Libya During the Cold War

Notes and Samples of US - Libyan History During the Cold War
Colledted from The Foreign Relations of the United States

By Holger Terp

Introduction: The Foreign Relations of the United States series presents the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity. The series, which is produced by the State Department's Office of the Historian, began in 1861 and now comprises more than 350 individual volumes. The volumes published over the last two decades increasingly contain declassified records from all the foreign affairs agencies.

Congressional Research Service (CRS). 19 December 1996. Clyde R. Mark. 93109: Libya.

Historical Background

In 1911, Italy invaded and occupied Libya during a conflict with the Ottoman Turks and their Sanusi allies, and in 1912, annexed Libya after the Ottomans declared the territory independent. The Sanusis continued the war against the Italian invaders, which placed them on the side of the Central Powers and against the Allies in World War I. When the Sanusi leader Ahmad fled to Turkey after losing a battle against Italian and British forces, his nephew Idris assumed command of the Sanusis and signed a truce with Britain in 1917. A 1920 Italian-Sanusi agreement recognized Idris as the Amir of the Libyan interior, and an autonomous subject of the Italians along the Mediterranean coast. Despite the arrangement, armed Sanusi resistance to Italian rule continued until 1931, when the Italians executed Umar al-Mukhtar, a guerrilla leader and ally of Idris. In 1940, Libyans from the interior declared their support for the Allies when Italy entered World War II on the German side. After the war, the Allies could not agree on Libya's fate, eventually agreeing in 1949 to a United Nations General Assembly Resolution calling for Libya's independence in January 1952.

173. National Security Council Report, Washington, June 29, 1957. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955–1957, Volume XVIII, Africa, Document 173

General Considerations

1. The Kingdom of Libya is of strategic value to the United States by virtue of its position athwart North Africa and Mediterranean communication lines and even more because of the important military bases and operating rights on Libyan territory. Libya is also important because of its potential effect on the stability and orientation of the rest of North Africa.

2. Our military position in Libya derives from a Base Agreement which was signed September 9, 1954, and which expires December 24, 1970 unless renewed. U.S. military facilities in Libya include Wheelus Air Force Base near Tripoli, gunnery and target ranges, and ancillary installations. There are tentative plans for additional installations in Libya, including an air base in Cyrenaica.

3. The King is the main source of power and the principal effective unifying factor in Libya. A strong-minded Prime Minister, however, has considerable latitude in exercising power and influence. On May 26, Abd al-Majid Ku’bar succeeded Bin Halim as Prime Minister. He was a former Speaker of the House, Foreign Minister, Minister of Communications, and Deputy Prime Minister. There are no political parties in Libya and political changes are of little interest to the Libyan public. Strong divisive tendencies exist among the three Federated Provinces Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fazzan. which could threaten the survival of a united Libya after the death of King Idris.

10. The Libyan Federal Army is overshadowed by the provincial police forces (which total between 5,000 and 6,000 men). The Federal Government and the King must rely primarily on these provincially-controlled police forces for the maintenance of internal security...


18. Availability and use in Libya of such military facilities as the United States may require.

19. A stable and independent Libyan Government able to withstand the separatist tendencies of the provinces, free of anti-Western (particularly Egyptian and Soviet) influence, pro-U.S. and pro-Western in orientation, and giving support to Free World objectives.

3. U.S. Policy Toward Libya (NSC 5716/1; OCB Special Report on “Implications of Petroleum Developments on U.S. Operations in Libya”, dated September 23, 1959; NSC Action No. 2139; NSC 5911/1; NIE 36.5–60; NSC 6004; Memo for NSC from Executive Secretary, same subject, dated March 7, 1960). Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958–1960. Volume XIII, Arab-Israeli dispute; United Arab Republic; North Africa, Document 338

Secretary Anderson said this proposal was part of a fundamental issue. We had always tried to maintain bases in foreign countries by producing in the country where the base was located a favorable climate of opinion, which was established largely by our aid programs. We were increasingly coming to realize that [4½ lines of source text not declassified]. $100 million was to be spent in Libya in the next year in connection with the development of the oil resources. These expenditures plus military expenditures would have a great inflationary effect in Libya. We had announced that we had a balance-of-payments problem. We should ask other countries to help us in that problem; and Britain was in a good position to do so with respect to Libya....

Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara, Status of Wheelus Air Base, Washington, March 25, 1964.

a. “What is US firm estimate of strategic value of Wheelus?”

(1) Training. Wheelus Air Base is critical to the requirements of the Air Force for the maintenance of combat ready crew status for all fighter and fighter interceptor crews assigned in the European area. The base is the only facility in the area that provides important all year good weather, gunnery and bombing ranges, and other facilities capable of accommodating the large numbers of personnel to be trained. At any one time, there are approximately 100 fighters and fighter interceptors scheduled for training operations at the Weapons Training Center, Wheelus Air Base. Crews are rotated every thirty days. This schedule permits each crew member an opportunity to maintain his proficiency and to requalify himself every six months. These are minimum air training requirements for combat crews. The weather factor is important in that it permits dependable scheduling not only at the Weapons Training Center, but also for the return of these crews to their duty stations to assume their combat alert status. As long as combat ready air forces remain on the European continent, a training facility such as Wheelus will remain an essential requirement.

(2) Contingencies. Beyond its significance as a training site, the strategic location of the base has even greater importance. It enhances the US capability to support over 50 contingency plans relating to the Middle East, North and South Africa, and the Indian Ocean area. The loss of Wheelus Air Base would undoubtedly require revision of these plans with the attendant likelihood of degradation of effective response. During our increase of readiness for operations in the Lebanon crisis in 1958, Greece denied the United States certain landing and overflight privileges. In these circumstances, the availability of Wheelus was—and could again be—of major importance.

(3) Cold War. As the location of the base is significant to the support of US contingency plans, its location is equally important in support of cold war activities. The air support furnished the United Nations during the Congo emergency could not have been as effective and timely had Wheelus Air Base not been available. US efforts would certainly have been more costly. Were we called upon to provide support for the UN Peacekeeping Force now active in Cyprus, Wheelus would be an important facility in assuring such support. The emerging, volatile nations of Africa South of the Sahara are potential trouble areas in which US interests may require involvement. Wheelus Air Base remains the last US foothold of significance on the Continent of Africa. The combination of US withdrawals elsewhere, the high likelihood of continuing disturbances throughout the area, the strategic interests of the United States, and the role we assume in UN operations increase its strategic importance.

(4) Other Significant Uses. Other activities are conducted at Wheelus Air Base. The storage of War Reserve matériel is directly related to the ability of US forces to respond to contingencies since they make possible support of continued operations in remote areas. In addition, the base, again because of its location, serves effectively for strategic aircraft recovery. Military Air Transport Service aircraft operate through Wheelus Air Base and service areas in the Middle East and Africa. The base also includes an important communications station of the Defense Communications System. In addition, a number of important electronic detection devices to monitor nuclear activities of the USSR and France are located and operated on the base.

94. Memorandum From the Director for Plans and Policy, Joint Staff (Johnson) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Hoopes) Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Volume XXIV, Africa, Document 94, Washington, November 14, 1967.

Contingency Planning for Relocation of Military Functions from Wheelus Air Base (U)

The study recommends that:

a. Wheelus Air Base be retained.

b. In the event the Air Force is forced to withdraw from Wheelus Air Base, the Weapons Training Center be relocated at Zaragoza Air Base, Spain, and the other functions being performed at Wheelus Air Base be relocated as outlined in individual sections of the study.

c. Preliminary negotiations with the Government of Spain not be undertaken at this time. However, in renegotiation base rights with Spain (scheduled for late 1968/early 1969), care should be exercised that the agreement does not foreclose the option of future relocation at Zaragoza Air Base.

Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), Washington, August 9, 1972 (August 9, 1972)
Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume E–5, Part 2, Documents on North Africa, 1969–1972, Document 91.

The event which led to the present situation took place in mid-June when Libyan oil negotiator and now Prime Minister JALLUD called in the heads of the oil companies doing business in Libya and told them that their position is jeopardized because of the US government policy of refusing to provide arms to Libya. He exaggerated in describing Libya requests to the US which he said had been turned down, but as you know there are still 8 F-5 aircraft dating from a commitment made prior to Qadhafi's takeover which have never been delivered. We agreed to sell them at a time when we were working with the Libyan air force as a means of holding our position at Wheelus Airbase. After the revolutionary command deposed King Idris, we held the remaining eight aircraft under that contract “under review,” and that is still their status. Another dimension of this problem for the future is that the Libyans have ordered 8 C-130s through commercial channels for delivery next year, and the issue of licensing them will come up at some point...

Sharon Squassoni: Disarming Libya: Weapons of Mass Destruction

On December 19, 2003, Libya announced it would dismantle its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs. Since then, U.S., British, and international officials have inspected and removed or destroyed key components of those programs, and Libya has provided valuable information, particularly about foreign suppliers. Libya’s WMD disarmament has been a critical step towards reintegration into the world community.

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