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  • Qaddafi's Libya in World Politics
  • Ronald Bruce St John (bio)
Qaddafi's Libya in World Politics, by Yehudit Ronen. Boulder, CO and London, UK: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008. x + 205 pages. Acron. and Abbrev. to p. 208. Bibl. to p. 223. Index to p. 241. About the book to p. 243. $55.

Professor Yehudit Ronen, a senior fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, sets out to chronicle Libyan foreign policy since Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi came to power on September 1, 1969. In so doing, she promises a book, "based largely on Libyan and other primary Arab sources," which "offers insight into Libya's foreign relations throughout Qadhafi's prolonged tenure" (p. 1). Instead, she provides a factually accurate, workmanlike discussion of selected events, based largely on newspaper, journal, and periodical articles, along with radio and television reports, which offers little new information, interpretation, or insight.

The structure of the book is thematic, as opposed to chronological, with one or more chapters dedicated to Libya's relations with the United States, Soviet Union, Arab world, and Africa. This approach is convenient for readers interested in one or more themes, say Libyan relations with the Soviet Union or its approach to pan-Arabism; however, it results in unproductive, tiresome repetition when the book is read front to back. For example, the same or similar information on Sayf al-Islam al-Qadhafi, Islamist activism, pan-Arabism, weapons of mass destruction, [End Page 509] Lockerbie, and chemical weapons is repeated ad nauseam in many of the eight substantive chapters making up the book.

In addition, the author's treatment of themes and events is oddly selective. In a relatively short examination of Libyan foreign policy over the last four decades, she devotes an entire chapter to Libya's involvement in Uganda and a second chapter to its intervention in Chad. Both events were singularly important moments in Libyan foreign policy; however, they were only part of the broader story of Qadhafi's approach to Africa after 1969. In this period, Libyan policy goals were grounded in the elimination of Western, especially Israeli, influence in Africa. They included the closure of foreign military bases, opposition to apartheid, support for African liberation movements, the propagation of Islam, and control of the natural resources of Africa. The author's failure to assess in any detail Libya's early role in Africa outside Chad and Uganda leads to confusion as to the origins, goals, and direction of recent Libyan initiatives.

While the author argues that the ends of Libyan policy in Africa after 1999 "have not varied" from earlier periods but "the means have undergone far-reaching change" (p. 197), a compelling case for the reverse argument can be made. After 1999, the issues of apartheid, colonialism, and neocolonialism were passé and were seldom mentioned except in a rhetorical context. The former emphasis on Islam was also much diminished. There was still an anti-Israeli element in Libyan policy, but Israel was no longer the central concern of its policies in the region. Instead, Qadhafi focused on African unity, championing a United States of Africa. The means that Libya used to pursue its goals in Africa after 1999 were highly reminiscent of those employed in the earlier period in that they revolved around involvement in regional conflicts and peacekeeping along with copious amounts of aid, trade, and investment.

Ronen also largely ignores Libya's relationship with Europe over the past two decades, especially the periods after the United Nations suspended multilateral sanctions in 1999 and permanently lifted them in 2003. There is little or no mention, and certainly no detailed analysis, of recent Libyan policies toward the European Union, France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, and Spain. This is a serious oversight in a book which the author describes as "germane to a variety of fields of inquiry," including "security and strategic studies in the Cold War period as well as in the increasingly globalized aftermath, oil-state politics, and the study of terrorism" (pp. 1-2). In many areas of contemporary Libyan foreign policy, European policies have been at least as important as...


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