It is a record replete with success: dozens of missiles and
launchers destroyed, a secret germ-warfare plant demolished, and tons
of other components of one of the deadliest armories ever amassed
But after eight years of exacting, risk-fraught work, the United
Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) may not be allowed to finish its
job of unearthing Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Iraq's duplicity and 48-day-old blockade of UNSCOM inspections are
one reason. Another is enduring pressure from Russia and France,
Iraq's largest creditors, to give Baghdad a clean bill of health so
sanctions imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait can be lifted.
But the latest blow has come from the United States, UNSCOM's
The Clinton administration's apparent retreat from its threat to
use force to compel Iraqi compliance with UNSCOM has deprived the
inspectors of the only real muscle they had to get into sites
suspected of hiding the remains of Baghdad's pre-Gulf War chemical
and biological arms programs.
"Under current circumstances, we cannot do the job," says a source
close to UNSCOM.
Dangers beyond Saddam
With UNSCOM's future in jeopardy, some experts and US officials
fear that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein may already feel free to
begin producing anew biological and chemical weapons with which to
threaten his Persian Gulf neighbors.
Such a development would have an impact far beyond the oil-rich
region. UNSCOM is the most far-reaching initiative of its kind,
devised to deny a despotic regime weapons of mass destruction. Its
collapse, experts say, will prove a lack of international resolve to
halt the spread of such weapons, encouraging proliferation and
casting doubt on the viability of the Chemical Weapons Convention
(CWC) and similar treaties.
"This goes beyond Saddam Hussein," says Ruhi Ramazani, a political
science professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
"It goes to the fundamental question of whether the end of the
cold war produced a new era in which the international community can
act to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
Such concerns arise because accords at the center of global
nonproliferation efforts - the CWC and bans on nuclear tests and
biological weapons - ultimately hinge on enforcement by a unified
United Nations Security Council.
The Security Council's inability to agree on Iraq becomes more
serious when viewed through the lens of growing missile proliferation
and the danger of unpaid Russian experts seeking lucrative employment
with countries that want to develop weapons of mass destruction.
"There is more at stake here than just Iraq," warns the source
close to UNSCOM. "Can the Security Council cope, as a multilateral
body, and see this thing through? If it can't, what does that say
about the value of the Security Council, the value of arms control,
the value of nonproliferation?"
Charges that UNSCOM is being sidelined have been led by Scott
Ritter, a former Marine major who for about seven years oversaw its
most intrusive surveys of suspected Iraqi weapons sites. …