- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

The national security and foreign policy of the United States regularly confronts choices between tough sanctions or constructive engagement with either allies or adversaries abroad. Libya’s transformation from a fundamentalist terrorist state to a semi-respectable member of the international community supports sanctions proponents. The same might be said of South Africa’s dismantling of apartheid, the disintegration of the Soviet Empire, and the end of Sandinista tyranny in Nicaragua.

But diplomatic and economic sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea and Syria have proven futile. And constructive engagement facilitated the evolution of Spain, Portugal, South Korea and Taiwan into thriving democracies, and softened the oppressiveness of Communist China.

The dynamics of politics in foreign countries are too complex to know in any particular case whether sanctions or engagement would be most propitious. What can be convincingly said is each case is unique; and, that experience discredits the idea sanctions will prove invariably superior to engagement, or vice versa.

Last Dec. 10, Col. Moammar Gadhafi acknowledged Libya’s programs to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons (WMD). The International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the United States Central Intelligence Agency, and Britain’s MI6 counterpart were invited to supervise and corroborate Libya’s elimination of WMD.

Col. Gaddafi’s welcome turnabout seems a bow to long years of American economic and diplomatic sanctions that commenced in the 1980s. One of the colonel’s sons and potential successor, Saif Islam Gadhafi, candidly explained the rationale: “It will pave the way for the normalization of political relations with the United States.” Libya’s Prime Minister Shukri Ghanim amplified: “We have had too many guns, and now we want more butter.” He voiced eagerness for investments by U.S. oil companies, e.g, Marathon Oil Co., Occidental Petroleum, and ExxonMobil, to revive Libya’s crippled economy.

The United States ostracized Libya to punish its sponsorship of terrorism, including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, and the killings of two U.S. soldiers and a civilian in a 1986 attack on a German disco popular with American servicemen. The ostracism sought, among other things, to convince Col. Gadhafi to renounce terrorism and to accept responsibility for the Lockerbie wretchedness. Its success on those counts seems unassailable.

Libya has agreed to pay $10 billion in compensation to the families of the Lockerbie victims, although $6 billion will be withheld unless the United States lifts sanctions by May 12. According to the State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism Report released on April 30, 2003, Libya has unconditionally allied itself with the United States war against al Qaeda and religious extremists. The report added: “Libya appears to have curtailed its support for international terrorism, although it may maintain residual contacts with some of its former terrorist clients.”

In 2002, Libya ratified the 1999 Convention for the Suppressing of the Financing of Terrorism and the 1991 Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection. It is a party to all the 12 international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism.

Col. Gadhafi probably turned a new terrorism leaf because of U.S. sanctions combined with reasons unique to Libya. Unlike Iran, where capitulation to the United States would be politically dicey, Col. Gadhafi enjoys virtually unchallenged power. His terrorism accommodations and enthusiasm for foreign oil investment occasioned no domestic opposition.

In addition, Col. Gadhafi’s idiosyncratic brand of Islam made him a potential target of Osama bin Laden and jihadists generally. Counterterrorism measures, spiraling oil production, and amity with the West became pivotal to his political durability.

The example of the 1991 Persian Gulf war demonstrated that the United States will be inclined to rescue an oil-rich regime from annexation or overthrow by terrorists despite glaring democratic and human-rights deficiencies. Accordingly, the greater the U.S. investment in Libyan oil and dependency on Libyan supplies, the greater the protection of Col. Gadhafi from extremist imams and mullahs.

He also seems to covet a dynasty. But his son, Saif Islam, cannot claim the popular revolutionary credentials that have maintained his father in power. Moammar Gadhafi orchestrated a 1969 coup against King Idris, a pliant tool of the West. Col. Gadhafi’s economic aggressions against foreign oil interests exploited latent nationalistic sentiments.

In contrast, Saif Islam has more joined than confronted the West. He has been educated in Vienna and the London School of Economics. He speaks French, German and English. He wears Western attire. A soaring economy and undisputatious relations with the United States will be essential if the son is to inherit power without internal strife.

The Libyan example teaches that sanctions may tip the scales of foreign decisionmaking in favor of U.S. interests. But it equally instructs that the Libyan success cannot readily be duplicated elsewhere because of the bewildering array of unique features of every nation’s political landscape.

Bruce Fein is an international law and constitutional consultant.

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