In recent days, the North African country of Libya has been shedding its policy of nonalignment for more orientation toward the Soviet Union. Internal developments plus continuing strategic considerations appear to be placing the oil-rich, one-time Barbary Coast more firmly in the Soviet camp both ideologically and militarily.
Its neighbors are most concerned about the military aspect, especially in view of disclosures last week that Libya has tested the West German OSTRAG rocket. The rocket could be used to deliver a nuclear warhead throughout the Middle East, Africa, or southern Europe. Libya has been actively seeking nuclear weapons.
But the ideological aspect of Libya is important, too, since it is a measure of the country's foreign-policy temperament and therefore of the likelihood Libya might some day use its new military muscle on its neighbors.
On the economic side, Col. Muammar Qaddafi's Libya also is making changes. One such changes was announced March 17 when all free enterprise was banned.
This, plus continuing political and military developments that favor East over West in terms of Mideast and Colonel Qaddafi has all but abandoned the pretense of traveling a nonaligned path. US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. said March 18 Libya was an integral part of a Soviet-run terrorist training network and indicated that Washington now sees Libya as a Soviet satellite.
Throughout his 11 years in power, Colonel Qaddafi has purported to be developing a sociopolitical concoction of his own called the "third universal theory." Intended as an alternative to both capitalism and communism, the theory as applied in Libya until now has allowed elements of both systems to coexist. The decision to ditch the free market, however, signals a distinct ideological shift toward Soviet-style state control.
Unlike Karl Marx's state, Qaddafi's is intended not just to wither away at some unspecified date but actually to be gone already. Libya is painted as one grand, direct democracy with "people's committees" taking the place of government. But in practice, a very much unwithered state-by-another-name has continued to exist -- one that, due to chronic revolutionary upheaval, is highly susceptible to influence by Qaddafi and Soviet advisers.
Now businesses are to be replaced by "people's economic committees," which translates into state control of enterprise (an unorthodox situation for a Muslim state, which Qaddafi outspokenly claims Libya to be).
For the past year, the state has been taking over control of foreign trade and has prevented importers from bringing in new stock. Reports from Tripoli say one-third or more of the country's shops have been shuttered.
Qaddafi is able to indulge his society-shaping notions because of the tremendous oil wealth of Libya. Last year, wells pumped 1.7 million barrels of oil per day, earning the state more than $16 billion. The population of Libya is only 2.9 million.
The idea behind the New Libyan economic system is to spread around enough cash and low-priced, state-supplied goods to ease the transition to state control. Displaced businessmen will be employed by the new people's enterprises.
IF a Soviet-style economy is being erected, a Soviet-favoring foreign policy is already in place. Since early 1978 Libya has proclaimed an "identical evaluation of the situation" in the mideast and Horn of Africa with the Soviet Union.