Libya has announced the safe elimination of its chemical weapons stockpiles, a move welcomed by Green Cross International (GCI) and which comes more than a decade after the country, under its previous regime, joined the global Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in January 2004 as its sixth possessor state.
Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdulaziz (pictured right with Ahmet Üzümcü, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons/OPCW Director-General) announced on 4 February, 2014, the elimination of its stockpiles of mustard agent and chemical munitions as of January 26, 2014.
In a front page New York Times article, Dr Paul Walker, the Director of Green Cross International’s Environmental Security and Sustainability programme, hailed the announcement as “a big breakthrough, adding that “even though Libya’s chemical stockpile was relatively small, the effort to destroy it was very difficult because of weather, geography and because it’s a dangerous area with warring tribes, increasing the risks of theft and diversion.”
On joining the CWC, Libya declared 24.7 tons of sulphur mustard agent, stored in bulk containers, at a remote military depot at Ruwagha in southeast Libya, and 1,390 tons of precursor chemicals, 3,563 empty munitions, and three former production facilities. The unfilled munitions were all destroyed by mechanical crushing in March, 2004.
After several years of planning, including construction of a small incinerator by the United States that was never delivered to Libya, destruction operations of the declared mustard agent began in October 2010, but were interrupted in February 2011 by equipment failure. An effort to replace the broken equipment later that year was blocked by the NATO blockade during the Libyan civil war.
Libya’s new government declared newly discovered chemical weapons stockpiles in November 2011 and February 2012 to the OPCW. Neutralization of the initially declared chemical weapons stockpile resumed in 2012 and was completed in April 2013 during the OPCW’s Third Five-Year Review Conference in The Hague.
Destruction of the weaponized mustard agent – some 1.7 tons in over 500 aerial bombs and artillery shells – began in 2013 and was completed this past week by a static detonation chamber from Dynasafe, a private weapons demilitarization firm in Sweden. Italy, Germany, Canada, and the United States all provided substantial funding for this historic operation.
“Although there still remains a large stockpile of precursor chemicals to destroy, the effort to safely destroy all of Libya’s live agents, especially those in pre-loaded munitions subject to theft, diversion, and potential misuse by subnational groups and terrorists, has been a major contribution to global security today,” said Dr Walker.
Libya, the United States, and Russia have all missed the legally binding deadline of 29 April 2012 mandated by the CWC to complete destruction of their chemical weapons stockpiles.
Nevertheless, the OPCW had given Libya until 31 December 2016 to complete its full demilitarization operation. Current planning by Russia is for it to complete the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpiles by late 2015, and for the U.S. to do likewise by, at the latest, 2023. Russia still has approximately 10,000 tons of chemical agents remaining, while the US has some 2,800 tons at two stockpiles in Kentucky and Colorado. Iraq has an unknown quantity of agents in two bunkers sealed by United Nations inspectors in the mid-1990s, and Syria’s stockpile is 1,335 metric tons. Albania, India, and South Korea have all completed their chemical weapons destruction programs in 2007-2009.
GCI, founded in 1993 by President Mikhail Gorbachev, is an independent non-profit and nongovernmental organization working to address the inter-connected global challenges of security, poverty eradication and environmental degradation through advocacy and local projects. GCI is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and has a network of national organizations in around 30 countries.