Saturday, 4/4/2020 | 5:11 UTC+0
Libyan Newswire

Assessing the risk from Africa as Libya loses its chemical weapons

African securityAssessing the risk from Africa as Libya loses its chemical weapons

By Scott Firsing

Published 23 September 2016

Libya’s remaining chemical weapons left over from the Gaddafi regime are now being safely disposed of in a German facility. This eliminates the risk of them falling into the wrong hands. But can these same hands acquire weapons of mass destruction from the rest of Africa? The disposal of Libya’s chemical weapons has lowered the risk of weapons of mass destruction in Africa. But we have seen how far non-state actors are willing to go to either produce or steal such weapons. For example, analysts envision militants known as “suicide infectors” visiting an area with an infectious disease outbreak like Ebola purposely to infect themselves and then using air travel to carry out the attack. Reports from 2009 show forty al-Qaeda linked militants being killed by the plague at a training camp in Algeria. There were claims that they were developing the disease as a weapon. The threat WMD pose cannot be ignored. African countries, with help from bilateral partners and the international community, have broadened their nonproliferation focus. They will need to keep doing so if the goal is effectively to counter this threat.

Libya’s remaining chemical weapons left over from the Gaddafi regime are now being safely disposed of in a German facility. This eliminates the risk of them falling into the wrong hands. But can these same hands acquire weapons of mass destruction from the rest of Africa?

Weapons of mass destruction are commonly broken into four categories: chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear.

Chemical agents include choking agents (chlorine), blister agents (mustard), and blood agents (hydrogen cyanide and nerve agents as well as sarin or VX). Biological weapons involve a microorganism such as bacteria (anthrax is an example), fungi or a virus (such as smallpox), and toxins. Radiological attack material is usually combined with radioactive material in conventional explosives while a full nuclear detention involves fission.

There is limited open source information on African countries’ current biological and chemical weapons programs. And all African countries, with just two exceptions — Egypt and South Sudan — have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, which commits countries to destroy all stockpiles. No African state at the moment possesses nuclear weapons.

State-owned stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction on the continent are, therefore, not the biggest threat. Rather, there is growing concern about dual-use goods. These are materials that are primarily produced for peaceful purposes but can also be used for deadly purposes.

Examples include chemical products used by industry such as herbicides or pesticides that can be turned into weapons, or biological agents created using your typical research lab equipment. For example, Australian researchers exploring ways to control the mouse population unexpectedly produced a lethal mousepox virus.

Governments often have limited knowledge of chemical production since it is the preserve of the private sector. Often these facilities are not as well secured as government facilities.

Kenya, with the help of the United States, has just taken steps to prevent terrorists laying their hands on biomedical toxins that could be used to make biological weapons. The country has been the target of deadly attacks by al-Shabaab terrorists in recent times.

What is known
Egypt decided to concentrate on increasing conventional forces, and chemical and biological weapons, rather than nuclear weapons. It is also one of the few states to have used chemical weapons in wartime in the 1960s. In the 1980s Egypt intensified its biological activity, working closely with Iraq. Information on its current programs is limited.

-->