The Case for Iraq's Qualitative Disarmament

By Ritter, Scott | Arms Control Today, June 2000 | Go to article overview

The Case for Iraq's Qualitative Disarmament


Ritter, Scott, Arms Control Today


Efforts to resume weapons inspections in Iraq have long been at an impasse. It has been 18 months since inspectors from the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) were withdrawn from Iraq and six months since the Security Council created a successor organization to assume UNSCOM's mantle. Resolution 1284 established the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) in December 1999 and tasked it with verifying Iraq's elimination of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometers.

Resolution 687, which had originally spelled out this obligation, was viewed by many in the Security Council (including Russia, France, and China) as no longer viable given UNSCOM's untidy link to Operation Desert Fox, the 72-hour aerial bombardment of Iraq conducted in December 1998. At that time, the United States and the United Kingdom had used an UNSCOM report to the Security Council that laid out the record of Iraqi non-compliance with inspections as justification for the bombing-before the Security Council had any chance to deliberate on the report and without any authorization from that body. The unfortunate fallout from this military action was that Iraq not only refused to allow the UNSCOM inspectors to return, but also rejected any future cooperation with the organization. The inspection process was dead.

In April 2000, the Security Council approved the organizational plan for the new inspectorate, in theory setting the stage for the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq. However, Iraq refuses to cooperate with either UNMOVIC or its executive chairman, Hans Blix, on the grounds that this new inspection regime is merely a repackaged version of UNSCOM. Furthermore, Resolution 1284 reduced Iraq's incentive to cooperate, stating that the Security Council would only suspend sanctions once Baghdad had complied with inspections, rather than lift them as agreed in Resolution 687. Iraq has made clear that it will never agree to anything less than the lifting of sanctions.

As the situation stands today, Iraq and the Security Council are deadlocked. There is no hope for the return of inspectors to Iraq anytime soon. With each passing day, concern increases over the status of Iraq's WMD programs because there are no inspectors in place to monitor them. Unless the Security Council can come up with a compromise, the situation will only continue to deteriorate.

What is often overlooked in the debate over how to proceed with Iraq's disarmament is the fact that from 1994 to 1998 Iraq was subjected to a strenuous program of ongoing monitoring of industrial and research facilities that could be used to reconstitute proscribed activities. This monitoring provided weapons inspectors with detailed insight into the capabilities, both present and future, of Iraq's industrial infrastructure. It allowed UNSCOM to ascertain, with a high level of confidence, that Iraq was not rebuilding its prohibited weapons programs and that it lacked the means to do so without an infusion of advanced technology and a significant investment of time and money.

Given the comprehensive nature of the monitoring regime put in place by UNSCOM, which included a strict exportimport control regime, it was possible as early as 1997 to determine that, from a qualitative standpoint, Iraq had been disarmed. Iraq no longer possessed any meaningful quantities of chemical or biological agent, if it possessed any at all, and the industrial means to produce these agents had either been eliminated or were subject to stringent monitoring. The same was true of Iraq's nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities. As long as monitoring inspections remained in place, Iraq presented a WMD-- based threat to no one.

The success of the UNSCOM monitoring regime may hold the key to unlocking the current stalemate between Iraq and the Security Council. The absolute nature of the disarmament obligation set forth in Resolution 687 meant that anything less than 100 percent disarmament precluded a finding of compliance.

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