Safer world: bureaus help secure Libyan chemical weapons.
In 2009, President Obama warned an audience in Prague of non-state actors acquiring the materials to create weapons of mass destruction and urged all nations to secure dangerous materials and reduce weapons stocks. Secretary of State John Kerry echoed the President's message when, in Senate testimony in 2013, he noted that gas warfare during World War I caused most of the world to ban chemical weapons.
Before the start of Libya's revolution in 2011, roughly half of the country's key chemical agents in its declared stock of bulk chemical weapons had been destroyed in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. A mechanical failure kept the rest from being destroyed, and after the revolution broke out, destruction ground to a halt. After the Qadhafi regime fell, Tripoli's new government told the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) it had found a stockpile of previously undeclared chemical weapons.
Typically, the OPCW responds to such reports by sending inspectors to verify the munitions' destruction, but Libya's volatile post-civil war environment made it unsafe for OPCW inspectors to do their work.
At the State Department, the bureaus of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC), International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN), and Political Military Affairs (PM) worked with the Libyan government and the OPCW to secure and destroy the munitions to prevent them from falling into terrorists' hands. The first step was for the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli to negotiate an agreement with the Libyan government by which the Libyan National Authority, the government's official liaison to the OPCW, would provide support in the field to keep the weapons site secure and also provide transportation to it.
To help augment security of the site, ISN contracted with a U.S.-based company called Advantor Systems Corporation, which assessed the security needs of the site and made recommendations to the Libyan National Authority. With Libya's approval, Advantor hardened the weapons storage bunkers and installed security equipment, actions that later earned it the Department's 2013 Small Business Contractor award.
At the storage site, Advantor found a significant number of conventional arms and unexploded ordnance. The PM bureau assisted with the site clean-up as part of its country wide, multilateral response to the threat from Libya's unsecured stockpiles of conventional weapons. Eventually, PM removed more than 1,000 abandoned conventional weapons from that location.
With the site finally secure, thanks to ISN's contract with Advantor and PM's removal of the conventional weapons and unexploded ordinance, the OPCW was finally able to deploy its inspectors to verify the destruction of the chemical weapons.
This wasn't just a State Department affair. The Department of Defense's Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) helped the Libyans destroy the chemical munitions under its Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. DTRA provided destruction technology, expertise and training to Libyan operators. The shifting political environment and uncertain security in Libya made the destruction efforts more challenging, but the munitions were all destroyed by May.
Some work still remains, since all precursor chemicals for the weapons-making process have not been destroyed, but these chemicals do not pose the same proliferation risk as did the bulk chemical agent or chemical weapons themselves.
The Libyan example demonstrates how interagency and multilateral cooperation and hard work can significantly improve international security. Through timely action, U.S. interagency coordination and international cooperation, the Libya chemical weapons elimination effort became a nonproliferation success story. Complex issues and dangerous environments inherently make nonproliferation and disarmament difficult to achieve, yet they remain some of the most worthwhile pursuits of diplomacy. As President Obama reminded the world in Prague, sometimes "we must ignore the voices that tell us the world cannot change."
By Eric Lund, public diplomacy officer, and Leah Matchett, intern, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation
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|Date:||Oct 1, 2014|
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