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Arms Race In Libya

By Countercurrents.org

18 February, 2013

An arms race among European defence contractors to re-equip Libya's armed forces is on.

A report [1] by Christopher Stephen in Tripoli and Nick Hopkins said:

Britain is trying to boost the sale of defence equipment to Libya by sending a Royal Navy warship to Tripoli to act as floating shop window for security firms, amid concern in Whitehall that France and Italy are already cashing in on the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

But the trip in April has raised concerns among Libyan politicians and arms control campaigners who have demanded to know which companies will be on board and what kind of equipment they will be attempting to sell.

So far, UK Trade and Investment, the government agency organizing the fair, has refused to disclose the businesses likely to be exhibiting, saying this will give European competitors an advantage.

UKTI said no weapons would be offered for sale and the Libyans would only be shown specialist equipment to help with port security and maintenance, ribbed inflatable boats for patrolling the harbor, and uniforms.

Yet some prominent Libyans have raised fears that the race to win defence contracts could lead to equipment getting into the wrong hands in a country where the government has a tenuous grip on security.

"I can't see the point of having this kind of exhibition in Libya now," said Hassan el-Amin, an independent member of congress who lived in exile in the UK for 28 years and who is chair of the congress communications committee. "One of our problems is that arms are everywhere, I can't see any point in an arms exhibition right now."

The fair appears to be part of the UK government's defence engagement strategy, which is designed to foster better relations in areas where the UK has security – and business – interests.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that a Royal Navy frigate would be making a port call to Tripoli in the spring, but said it could not give further details for security reasons. However, the UKTI website said it was seeking British defence firms to take part in a "defence and security industry day" in Tripoli in April.

The agency said this was "an opportunity for UK defence and security to promote equipment and services to the Libyan navy on board a Royal Navy vessel in Tripoli. The event will attract key senior military personnel from the Libyan government."

Registration for the event closed on 12 February, but UKTI – which says it "provides the essential government to government dimension to help the UK defence and security industry" – said the list of exhibitors had not yet been finalized.

With a UN arms embargo in place and the Foreign Office regarding Libya as a "country of concern" in relation to human rights abuses, Britain is restricted by what it can sell. Sir John Stanley, chair of the committees on arms export controls, told the Guardian he expected ministers to stick to their own criteria when considering any arms export licenses.

William Hague, the foreign secretary, has said if there is a "clear risk that the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or which might be used to facilitate internal repression", then the license should be refused. Stanley said: "The policy is not qualified. The policy is clear and we expect the government to adhere to it."

His committees will be able to review any licenses granted. "The defence companies can show what they like, but they still have to get valid export licenses before anything leaves the UK," Stanley added.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade said it also had concerns about the trade mission and the use of a navy warship as a platform for defence businesses. "We would rather it didn't happen at all," said a spokesman. "But if it is going to happen, then UKTI needs to be more transparent about who is going and what they are attempting to sell."

There is already an undeclared arms race among European defence contractors to re-equip Libya's armed forces, which were defeated in the 2011 NATO-supported Arab spring uprising.

Last year Chris Baker, operations director for UKTI's defence arm, said Britain regarded Libya as a "priority country" for future exports. Speaking at the Farnborough air show, he said the UKTI was looking at Libya's border and maritime security and "at rebuilding their defence infrastructure, getting their air force back on its feet from scratch".

This month Italy handed over 20 Puma armored cars to Libya's defence ministry, and in January the French company Sillinger sold Libya 50 rigid inflatable boats.

The Libyan defence minister, Mohammed al-Bargati, said Libya would give Italy "priority status for new armaments", although the policy is complicated by the continuing UN arms embargo on Libya.

Weapons proliferation remains a headache for Libya, with Libyan weapons reportedly fuelling the insurrection in Mali. The former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said she had no doubt that Libyans weapons were used in the attack on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria that left 39 hostages dead.

"The Pandora's Box of weapons coming out of these countries in the Middle East and north Africa is the source of one of our biggest threats," she said. "There is no doubt that the Algerian terrorists had weapons from Libya.

Bilal Bettamer, a Benghazi lawyer and democracy activist, said: "It's not a secret that Libyan weapons are going everywhere, you might find them being used against British soldiers. I hope these weapons go to the official army, the trusted people."

A previous UKTI DSO mission to Libya in April last year was attended by BAE Systems, CAE, GD(UK), KBR, NATS, 3SDL, Selex Galileo, and Surrey Satellite Technology, according to an answer to a parliamentary question by MP Ann Clwyd on May 24.

Britain has taken a lead in offering training for Libya's army and police, and the European Union is providing assistance as Libya seeks to monitor its porous border, amid concerns that jihadist groups can cross at will.

The Guardian reported in March 2011 that UK companies gained arms export licences for Gaddafi's forces worth €72.2m (£62m) for Libya following the lifting of the international arms embargo in October 2004. When Libya's revolution broke out, the government revoked 158 export licences for UK companies to Libya.
In an article in the Guardian on September 17 2012, the MPs Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy called for tighter regulation over arms sales to Libya, warning "If the Arab spring has shown us anything, it is that perceived past stability is no guarantee against future volatility".


The Tripoli Post in a report [2] said:

Italy is among the top three contributors to security in Libya and is planning no less than 80 programs, mainly concerning border control, said Italian Minister Giulio Terzi during the international conference on security, justice and rule of law in Libya co-chaired by French foreign minister Laurent Fabius and Libyan foreign minister Mohammed Abdelaziz.

“Looking at the master plan drafted by the United Nations on the basis of the data supplied by individual countries, it is clear that Italy is among the top three contributors to Libyan security”, Terzi asserted, explaining that France and the UK are each currently in the process of implementing 36 projects, as compared to Italy’s 35″.

The minister added, “if we look at the programs in the planning stages, we have no less than 80 regarding Libya, well in excess of those expected from all the others”, and “I am confident that these plans are realistic”, Terzi continued.

The Italian minister went on to explain that his country would mainly be dealing with controls at the southern borders, which are “the most strategic to Libya’s internal stability”, in as much as “there are still deeply entrenched movements sustained by former loyalists, who infiltrate and slip back and forth across borders creating a framework of instability”.

He made assurances that the “The situation on the ground is still considerably worrisome on the level of security, but we and the other countries present at today’s meeting are confident that it can be remedied in the coming months”, he assured.

The Italian foreign minister also underscored that Italy had “very much supported” the Paris meeting, since “we are profoundly convinced that the progress and success of the stabilization of Libya, and the establishment of a solid democracy, depend to a large extent on the level of international support and on the determination with which the countries most involved in the Libyan question are able to act and maintain a common agenda”.

Terzi also tweeted that the “Paris meeting confirms Italy’s approach: Libyan stability is a European and international community priority”. The next international conference in this format is to be held in Italy.

Official army

Another The Tripoli Post report [3] said:

The Libyan ambassador to the US, Ali Suleiman Aujali acknowledged the challenges the country faces but says he is still optimistic about the future.

In an exclusive interview with VOA, Aujali said the greatest challenge in Libya is building an official army, which did not exist during the 42 year-year of Gaddafi. Who used brigades to protect his family and his people. He said that their replacement “is a patchwork of armed men carving out their own version of security”.

“The problem is how we're going to absorb them in the government under different umbrellas,” Aujali said. “Not all of them want to be in the army, or they want to be in the police forces, or they want to be in security service. Some of them, are civilians who just found themselves fighting the brutal regime during the revolution,” he said.

He went on to say that the Libyan government wants to work with the fighting groups, to train and educate them. “We have these freedom fighters, or what you call them, the young revolutionaries. They are the one who's taking care of the security of Libya and the border, and they are not a problem to us because we need them at this time.”

In the two years since the ousting of Gaddafi, the new government that has come to power has re-established Libya's links with the rest of the world, but the country is still economically destitute and lacks a constitution.

Aujali acknowledges the problems, and says that Libya needs to build its security. “Without our security, we cannot build our country. This is priority number one,” he told VOA

Aujali said that once all those steps happen the process should “not take a very long” because most of the articles in the old constitution “can still serve us well after more than 40 years.”

US president Barack Obama pledged in his State of the Union address that the US would help Libya provide for its own security, and offered few details about what that meant.

The Libyan ambassador to the US also provided some details about Tripoli's relationship with Washington. “I think the Americans are committed to help Libya by training, by technology, which is really important in this small population,” he said.


[1] guardian.co.uk, Feb 17, 2013, “Royal Navy sends warship to Libya to showcase defence equipment”,

[2] 14/02/2013, “Italy Among Top Three Contributors to Libyan Security, Italian Minister Says”, http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=9901

[3] 16/02/2013, “Libyan Envoy to US Says Building Army is Key to Security”, http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=9918




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