News your connection to The Boston Globe

Libya as a partner

ON TUESDAY the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad ElBaradei, pronounced himself "very pleased" with the "complete openness and transparency" of his Libyan hosts after two days of talks on dismantling that country's nuclear weapons program. The meetings mark a hopeful new turning point in the struggle to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons.


The decision of Libya's ruler, Moammar Kadafy, to end his expensive covert pursuit of nuclear warheads cast light on the mercenary multinational network that has supplied parts and technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea. It also opens up a realistic prospect of using carrots and sticks to eliminate the nuclear weapons programs of Iran, North Korea, and any other state that might have been dealing with the network spawned by the Pakistani metallurgist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

ElBaradei alluded to this possibility Tuesday when he said: "We are still trying to see whether other countries have received technology, have received weapons designs." Already the Libyan revelations have enabled the IAEA to unravel many of the lies Tehran has told about the state of its advanced nuclear weapons program.

ElBaradei has been forthright in acknowledging the success Khadafy enjoyed in hiding Libya's illicit nuclear acquisitions from the IAEA for more than two decades. Candor of this kind will be crucial to an indispensable task: abandoning old quarrels about the relative effectiveness of international treaties and organizations versus the detection and enforcement capabilities of governments. There must be cooperation between them.

US and British officials negotiated with Libya over a long period of time. The interception last October of a ship with centrifuge parts bound for Libya and last year's military preparations to oust Saddam Hussein appear to have played a role in persuading Khadafy to come clean. His incentive was to end US sanctions against his regime, receive foreign investment, and become a member in good standing of the international community.

As Libya's prime minister, Shokri Ghanem, told the BBC Tuesday, his government came to the conclusion that even if it could have withstood sanctions and acquired a nuclear capability, a nuclear bomb is a weapon that cannot be used. Nuclear weapons, he observed, could not help the United States during its war in Vietnam.

Iran and North Korea must be made to accept this wisdom. If the Bush administration follows through on pledges to lift the travel ban on Libya, revive student exchanges, and resume commercial relations, rulers in Tehran and Pyongyang may realize they have everything to gain -- and nothing but an illusion to lose -- if they choose the Khadafy option.

Globe Archives
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months