Disarming Iraq: Nonmilitary Strategies and Options

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The past success of United Nations weapons inspectors indicates that a high level of confidence in Iraq's disarmament could be achieved if they were allowed to resume their work.

The uncertainty regarding Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruct tion, which has increased since United Nations weapons inspectors left Iraq almost four years ago, appears to be approaching a crisis point. Concerned that Baghdad is rebuilding its programs to produce nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, the Bush administration has strengthened its call for regime change in Iraq and spurred an increasingly vocal debate about the possibility of forcibly overthrowing the Iraqi dictator.

Whatever the merits of regime change in Iraq, discourse in Washington has focused on military options for dealing with Baghdad's weapons of mass destruction without due consideration for the progress that UN weapons inspectors could make if they were readmitted to the country. In a world where the war on terrorism may take on new contours at any moment and challenges to U.S. policy mount daily in the Middle East, it is essential to explore scenarios that do not carry the diplomatic and strategic risks of military action. If U.S. officials determine that the costs of war against Iraq are too great, policy-makers must understand that there are alternative, viable options for achieving U.S. nonproliferation objectives.

Indeed, recent press reports indicate that military action may not get the domestic and international support it requires. The Europeans, never particularly supportive of a second Persian Gulf War, have become increasingly concerned that military action will interfere with the possibilities for brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians.1 Middle Eastern governments, like that of Saudi Arabia, have outright opposed an attack, and the Iraqi Kurds, who figure in some planners' vision of regime change, are wary of U.S. military action.2 In the United States, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have reportedly expressed reticence about invading Iraq; and most recently Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to former President George H. W. Bush and was a chief architect of the Gulf War, wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in which he argued, "An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign that we have undertaken."3

UN inspectors were remarkably successful in their efforts to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and although Saddam Hussein is likely reconstituting certain programs, evidence suggests that he does not pose an immediate threat to the United States. The past success of inspectors indicates that a high level of confidence in Iraq's disarmament could be achieved if they were allowed to resume their work. The United States should push for the resumption of inspections in Iraq and also establish an "enhanced containment" system to monitor Iraq's borders and prevent illicit materiel from entering the country.

Although a program of inspections and enhanced containment would not effect regime change and might not achieve the level of certainty of weapons control that would come with U.S. troops occupying Baghdad, it also is free of the costs and uncertainties that accompany those scenarios. Instead, a combination of resumed weapons inspections and enhanced containment addresses U.S. nonproliferation objectives and provides a viable, robust option for preventing Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction.

A Continuing Danger

Saddam Hussein poses a significant threat to regional and international security. His regime has initiated two wars and has developed and used chemical weapons and ballistic missiles against neighboring states and its own citizens. UN inspectors discovered after the Gulf War that Iraq had vast stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons as well as a major program to develop nuclear weapons. …