The Inevitable Failure of Inspections in Iraq

By Duelfer, Charles | Arms Control Today, September 2002 | Go to article overview

The Inevitable Failure of Inspections in Iraq


Duelfer, Charles, Arms Control Today


The United States is currently in the throes of a public debate over using military force to accomplish regime change in Iraq because of the threat Saddam Hussein could pose with weapons of mass destruction. The risks of a military invasion are serious, and some analysts are suggesting that the Bush administration instead pursue the return of United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq. Although this course of action would not achieve regime change, proponents argue that it would succeed in disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and it would do so at a far lower cost.

Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the experience of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 1991 to 1998, any weapons inspectors sent into Iraq under the ground rules of the existing UN Security Council resolutions and the existing Iraqi regime are doomed to fail. The only uncertainties are how long they will last, whether they will inhibit Iraq's programs at all, and what role their presence will have in the overarching politics surrounding their almost inconsequential presence. Although inspectors accomplished much during their time in Iraq, their successes were temporary. The categorical goals established by the Security Council were not achievable at a price either the council or Iraq was willing to pay. It turned out that the permanent disarmament goals imposed on Iraq were out of proportion with the inspectors' tools and the rewards and punishments the Security Council could practically impose. The result was a political and military muddle with the inspectors caught in the middle.

The Security Council passed Resolution 687 as part of the cease-fire arrangements ending the Persian Gulf War The resolution, among other things, required Iraq to rid itself permanently and unconditionally of all nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons capabilities and allow inspectors full access to verify and monitor compliance forever. Resolution 687 also created a positive incentive for Iraqi compliance by linking a decision to lift sanctions with Iraq's fulfillment of the disarmament provisions. The potential for negative reinforcement was implicit in the fact that the resolution was passed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, meaning that military force could be used to enforce compliance.

The role of the inspectors was intended to be straightforward. The burden of proof was placed explicitly on Iraq: Baghdad was obligated to make full declarations about its weapons programs and accept monitoring and verification activity as determined necessary by UNSCOM and the IAEA. The UN inspectors were obligated to verify the Iraqi declarations and report their evaluations to the Security Council, which would then make decisions on sanctions. The inspectors were not intended to answer, What illicit capability does Iraq have left? In principle, their job was strictly to verify that Iraq had fully declared and accounted for its weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq's obligations were clear; the incentives for cooperation were sizable; and the job of the inspectors in the process was simple-on paper. Unfortunately, in reality the inspectors' job proved to be anything but. The dynamics between Iraq and the Security Council, with the weapons inspectors in between, proved inconsistent with the objective of forcing Iraqi disarmament.

The UN Was Hesitant to Use Force

Immediately after inspectors arrived in Iraq, Baghdad began a pattern of only partially complying with Resolution 687 and testing the will of UNSCOM, the IAEA, and the Security Council. The response was tepid enough to convince Iraq that it could obstruct inspections without triggering a military response.

The first instance of noncompliance occurred in June 1991-the very month inspectors began work in Iraq-when IAEA inspectors were blocked in an effort to get access to calutrons Iraq was concealing. In the aftermath of this blocked inspection, the Security Council dispatched UNSCOM Executive Chairman Rolf Ekeus and IAEA Director-General Hans Blix to Baghdad to seek Iraqi agreement to comply.

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