Verifying Arms Control Agreements: An Interview with Hans Blix

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ACT: So let me just start with maybe the most general question, I'm sure one that you've heard before: Are you surprised that U.S. forces haven't found any weapons of mass destruction [WMD] yet?

Blix: No, I would not say I am surprised, but nor would I have been surprised if they had found something. Our position was always that there was a great deal that was unaccounted for, which means that it could have been there and the Iraqis had not explained what had happened to it, except to say in a general way that it was all destroyed in the summer of 1991.

We warned, and I warned specifically and explicitly, against equating "not accounted for" with "existing." And you'll find that we consistently said that Iraq must present any proscribed items or provide evidence of what has happened to them. And if they do not succeed in providing evidence, then the conclusion for us is that one cannot have confidence that these are gone and that therefore, at least in the past, in terms of the past resolutions, there was not a ground for lifting sanctions.

I am surprised, on the other hand, that it seems that so many of the U.S. military seemed to have been convinced that there would be lots of weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical weapons, for them to take care of as soon as they went in and that they would practically stumble on these things. If anyone had cared, in the military circles, to study what UNSCOM [the United Nations Special Commission] was saying for quite a number of years, and what we were saying, they should not have assumed that they would stumble on weapons.

ACT: What do you think accounts for the discrepancy between this assumption on the U.S. military side and what was in the UNSCOM reports and what you found in your investigations?

Blix: I think primarily little attention to the United Nations and what it does up in New York and more attention to the huge organization that is the U.S. military force.

ACT: It's not a question of different intelligence methods of gathering things or political pressures or other factors?

Blix: No-well, of course there was a lot of political feeling that [then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] was bad, which was true, and which I shared. [Laughter.] But going from there to saying that "well, it was a foregone conclusion that there was a lot" [of WMD] was not really tenable logic. It is true that he had the intention and he had these programs; we all know that. And, in popular thinking, maybe, if you have someone committing a crime once, you are inclined to think there will be a second time. But if you are a lawyer, if you are in a court, you are not supposed to say that it is automatic that someone who is accused a second time is guilty because he was guilty the first time. I think the matters have to be looked at on the merits, and this is what we tried to do here, and...we were being cautious.

ACT: What do you think the lack of prohibited weapons finds says about the effectiveness of the investigations that you carried out and that the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] carried out? You got a lot of criticism at the time from the administration and other people about how effective they were, and do you think that this shows you were more effective than they claim?

Blix: Let's distinguish between what is said at the official level with what is said at other levels. I mean, my relations with the U.S. mission here, with their representatives to the Security Council, with their representatives in the State Department, and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, were-there was no criticism of what we were doing. On the contrary, there was support for it. And even at the time, when the media were suggesting that we were withholding some evidence, there was no such suggestion made on the Security Council. These were spins that came at a lower level.

ACT: On the substance of the question, do you think that your investigations were more effective than perceived at the time, whatever the origin of the criticism? …