The pattern of defense spending has been difficult to appraise
with any exactitude since the mid-1970s, when government restrictions
on the publication of military information were imposed. Detailed
budgets, once available, have not been disclosed since the mid-1970s.
Total amounts allocated to defense in the national budget were
available, but apportionments to individual service components
or specific programs were impossible to ascertain. Moreover, the
figures published for the defense budget clearly fell far short
of actual expenditures. In all likelihood, many military outlays
were hidden under other budget items or obscured by manipulation
of prices or exchange rates. The value of imported military equipment
alone has generally been far in excess of the allocations to defense
as recorded in the budget. The massive purchases from the Soviet
Union, estimated at over US$1 billion annually since the mid-1970s,
do not appear in the budget either as payments or amortization
of military credit.
Increased spending for military improvements and other defense
needs was made possible by the vast revenues from petroleum--
particularly after the government nationalized the industry. Even
during the monarchy, a doubling of military expenditures between
1964 and 1968 demonstrated that this new source of revenue permitted
an upgrading of the military that was previously unattainable.
Nonetheless, defense expenditures under the monarchy continued
to be relatively modest. As one specialist wrote just before the
1969 coup, "thus far Libya has avoided succumbing to the lure
of the arms race or procurement of nonessential prestige military
Within a few years after the assumption of power by the Qadhafi
regime, defense spending accelerated dramatically. It continued
to rise nearly every year, although at a somewhat reduced rate
after 1978. Arms imports ordinarily formed more than half of total
defense expenditures. However, some slackening in the value of
imported equipment has occurred since 1982. This is attributed
in part to the saturation of the Libyan defense forces and in
part to financial strains on the government arising from the sharp
decline in oil prices.
The limited official data published by Libya offer a completely
different picture from the estimates compiled by non-Libyan sources.
In the administrative budget for 1984, the amount shown for the
armed forces is LD340 million (for value of the Libyan dinar,
see Glossary), which constituted 23.6 percent of the budget. This
represented a substantial increase over the LD300 million shown
for 1983, composing 19.7 percent of the administrative budget.
Defense expenditures were omitted from the budget published for
1985, and no explanation was supplied of the component items in
the ostensible disbursements for defense in 1983 or 1984.
According to estimates compiled by ACDA, Libyan military expenditures
rose eightfold between 1973 and 1979, when a peak of US$3 billion
annually was reached. Spending then remained fairly level until
a new upswing in spending began by 1983. By 1984, annual outlays
on defense were estimated at US$5.1 billion. The 1979 figure represented
12.4 percent of gross national product (GNP), whereas the 1984
figure represented 17.8 percent of GNP and an exceptionally high
40 percent of total government expenditures. On the basis of the
ACDA estimate, military spending would have amounted to US$1360
per capita in 1984. This compared to a figure of US$34 per capita
for Africa as a whole and was about twice the level of average
per capita spending on defense of the average members of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization. Only Israel, Saudi Arabia, and several
smaller states of the Arabian Peninsula had military outlays on
a scale comparable to those of Libya.
Data as of 1987