- President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said in an interview with CBS over the weekend that he favoured a “Libya model” when dealing with North Korea.
- The Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi gave up his weapons of mass destruction in the early 2000s but fell from power when the US and others backed an uprising against him and was violently killed in 2011.
- At the time, North Korea argued that Libya’s disarmament and the subsequent military involvement by the US showed why Pyongyang should keep its weapons.
- Bolton could have picked other analogies to talk about denuclearizing North Korea, but he seems to have selected Libya on purpose, knowing the implications.
President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, suggested on Sunday that the US could use Libya as a model for North Korean denuclearization – but his comment may have been a dark, even threatening message to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un.
Kim has displayed an about-face since he and Trump traded nuclear threats across the Pacific last year, now appearing to pursue peace and diplomacy broadly and willingly – though there has been little follow-through on several promises from the North Korean leader.
So far, Kim has agreed to denuclearize and seek a peace treaty with South Korea, but he has not taken verifiable steps toward disarming. Though North Korea announced it would invite the US and South Korea to watch the dismantling of its nuclear test site, it has taken similar steps before only to back out of deals later.
Other steps Kim has taken, like scrapping North Korea’s special time zone, have been unilateral and unsubstantial but enough to warrant news coverage.
The horror of Gaddafi’s fate, and how Kim could meet the same
Of plans to denuclearize North Korea, Bolton said, “I think we’re looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004.”
Bolton added: “In the case of Libya, for example, and it’s a different situation in some respects … One thing that Libya did that led us to overcome our scepticism was that they allowed American and British observers into all their nuclear-related sites.”
Shortly after the US invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi agreed to have international inspectors visit his country to certify that his nuclear and chemical weapons programs had halted.
In 2011, a popular uprising in Libya got backing from the US and some NATO countries, and a salvo of cruise missile strikes pummelled the Libyan government. Within months, Gaddafi was filmed being dragged out into the streets by rebels who then violently killed him.
“That the Libyan people rose up against Gaddafi had its roots in his brutality, corruption, and incompetence, not the fact that he had come to agreement years earlier with Washington or that the US had somehow double-crossed him,” Fred Hof, a Middle East expert at the Atlantic Council who served as a US ambassador to Syria, told Business Insider.
“The same could hold true for a denuclearized North Korea.”
Kim knows what Libya means
Disarmament bought Gaddafi a few years in the world’s good graces, as well as increased trade and investment for Libya.
In 2009, Gaddafi gave a broad speech at the UN on his ideas for how the world should work – a remarkable comeback from being an international pariah years earlier.
But the images of Gaddafi’s brutal death in October 2011 have no doubt reached North Korea.
In March of that year, a few months before Kim took power, North Korea said it was a mistake for Libya to disarm, arguing that the arms-control deal with the West was “an invasion tactic to disarm the country.”
In his CBS interview, Bolton acknowledged that Libya is different from North Korea.
In fact, the two countries, leaders, and situations are so different that Bolton didn’t have to bring up Libya at all.
Bolton, who has signalled that he does not trust Kim, is sensitive to perceptions that the US wasting time with unproductive diplomacy. But Bolton invoked Libya almost certainly knowing the historical linkages with North Korea.
And Kim is likely to pick up on the talk of Libya, where a once powerful leader was violently killed after giving up his nuclear and chemical weapons.
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