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LIBYA'S DECISION TO dismantle its weapons of mass destruction programme and throw open all related facilities to full scope inspections has sharpened the debate on whether force or persuasion is more effective in solving global problems. The United States would, of course, attribute Libya's abrupt turnaround to the fear instilled in "rogue states" by its invasion of Iraq. Libya does figure in the U.S. State Department's list of rogue states and there are sufficient American forces in the Mediterranean and Europe to lend credibility to a military threat. However, Tripoli could have reasonably calculated that the military and diplomatic capacities of the U.S. are currently so over-stretched because of its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan that it cannot initiate operations in yet another part of the world. The Libyan leadership has actually displayed a measure of astuteness in staying a step ahead of those who would pose a threat. It began negotiations with the United Nations in the late 1990s, on the surrender of two citizens suspected of involvement in the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, before it was subjected to military pressure. It also initiated the discussions with the U.S. and the United Kingdom that led to the decision on dismantling non-conventional weapons at a time when these two powers were fully engaged in preparations for the invasion of Iraq. The developments on the Libyan front show that the objectives of the international community can be achieved through non-violent means if recalcitrant countries are provided the incentive to change their ways.
Libya decided to give up its non-conventional weapons programme largely because of economic considerations. It has to revamp and diversify its oil-based economy. The U.N. lifted sanctions earlier this year after Libya accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie outrage and agreed to pay $2.7 billion to the families of the 270 victims. That has opened the way for British and Italian companies to invest in the oil sector. However, Tripoli believes that U.S.-based companies must play the major role if the full potential of its oil sector is to be realised. American oil companies cannot invest so long as the Bush administration continues to impose sanctions. Washington insists that it will not lift sanctions until the weapons programme is completely dismantled. This policy is not detrimental to Libya alone. Concessions awarded to American firms have been inoperable so far and will become unavailable once the contracts expire in 2005. That Libya was able to make the best of these circumstances is remarkable given its current diplomatic isolation. It broke with its Arab brethren after they moved towards rapprochement with Israel, but has not succeeded in the efforts to integrate with an African bloc.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration appears to have drawn the wrong conclusions at the end of the negotiations. It argues, vaingloriously, that Libya's mercurial leader Muammar Qaddafi was induced to change his policy for fear that he would suffer the fate that befell the former leaders of Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington's success in keeping France and Germany out of the negotiations has only strengthened its belief in the utility of a unilateral approach. The European powers, acting in concert, recently persuaded Iran to abandon its nuclear weapon programme. They did so without threatening to use force and by making Teheran aware of its own best interests. Libya too appears to have changed its policy after considering the totality of its circumstances. However, the U.S. appears determined to devalue the multilateral approach as it seeks to establish that international events will be shaped only by the power of the hegemon.
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