Ambassador Richard Butler: Keeping Iraq's Disarmament on Track

Arms Control Today, August/September 1998 | Go to article overview

Ambassador Richard Butler: Keeping Iraq's Disarmament on Track


Since taking over as executive chairman of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) in July 1997, Ambassador Richard Butler has stood at the center of the stormy relationship between Iraq and the United Nations. UNSCOM, established by the UN Security Council in 1991, is charged with eliminating Baghdad's biological and chemical weapons programs and proscribed ballistic missile activities, as well as monitoring to ensure that Iraq does not reacquire any such capabilities in the future.

On September 24, as Butler was preparing the most recent six-month report on UNSCOM activities in Iraqa report dominated by Iraq's refusal since August 5 to permit UNSCOM inspections-Arms Control Association Senior Analyst Howard Diamond asked him about this latest crisis and its implications for UNSCOM.

Butler's diplomatic career includes a number of positions in the Australian foreign service. Appointed Australia's ambassador for disarmament in 1983, Butler was named ambassador to Thailand in 1989 and ambassador to the Supreme National Council of Cambodia two years later. In 1995 he was appointed convenor of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Immediately prior to joining UNSCOM, Butler served from 1992 to 1997 as Australian ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations. The following is an edited version of his comments.

Arms Control Today: What are the current scope and status of UNSCOM's ongoing monitoring and verification processes? To what extent has Iraq's most recent suspension of cooperation affected the integrity of monitoring efforts?

Richard Butler: Iraq's decisions of 5 August sliced off all of our disarmament work. Iraq stated that we could, for a period of time, continue our monitoring work, and claimed that that would be in accordance with the provisions of the monitoring agreement settled years ago between Iraq and UNSCOM. That agreement is actually a piece of Security Council legislation, known as Resolution 715. The fact is that in the intervening seven weeks or so, we have found that Iraq's claim is not true. We are not able to do all of the monitoring we would want to do and would normally do pursuant to 715. Specifically, we are only being permitted to monitor at sites Iraq allows us to visit. We're not able to designate our own sites, and I've reported this to the Security Council. This significantly reduces the scope of our monitoring. There have been some instances where, even within a site designated by them, in other words a site to which they will allow us to make a monitoring visit, they are seeking to restrict our access to particular buildings or particular rooms, not to the whole of the site. So, on all of these grounds I've reported to the Council that we are not able to give the Council the kind of assurance with respect to monitoring that it requires under the law.

ACT: It's been about seven weeks since the last weapons inspections in Iraq. What are your primary concerns regarding Iraqi activities since the end of inspections?

Butler: Our inspections fall into two categories. One has to do with bringing into final account Iraq's proscribed weapons. Here remain outstanding issues in all three fields-missile, chemical and biological. Now that Iraq has sliced off our disarmament work, we're doing none of that-none-and that's a matter of concern.

As far as monitoring is concerned, it's not so easy to answer that question, because you can't know what you can't see. We don't know what Iraq may or may not be doing in the places we're not permitted to visit, and it would be foolish of me to make some kind of guess.

ACT: UNSCOM has provided the Security Council with an intensive and detailed review of the outstanding disarmament questions that stand in the way of the Commission completing its work. Is the "roadmap" that was provided earlier still the best evaluation of the remaining issues regarding disarmament? …

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Ambassador Richard Butler: Keeping Iraq's Disarmament on Track
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