Don Mahley on Rabta, 2004

The late Ambassador Donald Mahley wrote a piece for ARENA back in November 2004. Titled “Dismantling Libyan Weapons: Lessons Learned,” it (unsurprisingly) has some good material on Libya’s Rabta CWPF and also on the broader Libyan disarmament case..

The whole thing is below.

Rabta also constitutes an interesting lesson from the Libyan experience…the lesson here is twofold. First, intelligence did not fail when it identified Rabta early on as a chemical weapons facility – despite the then vehement denials of the Libyan government and the doubt of numerous countries who wanted “smoking guns” to accept the intelligence assessment. Second, even when it was actively producing chemical weapons, Rabta was a “dual-use” facility. The chemical agent production lines were separated from the main part of the plant, behind separate walls. Fully dedicated facilities are not required.

With regard to the full extent of the program, an observation is in order. Prior to the December 19 [2003] announcement, there had been dialogue and even visits by select U.S.and UK officials. However, Libya obviously had not made a truly authoritative “full disclosure” decision until it was so announced in December. When we arrived in January [2004], we were voluntarily taken to additional resources that had not been discussed earlier. Our interlocutors were candid in advising us that they had not received instructions to be completely open earlier, so had only followed the instructions they had been given. The point here is not whether there was less-than complete disclosure earlier, but to point out that the incomplete disclosures were coherent and internally consistent, and involved all the major facilities that would have been required for a complete program. The additional materiel disclosed in January would have taken a lengthy dialogue and on-site set of procedures to uncover without Libyan cooperation. The lesson to learn? It is relatively easy, evenin a country where the bulk of the territory is open desert, to conceal elements of aWMD program if there is national dedication to do so. The idea that a single or even repeated short-time international inspection routine is sufficient to provide high confidence nothing has been missed is truly viewing the situation through rose-colored glasses. It is a tough job that requires considerable time and expertise.

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