Academic journal article Global Governance

Weapons of Mass Destruction and the United Nations

Academic journal article Global Governance

Weapons of Mass Destruction and the United Nations

Article excerpt

What Happened in Iraq?

The Success Story of UN Inspections

This is an extraordinarily important moment for the United Nations. Before attention is lost in the controversies over the war itself and in the challenges of its aftermath, the UN must capture, clarify, and publicize the record of international inspections in Iraq: for itself, for member governments, and for the public. Was the process encompassing the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) from 1991 to 2003 a success? Or was it the bumbling embarrassment, the "sham," portrayed by top U.S. officials and still understood that way by the American public--and perhaps by the public elsewhere?

The bottom line is that it was in fact a rather striking international success that stands out in the record of recent decades. However, it is a success studded with weaknesses that need to be understood and corrected and one that, because it is not yet recognized, is not fully real. Without a concerted analytical effort, the record of what actually happened, and its very real promise for the future, could easily be lost.

In the surging controversy over British and U.S. intelligence failures in Iraq, a critical fact is still largely unnoticed: while the national intelligence services were getting it wrong, UN inspectors were getting the picture largely right.

In 1991-1998, UNSCOM and the IAEA--while facing unrelenting Iraqi opposition and obstruction--successfully discovered and eliminated most, if not all, of Iraq's unconventional weapons and production facilities and destroyed or monitored the destruction of most of its chemical and biological weapons agents. Iraq's most secret program--its biological weapons program--was discovered through painstaking detective work and was reported to the Security Council four months before the defection of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law Hussein Kamel. UNSCOM also uncovered covert transactions between Iraq and more than five hundred companies from more than forty countries--a body of work that assumes fresh significance in the light of recent disclosures of the nuclear sales network of Pakistan's A. Q. Khan. Also, inspectors put in place a mechanism to track and block banned exports and imports.

In the months immediately preceding the war, UN inspectors' assessments of Iraq's programs were remarkably close to what has since been found--and far more accurate than U.S. or British prewar beliefs. UNMOVIC was permitted to operate for less than four months, and only for a matter of weeks at full strength. But to the best of present knowledge, the inspectors were in fact in the process of finding and beginning to dismantle what was there.

This record suggests a number of lessons--positive and negative. First, it appears that a package of international restraints--sanctions, the procurement investigations, and the export/import controls combined with core inspections--worked together in a way that is not yet understood, and that this package was considerably more effective than has been appreciated then or since.

Second, even though UNSCOM and the early IAEA inspections operated under a degree of Iraqi obstruction that the Security Council never should have tolerated, the UN inspections' greatest area of weakness lay in New York, not in Iraq. Iraq played a highly effective game of divide and conquer in the Security Council, setting the permanent members against each other until political support was so undermined that inspections were forced to a halt in 1998. The lesson is clear. Political unity in backing inspections is as important as technology and expertise on the ground, and the Security Council is not now set up to provide it. Inspections should not again be launched without more settled political support behind them. And the Security Council should never again allow rules of the game that tilt the playing field so steeply in favor of the miscreant and against its own agents. …

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