Monday, December 10, 2007

France Announces Arms Accord With Libya

France became the first Western nation to extend a welcome to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, once a pariah in international circles. As part of the diplomatic exchange, France announced an agreement to provide $14.7 billion in contracts for armaments, a civilian nuclear reactor, and a desalination plant. The move was met with mixed reactions among French politicians including protests from Rama Yade, the French Human Rights minister. (USA Today: France, Libya sign deals on armaments, nuclear reactor.)

Gadhafi is one of the great success stories in the Middle East, showing just how powerful international isolation coupled with strategic military strikes can be. Throughout the late 1970s and 80s, Libya was an open sponsor of international terrorism and was implicated in the bombing of a 1989 French UTA passenger jet and the more famous 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The 1986 US raid on Libya, international isolation, and the overwhelming success of the US-lead Gulf War forced Gadhafi to have a change of heart, however. The ease with which the US and allies drove Iraq out of Kuwait and effectively destroyed the Iraqi air force and most of its tank divisions were enough to convince Gadhafi that he was headed down the wrong path. Since then, the Libyan leader has completely reversed course. Libya has paid retribution for both aircraft bombings, has dismantled its nuclear program under voluntary UN inspection, and has publicly renounced any further support for terrorism.

This is a clear example of what the world community can accomplish provided there is sufficient threat of military force with which to back up the non-violent diplomatic measures. Without the Gulf War, there was no incentive for Libya to change course. The isolation alone was not sufficient. Certainly, the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union was another major factor in Libya's about-face, but when Gadhafi ran the numbers both economically and militarily he clearly saw which side of the world community he needed to join.

Today we face the same opportunity with Iran. As the west continues to increase economic and political pressure on Iran, also a major sponsor of state-run terrorism, it is imperative that we do not ease up on the veiled threat of force. Without that threat always looming over them, the other measures have no teeth and will not stand a chance of success.

Iran today is very similar to Libya in the 1980s. They are open supporters of both Hamas and Hezbollah, terrorist organizations primarily focused on the elimination of Israel. They are clandestine supporters of the insurgency in Iraq, providing both funding and arms to the insurgents. Like Libya in the 80s, Iran finds itself isolated from the world community, and currently under economic interdiction by the UN. The undercurrent, though, is always the threat of military action either by the US or Israel.

That, as it happens, is the key. That threat must remain if non-military means will be successful. Iran is ripe for a Libyan style conversion. An Iran that abandons support for terrorism, that eliminates Hamas and Hezbollah, that ends arms shipments to the Iraq insurgency, and welcomes in UN nuclear inspectors would also find the same support in the west as does Libya. The choice is certainly theirs. But to help them make that choice, the west must keep up the pressure. It's imperative that we not back down on any of the initiatives with which Iran is confronted. We, and the rest of the world, need to learn from the lessons of Libya.


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