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President Bush has suggested that other nations—Iran, North Korea, and Syria—follow the example of Libya, which increased its security by ending links with terrorist groups and surrendering weapons of mass destruction. But some believe the Libya case undermines U.S.  credibility as a reformer, if the United States pockets WMD and terrorism gains and looks the other way at Libya’s ongoing internal repression. In a new policy brief, Libya: Security is Not Enough, Michele Dunne argues that the United States needs to correct this impression and use its leverage to pursue incremental political reform and human rights improvements, while still relieving sanctions and developing relations. The full policy brief is now available at

“The United States must not renege on what has already been promised to Libya, but it can and should clarify quid pro quos for further steps to enhance Libya’s stature—and do so early in the newly reestablished relationship,” she writes. She outlines key steps for the United States:

  • Recognize that while stability is desirable and access to oil is important, fundamental change in Libya is as important over the long term
  • Link full normalization—such as creating a full-fledged U.S. embassy presence, and welcoming Libyan officials in Washington—to improvements in human rights and political reform
  • Work with European allies—the British, Italians, and EU in general—for change in Libya
  • Use the economic dialogue to push for political reform goals, such as overhauling the judicial system, revising the penal code, prosecuting torture offenses, repealing limits on free expression, and stopping disappearances and incommunicado detention.

Achieving any of these goals would be positive. “More important, perhaps, each reform would pave the way toward a freer economic and political system. Even under the best of circumstances, the Libyan system would need years of work to become transparent and accountable due to its extreme underdevelopment,” Dunne writes. But taking these steps “will be critical to building the credibility of declared U.S. support for reform in the Middle East and to ensuring that the lesson other countries draw from Libya’s example is a positive one.”

Michele Dunne, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, is also a visiting lecturer at Georgetown University. In 18 years at the U.S. Department of State, her assignments included the National Security Council, the Secretary of State’s planning staff, U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem.