UNMOVIC Chief Hans Blix Prepared for New Round of Weapons Inspections in Iraq
Williams, Ian, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations.
Hans Blix is one of the archetypal Swedes who have kept the U.N. running for half a century. Some, like Count Folke Bernadotte, died as a result of the Middle Eastern conflict. Others, like Blix's predecessor, UNSCOM head Rolf Ekeus, were caught between the millstones of Washington and Baghdad.
Blix first came to the U.N. as a student in 1950, he reminisced in a recent interview with the Washington Report. At that time, in order to bypass Moscow's Security Council vetoes, the U.S. was putting together the "Uniting For Peace" procedure--the very one the Palestinians are now using against U.S. vetoes!
Blix has an ironic sense of humor, which comes in handy in his position of head of UNMOVIC, the body set up two years ago to verify Iraq's disarmament. Formerly head of the International Atomic Agency, Blix now has to certify to the Security Council himself Iraq's cooperation and weapons-free status--a heavy responsibility.
Since UNMOVIC has not actually been allowed into Iraq, Blix made few headlines--until The Washington Post revealed in April that John Bolton, under secretary of state for disarmament affairs, had ordered a CIA investigation on him to determine if Blix was "soft" on Iraq.
Although the CIA apparently "cleared" him, Blix emphasized that there are no such security checks by national agencies against UNMOVIC staff. "Not even the Russians or the CIA can guarantee that you cannot get a mole!" he pointed out. "However, if we discovered someone, as they say, wearing two hats, then we'd invite them to walk out--wearing the other one."
And as for operations, "When we get to anything sensitive we will keep it on a need-to-know basis," Blix stated. "For example, when we get to decide the sites to inspect, on a no-notice basis, that has to be kept secret. We will try to do that--but we can't guarantee it. In any case, many of the things we do are transparent. I have about four lectures that I have given to the inspectors and they are available to everyone, including the Iraqis. There is no mystery."
In some ways, Blix thought, the two years of waiting have not been wasted. "We did not want any unnecessary expenses," he noted, "nor do we want to have people sitting around idle, so what we have done is to train about 230 people ready to go as inspectors."
He also is happy that, with inspectors from 44 nations, UNMOVIC represents a more diverse body than did UNSCOM. "No one has criticized us yet," he said, "but we do not have so many Africans yet, and few South Americans. People who are knowledgeable about chemical and biological weapons and missiles are of course mostly from industrialized countries, but there are many industrialized countries to choose from!"
UNSCOM relied upon staff seconded from other governments. "However we have money," Blix chuckled, "with the compliments of the Iraqis, since 0.8 percent of the oil revenues goes to finance UNSCOM. That gives us independence, so we do not need to go begging to governments. In fact we don't go to them at all--we advertise for staff on the Web."
There still is a shortage of Arabs and Arabic-speakers, but he added, "it is not our fault. We have turned to Arab states to have names, and on the Web and through the missions here, but we don't get candidates."
This, he suggested, reflects the reputation of UNMOVIC in the Arab world. "On the other hand," he pointed out, "we do have Arabic interpreters, so it is not crippling."
Apart from the language problem, Blix explained that, since the Security Council mandate includes training in "cultural sensitivity," "in our training courses there are lectures on Iraqi culture, and the high standard of living that they enjoyed before the war. So we deal with the culture, the religion, the history."
Asked if that includes an overview of the Ba'ath Party's glorious history, he replied with a smile, "Indeed, we also usually have someone on these courses who can be relied upon to take the Iraqi point of view. …