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Carrot or stick: Which nudged Libya?

Qaddafi's pledge to end his weapons program rekindles international debate over how best to confront rogue states.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 22, 2003



WASHINGTON

The extraordinary decision by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to verifiably abandon weapons of mass destruction is a triumph for both diplomatic action and tough threats of the use of force.

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Friday's news was long in the making. The man who once topped the A-list of sponsors of international terrorism has sought to emerge from diplomatic and economic isolation ever since he was linked to the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. But Colonel Qaddafi's efforts accelerated behind the scenes in March, on the eve of the US-led military effort to oust Saddam Hussein - timing some see as more than coincidence.

Libya's bid to rejoin the world community is sure to rekindle international debate over whether force or diplomacy is more effective in addressing the world's rogue states and their promotion of terrorism or pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

The answer may be that the two together garner the best results.

"Everybody will want to credit their own polices in these polarized times, Bush will want to claim it was the threat to use force that made this happen, while Europe will claim that smart sanctions coupled with meaningful economic incentives brought this about," says Michael O'Hanlon, a defense policy specialist at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "The truth is that both the carrot and the stick are useful, especially when you put them together."

At the same time, the juxtaposition of clear progress in reversing the weapons programs of two countries - Libya and Iran - through diplomatic means, and the costly situation the US finds itself in in Iraq after militarily removing that regime, may mean that the use of force ends up the anomaly rather than the rule.

"The Europeans must be feeling very satisfied at this point that the approach they've advocated has rung up two successes at almost no cost: no billions spent, no lives lost, no blackmail," says Joseph Cirincione, director of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Last week Iran responded to months of international pressure and intense negotiations with the European Union by agreeing to surprise nuclear-site inspections by international experts.

In announcing Libya's decision Friday simultaneously with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush called on other states pursuing nuclear and other weapons to follow Qaddafi's example and renounce the arms in exchange for good standing in the international community. Noting this, Mr. Cirincione adds, "We may be seeing a more pragmatic approach by the Bush administration that has been forced on them by a much costlier situation in Iraq than they anticipated."

That doesn't mean reliance on international inspections programs has been vindicated. The existence of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs in Libya suggests Qaddafi was able to deceive the international community for over a decade.

When Bush in his remarks held up Qaddafi as an example of "wise and responsible" leadership for choosing membership in "the community of nations" over the pursuit of unconventional weapons, it was a dramatic turnaround for a leader called "an evil man" by President Reagan.

The 1980s were marked by terrorist acts, mostly in Europe but largely aimed at Americans, that were tied to Qaddafi's regime. In response, the US ratcheted up the confrontation with air attacks on Libyan soil.

As evidence of Qaddafi's sponsorship of terrorism mounted, so did international economic sanctions. By the late 1990s the sanctions had taken their toll and Qaddafi was signalling he wanted out of the club of pariah states. His decision to give up unconventional weapons is the culmination of a process that began several years ago with negotiations over reparations for the Lockerbie blast.

Ultimately economic isolation was the chief factor in Qaddafi's turnaround, experts say. "Qaddafi got out of the terrorism business in the 90s, and he's getting out of WMD now because domestically he's up against a wall," says Mr. O'Hanlon. "The greatest incentive ... is the prospect of reestablishing economic relations" with Europe and the US.

Nonproliferation experts say the big question now is what recent promising events portend for other cases of weapons development - especially North Korea.

"We have to remember it's a much tougher case to resolve than either of the other two," says Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Noting that Pyongyang already possesses nuclear arms, whereas Libya and Iran do not, he adds that "a mistake with North Korea could mean the destruction of Seoul or a war entailing huge losses including American lives."

Noting that Qaddafi's commitments face long-term verification, and that Iran has yet to actually renounce its nuclear programs, experts say the measure of progress is long-term results.

"How permanent is the change, what's the cost of the change, did the resort to regime change by military force in one case make real regime change by other means more possible?" asks Cirincione. "Those are the questions whose answers will begin to tell us what is the preferred strategy."

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