Reviving Disarmament: An Interview with Hans Blix

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Hans Blix for the last two years has served as chairman of the WMD Commission, an independent international body launched by the Swedish government to explore ways to reduce threats posed by biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. Blix, who was formerly head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) in Iraq, shared the commission's findings and recommendations during a June 6 interview with Arms Control Today.

ACT: In its report, the WMD Commission provided 60 recommendations for reducing biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. If world leaders were to take one message or theme away from the study, what would it be?

Blix: The revival of disarmament. We are in a situation where there is a stagnation of multilateral, global efforts. It's worse than that. There's also the incipient beginning of arms races. In space there's one. On new types of nuclear weapons, there's a second one. On missiles, [there's] certainly a third one. All these need to be addressed. There is some activity on the bilateral and regional [fronts], but you need global cooperation. "Cooperative disarmament" would be another term that we would use.

ACT: Many of the recommendations appear aimed at the countries that already have nuclear weapons, rather than measures to prevent new countries from getting these weapons. How would you explain to an American, British, or French citizen that their countries'weapons are a problem just like North Korea's or potentially Iran's?

Blix: Actually, the report addresses both. In the chapter on nuclear weapons, we begin with proliferation because that's the most acute. I don't think we are by any means neglecting or putting proliferation in a second category. They're on an equal basis. We address the two cases we think are absolutely acute for nonproliferation, namely Iran and North Korea. On the more general front, we address the problem of hair-trigger alerts, of launch on warning, on the need for reduction of strategic weapons between the United States and Russia, and on the need to withdraw [U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear] weapons from the European front back to U.S. territory and into central storage in Russia. We also point to the obligation that we see certainly for the nuclear-weapon states under the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] to undertake nuclear disarmament, which many non-nuclear-weapon states feel that [the nuclear-weapon states] have walked away from. We point to the difficulty of persuading and espousing nonproliferation by other states so long as the nuclear-weapon states are themselves not taking that obligation seriously.

ACT: But how do you persuade citizens in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom that their weapons are a concern to the developing world and other countries that don't have these weapons? How do you make them realize that this is a problem?

Blix: We are saying that all nuclear weapons are dangerous in whosever hands. We also say that, yes, some [regimes] can be more ruthless and reckless than others. Regimes can change. But [all nuclear weapons] are dangerous. There are none that are in secure hands. We have hair-trigger alert, there can be misunderstandings, and there can be regime change.

ACT: As you know, the commission's report is being released when much of the international community is concerned about Iran's nuclear program. What would Iran need to do to prove to you that its nuclear program is not intended to produce weapons?

Blix: This is my view: I think it would be very difficult for Iran under current circumstances, even for a long period of time, to prove that they have no intentions [to pursue nuclear weapons]. How do you prove that you have no intentions? I don't think any amount of IAEA inspection will tell the world, "Ah, there's nothing, so they can go ahead with enrichment." As in the case of Iraq, we saw that the Iraqis tried to assert [that they did not have weapons of mass destruction] and we said, "Well, there's things unaccounted for. …