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Decision on Iraqi Disarmament Divides Security Council

Paul Kerr

As weapons inspections continued in Iraq, permanent members of the UN Security Council submitted competing proposals February 24 intended to address Baghdad’s failure to disarm. A U.S.-British draft resolution states that Iraq has failed to comply with its disarmament obligations and would likely pave the way for military action. A memorandum submitted to the council by France and Russia is intended to slow the rush to war, calling for strengthened inspections as a means of achieving disarmament without using force. (See ACT, March 2003.)

Formally introduced by the United Kingdom and co-sponsored by the United States and Spain, the draft resolution states that Iraq “has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it by Resolution 1441.” That resolution, adopted November 8, gave Iraq a “final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations” as set out by Security Council resolutions stretching back to the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The United States has previously said that Iraq is in material breach of the resolution but has not formally submitted the matter to the Security Council before.

The draft resolution focuses on Iraq’s failure to fully explain its weapons programs. Resolution 1441 required Iraq to submit a “currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its [weapons of mass destruction] programmes.” Iraq turned over a 12,000-page declaration to UN officials in Baghdad December 7, but it contained little useful information and left many questions unanswered. The draft resolution says this declaration contains “false statements and omissions”—a breach of Resolution 1441.

The draft resolution references Resolution 1441’s warning that Baghdad would “face serious consequences” if it continues to ignore its disarmament obligations—a phrase widely viewed as including the use of force—but does not include stronger language. The Bush administration has repeatedly said that it will go to war without UN authorization if necessary, and a State Department official interviewed February 27 said the United States does not believe that a new resolution is required to use force.

A UN official interviewed February 27 said that the new resolution was intended to provide political cover for leaders whose citizens oppose military action.

The Russian-French proposal, submitted as a memorandum and not as a formal resolution, states that military force should be a “last resort” and that force should not yet be used because there is “no evidence” that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It also notes that inspections have only recent begun operating at full capacity but “have already produced results.” The memorandum also says, however, that “inspections…cannot continue indefinitely. Iraq must disarm,” adding that Baghdad’s cooperation, although improving, is not “yet fully satisfactory.”

The memorandum also argues that preserving Security Council unity and increasing pressure on Iraq “are of paramount importance.” It proposes that the inspectors submit a program of work that lists and clearly defines specific disarmament tasks. Such a report is already required under Resolution 1284, which created the current weapons inspection team—the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC)—in 1999. UNMOVIC is currently assembling the list, the UN official said in a February 27 interview.

The memorandum suggests “further measures to strengthen inspections,” including increasing staff and bolstering technical capabilities. Additionally, it proposes a new timeline mandating regular reporting to the Security Council about inspectors’ progress, as well as a progress report to be submitted 120 days after the program of work is adopted.

China supports the French and Russian position, according to a February 27 Chinese Foreign Ministry statement. The stark division between the Security Council’s permanent members is reflected in a split among the council’s 10 rotating members. Even if Russia, France, and China refrained from exercising their vetoes, it is unclear whether the U.S.-British resolution would garner the nine votes needed to pass.

The State Department official said that Washington expects a decision on the resolution shortly after Hans Blix, the executive chairman of UNMOVIC, briefs the council in early March. Blix is scheduled to submit an UNMOVIC quarterly report March 1 and to give an oral presentation to the council in the first week of March. The Security Council began consultations about the resolution February 27.

In a February 24 press statement, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte would not set a specific timetable for a vote but said the “diplomatic window is now closing” and that Washington expects action within a few weeks.

The Bush administration has still not publicly committed itself to the use of military force but has been dismissive of the inspections’ incremental progress. During a February 24 press conference, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, stopped short of saying that the United States had decided go to war but added that “there are no deals to be struck” with Baghdad.

The Security Council split is characterized by differing views over whether Iraq can be expected to comply with its disarmament obligations and whether inspectors can effectively perform their task. Secretary of State Colin Powell briefed the Security Council on February 5 in an effort to persuade members that the inspections process is failing, publicly presenting intelligence for the first time to support Washington’s claim that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction and interfering with the inspections process. (See excerpts below.)

Powell presented satellite images, recordings of intercepted communications, and accounts from human intelligence sources to make his case. He cited examples of Iraqi personnel concealing weapons, altering documents, intimidating potential witnesses, and monitoring inspection teams as proof of Iraqi interference. He also stated that Iraq continues to develop prohibited weapons systems, such as long-range missiles and aircraft modified to deliver weapons of mass destruction. The briefing, however, failed to generate sufficient support to persuade France, China, and Russia to support the U.S. position.

What Inspectors Have Found

The weapons inspectors have reported no major WMD discoveries, and Iraq has continued to be cooperative in granting access to facilities. The Security Council seems to agree, however, that Baghdad has continued to show insufficient cooperation to clarify its December declaration and demonstrate that it no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction.

Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), updated the Security Council on January 27 and February 14 about their progress since they last briefed the council January 9. (See ACT, January/February 2003.) They reported that the IAEA has conducted 177 inspections at 125 locations and that UNMOVIC has conducted more than 400 inspections at approximately 300 sites. There are 86 UNMOVIC and 18 IAEA inspectors in Iraq, according to a February 26 IAEA press report.

The UNMOVIC inspectors have not found any weapons of mass destruction, Blix said February 14, but they have found a “small number of [prohibited] empty chemical munitions.” However, “many [other] proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for,” he added, calling the matter “one of great significance.”

Perhaps more importantly, UNMOVIC ordered Baghdad to destroy its al Samoud 2 missiles. Inspectors say the missiles are prohibited under Iraq’s disarmament obligations because their range exceeds 150 kilometers, the limit established by Resolution 687 in 1991. Iraq must destroy the missiles, along with their rocket motors and any casting chambers capable of manufacturing motors for prohibited missiles. Blix communicated the order to Iraq in a February 21 letter, and Iraq has agreed “in principle” to destroy them, according to a February 27 UN press release.

Blix also indicated in his February 14 briefing that the inspectors were expanding their infrastructure and technical capabilities, including the use of manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft.

ElBaradei said February 14 that the IAEA has “found no evidence” of an ongoing nuclear weapons program, but he added that the agency could not yet confirm that such a program does not exist. The IAEA is attempting to determine Iraq’s nuclear activities since inspectors left the country in 1998.

ElBaradei also pointed out that inspections can find prohibited nuclear weapons programs “even without the full cooperation of the inspected state” but added that Iraqi cooperation would “speed up” the process and produce a greater degree of confidence that Iraq has disarmed.

Marginal Cooperation

International pressure on Baghdad to comply with Resolution 1441 has increased in response to Iraqi intransigence. Blix and ElBaradei held meetings with Iraqi officials January 19-20 and February 8-9 in an effort to secure greater cooperation, with some marginal success. The chief inspectors maintain, however, that Iraq must make much more progress to fulfill its disarmament requirements.

In a sign of modest progress, Iraq has provided inspectors with some documentation of its weapons programs. Iraq gave UNMOVIC documents concerning its biological weapons program shortly after the inspectors’ February 14 presentation, according to a February 25 UN press release. A few days later, Iraq began excavating a site where biological weapons had been disposed of and invited UNMOVIC to inspect the site.

However, Blix said February 14 that documents that Baghdad had presented during the February 8-9 meeting addressed “important…disarmament issues” but contained “no new evidence.” Questions also still remain about Iraq’s destruction of its anthrax stocks and precursor chemicals for VX nerve gas. Iraq claims to have unilaterally destroyed these agents in 1991 but says the documentation was destroyed.

The IAEA removed documents from an Iraqi scientist’s home January 16, but ElBaradei reported February 14 that they revealed little new information about Iraq’s nuclear program. ElBaradei also said that documents provided during the inspectors’ February 8-9 visit contained no new information.

Securing private interviews with Iraqi scientists has been another matter of concern. Resolution 1441 gives inspectors the right to interview anyone they choose, without Iraqi officials present, in any location they wish, including outside Iraq. ElBaradei said in his January 27 briefing that Iraqi scientists had declined private interviews, but he said in his February 14 briefing that the IAEA had since been able to conduct four interviews without the presence of Iraqi observers, although the subjects tape recorded their interviews—a practice the IAEA wants to end.

The IAEA has indicated that the interview process is continuing, and ElBaradei said on February 14 that Iraq provided the agency with additional names of relevant personnel to be interviewed. Previous lists provided by Iraq were inadequate. ElBaradei added that the agency would continue to ask for additional lower-ranking personnel.

Blix said in his February 14 briefing that three people consented to private interviews just before the February talks in Baghdad, after many had refused. However, no Iraqis have agreed to private interviews since then, the UN official said in the February 27 interview. UNMOVIC has made no interview requests since February 14, the official added.

Blix added that Iraq gave UNMOVIC a list of people who had been involved with Iraq’s chemical weapons program. UNMOVIC has since received names of people involved in biological and missile programs, Blix said in a February 23 Time interview.

There have been other improvements in the inspections process. During the January 27 meeting, Blix identified some restrictions that Baghdad placed on weapons inspectors that have since been resolved. For example, Iraq was restricting flights of U2 surveillance aircraft, but Blix reported February 14 that the matter had been settled. The first U2 flight took place February 17.

ElBaradei stated during his February 14 briefing that Iraq adopted “national legislation” that same day prohibiting illegal weapons activities, complying with a longstanding inspectors’ request. Blix said in the Time interview, however, that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein only signed a “limited” decree and that actual legislation has not been adopted.

'Iraq: Failing to Disarm'

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5 presentation to the UN Security Council contended that Baghdad is not fulfilling its requirements under Resolution 1441 and is involved in “an active and systematic effort…to keep key materials and people from the inspectors.” In his presentation, Powell stated that Iraq has a committee devoted to monitoring and deceiving inspectors. His briefing cited previously unrevealed intelligence information from human sources, satellite imagery, and intercepted communications.

Iraqi concealment efforts before inspections resumed

Satellite photographs show evidence of Iraq cleaning up approximately 30 weapons sites by removing prohibited material prior to the inspectors’ arrival.

  • A cargo truck moved ballistic missile components from a weapons site on November 10 and 22.
  • Rocket launchers and warheads containing biological agents were dispersed throughout the countryside during September and October to avoid detection.

A conversation intercepted November 26 reveals Iraqi officials apparently arranging to remove a “modified vehicle” in anticipation of UN inspectors’ arrival in Iraq.

Iraqi concealment efforts after inspections resumed

An intercepted conversation from January 30 indicates that, although Baghdad formed a commission to track down any remaining prohibited weapons in Iraq, Iraqi officials are actually conspiring to hide such munitions.

Iraq removed all materials from a chemical weapons site on December 22 as inspectors were arriving.

Iraq utilizes mobile biological-agent production facilities to thwart inspectors, according to four independent human sources.

Iraq is employing numerous tactics to hide relevant documents, including hiding them in Iraqi government officials’ homes, transporting them in cars around the country, and removing computer hard drives.

Iraq is also attempting to keep weapons scientists from divulging relevant information. Saddam Hussein threatened potential interviewees with death if they cooperate with inspectors, replaced weapons experts at one facility with intelligence agents, and placed several experts under arrest.

The full text of Powell’s presentation can be found at www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/02/20030205-1.html#6