THE ARMED FORCES
The military has been among the most representative institutions
in the country, drawing its membership from all strata of society.
The integration of the different forces, organized before 1969
under separate commands, and the disarming of the Cyrenaican tribes
were generally regarded as significant first steps toward establishing
national unity. According to some authorities, these steps will
eventually breakdown tribal, regional, and parochial tendencies.
Until the early 1980s, service pay, special commissaries, and
related benefits placed the average soldier in a privileged position
relative to the population as a whole. Military leaders nevertheless
sought to avoid the public display of material ostentation with
which many officers under the earlier monarchy had been associated.
Most of the senior officers were noted for their austere, almost
puritanical, personal habits. For more than a decade after the
coup, the rank of colonel, which Qadhafi assumed after taking
power, acted as a ceiling on grade level. Although the rank of
general was subsequently adopted by some service chiefs, it was
announced in mid-1986 that the rank of colonel would again be
the highest in the armed forces. Observers noted, for example,
that Kharrubi was being referred to as colonel instead of general.
The ranks of many other officers may also have been reduced, in
some cases as a result of dissatisfaction with their responses
to the American raid a few months earlier.
In his public conduct, Qadhafi was the archetype of the ascetic
behavior that characterized senior Libyan officers in the early
days of the revolution. He cultivated an image of incorruptibility
and of simple personal habits, promoting the idea that military
service was a patriotic obligation for which little material reward
should be expected.
In general, the morale of the military was high as a result of
Qadhafi's extravagant modernization program, which was accompanied
by new weapons systems, opportunities for training abroad for
younger officers, and major construction projects. Moreover, experience
gained in operations in Chad enabled the military to address some
of the deficiencies revealed in the clashes with Egypt and in
In spite of the historical importance of the military in the
overthrow of the monarchy and its participation in the government
during the first decade under Qadhafi, underlying tensions between
civil and military authorities became visible during the early
1980s. Although there was little discernible dissension among
the most senior military figures, whose fortunes were closely
linked with Qadhafi, there reportedly was disgruntlement among
more junior officers, who rejected the adventurist policies that
had needlessly provoked the hostility of Libya's Arab neighbors.
The economic austerity arising from the drop in oil revenues and
Qadhafi's bizarre economic theories contributed to the disaffection.
As a result of budget stringencies, military pay was often two
or three months in arrears, commissary stocks were little better
than the meager supplies in government-run shops, and military
construction projects were scaled back sharply.
On numerous occasions, Qadhafi declared that ultimately the traditional
military establishment should "wither away," to be replaced by
an armed citizenry. This eventually conformed with the Third Universal
Theory in that the populace would then be directly involved in
assuring their own security (see Political Ideology , ch. 4).
Accordingly, all members of society must be prepared to function
as soldiers. Although Qadhafi seemed to treat the disappearance
of the professional military more as a theoretical goal than an
imminent reality, his remarks added to the deteriorating morale
of the officer corps.
Qadhafi and knowledgeable observers recognized that only the
army represented a separate source of power that could threaten
to overturn the existing regime. A government journal warned in
1982 that "armies believe the power to bear arms is by proxy for
the masses and they thus create dictatorial classes which monopolize
the weapons and crush the masses with them." This was followed
by an extraordinary campaign unleashed against the military in
1983. The ideological weekly of the revolutionary committees,
Al Zahf al Akhdar, branded officers as reactionaries,
guilty of corruption, smuggling, and smoking hashish. These fascists
"must be immediately removed," said the editor, because they "mock
the people and get drunk with the bourgeoisie." Although these
views could not have been published without official sanction,
Qadhafi refrained from associating himself fully with them. He
said the army was not corrupt and that the officers with a bourgeois
orientation were only remnants from the traditional royal army.
Although Al Zahf al Akhdar moderated its charges following
Qadhafi's intervention, its campaign, focusing on the luxurious
cars, dwellings, and working quarters of the officers, was resumed
in 1984. Assuming that Qadhafi could muzzle these denunciations
of the military if he chose, he may have failed to do so because
of suspicions of military disloyalty and a desire to deflate the
prestige of the military establishment as a potential competing
political force. Thus, in spite of his dependence on the armed
forces to execute his wide-ranging ambitions, Qadhafi may feel
constrained to seek some balance by giving freer rein to the Revolutionary
Committees and by strengthening the People's Militia.
The revolutionary committees introduced into workplaces and communities
were not at first extended to the military (see The Revolutionary
Committees , ch. 4). When they were later imposed, there were
complaints that they were controlled by officers with insufficient
revolutionary zeal. After the early 1980s, however, a paramilitary
wing of the Revolutionary Committees, the Revolutionary Guards,
became entrenched within the armed forces. They served as a parallel
channel of control, a means of ideological indoctrination in the
barracks, and an apparatus for monitoring suspicious behavior.
The Revolutionary Guards reportedly held the keys to ammunition
stockpiles at the main military bases, doling it out in small
quantities as needed by the regular forces.
The influence of the Revolutionary Guards increased after a coup
attempt in May 1985 (see State of Internal Security , this ch.).
The Guards, assisted by the Revolutionary Committees, set up roadblocks
and arrested thousands of individuals suspected of being implicated.
The Revolutionary Guards were believed to be no more that 1,000
to 2,000 strong, but they were outfitted with light tanks, armored
cars and personnel carriers, multiple rocket launchers, and SA-8
antiaircraft missiles. Most had been recruited from Qadhafi's
own tribal group in the Surt region.
The estimates published by ACDA give a figure of US$1.8 billion
in arms purchases in 1984. Accordingly, if the ACDA figure of
US$5.2 billion in total defense expenditures in 1984 is accepted,
true defense costs exclusive of new weapons acquisitions would
still be about US$3.4 billion or several times the officially
acknowledged rate of spending. This would include such items as
pay and benefits, military construction, fuel, maintenance, and
the cost of the Chadian campaign.
Data as of 1987