Libya Table of Contents

Paralleling the swift and fundamental domestic transformations Qadhafi initiated upon coming to power in 1969 were equally radical and controversial foreign policy changes. King Idris had been proWestern , quiescent if not passive, and scarcely interested in panArab issues. Qadhafi, in contrast, was markedly anti-Western, highly activist, and a strong advocate of Arab unity. Although Qadhafi's internal policies could be ignored or tolerated by the rest of the world, regardless of their radicalism, his foreign policies elicited strong resentment and widespread condemnation from many quarters. Even the so-called "progressive" or revolutionary regimes in Algeria, Iraq, and Syria that supported some of Qadhafi's policies opposed his maladroit diplomacy, rhetorical excess, and provocative tactics.

Allegations of Qadhafi's involvement in subversive activities were numerous. Over the years, Libya has been accused of subversion by several Arab countries, including Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. For example, Libyan agents reportedly planned on several occasions to disrupt the pilgrimage at Mecca in Saudi Arabia. And for many years Libya supported the mostly Christian rebels in southern Sudan, who are led by John Garang, as against the central government in Khartoum. Many observers linked Libya's lack of restraint in foreign affairs with its oil wealth, which paid for foreign adventures while keeping the domestic population content.

By disregarding the rules of the international political game, Libya became so ostracized and isolated that when the United States bombed Libyan cities in April 1986, only a few countries condemned the action strongly. Potential friends in the Arab world were already alienated by the constantly changing pattern of Libyan alliances.

Nevertheless, Libya was subject to certain practical limitations. Its oil revenues were dependent on the world market and subject to inflationary pressures. Although well armed, Libya's military was undermanned, unable in most cases to support foreign policy initiatives by force. Libyan foreign policy was not so erratic and disjointed as it appeared, however. Instead, it was consistent with, and in large part based on, the initially proclaimed ideals of the Revolution and the developments that followed.

Libyan foreign policy grew from the historical legacy of colonial domination, Nasser's philosophy, and most important, the creation of Israel. Qadhafi's concept of foreign relations has been determined to a large extent by his implacable hatred of Israel and his desire to destroy it. The policy of eradicating Israel either shapes or takes precedence over his ideology. For example, Qadhafi advocates Arab unity not only for ideological reasons, but because of his conviction that a unified Arab nation would be capable of defeating Israel militarily.

Qadhafi's worldwide support of revolutionary and insurgent movements evolved in part from the sponsorship and funding he provided to Palestinian organizations that fought against Israel. Moreover, Qadhafi's antipathy toward imperialism derives less from Libya's struggle against Italian colonialism than from the perceived creation of Israel by the United States and European powers. And, although Qadhafi espouses nonalignment, he has advocated a close Arab relationship with the Soviet Union as a means of obtaining arms to defeat Israel and excoriated the United States because of its support of Israel.

Libyan foreign policy is not, however, dictated entirely by opposition to Israel. Libya's activism in Africa and the Mediterranean basin is motivated by a desire to be a regional power. In the 1980s, Libya's reckless and adventurous intervention in the Third World was driven by QQadhafi's desire to disseminate his Third Universal Theory and his personal aspirations for worldwide recognition.

Arab Relations
Mediterranean Relations
Maghrib Relations
Sub-Saharan Africa
Western Europe and the United States
United States
The United Nations

More about the Government of Libya.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress