Country Listing

Libya Table of Contents



Figure 12. Balance of Power in North Africa, 1986

Source: Based on information from The Military Balance, 1986-87, London, 1987, 102-04.

Libyan Security Concerns

In little more than a decade, Qadhafi effected a transformation of Libya into a militarized nation. The armed forces were rapidly expanded, acquiring greatly enhanced firepower and mobility. The able-bodied civilian population was formed in well-equipped militia units. Libya's new military establishment and arsenal have enabled Qadhafi to project his radical vision and ambitions beyond the country's borders. In spite of frequently irrational and inconsistent behavior, he has advanced Libya to the forefront of politics in North Africa and thrown its weight against peaceful settlement in the Middle East.

As affirmed by Qadhafi's public statements, his primary purpose in the Libyan arms buildup is destruction of Israel. The armed forces, however, have not been shaped to confront Israel directly nor has Qadhafi been eager to commit Libya to battle with Israel in alliance with other Arab powers. To a limited extent, he has used his arms inventory as a stockpile, supplying weapons selectively to those countries and groups most opposed to Israel's existence. His rhetoric has been devoted to appeals to develop a combined Arab and Islamic force strong enough to wage a successful "holy war" against Israel.

In 1987 most observers doubted that either the Libyans or the Soviets viewed the stored Soviet equipment as an arms depot prepositioned for eventual use by Soviet forces in action in North Africa. The matériel has been purchased outright by Libya at a considerable sacrifice to the country's economy. In spite of large numbers of Soviet advisers and support personnel, the unused equipment reportedly has not been maintained in an adequate state of readiness to be employed at short notice. Anticipated use by the Soviet forces presupposes close cooperation and approval by Qadhafi of Soviet operations in North Africa, but other evidence suggested that he was far from willing to agree to a more active Soviet role in the area.

The traditional mission of Libyan armed forces has been to protect Libya's territorial integrity and national sovereignty. Normally, the limited capability of neighboring states to threaten Libya's borders would not justify a primed and powerful defense arm (see fig. 12). Qadhafi, however, has inflamed relations with all of his neighbors on one or more occasions. In the late 1980s, the military remained ready for possible open conflict with Egypt, whose moderate policy toward Israel Qadhafi viewed as a provocation. Libya's buildup of naval and air strength helped to protect the country's exposed Mediterranean coastline against attack and gave Qadhafi a tangible means for enforcing Libya's claim to the Gulf of Sidra and its natural resources as Libyan territorial waters. Moreover, submarines and fast-attack craft with missiles gave Libya a potential striking power that even major naval forces in the Mediterranean were forced to heed.

Libya's arms buildup and demonstrated mobility provided the indispensable underpinning to Qadhafi's efforts to play a leading role in African politics by extending his influence, particularly to the Sahelian nations to the south. Libyan involvement has taken the form of subversion, military assistance, and direct military intervention aimed at winning other countries to support Qadhafi's radical policies or supplanting existing governments with others more amenable to him. Libya's efforts to dominate the Sahel presented a more imminent threat because of the military weakness, poverty, and unstable government in the area. In addition, territorial claims have been advanced against Chad, Niger, and Algeria.

Data as of 1987