Could Libya’s nuclear pledge be a template for North Korea?


U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton has called for North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal in a deal that mirrors Libya’s abandonment of its weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

An obvious difference between the two cases is that North Korea has developed nuclear weapons, which it has tested six times, while Libya never did.

North Korean officials have criticised his comments for similar reasons, casting doubt on next month’s summit between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed after Libyans joined the 2011 Arab Spring protests, aided by NATO allies who had encouraged him to give up his banned weapons. It was an outcome that analysts have suggested will have been noted in Pyongyang.

Following are details of what happened in Libya:


In December 2003, Libya agreed to give up nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programmes as a result of secret negotiations that included visits to Libyan weapons production sites where U.S.-British teams said they found a nuclear programme far more advanced than they had believed.

Tripoli had never managed to build a weapon or even enrich uranium, though the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found Libya did develop the know-how to make a small amount of plutonium, the ingredient used in the atom bomb the United States dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.

The surprise decision was part of efforts by Libya under Gaddafi to shed its reputation as an international pariah state, though Britain said it may have been prompted by the fate of Saddam Hussein, toppled by a U.S.-led invasion earlier in 2003.

Libya agreed to sign the IAEA’s Additional Protocol authorising snap nuclear inspections and adhere to conventions governing chemical and biological weapons. It agreed to allow inspections of all weapons sites.

At the time, U.S. President George W. Bush appeared to have the nuclear programmes of North Korea, and Iran, in mind when he said: “I hope that other leaders will find an example in Libya’s announcement today.”

Libya sent equipment from its nuclear weapons programme, along with its longer-range missiles and launchers, to the United States for disposal.


Libya had secretly produced weapons-grade nuclear material in a programme to make an atomic bomb that was more extensive than previously believed, according to the IAEA.

It said Libya relied on illicit atomic suppliers who skirted international sanctions to sell sensitive technology to states like Libya, Iran and North Korea.

The IAEA said Libya’s nuclear programme began in the early 1980s.

British officials said Libya had “dual-use” sites – civilian facilities with the potential to support work on biological weapons. Libya denied this.

A senior U.S. official said Libya had acknowledged a chemical weapons programme and had “a significant quantity of mustard chemical agent”.

Libya acknowledged materials, equipment and programmes, including centrifuges and containers for chemical material.


The Libyan announcement was the second dramatic step it took in 2003 to restore its standing with the international community.

Tripoli earlier agreed to take responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and paid $2.7 billion (£2 billion) to compensate the 270 people who died.

Bush formally ended the broad U.S. trade embargo on Libya to reward it for giving up weapons of mass destruction but left in place some sanctions related to terrorism. The European Union agreed to lift sanctions on Libya.

In March 2004, British Prime Minister Tony Blair sealed Libya’s return to the world community with a historic handshake with Gaddafi in a ceremonial tent outside Tripoli.

Blair said Libya’s rejection of banned weapons and rapprochement with the West could act as a template for other Arab nations to turn their back on Islamic extremism.

But later that year, Gaddafi said his country had been poorly recompensed for pledging to renounce banned weapons and this offered little incentive to other countries to follow suit. He returned to the theme in the years that followed.
“This should be a model to be followed. But Libya is disappointed because the promises given by America and Britain so that we could give up our capabilities were not fulfilled and therefore those countries are not going to follow Libya’s example,” he told the BBC in 2007, referring to Iran and North Korea.

In 2011, Gaddafi was chased out of Tripoli and later killed in Libya’s Arab Spring revolution. NATO warplanes provided crucial support for the insurgents.