all likelihood he would still be alive and in power today.
The North Korean Foreign Ministry has said, that what happened in Libya “fully exposed before the world that “Libya’s nuclear dismantlement”, much touted by the US in the past, turned out to be a mode of aggression whereby the latter coaxed the former with such sweet words as “guarantee of security” and “improvement of relations” to disarm itself and then swallowed it up by force.”
Obama came to office talking about his plans to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons. This noble aspiration requires the world’s bad guys to trust any security guarantees they get in exchange for disarmament. It is difficult to see how Kim Jong-un or other regimes like Iran can be expected to trust Obama or the West generally after what happened to the bad guy who trusted them in Libya.