The UNSCOM Experience: Implications for U.S. Arms Control Policy

By Lacey, Edward J. | Arms Control Today, August 1996 | Go to article overview

The UNSCOM Experience: Implications for U.S. Arms Control Policy


Lacey, Edward J., Arms Control Today


It has become commonplace to say that the issue of the proliferation of weapons-particularly weapons of mass destruction and their means of deliveryand of the technologies that make these weapons possible, is the international security challenge of the 1990s and beyond. The Gulf War, and the discovery that Saddam Hussein was well along in a massive nuclear, chemical and biological weapons program, were the first events to bring this challenge starkly to our attention.

With the successful conclusion of the Cold War, many in the United States and elsewhere had thought that the era of arms control had come to an end. Arms control had been viewed exclusively in the context of the Cold War, as a tool to moderate and control the East-West arms race. The value of arms control agreements, even such multilateral or international non-proliferation agreements as the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, had been measured primarily in terms of their impact on the U.S.-Soviet balance.

The Gulf War, and the continuing revelations concerning Iraqi efforts to acquire and deploy weapons of mass destruction and long-range ballistic missiles, have highlighted just how mistaken were those who thought arms control an anachronism. Indeed, arms control and non-proliferation efforts have become a major element in U.S. and international strategies to combat the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their associated delivery systems.

The UN effort to eliminate Iraq's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction in many ways constitutes the first modern exercise in truly international arms control. As we approach the 21st century, we can expect a significant expansion of multilateral and international arms control and non-proliferation efforts. The Iraqi case, therefore, provides an excellent opportunity for the United States to explore the application and adaptation of arms control principles and techniques on a broader scale. U.S. policy-makers must endeavor to glean what lessons can be most usefully applied in other arms control and non-proliferation contexts from the UN experience in countering the proliferation threat from Iraq.

The UNSCOM Experience

Following the defeat of Iraqi forces in the Gulf War, the UN Security Council established the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) to monitor the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery in Iraq. Established by Security Council Resolution 687 in April 1991, the commission is charged with carrying out on-site inspection and elimination of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capabilities and ballistic missiles with ranges greater than 150 kilometers (93 miles). UNSCOM is also tasked with assisting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in dismantling Iraq's nuclear weapons capabilities. Finally, the commission is responsible for verifying Iraq's compliance with all UN-imposed restrictions on weapons acquisition and deployment.

The commission, which is led by Ambassador Rolf Ekeus from Sweden, reports directly to the Security Council. It is organized into four principal components: the Nuclear Group, the Chemical-Biological Group, the Ballistic Missile Group and the Long-Term Compliance Monitoring Group. Additionally, UNSCOM has an Information Assessment Unit which provides analytical support to all four groups.

UNSCOM is headquartered in the UN Secretariat in New York and operates a field office in Bahrain and a Monitoring and Verification Center in Baghdad. The commission has about 150 staff personnel assigned to its various components. About one-third of these work at the headquarters in New York, while about half are attached to the Monitoring and Verification Center in Iraq; the remainder operate the Bahrain field office.

In addition to Resolution 687, UNSCOM is guided in its activities by two other UN Security Council resolutions. Resolution 707, approved in August 1991, establishes the right of UNSCOM and IAEA inspection teams to conduct "both fixed-wing and helicopter flights throughout Iraq for all relevant purposes including inspection, surveillance, aerial surveys, transportation and logistics . …

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