From a Cold War to a Cold Peace: Hans Blix Discusses Iraq and Efforts to Limit the Use of Force in International Affairs and Calls for a Revival of Disarmament

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Sometimes UNMOVIC--and the IAEA--are credited with having said that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the US-led invasion in 2003. I want the record to be correct. We did not assert that there were no such weapons. To prove the negative is mostly not possible. There were a great many relevant items 'unaccounted for' and we listed them. However, while officials of the governments that launched the invasion simply claimed that these items must be hidden, inspectors warned that you cannot jump to such a conclusion. The items might or might not exist. We now know they did not exist.

What the inspectors did was to inspect and report. In the course of three and a half months UNMOVIC--the name of the UN inspection unit--carried out some 700 inspections in about 500 different sites in Iraq. We reported that we found no weapons of mass destruction, only some debris from past programmes. Most significant was that we went to some three dozen sites offered to us by intelligence agencies in various countries. In only a few cases did we find anything at all on such sites and it did not relate to weapons of mass destruction. The intelligence agencies should have concluded that their sources--in many cases defectors--were not very good. They told us that the sites they gave us were the best. I wondered about the rest....

The IAEA, in charge of nuclear inspections, was able to conclude that the alleged contract for the import of uranium oxide--yellow cake--from Niger to Iraq was a forgery and that aluminium tubes alleged to have been imported to make centrifuges were, in fact, for rockets. A problem with preventive military action is that it must be based on intelligence, which may be good or bad. In the case of Iraq, governments often replaced the question marks by exclamation marks. Had verification continued for a few months more, which many states in the Security Council wanted, we would have been able to go to all sites suspected by intelligence. As there were no weapons, they--and the council--would have learnt that. It would have been harder to start the war.

The UN inspection unit that I led did by no means see itself as a group of heroes that stood up against an aggressive United States. Rather we saw ourselves as international civil servants who sought to the best of our ability to fulfil the task that the Security Council had laid upon us to inspect professionally and to report our findings correctly. We did not claim to be smarter than the experts of governments, but I could sincerely assure all that we were in any case in nobody's pocket. I am sometimes asked how I felt being bugged. My first response is that I have no evidence I was, though I find it very likely. My second response is that if I was, I wish they had at least listened better to what I said.

Four years after the war I see the armed intervention and its consequences not only as a shocking tragedy but also as a sad breaking of a global development toward detente. First the tragedy: the invasion failed to achieve the aims it had declared:

* No weapons of mass destruction could be eliminated because they did not exist.

* al-Qaeda could not be eradicated because it was not in Iraq. However, through the invasion Iraq became a fertile ground for al-Qaeda and terrorism.

* Democracy has not been created and spread. So far chiefly terror has.

One success is to be recorded: Saddam Hussein was ousted. Whether the United States will be able to keep troops long term in Iraq to protect oil resources and transports--which most probably was an aim--remains to be seen.

Eroded authority

One cost of the Iraq War that has not been much discussed is the erosion that it caused in the authority of the United Nations and the set back it caused in the development toward a more peaceful world order that we thought was coming after the end of the Cold War. …