Muammar Qaddafi has been killed and his forty-two year dictatorship in Libya is over.
After seizing power in Libya by a military coup, Qaddafi renounced the Libyan constitution and upheld his rule through a combination of force and admiration from his cult-like following. He amassed wealth with Libya’s oil, waged wars with neighboring states and was behind the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1994 that killed 270 people, including 189 Americans.
When Libyans began to call for the ouster of Qaddafi seven months ago and NATO jets joined their campaign, it was unclear how this revolution would end. In the nuclear non-proliferation community, however, there was a collective sigh of relief because Libya had given up its nuclear weapons program in2004. Qaddafi could not use them against his people in revolt.
Under an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. that promised normalized relations with Libya, Qaddafi relinquished his entire nuclear weapons program. The U.S. and U.K. dismantled, destroyed and airlifted out key components and documents on the program, Russia removed highly enriched uranium that it had supplied and the International Atomic Energy Agency began verification of nuclear sites. Qaddafi did not have the nuclear option thanks to the tireless work of U.S. diplomacy and international non-proliferation organizations.
In Qaddafi’s death, the rebels achieved the goal that unified them, but the future is unclear. Libya will face great challenges to cement a traditionally divided society, create a state with institutions and peacefully transition power. Even if there is post-Qaddafi chaos, however, there is no opportunity to use nuclear weapons and no danger of the loss or theft of the remnants of the nuclear program.
American military involvement in Libya through NATO was and remains controversial, particularly because the President declined to request authorization from Congress. Recently, the Administration sent another 100 soldiers to Uganda to defeat a powerful, violent rebel army. And the neo-conservatives remain disappointed that the United States was not more aggressive militarily in protecting human rights.
However, we give thanks for the end of Qaddafi’s rule, the closure of a nuclear weapons program and continue to support the will of the Libyan people.