The rise and solidifying of power in Libya by Muammar al-Qaddafi and his relationship with the United States as seen through documents from the CIA, State Department, the Henry Kissinger Papers and Nixon presidential papers.
This 534 page document collection includes an image of each original page of each document and a text transcription. This volume is compiled from documentation generated by the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, the NSC staff, and the records of the Department of State. It also includes documentation from the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Kissinger papers.
In 1959, significant oil reserves were discovered in Libya. Revenue from petroleum exports moved the United Kingdom of Libya from being one of the world's poorest nations, to becoming a wealthy state. However, resentment began to build over the increased concentration of the nation's wealth in the hands of King Idris. This discontent grew with the rise of Nasserism and Arab nationalism throughout North Africa and the Middle East.
In August of 1969 King Idris of Libya was in Turkey for medical treatment. On September 1, 1969 a group of about 70 junior Libyan military officers lead by Muammar Gaddafi took the opportunity to stage a bloodless coup d'état. The coup was launched in Benghazi, mostly by members of the Libyan Signal Corps. The crown prince, Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Sanussi, Idris' nephew, was placed under house arrest. The Free Officers Movement, as the coup leaders were referred to, declared an end to monarchy in Libya and renamed the country the Libyan Arab Republic.
The Movement quickly evolved into the Revolutionary Command Council which on September 7, 1969, announced that it had formed a cabinet to conduct the business of the government of the new republic. The following day, the RCC promoted Captain Muammar al-Gaddafi to colonel and appointed him commander in chief of the Libyan Armed Forces, making him the new de facto head of state.
While working on domestic policy reforms, the RCC made several declarations covering its relationship with other nations. It announced that it would be neutral in the Cold War confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. It said it would oppose all forms of colonialism and imperialism. It announced its opposition to the State of Israel. The RCC kept in effect the ban on political parties in Libya instituted in 1952.
U.S. government documents from this period show that Libya was the country with the most potential for problems in North Africa. United States officials recognized that it did not want to tie the U.S. to the authoritarian and corrupt monarchy of King Idris. The United States recognized the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) as the new government after the September 1969 coup.
Through diplomatic channels Morocco and Tunisia expressed concern that the U.S. was not interested in restoring the Libyan monarchy. The U.S. government avoided any efforts or foreign plans to act against the new Libyan government. When a counter-coup was attempted in December 1969, the United States strongly refuted the new Libyan government assertions that the U.S. was involved.
The area of contention with Libya the U.S. was most concerned about was the American Wheelus Air Force Base located in Libya. Although its initial statements concerning the United States were measured, the new Libyan government was, according to CIA analysts, unlikely to remain so, and would probably insist on withdrawal from Wheelus Air Force Base.
Gaddafi considered Wheelus, which was built by the Italian Air Force in 1923, as a vestige of European colonialism. In October 1969, the Libyan government requested that the two nations enter discussions, which would lead to the termination of U.S. military presence in Libya. The Nixon administration came to the conclusion that it was in the interest of the U.S., particularly oil assets, to withdraw from Wheelus Air Force Base. The U.S. Government agreed to withdraw from Wheelus by the middle of 1970. The base was one of the bombing sites targeted by the United States in 1986 during Operation El Dorado Canyon. Today the air base is known as Mitiga International Airport.
Libya's main concern was the delivery of U.S. jet aircraft, which the United States had contracted to sell to the previous Libyan government. The documents show U.S. officials deliberating over the arms sale to Libya. Some thought completing the sale might prevent Libya from nationalizing American and European oil company assets. The President's Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, vacillated on the question, at first siding with the opinion that no gesture would make the Libyan government less hostile. Later, Kissinger considered releasing the F-5s in order to protect American oil interests.
The Nixon administration came to the conclusion that the sale of the eight F-5 aircraft would not make relations with Tripoli better and denied delivery. The Libyans reacted with threats to go to the Soviets for weapons. Upset by other delays from western military suppliers, Libya took its first arms delivery from the Soviet Union in mid-1970.
At the same time negotiations between Libya and oil companies were taking place. The United States government believed that Libya would seek much better terms than the agreements the previous government had signed. U.S. officials believed that nationalization was unlikely. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird and Ambassador Joseph Palmer believed that the U.S. should make some effort to accommodate the Libyans on the question of the F-5 sales, which Deputy Secretary of State John Irwin argued could protect U.S. oil investments.
In May 1972, Libya called for a reduction in the number of personnel in the U.S. Embassy from thirty-five to fourteen. In October, the Libyan Foreign Minister called the blocking of the F-5 contract, the major problem in U.S.-Libyan bilateral relations. Qadhafi informed the American Ambassador that due to Washington's refusal to deliver arms to Libya, while opening its arsenal to Israel, Tripoli would be forced to turn to the Soviet Union with more regularity. By December, U.S. Embassy officials warned that due to its support for Israel, the United States could expect a new policy of overt discrimination against its interests. State Department officials recommended that the U.S. remove "unnecessary misunderstandings in the area of arms supply." The White House made no change in denying the F-5 jets.
The documentation in this collection demonstrates that while Libya and the rest of North Africa was considered important enough for the United States to wish to retain the region in the western camp and prevent inroads into the area by the Soviet Union or Arab radicals, North Africa was not a high priority for U.S. foreign policy under President Richard Nixon. As a result, North African demands for changes in U.S. policy towards Israel and the Israeli-Arab crisis, or increased military aid or sales, generally received political and diplomatic, but basically non-committal responses from Washington.
U.S. Government policy analysts advised the Nixon administration that by actively engaging the countries of North Africa and by encouraging European allies of the U.S. to do the same, the area could be kept free of Soviet domination.
These documentary records indicate that in the end, the Nixon administration decided to maintain diplomatic relations with Libya and use its economic connections in the hopes of influencing the new military government towards a more pro-Western stance.