Arms embargo on Libya must strictly apply to both sides says CAAT

31 March 2011

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) strongly opposes any moves by the UK, other countries or NATO to break the current arms embargo on Libya by sending arms to forces opposing the regime of Colonel Gaddafi. UN Security Council Resolution 1973, passed on 17 March, places an international arms embargo on all sides in the conflict (paragraphs 13-16). Security Council Resolution 1970 of 26 February first imposed an arms embargo on Libya (paragraph 9).

Following the international conference on Libya held in London on 29 March, it was reported that the UK government was considering sending arms to rebel forces, a move that appeared also to get some backing from US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. However, other countries were opposed to such a move.

CAAT opposes any moves to break the arms embargo on Libya for several reasons.

  • Libya is already awash with weaponry, largely supplied to Colonel Gaddafi by the same European countries, who are now providing air power to enforce a "no-fly zone". In 2009 Libya was sold weapons worth €343 million by European Union states and these countries, including the UK, continued to promote, exhibit and sell weapons in 2010. Adding further weaponry would make Libya even more armed and dangerous and would reward the same countries who had already sold arms to Libya so indiscriminately and irresponsibly.
  • There is no guarantee that arms reaching rebel forces would be used to protect civilians (the intention of Resolution 1973) and it is very likely that they would make the situation of civilians more perilous, especially if government forces reoccupied rebel-held territory or rebel forces occupied government territory.
  • Rebel forces are largely an unknown quantity, consisting of many different groups, and it has been widely noted that they posses no command structure, and minimal training or discipline. At this stage it is impossible to say what power structures will emerge on either side or what form future governing bodies will take. Supplying arms to any group will increase future instability.
  • Arming rebel and opposition groups can have unforeseen long-term consequences, which can bring great harm to societies and militate against peace-building. One example is the US arming of mujahideen "freedom" forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s, which actively prolonged conflicts, led to the growth of armed extremists, including local and foreign Taliban forces, the proliferation of a warlord-based society and the thwarting of the growth of civil society. In addition, the same weaponry supplied by the US was later used against US and allied forces.

CAAT has long opposed arms sales to Libya, and has consistently drawn attention to the UK government's attempts to promote arms sales to Libya, and to other undemocratic and abusive states in the region. Supplying them with weapons gives them international credibility.

CAAT continues to urge an international arms embargo on the Middle East and North Africa, to protect civilians facing repression from governments armed with western weaponry.

CAAT wants to see the emergence of a democratic and peaceful Libya and supports diplomatic, political and other non-violent moves to protect civilians, and for a peaceful resolution of the current conflict.


For further information or an interview please contact CAAT's Media Coordinator, Kaye Stearman on 020 7281 0297 or mobile 07990 673 232 or email media(at)caat·org·uk.


  1. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade. Around 80% of CAAT's income is raised from individual supporters.
  2. For EU arms sales figures see CAAT Press Releases of 1 February 2011 and 8 February 2011.
  3. Libya was identified as a "priority country" by UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), the UK government's arms sales unit. Libya, together with Algeria, Egypt and Morocco were invited to UK arms fairs Defence Security and Equipment International (DSEI) 2009 and the Farnborough Air Show in July 2010.
  4. For example, see Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) article of 11 March by Pieter D Wezeman: "French Rafale combat aircraft, which France had been eagerly trying to sell to Libya, have now bombed Libyan howitzers, which an Italian company had planned to refurbish under a contract signed in 2010. The UK, also at the forefront of the military action against Libya, marketed advanced Jernas short-range air defence systems and supplied an advanced communication system for Libyan T-72 tanks which are now being targeted by UK combat aircraft. Over half of the exhibitors at Libdex 2010 [arms fair] were from the UK."
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