Anticipating Inspections: UNMOVIC Readies Itself for Iraq: `

Article excerpt

An Interview With Hans Blix

In January Hans Blix was appointed executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), an inspectorate established to replace the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and assume its task of verifying that Iraq was disarmed of all weapons of mass destruction and missiles with a range exceeding 150 kilometers.

Following UNSCOM's withdrawal from Iraq in December 1998 and amid increasing pressure to ease the sanctions that had been in place since the end of the Persian Gulf War, the UN Security Council heatedly debated how to address Baghdad's continuing noncompliance with its disarmament obligations, originally laid out in Resolution 687. In March 1999, a UN panel headed by Brazilian Ambassador Celso Amorim released a report concluding that while the bulk of Iraq's weapons programs had been dismantled by UNSCOM, a "reinforced, ongoing monitoring and verification" system was needed.

In December 1999, Security Council Resolution 1284 set up UNMOVIC and charged it with monitoring Iraq's weapons programs and identifying any "key remaining disarmament tasks." It stipulated that once Baghdad had "cooperated in all respects," sanctions would be suspended. The resolution also created the College of Commissioners, a group of diplomats and disarmament experts charged with providing "professional advice and guidance" to the executive chairman.

UNMOVIC began operation in March. To date, it has submitted an organizational plan to the Security Council, which was approved, and has met once with the College of Commissioners. The first training session for UNMOVIC staff is set to begin in New York in July but Iraq has so far given no sign that it will allow inspectors into the country.

Born in Uppsala, Sweden, Blix pursued a distinguished career in the Swedish foreign service, culminating in his appointment as minister of foreign affairs in 1978. In 1981, he assumed the post of director-general at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), where he served until 1997. Under Blix's leadership, the IAEA, working with UNSCOM, played a crucial role in dismantling and monitoring Iraq's nuclear weapons program after the Persian Gulf War.

On June 12, Arms Control Today Editor J. Peter Scoblic and Research Analyst Matthew Rice met with Blix at UN headquarters in New York to discuss UNMOVIC's mandate, its preparations for inspections, and the prospects for beginning work in Iraq. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

ACT: Former UNSCOM executive chairmen Richard Butler and Rolf Ekeus have expressed concern as to what could have happened since inspectors left Iraq in December 1998. On the other hand, former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter has said that 18 months is too short a time to rebuild programs that took 20 years to set up. What could Iraq have done in this time? How worried should the international community be?

Blix: Well, I do not have any preconceived notions as to what Iraq could have done. But if I take the nuclear area, which I know best, there is no way that they could have built up an enrichment capacity in that period. Of course, it is possible that they could try to buy a nuclear weapon, but the Iraqi path in the past was one of going after enrichment, and that requires a considerable infrastructure that would be seen from satellites. We have no indications of that happening.

An area in which Iraq could have conceivably done more would be the missile program because they are permitted missiles with a range of 150 kilometers and under; so factories producing them are also permissible. A number of missile factories were apparently hit in December 1998 during the airstrikes by U.S. and British forces, but there are reports that they have been rebuilt since then. Now, what has taken place inside, under those roofs, that is not seen by the satellites. I would have to rely upon the people that know much more about missiles to make a determination, but prima facie, missiles would be an area in which Iraq could have done something. …