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    Libya Relations with the United States and Western Europe
    Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies

    In the 1970s and early 1980s, Libya was widely suspected of financing international terrorist activities and political subversion around the world. Recruits from various national liberation movements reportedly received training in Libya, and Libyan financing of Palestinian activities against Israel was openly acknowledged. There were also allegations of Libyan assistance to such diverse groups as Lebanese leftists, the Irish Republican Army, Muslim rebels in the Philippines, and left-wing extremists in Europe and Japan. Some observers thought support was more verbal than material. However, in 1981 the GPC declared Libyan support of national liberation movements a matter of principle, an act that lent credence to charges of support for terrorism.

    Support for international terrorism was a major issue in Libya's relations with the United States and Western Europe. The United States, in particular, viewed Libya's diplomatic and material support for what Tripoli called "liberation movements" as aid and comfort to international terrorists. In general, after the early 1970s relations between the two countries went from bad to worse, even while the United States continued to import Libyan crude.

    Qadhafi opposed United States diplomatic initiatives and military presence in the Middle East. As a protest against Washington's policies in Iran, the United States embassy in Tripoli was stormed and burned in December 1979. In the late 1970s, Washington blocked delivery to Libya of equipment judged of potential military value and in May 1981 ordered Libyan diplomatic personnel to leave the United States to prevent assassination of anti-Qadhafi Libyan dissidents. The most serious incident occurred in August 1981 when United States jets shot down two Libyan jet fighters during naval maneuvers in the Gulf of Sidra (see Relations with the United States and Western Europe , ch. 4). That same month, Libya signed an economic and political agreement with Ethiopia and South Yemen, the so-called Tripartite Agreement, aimed at countering Western, and primarily American, interests in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. After a series of joint consultations, however, the pact became largely a dead letter.

    Libya's income from oil came from sales to Western Europe as well as to the United States, and to ensure a steady supply of oil most European nations tried to remain on reasonable terms with their Libyan supplier. Some protests arose over the wave of political assassinations of Libyan exiles in Europe in 1980, but only Britain with its independent supply of oil took a strong stand on the issue. Qadhafi's call that same year for compensation from Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and Italy for destruction of Libyan property in World War II brought no response, even when the Libyan leader threatened to seize property if adequate compensation were not negotiated.

    By the early 1980s, Libya was a country embroiled in controversy. Libyan ventures in Chad and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East had earned a good deal of opprobrium for Qadhafi, who often pursued his goal of Arab and Islamic unity and extended Libyan influence at what seemed any price. Indeed, suspicion if not hostility were the usual response to Qadhafi's initiatives in the Arab and Western world.

    Domestically, the government had attempted to ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth, a step that pleased many but by no means all of its citizens. A new political system with new institutions was also in place with the aim of involving as many citizens as possible in governing themselves. But overlapping jurisdictions and responsibilities had led to confusion, and there were questions as to the viability of the committee system of government. A sizable number of Libyans seemed uninterested in political participation, while others had gone into opposition, active or passive, at home and abroad. The country's oil revenues had been channeled into agricultural and industrial projects that the regime hoped would provide employment and lessen dependence upon imports and foreign labor. Even in these areas, the results were less promising than had been expected, and falling oil prices diminished the financial resources that could be devoted to continued economic and foreign policy initiatives.

    The decline in oil revenues and consequent economic slowdown, the continued reliance upon non-Libyan expertise, and the generally unfavorable state of foreign relations and persistent dissidence in the military and society at large posed grave problems for the Qadhafi regime in the early 1980s.

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    Two of the best English-language sources on Libya are John Wright's Libya, which covers Libyan history prior to the 1969 revolution, and his Libya: A Modern History, devoted to the course of the revolution during the 1970s. Jamil M. Abu-Nasr's detailed A History of the Maghrib views Libya in the larger context of regional history but carries the narrative only up to 1951. The various works of the archaeologist Richard G. Goodchild are of primary importance for the study of Libya in antiquity. Kathleen Freeman utilizes both fable and fact in her delightful and informative historical essay on Cyrene in Greek City-States. For a treatment of the late medieval period, see Robert Brunschvig's La Berbérie orientale sous les Hafsides. Much material of value for an understanding of the early Ottoman period in North Africa is found in Fernand Braudel's classic The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. Seton Dearden's A Nest of Corsairs is the welldocumented but fast-moving story of the Karamanli dynasty. Few works on modern Libya compare in scholarly significance to Edward Evans-Pritchard's monograph The Sanusi of Cyrenaica. Claudio G. Segrè's Fourth Shore studies the colonial period from an Italian vantage point and submits findings that call for a reassessment of the demographic colonization of Libya. Several of the essays in E. G. H. Joffe and K. S. McLachlan, Social and Economic Development of Libya, cover important aspects of Libya in the present century. Lisa Anderson examines the mistrust of the modern bureaucratic state that is so peculiarly Libyan and that characterizes Qadhafi's political philosophy in The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya, 1830-1980. Richard B. Parker's North Africa offers an incisive overview of contemporary Libya that emphasizes Qadhafi's role in determining state policies. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

    Data as of 1987

    NOTE: The information regarding Libya on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Libya Relations with the United States and Western Europe information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Libya Relations with the United States and Western Europe should be addressed to the Library of Congress.

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    Revised 04-Jul-02
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