ICE Case Studies

Case Number: 18

Case Mnemonic: AOZOU


Case Author: Michael E. Pukrop, Spring 1997


1. Abstract

The Aozou Strip is a long stretch of desolate land located in the middle of the Sahara Desert. The area had been a zone of contention among the colonial powers of Africa, and remains so today between the now independent and sovereign countries of Chad and Libya. Rumors of rich uranium deposits compelled Libya to invade and capture the Aozou region from Chad in 1973. It remained in Libyan hands until a Chadian offensive in the late 1980s. In 1990, the two countries finally agreed to take their dispute to the International Court of Justice, which ruled in early 1994 that the Aozou Strip belonged to Chad.

2. Description

This section has six parts: history, conflict, superpowers, current situation, legal issues, and uranium.


The Aozou Strip, about 100 miles wide, is 45,000 square miles of desert located in northern Chad, just south of Libya. Libya's claims to the land stem from several factors. The first is that the border between Libya and France (France was the colonial power of French Equatorial Africa, from which Chad was carved) was never properly demarcated in a 1955 treaty. In addition, this treaty was signed, but never ratified by the affected parties.(1)

Libya also claims the Aozou because of cultural, ethnic, and historical reasons. The area is populated with Berbers and Arabs that Libya wanted to protect from instability in Chad. Libya also felt that the Strip was once part of its territory, from the existence of the Ottoman Empire to the time of colonial rule by Italy.(2)

From the view of Chad, however, the situation is much different. The Chadian government's claims to the Strip arise from a treaty between France and Great Britain, Africa's greatest colonial powers, which were mostly responsible for the delineation of borders in Africa. This treaty gave the Aozou Strip to France, and thus, with independence, the Strip belonged to Chad. Chad has the support of France on this issue, with the Libyans not having an ally.(3)

As a result of the above claims by Libya, the Libyans easily invaded Chad in 1973 and took the Aozou Strip. This occupation went unanswered by Chad for some time, as the government in N'djamena was dealing with its own internal problems. Within the next 10 years, the Libyans moved further south, taking advantage of Chad's civil war by advancing to the 16th parallel, effectively cutting Chad in half.(4)


The situation changed dramatically in 1987. It was at this time that Chad, under the leadership of President Hissene Habre, took the offensive, attempting to retake the Aozou Strip from Libya. The Chadian soldiers held the administrative capital of the Strip, aptly named Aozou. Several weeks later, the Libyans retaliated, retaking the town by using superior air and ground power.(5)

The see-saw game continued, with the Chadians striking back, although they changed their strategy. Instead of simply remaining in Chad, in early September 1987, 2,000 troops crossed the disputed Strip and drove into Libya itself, using mobile Toyota pickup trucks armed with mounted automatic weapons. The goal was a Libyan military base called Maaten es Sarra, located some 60 miles inside the country. The raid was successful, with the Chadians claiming to have killed some 1,700 Libyans, taking hundreds others prisoner, and destroying 26 planes and 70 tanks.(6) The losses for Chad, however, were much lower, as the government claimed 65 dead and 112 wounded.(7)

The Libyans quickly responded. Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, angered and embarrassed at the success of the Chadians at his country's expense, struck back. He ordered two Libyan fighter planes, built by the Soviet Union, on a bombing raid of the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, which lies perhaps 700 miles south of Libya on Chad's border with Cameroon. The Libyan mission failed, however, as French troops, normally stationed in Chad, shot down one of the planes with an American-made missile. The other returned to Libya. Seemingly undaunted, Qadhafi again bombed Chad, this time in the town of Abeche, some 400 miles east of the capital near the border with Sudan. This mission failed as well, as the planes missed their target of an airstrip.(8)

Following this particular episode, the strike and counterstrike movements of each country stopped. A ceasefire ensued, sponsored by the Organization of African Unity, halting the hostilities.

Because the Aozou Strip and surrounding area is little more than barren desert and rocks, there are few indigenous peoples. Nomads exist, but settlements are few. Any military raids generally affected military bases and military personnel. The greatest threat to civilian populations was the Libyan air raids with Chad itself, but those missions were failures, and ended without high casualties.


It is known that the former Soviet Union supplied the Qadhafi regime with weapons. This was not necessarily for the support of Qadhafi, but to irritate the Western powers and to earn money.(9) Other than that, the USSR was generally not deeply involved in the region, as it was in other parts of Africa.

France, however, the colonial power of Chad, remained involved in Africa and generously supported Chad, both in terms of monetary aid and in the stationing of 1,300 troops in the country. In terms of the Aozou Strip, Paris wanted the issue brought before the International Court of Justice, and has refrained from becoming too deeply involved in the conflict. France, however, did state that it would defend N'Djamena.(10)

The United States was also involved in the region, although its role was similar to that of the Soviet Union, in that the United States wanted only to supply weapons, but only to Chad. The Reagan administration had given millions of dollars in aid to Chad, in addition to sending weapons, including Stinger missiles capable of shooting down Libyan planes.(11) The United States supported Chad over Libya in this conflict because the United States had serious diplomatic problems with Libya, including Western charges that Qadhafi was a sponsor of worldwide terrorism.


In the summer of 1989, Colonel Qadhafi and President Habre met in Bamako, exchanging handshakes and smiles. A dialogue, however, aimed at ending, or at the very least, discussing their border dispute, did not follow. Even so, Qadhafi had been behaving differently towards Chad, mostly because he wanted Chad to release the Libyan prisoners. As a result, Qadhafi recognized the Habre government, restored diplomatic relations with Chad, and even admitted that the decision to invade and bomb Chad had been a mistake. In addition, Qadhafi desperately wanted to see the French leave Chad, who he blamed for thwarting his interests.(12)

Chad was ever the more cautious because of this new Libyan behavior, especially since a coup was recently put down in Chad, although no direct links to Qadhafi were found.(13)

The situation appeared bleak in July, 1989, but suddenly took a turn for the better in September, as the two countries signed a peace pact in Algiers. The provisions of the agreement called for an end to hostilities and a withdrawal of troops. A political settlement was to have been reached over the Aozou Strip dispute within a year, or the issue, the two states agreed, would go before the International Court of Justice.(14)


As it happened, the issue of the Aozou Strip did indeed go before the International Court of Justice. The position of each country before the Court was as follows: Libya's case dealt with the attribution of territory, and it proceeded on the belief that there was no boundary between the two countries. Therefore, Libya wanted the Court to demarcate a border. Chad proceeded on the belief that there was indeed a boundary, and it wanted the Court to declare the location of that boundary.(15)

The Court itself proceeded by using the Treaty of Friendship and Good Neighborliness between the French Republic and the United Kingdom of Libya, otherwise known as the 1955 Treaty. This complex agreement actually dealt with a variety of issues, but in terms of boundaries, the Court used Article 3 as its basis.(16)

Through intense and complicated examination of the 1955 Treaty and its history, the International Court of Justice ruled in early February, 1994 in favor of Chad. In a 16-1 vote, the justices declared that even though the original 1955 Treaty between Libya and France was for a period of 20 years, there was nothing to indicate that the border agreed to was to be temporary in any way. Therefore, the current boundary between Chad and Libya, with the Aozou Strip belonging to Chad, stood. Chad maintained, however, that Libya still had positioned troops in the Strip (now definitive Chadian territory), and that it should respect the Court's ruling and abide by its provisions. This was accomplished, in part because a coup in Chad in late 1990 installed a pro-Libyan government, thus easing tensions between the two states.(17)


Why is the Aozou Strip so important? Why would two countries engage in hostilities over a stretch of desert? According to rumors, the Aozou Strip contains rich deposits of uranium. This is a metallic element with radioactive properties, making it very toxic. Uranium is silvery white in color, and is malleable and ductile.(18)

Uranium can be found in four types of deposits. The first is in rare veins of uraninite, associated with radium deposits, generally found in Zaire, northern Canada, and France. The second type of deposit is the conglomerate of uranium and thorium ore with that of other metals, such as gold or silver. The third type of deposit is found in sedimentary rocks and sandstones mainly located in the western United States. The final deposit of uranium is found in uraniferous shales and phosphate rocks, located mostly in Sweden, Morocco, Angola, and the Central African Republic.(19)

The uses of uranium center around nuclear technology. Because uranium is radioactive and because its atoms split into two parts (a process called fission), the element is commonly used to make nuclear weapons, and to fuel nuclear reactors. In terms of uranium's isotopes, there are three that exist naturally on earth. The most common is uranium-238. The next most common is uranium-235, which is the most valuable because it undergoes fission easily. The last isotope, uranium-234, is very rare. These common isotopes can be used for industrial, medical, and other research purposes. Other that this, uranium salts can be used in glass and glazes, and some other compounds are used in photography.(20)

The importance of a poor country like Chad controlling such uranium deposits is for the monetary value of the metal on the world market. Chad certainly has no nuclear weapons program, nor does it have any nuclear reactors. Therefore, Chad can export the uranium for desperately needed funds. The concern for the West is that the material does not fall into the possession of governments which do not respect the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

This leads to the problem of Libya. The Western world has repeatedly accused the Libyan government of sponsoring terrorism, and having access to raw deposits of uranium would make the West very uncomfortable. Libya could keep the material for itself, especially it intended to build nuclear reactors as an energy source to supplant its oil reserves. Libya could also sell the uranium to other organizations or states that do not respect the 1968 Nuclear Treaty.

3. Duration: Complete (1973 to 1989)

Military maneuvers over the Aozou Strip first began in 1973 when the Libyans invaded Chadian territory. The situation stabilized until 1987, when Chad retook the disputed area. In 1989 the two countries signed an agreement, with the disagreement going to the International Court of Justice the following year. A ruling from the Court came in February 1994.

4. Location

Continent: Africa

Region: West Africa

Country: Chad

5. Actors: Chad, Libya, and France

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Resource

7. Type of Habitat: Dry

8. Act and Harm Sites:

Act Site       Harm Site           Example

Libya          Chad                Territorial Dispute

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: Interstate

10. Level of Conflict: Medium

11. Fatality Level of Dispute: about 2,000

III. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics: Direct

The rumors about the existence of uranium, and the demand for that particular resource, was a direct cause of the conflict between Chad and Libya over the Aozou Strip.

Specific Resource Demand for Uranium (+) ---->

leads to CONFLICT
Power Imbalance in Favor of Libya (+) ---->

While full scale mining has yet to occur, military hostilities do have an impact on the environment in that such activity destroys landforms and is detrimental to the growth of indigenous vegetation.

13. Level of Strategic Interest: Bilateral

14. Outcome of Dispute: Victory

IV. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE and TED Cases

a. TED Cases:


b. ICE Cases:


16. Relevant Websites and Literature


MAPS: Map of Africa


Hubert N. Alyea and Abe N. Holden. "Uranium." Collier's Encyclopedia. vol. 22. New York, N.Y.: Macmillian Educational Co., 1990, p. 750.

Associated Press. "Libya Loses Border Case." The Washington Post. February 4, 1994, p. A25.

Cohen, Roger. "Chad Wins World Court Decision In Territorial Dispute With Libya." The New York Times. February 4, 1994, p. A6.

Cowell, Alan. "Qaddafi's Rule IS Celebrated; Libya and Chad in Peace Pact." The New York Times. September 1, 1989, p. A3.

Greenwald, John. "Raiders of the Armed Toyotas." Time. vol. 130, no. 12. September 21, 1987, p. 36.

Levin, Bob. "Standoff in the Sahara." Maclean's. vol 100, no. 38. September 21, 1987, pp. 26-27.

Yalowitz, Gerson. "Taking on the Libyans." U.S. News and World Report. vol. 103, no. 12. September 21, 1987, p. 48.

-----. "Chad humbles Qaddafi." The Economist. vol. 304, no. 7513. August 29, 1987, pp. 12-13.

-----. "International Court of Justice: Case Concerning the Territorial Dispute (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Chad)." International Legal Materials. vol. 33, no. 3. May 1994: pp. 571-592.

-----. "Just a handshake." The Economist. vol.312, no. 7613. July 29, 1989, p. 37.

-----. "Uranium." Encyclopedia Americana. vol. 27. Danbury, Conn.: Grolier Inc., 1993, p. 796.


(1)Roger Cohen, "Chad Wins World Court Decision in Territorial Dispute With Libya." The New York Times: (February 4, 1994). p. A6.

(2)Associated Press, "Libya Loses Border Case." The Washington Post: (February 4, 1994). p. A25.

(3)Bob Levin, "Standoff in the Sahara." Maclean's: (vol. 100, no. 38. September 21, 1987). pp. 26-27.

(4)Cohen, p. A6.

(5)Levin, p. 26.

(6)John Greenwald, "Raiders of the Armed Toyotas." Time: (vol. 130, no. 12. September 21, 1987). p. 36.

(7)Levin, p. 27.

(8)Greenwald, p. 36.

(9)-----, "Chad humbles Qaddafi." The Economist: (vol. 304, no. 7513. August 29, 1987). p. 12.

(10)Greenwald, p. 36.

(11)Gerson Yalowitz, "Taking on the Libyans." U.S. News and World Report: (vol. 103, no. 12. September 21, 1987). p. 48.

(12)-----, "Just a handshake." The Economist: (vol. 312, no. 7613. July 29, 1989). p. 37.

(13)"Just a handshake," p. 37.

(14) Alan Cowell, "Qaddafi's Rule IS Celebrated; Libya and Chad in Peace Pact." The New York Times: (September 1, 1989). p. A3.

(15)-----, "International Court of Justice: Case Concerning the Territorial Dispute (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Chad)." International Legal Materials: (vol. 33, no. 3. May, 1994). p. 578.

(16)International Legal Materials, pp. 580-581.

(17)Cohen, p. A6.

(18)-----, "Uranium." Encyclopedia Americana: (vol. 27. Danbury, Conn., Grolier Inc., 1993). p. 796.

(19)Hubert N. Alyea and Abe N. Holden, "Uranium." Collier's Encyclopedia: (vol. 22. New York, N.Y., Macmillian Educational Co., 1990). p. 750.

(20)Encyclopedia Americana, p. 796.

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November, 1997