I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb.

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College (Takoma Park, Maryland)
July 1, 2020
Security Council Ends UNMOVIC

Paul Kerr

On June 29, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution officially terminating the mandate of UN inspectors tasked with verifying and monitoring Iraq’s disarmament. The inspectors had not been able to visit Iraq since a U.S.-led coalition invaded the country in 2003. The United States and United Kingdom assured the council that Iraq had been disarmed. Others, however, warned of the dangers posed by the country’s residual weapons capabilities.

Resolution 1762, which was submitted by Washington and London, “decides to terminate immediately the mandates” of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Iraq. The council adopted the resolution 14-0, with Russia abstaining.

The Security Council’s action ended a years-long debate regarding the inspectors’ fate. The United States and the United Kingdom had been pushing to end the inspectors’ mandate since shortly after the invasion, but other council members, particularly Russia, had opposed such a move. Moscow had argued that the inspectors should be given a more prominent role in assessing the fate of Iraq’s former weapons of mass destruction programs. (See ACT, June 2007.)

UN Security Council Resolution 687, which was adopted after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, tasked the UN Special Commission and later UNMOVIC with inspecting and supervising the destruction of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles exceeding ranges permitted by the United Nations. The IAEA had a comparable role for Iraq’s nuclear weapons programs.

The UN withdrew all of its inspectors in December 1998, but in September 2002, Iraq allowed them to return. UNMOVIC and the IAEA withdrew their inspectors in March 2003 just before the U.S.-led invasion. In May of that year, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1483, which stated the council’s “intention” to “revisit the mandates” of the inspectors.

A U.S.-British letter contained in an annex to Resolution 1762 states that “all appropriate steps have been taken to secure, remove, disable, render harmless, eliminate, or destroy” Iraq’s illicit weapons and related programs. The United States and United Kingdom pledged in a May 2003 letter to the Security Council that they would take these steps.

The more recent letter also referred to a 2005 report from Charles Duelfer, the special adviser to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which stated that Iraq had destroyed its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and had not restarted any of the related programs at the time of the invasion. The ISG was the task force charged with coordinating the U.S.-led search for prohibited Iraqi weapons.

Despite these assurances, both Russia and UNMOVIC expressed concern about possible dangers from Iraq’s past weapons programs. For example, Moscow’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, said that Russia abstained from voting for the resolution because UNMOVIC had not officially certified that Iraq was free of illicit weapons. Churkin also expressed concern about the fate of some Iraqi missiles that were not destroyed by the inspectors.

Similarly, Acting UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Demetrius Perricos warned about the uncertainty concerning Iraq’s past weapons programs in a June 29 briefing to the council. For example, he reiterated that more than 350 missile engines may remain in Iraq, which inspectors had not been able to destroy by the time of the invasion. Additionally, Perricos said, other weapons-related “capabilities…may still remain” in the country. These include “scientists and technicians” with weapons-related expertise, as well as “more than 7,900 dual-use items” that could be used in weapons programs.

Perricos also noted that, “[i]n the present security environment of Iraq, the possibility should not be discounted that nonstate actors may seek to acquire toxic agents or their chemical precursors in small quantities.” A May UNMOVIC report raised similar concerns. (See ACT, July/August 2007.)

Although Resolution 1762 terminates the inspectors’ mandate, it also “[r]eaffirms Iraq’s disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions.” Past Security Council resolutions imposed restrictions on Iraq, such as a prohibition on missiles with ranges exceeding 150 kilometers. This resolution does not specifically name those restrictions, but they are still in place, a knowledgeable British official told Arms Control Today Aug. 1..

Previous Security Council resolutions provided for international monitoring to ensure that Baghdad would not reconstitute its illicit weapons programs. However, no comparable mechanism is now in place.

Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, the United Kingdom’s permanent representative to the UN, indicated that the Security Council should "move forward and focus on ensuring" that Iraq carries out its obligations. He did not elaborate, however.

Currently, no international inspections regimes would apply to Iraqi missiles or biological weapons programs. However, Resolution 1762 does urge Iraq “to adhere to all applicable disarmament and non-proliferation treaties and related international agreements” and “invites” Baghdad to “report to the Security Council within one year” on its progress in this regard. In particular, the resolution mentions the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and an additional protocol to Iraq’s IAEA safeguards agreement.

IAEA safeguards agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, allow the agency to monitor non-nuclear-weapon states-parties’ declared nuclear activities. An additional protocol augments the agency’s ability to discover undeclared nuclear activities.

Ambassador Hamid Al Bayati, Iraq’s permanent representative to the UN, said June 29 that his government would provide the requested report. He reiterated that Baghdad has drafted a law regarding Iraq’s accession to the CWC and said that Baghdad is preparing to conclude an additional protocol.

The resolution also urges Iraq to report on its progress in implementing export controls for goods that have both civilian and military applications. Bayati said that Baghdad “would be committed” to such measures.

Resolution 1762 also requests the UN secretary-general to transfer to Iraq within three months funds from Iraqi oil revenue that had been set aside to cover UNMOVIC’s operating costs.

Going Forward

Resolution 1762 also requests the UN secretary-general “to take all necessary measures to provide for the appropriate disposition of UNMOVIC’s archives and other property.” In addition to electronic and paper documents, the commission has a variety of other items, such as missile engines, artillery shells, and bombs, UNMOVIC spokesperson Ewen Buchanan told Arms Control Today July 24.

The UN still has to decide on the degree of organization and openness of the commission’s future archives, Buchanan added. The archiving process must also maintain control over proliferation-sensitive information, he said, adding that most of the documents are “sprinkled in some way” with such information. The resolution states that the UN should keep “sensitive proliferation information or information provided in confidence by [UN] Member States…under strict control.”

The resolution also requests that the secretary-general “inform the Security Council within three months on steps taken” in the archiving process. Currently, 14 commission employees are left to perform the archiving tasks. These employees have contracts until Oct. 10, but the agreements could be extended, Buchanan said.

UNMOVIC Completes Compendium

On June 27, UNMOVIC issued its full compendium of “lessons learned” from the inspections. Comprised of more than 1,000 pages, it discusses the history of the UN inspections in Iraq as well as Baghdad’s illicit weapons programs. The compendium touts the inspectors’ successes and discusses lessons drawn from their mistakes.

UNMOVIC released a summary of the compendium in June 2006, but Perricos explained that the commission could not publish the full version without first removing “sensitive information” that could potentially aid other countries’ weapons programs.