Disarming Iraq: How Weapons Inspections Can Work

An ACA Press Conference

On October 7, the Arms Control Association held a press conference to discuss the capability of United Nations inspections to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. Panelists spoke on the successes and difficulties of previous inspections, which ended in 1998, and offered suggestions for strengthening future inspections. The briefing came amid debate in the UN Security Council and the United States regarding potential U.S.-led military action against Iraq.

The panelists were Robert Gallucci, dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and former deputy executive chairman of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM); Jessica T. Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which recently produced a report on “coercive inspections” called “Iraq: A New Approach”; and Jonathan B. Tucker, a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a former UNSCOM inspector in Iraq. Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, moderated the briefing.

The following is an edited version of the panelists’ remarks and the question-and-answer session that followed.

Daryl G. Kimball

Despite the overall success of the nonproliferation regime, a small number of states threaten to undermine the norm against the development, possession, and use of weapons of mass destruction. Among them is Iraq, which has violated nonproliferation treaties and resisted UN Security Council mandates for the disarmament of its proscribed weapons of mass destruction capabilities.

Even without full Iraqi cooperation and Security Council support over the last decade, the UN Special Commission on Iraq [UNSCOM] and the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] succeeded in ridding Iraq of most of its prohibited weapons capabilities. But with the absence of inspectors since 1998, the United Nations, the Bush administration, and the Congress are once again debating the nature of the threat posed by Iraq, its unfulfilled disarmament obligations, and what actions are most appropriate and effective to deal with that threat. Central to that debate is whether and how weapons inspections can be effective in disarming Iraq. This is the main subject of this morning’s press briefing.

Just a few weeks ago, it was not clear whether President Bush would pursue renewed UN weapons inspections in Iraq at all or whether he would attempt a pre-emptive, unilateral military strike against Iraq. But for now the president appears to have made the common sense choice to work through the Security Council to reach agreement on a strengthened inspections regime. Also significant is the fact that Iraq, under pressure from the international community, has expressed its willingness to allow unfettered access to its facilities, including the presidential sites, which had been off limits in 1998.

Over the course of the next few days and weeks, the sincerity of President Bush’s appeal to the UN, the will of the Security Council’s support to uphold nonproliferation norms, and Iraq’s willingness to cooperate with the United Nations will all be tested. Top-level Bush administration officials continue to assert that strengthened inspections are bound to fail and that pre-emptive military invasion is necessary. In fact, the stated goal of the administration is the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. Such talk suggests to many that the administration supports the new and extremely tough new resolution at the United Nations only to provide a convenient trigger and justification for all-out military action against Baghdad. This should not be the purpose of renewed and strengthened UN inspections. Instead, the Arms Control Association and the expert panelists we have here today all agree that for now the most prudent and feasible means to deny Saddam Hussein access to weapons of mass destruction is a strategy of multilateral prevention through effective UN weapons inspections.

To explain, we have three panelists with substantial experience on Iraq and weapons inspections. First, we’re going to hear from Bob Gallucci, who’s currently dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He’s a former assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, and in 1991 he was appointed deputy executive chairman of UNSCOM. Then we’ll hear from Jonathan Tucker, currently a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, who served as an UNSCOM biological weapons inspector in Iraq in 1995. Finally, we’ll hear from Jessica Mathews, who is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and who is responsible for the Carnegie Endowment’s recent report, “Iraq: A New Approach.”

Robert Gallucci

It seems to me that U.S. policy has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. We have come from a situation in which regime change was essential to a situation in which regime change in Iraq is still desirable but not necessarily essential in order—to use the administration’s phrase—to separate Saddam Hussein from his weapons of mass destruction. In fact, Secretary [of State Colin] Powell seems to be saying that, if Iraq accepts the intrusive inspections that are described in the American draft UN resolution, it will have effectively changed the regime. I like that.

The United States is now pressing for a new inspection regime that, among other things, would eliminate any sanctuaries, would do away with any requirement for advance notice of inspections, would be guided by intelligence, would be permissive of interviews with Iraqi experts, would be accompanied by an armed military unit of some kind, would follow Iraq’s full and complete declarations, and would require Iraqi cooperation in the logistics of an inspection.

This type of inspections regime, it seems to me, can indeed work if Iraq understands two things: one, that rejecting the regime will mean that it will have to suffer an invasion and two, that acceptance of the regime will mean that it does not have to suffer an invasion. Both of those must be true. The question then becomes whether an inspection regime will ensure our security in the face of the threat from Iraq.

A few observations about the inspections. First, the threat derives from Iraqi capabilities in weapons of mass destruction. There are some uncertainties, but we have high confidence that Iraq has a chemical weapons capability in mustard and nerve agents, and a biological weapons capability in toxins and bacteriological weapons. There are uncertainties beyond that, and there are questions with respect to when Iraq might have a nuclear weapons capability.

Second, the threat is urgent in Iraq to the extent that the transfer of this capability to a terrorist group like al Qaeda is perceived to be imminent. Al Qaeda or another terrorist group, one could well argue, is open to neither defense nor deterrence by the United States and therefore cannot be tolerated with that capability. There is at the same time, to the best of my knowledge, no good evidence that Iraq would transfer such a capability to such a group.

Third, Iraq itself, even with weapons of mass destruction, could be open to deterrence and therefore be a manageable threat. But over time, it seems to me, it’s an unacceptable threat. Over time, Iraq will improve its capabilities and add a nuclear weapons capability. Given its past violation of UN Security Council resolutions, its invasion of Kuwait, and other indications that it is a rogue-like regime, deterrence and containment are too passive a response to the Iraqi threat over time. By saying that, however, I don’t mean to endorse the strategy of preventive war described in the new National Security Strategy.

The fourth point I’d like to make is that we should have confidence in the effectiveness of an inspection regime in a reasonable way, which is to say that we ought to compare an inspection regime to realistic alternatives—an invasion, for example. If the United States does eventually resort to military force, hopefully in coalition with its allies, an Iraqi threat could arise again a year after that or five years after that because we could not be absolutely sure that the regime that we initially installed would remain and because the capabilities to produce weapons of mass destruction could always be rebuilt. The technology is not reversible. We must, I think, look at Iraq the way we look at other states with emerging weapons capabilities and ask how we deal with them. We have concerns about Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea, and other countries, but it is not a good idea to plan on invading all of them.

Finally, then, we are at a moment when we have an opportunity to use diplomacy to broaden the consensus on the nature of the threat and the need to respond with UN Security Council allies and those in the region. We are also at a point where we have an opportunity to let arms control work—and by arms control, I mean an intrusive set of inspections that will give us high confidence that we can separate Saddam from his weapons. This is not the instinct of this administration—at least it has not been up until now. So, the Iraqi case could well be the administration’s first test-case in its new strategy of pre-emptive war, or it could be a counterpoint to that strategy in which diplomacy and arms control prove to be effective. I hope it is the latter.

Jonathan B. Tucker

In assessing the successes and shortcomings of the UNSCOM inspection regime, it’s important to recall its main objectives. There were three phases of the inspection process. First was the discovery phase, in which the inspectors tried to obtain a full accounting of Iraq’s past programs and supplier networks and to compile a comprehensive inventory of its dual-use facilities—that is, factories that were ostensibly engaged in legitimate commercial production but could be easily diverted to weapons production. Second was the destruction phase, in which the UN agencies, both UNSCOM and the IAEA, sought to eliminate Iraq’s stockpile of prohibited weapons, to the extent they could be found, as well as facilities that were specifically involved in weapons of mass destruction programs. And finally, there was the ongoing monitoring and verification phase, during which the inspectors kept a close watch on Iraq’s dual-capable facilities and tracked its imports and exports of sensitive technologies, with the aim of preventing Baghdad from reconstituting its weapons programs in the future. In practice, the three phases of the UNSCOM operation overlapped extensively.

What can one say about the accomplishments of the inspection regime and how well it worked? Well, first, it was clear from the outset that Iraq was not going to cooperate fully with UNSCOM. Iraq’s declarations of its weapons and facilities were incomplete and contained numerous false statements and distortions. When confronted with contradictory evidence, Iraqi authorities typically responded with partial admissions, indicating at each stage they were making a full disclosure, but each “full, final, and complete” declaration was far from full, final, or complete.

The Iraqi authorities tried to lead the inspectors away from sensitive sites, and they developed elaborate and sometimes preposterous cover stories to protect their clandestine programs. They also conducted counterintelligence operations, infiltrated the inspection system, destroyed evidence, used various means to impede and delay inspections, confronted and intimidated inspectors, and employed what are called “deception and denial” techniques. Deception involves the use of active or passive measures to convey a false or inaccurate picture of a clandestine activity, such as disguising a biological weapons facility as a vaccine plant, whereas denial involves the use of active measures to conceal the very existence of a clandestine activity. Iraq became quite skilled at these techniques, which included camouflage, control of electronic emissions and chemical pollution from weapons plants, and various forms of personnel and communications security.

Nevertheless, the Iraqi declarations were useful as a point of departure and provided a basis for planning and carrying out the initial inspections. Discrepancies between the declarations and other evidence often gave the inspectors valuable leads. Despite pervasive Iraqi noncooperation, UNSCOM’s detective work and dogged persistence produced a broad overview, if not every last detail, of Iraq’s prohibited weapons programs. UNSCOM inspectors, who had initially told the Iraqis what they knew, soon learned to make it harder for Baghdad to tailor its declarations by withholding some of their information. They placed greater emphasis on technical means of verification, including the use of a U-2 aircraft provided by the United States and other forms of aerial surveillance, and they conducted no-notice inspections of undeclared sites. So in response to Iraq’s noncooperation, the inspectors became more aggressive and used more intrusive techniques.

UNSCOM analysts also learned how to piece together bits of information from a wide range of sources, including aerial and satellite imagery, confidential trade data from Western companies that had supplied dual-use materials and equipment to Iraq before the Gulf War, ongoing monitoring of Iraq’s imports of sensitive technologies, and reports by Iraqi defectors.

In particular, UNSCOM inspectors made excellent use of what are called “mass-balance” calculations. They determined the amounts of raw materials Iraq had imported, compared this information with the quantities of biowarfare agents Iraq had admitted to having produced, and then calculated the differences to obtain estimates of undeclared production. For example, UNSCOM learned from Western suppliers that during 1988 alone, Iraq had imported nearly 39 tons of complex growth media suitable for cultivating large quantities of bacteria such as anthrax, as well as for culturing patient specimens for hospital use. So, this was a dual-use material. UNSCOM could only account for 22 tons of the media imported by Iraq, leaving 17 tons unexplained. That’s a huge quantity of material.

When confronted with this evidence, the Iraqi authorities stated that the missing media had been imported for medical diagnostics and had been destroyed in riots affecting health clinics in the aftermath of the Gulf War. There were three problems with this explanation. First, Iraq’s total hospital consumption of diagnostic media from 1987 to 1994 had been less than 200 kilograms per year, yet 17 tons of media were unaccounted for. Second, the imported media did not include the types most often used for hospital diagnosis, but they were suitable for culturing agents such as anthrax. Third, since culture media spoils rapidly once a package has been opened, hospitals typically use small packages of a tenth of a kilogram to a kilogram, yet Iraq had imported the media in large drums of 25-100 kilograms.

These discrepancies made it clear that the official Iraqi cover story was false and provided strong circumstantial evidence for large-scale production of anthrax, botulinum toxin, and other biological agents. When the Iraqi authorities were confronted with this information, they ultimately admitted to large-scale production. So, that’s an example of how UNSCOM’s use of analysis forced the Iraqis to acknowledge prohibited activities.

At the end of the day, was the glass half full or half empty? Different analysts have come to different conclusions about the effectiveness of the inspection regime. I would argue that the glass was at least half full. UNSCOM’s successful detective work, as in the case of the culture media story I just told you, persuaded the Security Council to maintain economic sanctions on Iraq despite political pressures from France and Russia to lift them.

The new revelations also put senior Iraqi officials in the increasingly untenable position of getting caught telling outright lies, creating serious tensions within the Iraqi regime. Arguably, those tensions contributed to the defection to Jordan in August 1995 of the mastermind of the Iraqi weapons programs, Lieutenant General Hussein Kamel. Kamel’s defection proved to be a key break in the UNSCOM investigation because he revealed that, prior to the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq had loaded biological agents into aerial bombs and Scud missile warheads.

The UN inspection regime was also successful in eliminating major elements of Iraq’s weapons programs, setting them back several years. Tens of thousands of chemical munitions were destroyed, as well as key facilities involved in the nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile production complexes.

In addition, ongoing monitoring and verification at dual-capable facilities, including the installation of closed-circuit video cameras and air-sampling devices, helped to increase the difficulty, expense, and political cost to Iraq of attempting to reacquire weapons of mass destruction, serving to deter further violations. And monitoring of Iraqi imports of sensitive dual-use technologies made it more difficult for Iraq to reconstitute its weapons programs.

On the negative side, UNSCOM could not account for major historical gaps in the chemical and biological weapons programs and never found Iraq’s stockpile of VX, the most deadly type of chemical nerve agent, or any filled biological munitions. Although ongoing monitoring and verification prevented Iraq from using its dual-use facilities to reconstitute its chemical and biological programs, the monitoring continued only as long as the inspectors were on the ground.

It’s also important to point out that the inspectors were unarmed and that their authority derived from a united Security Council and the implicit threat of military action if Iraq did not comply. The political foundation of the inspection regime was gradually weakened, however, as Iraq shrewdly played the permanent members of the Security Council against one another. Iraq also managed to negotiate directly with the UN secretary-general over special inspection procedures for so-called presidential sites, such as Saddam’s palaces, seriously undermining UNSCOM’s authority and credibility.

Finally, the revelation that the United States was piggybacking on UNSCOM to conduct its own intelligence operations, and reports that UNSCOM Executive Chairman Richard Butler was working closely with the Clinton administration, lost the public relations war for UNSCOM.

In terms of lessons learned for a future inspection regime under UNMOVIC, it’s clear that the inspectors must have access to all facilities of interest throughout Iraq and that presidential and “sensitive” sites (such as government ministries) must not be subject to less intrusive inspection procedures, as they were under UNSCOM. Of course, even with an “anywhere, anytime” inspection system, Iraq will be able to constrain the timeliness of inspections to some extent by means of logistical delays. But there should be a general principle that any suspect site in Iraq can be subjected to immediate inspection on demand.

Also, it’s important that UNMOVIC have the authority to interview Iraqi weapons scientists without the presence of Iraqi officials. During the UNSCOM period, Iraqi government “observers” sat in on all such interviews, which had an intimidating effect and prevented cooperative sources from revealing much of what they knew.

Some carrots as well as sticks will be required to secure Iraqi cooperation. As Bob Gallucci pointed out, the Security Council should make it clear that the Iraqi regime will be allowed to remain in power if—and only if—it cooperates fully in eliminating its stocks of weapons of mass destruction and submits to ongoing monitoring and verification for a period of years. Absent an assurance of regime survival as a quid pro quo, Saddam Hussein has no long-term incentive to cooperate.

Another key factor is that UNMOVIC can be effective only to the extent that the inspectors know where to look. Iraq is a large country, about the size of California, with many places to hide weapons and clandestine production facilities, so the inspection process must be supported with accurate and timely intelligence. This need will require the United States and like-minded countries to share sensitive data on clandestine Iraqi weapons production and storage sites. UNMOVIC must also have, as UNSCOM did, intelligence-gathering assets such as U-2 aircraft and its own analytical unit.

Short-notice inspections can increase the likelihood that Iraq will make mistakes and leave behind telltale indicators of illicit activity. In addition, the combined use of various tools, such as overhead surveillance, trade flow monitoring, visual inspection, sampling and analysis, and other techniques, can yield valuable synergies. Overhead surveillance can serve both to cue onsite inspections and to monitor the Iraqi response while an inspection is underway—observing, for example, if Iraqi officials are trying to remove sensitive documents or materials out the back door.

In conclusion, a realistic goal of the UN inspection regime is not to eliminate every last weapon, which is probably impossible, but to deny Iraq a militarily significant mass-destruction capability. I believe that goal is probably achievable if UNMOVIC is given full access to relevant facilities throughout Iraq, supplied with accurate and timely intelligence, and supported by a united Security Council.

Jessica T. Mathews

I agree with virtually everything my colleagues have said, but I have a few additional thoughts. Let me describe some of the crucial elements behind the concept of coercive inspections and then give you a sense of where I think we are in terms of policies in the administration.

The Carnegie Endowment’s study on coercive inspections began with the belief that, among all the grievances the United States has against Saddam Hussein, his weapons of mass destruction are the only aspect of his regime that pose a threat to us. We therefore began with the premise that U.S. policy ought to be aimed at weapons of mass destruction rather than at regime change per se. At that time, that was a very radical belief.

Having determined that, we then asked the question of whether there was any policy that could get us beyond the more than half- decade of impotence in the face of Iraqi behavior, that could deal effectively with its weapons of mass destruction short of regime change, and we came to the conclusion that the answer was yes. In our view, however, such a policy required a radically different inspection regime than either UNSCOM or UNMOVIC.

We looked at the history of Iraqi behavior, the technical successes and failures of UNSCOM, and the political successes and failures of the Security Council, and we concluded that three factors accounted for the success of UNSCOM in its first five years. The first of these was the credible and immediate threat of force that began with the presence of U.S. Desert Storm forces in the region when UNSCOM was formed. The second was unity among the permanent five members of the Security Council, which persisted, I think, until the United States undermined it, beginning in about 1995, by equivocating about whether its goal was disarmament or regime change. After that, Iraq became increasingly confident and increasingly successful at the techniques of divide and conquer in the Security Council. And the third was Saddam Hussein’s belief, which he held at the outset of inspections, that he could successfully hide what he had.

Now, all three of those conditions for success are currently gone, but we believe the first two could be reconstituted—the third is obviously gone for good. We felt that because of Saddam Hussein’s political success over the past five years and also the relative painlessness and ineffectiveness of pinprick bombing against his weapons of mass destruction, the new inspection regime had to be more than just marginally strengthened. And we came to the conclusion that the tougher the inspection regime, the tougher the initial resolution under which inspectors begin their work, the more likely we will be able to avoid war.

The report therefore proposed not only strengthening UNMOVIC’s mandate, but a good deal more—namely, having inspectors accompanied by an armed force that would provide security for the inspectors themselves, major technological resources, and the ability to determine the pace of inspections and achieve go-anywhere, go-anytime inspections.

This is a regime we call “comply or else” inspections, and the “or else” is obviously an invasion, which is where I think we are at this point. It’s a regime that depends a great deal less on Iraqi cooperation but rather more simply on Iraqi compliance, and it was designed not to be negotiated but to be presented as a take-it-or-leave-it deal. I still believe, as I think most of us who worked on this do, that that is the only way to approach Iraq—that the only thing that will separate Saddam Hussein from his weapons of mass destruction is the immediate threat of the end of his regime, but that faced with that choice, he will choose even this inspections regime. Nobody knows whether we’re correct or not, but I believe that if you look at the record of his behavior over the last 15 years, there are solid reasons for believing that the man is not insane and will make the rational choice.

We also agreed that inspections can be successful in the way they have been in the past. So, why a military requirement now? First, the current situation is much more dicey and could end, if challenged, in failure, and therefore there is a much higher risk of hostage-taking. This force is designed to prevent, if it should come to that, any hostage-taking of inspectors. Second, we also feel that a military force is required to get Saddam Hussein’s attention and change his mindset. Third, it is designed to prevent Iraq from causing delays that affect what the inspectors can find and to provide the elements of really strong operational and communications security that we believe are essential.

The core of this plan is the ability to impose both no-fly zones, which we have used before and currently have in effect over part of Iraq, and military no-drive zones. For example, with little advance notice, Iraq would be told that in this broad region all day tomorrow there is both a no-fly and a military no-drive zone. The region would be large enough that the Iraqis would not know exactly where the inspectors intended to go.

Where are we now? Well, last week two core beliefs of administration policy changed, at least for the time being, and that is of enormous importance. The first is that inspections cannot effectively disarm Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction, and the second is that even if they could that would not be enough, that it was necessary to get rid of him. Instead, we heard a statement by Minority Leader Trent Lott as he left the White House and several statements by Secretary Powell that, if Saddam Hussein could be divested of his weapons of mass destruction, that would be “ideal.”

This is a hugely important change, which I think the press largely missed in its attention to two secondary issues. One is this obsession about one resolution versus two, when what matters is not how many there are but what they say. And the second is the full coverage of what the Iraqis say, which matters not at all because whatever it is they say on day one will be different on day two and day three. This we know. So really, there should be no attention paid to that.

And that last comment encapsulates the spirit behind the proposal for coercive inspections: it is feckless to give Iraq another chance to prove its bona fides on inspections. We know that Saddam Hussein views inspections as the continuation of war by other means, so if we’re going to conduct inspections, we’ve got to do them in a way that really accomplishes their objective. Inspections under the old regime or the old regime-plus are almost certain to lead both to the embarrassment of the United Nations and ultimately to war.

I am not really clear where the administration stands right now. There are elements in what we know of the draft UN resolution that are very encouraging. There is no evidence, however, that the Pentagon is doing planning on the kind of coercive inspection regime that I believe is necessary, and of course, none of us knows what elements of the resolution are bargaining chips and what elements are bottom line, although we can make some inferences.

Finally, I want to just point out that it’s hard to look beyond Iraq right now, but this situation has broader implications for arms control and for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. If war proves to be necessary to control weapons of mass destruction, that will almost certainly be a very heavy blow—perhaps somewhat paradoxically—to the strength and resilience and effectiveness of the nonproliferation regime because the United States is not going to go to war with country after country after country. If, on the other hand, the international community proves it is possible to levy a dire threat with determination and persistence and unity over time, that sends a very, very different message to current and possibly future proliferators.

Questions and Answers:

Question: Given UNSCOM’s experience with the technical aspects of inspections—like using the U-2 aircraft—what additional intelligence assets might be required for the new inspections regime?

Tucker: I think basically the same assets should be provided to UNMOVIC, although some new technologies could be applied—for example, rapid detection techniques for biological agents, which were not available 10 years ago. More broadly, it is essential not only for UNMOVIC to have its own analytic and intelligence-collection capabilities but for like-minded countries to provide information on suspect sites in Iraq because, of course, the intelligence-gathering resources of the United States and other countries are vastly greater than UNMOVIC’s. And just to reiterate, Iraq is a large country. There are many possible hiding places. It’s also likely that Iraq has built underground facilities, which are difficult to detect without advanced-technology systems. So sharing of national intelligence with UNMOVIC is really critical if the inspectors are to be effective.

Mathews: We have urged the deployment not just of U-2s but AWACS, JSTARS, Global Hawks, Predator—the whole panoply of the top of the line U.S. intelligence collection, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities—as being vital to the success of this effort.

Gallucci: When we talk about this range of intelligence collection, it can sound awfully intrusive, which makes some people uncomfortable. But it needs to be understood that this is a very special case. I direct this comment mostly to those in Paris and Moscow who are contemplating this new resolution. It should go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t, that this is not a cooperative arrangement. The Iraqis have established themselves as hostile to inspections. This is not a game, but it certainly is a contest where an inspection regime is trying to find things that the Iraqis are trying to hide. So, there should be no arguments about Iraqi sovereignty being compromised because Iraq compromised Kuwait’s sovereignty when it invaded it in 1990.

The intrusiveness of the inspection regime and the intelligence that must go along with it should not be thought of as compromising an international organization—this is the argument about whether there are spies associated with the regime. We have to understand that the inspection teams are not simply looking to hire chemists or biologists or nuclear engineers; they’re looking for experts in chemical weapons and biological weapons and nuclear weapons. These people come from the governments of various countries and sometimes from intelligence communities. A certain amount of maturity about this is absolutely essential.

So, using intelligence from various governments is not compromising an international organization; it is supporting an international organization in conducting inspections against a member state that has violated international rules and laws. If it’s understood that way, I think it should be more acceptable in those capitals that appear to be having some difficulty with the intrusiveness of the regime.

Question: Will the Security Council, particularly the Russians and the French, agree to such a tough new resolution for inspections?

Gallucci: First, to underline what Jessica said, that’s the right question. The question is not what Iraqis will accept. Second, I think that the decision for countries on the Security Council has to be put in terms of “compared to what?” The United States has been very clear in saying that the alternative will be military action, so that should provide an incentive. I can’t say whether they’ll end up doing the right thing, but it seems to me that this is a way to have an inspection regime in which you can have reasonably high confidence of separating Saddam from his weapons.

Mathews: I think the elements of a compromise are clearly on the table. That is one of the reasons that I mentioned how major the U.S. shift was last week and how underplayed I think media reports of this have been. The French and the Russians both have, in effect, won a major victory in the shift of the administration’s position from defining regime change as the removal of Saddam Hussein to defining it as a change in his behavior. That is a huge reversal. And it is exactly what the other permanent five members of the Security Council were arguing for in August.

Even this hang-up on the question of whether military action would be automatic if the inspections fail has the elements of compromise. It is essential to the success of inspections that the link to war is explicit. It’s essential for the Iraqis to believe that the choice is totally unfettered inspections or invasion for regime change. That’s absolutely essential. It is also essential, as Bob said, that they have to believe that if they do comply we won’t invade, or else there’s no reason for them to comply.

The French don’t mind that link being made in the first resolution, but they don’t want military action to be triggered by violation of that resolution. In other words, they want some kind of second action to approve military action, and now they are suggesting that it doesn’t have to be a formal Security Council resolution. So, a compromise is to leave the linkage in the resolution but not include the actual trigger, which is what the United States has been rightly insisting on. You have to spell out the consequences.

Of course, there are a million ways this could fail between now and whenever a vote takes place, but the elements of a compromise are clearly there.

Question: The inspections, at least initially, were predicated on a cooperative Iraqi regime, which might have allowed us to be certain that Iraq had disarmed. But clearly, Iraq did not cooperate and, even with a coercive arrangement, how do you get around the fact that the inspectors would still be in a position of trying to prove a negative—that is, that Iraq no longer has weapons of mass destruction?

Gallucci: I would disagree with the premise that when we began inspections we thought that were working with a cooperative state. We didn’t. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which was implementing a part of Resolution 687, I think had an ethic of cooperation with the host government, but that fell away very quickly. Within the first two inspections, the IAEA team that was working with UNSCOM was extremely aggressive. So, I don’t really think that we proceeded on any assumption of cooperation.

With respect to the proposition that inspectors are trying to prove a negative, that there’s nothing there, I’m not sure I consider that the political challenge to the inspection regime. It seems to me that what they need to do is to find what’s there that is not supposed to be there and to continue the inspection process, which makes it very difficult—hopefully nearly impossible—for Iraq to regenerate militarily significant programs in any of the weapons areas. The idea that they’re trying to prove that nothing is there may, in fact, be captured in some of the language of the resolution, but it is not the political charge of the inspection regime.

Question: But you’re still left with a predicament, are you not, of proving the negative? If Saddam Hussein doesn’t tell you where the bodies are buried, so to speak, how can you certify that the country is disarmed?

Tucker: Well, for one thing the United States and the British governments have claimed recently that Iraq retains significant capabilities in the chemical, biological, and missile disciplines. It is to be hoped that both governments will provide some or all of their information to UNMOVIC for the inspectors to track down.

Second, the inspection regime, as I mentioned, is not focused exclusively on finding weapons and destroying them but also on preventing reconstitution of the various weapons programs through ongoing monitoring and verification of dual-use facilities, which presumably will continue for a period of years. That element of preventing Iraq from reacquiring its mass-destruction capabilities in the coming years is complementary to efforts to ferret out whatever weapons Iraq may currently possess.

Kimball: This is a question that comes up in arms control all the time: how do you verify with 100 percent confidence that a particular state is not violating a particular legal obligation? One hundred percent confidence is impossible, but one of the chief advantages of a strengthened inspections regime is that it can provide high confidence that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs are contained and do not pose a threat.

Mathews: I think Jonathan Tucker gave a nice feel for how this thing proceeds. It is a huge puzzle, and when you start it, it’s kind of like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. At first you think it’s impossible, that you’ll never get through this, but the more pieces you put in place, the smaller the number of unknowns that remain. It is true that Saddam Hussein has had a number of years to alter records, to hide things, to move things, to improve his capabilities. But the UNMOVIC team has had a lot of time to learn what we do know and, as Jonathan has said, there’s a lot more intelligence that they can get access to.

Another key point is that a lot of what inspectors do is interview people. And while there are an awful lot of places in a country the size of California, there are fewer people that are key to the success of these weapons programs. So, one can look at where those people are, where they were trained, where they work, what trucks go to and fro. There are a thousand pieces to put together, but over time you can zero in with higher and higher confidence on what’s around.

Question: The president has focused national and world attention on Iraq as an imminent threat, but aren’t there other, similar threats? Is this the most important one? Why go to war at this moment?

Gallucci: I think the most salient threat posed to the security of this country is al Qaeda, and as a citizen I hope, expect, and believe that the Bush administration is doing everything it can to deal with that threat. I know that there are those who have suggested that a military engagement with Iraq might distract us from the war against terrorism broadly and al Qaeda specifically, but I rather think we can, in fact, do both, particularly if we judge that the Iraqi threat is getting worse with each passing day.

I don’t think that you can say that a switch has been thrown that has made the threat from Iraq catastrophic today where it wasn’t six months ago. But there haven’t been inspectors in Iraq since 1998, and we have good evidence that the Iraqis have been working to regenerate programs in the nuclear, chemical, and biological areas, as well as their ballistic missile program. So, the threat is getting worse over time, and it will not simply grow incrementally. When Iraq does enrich uranium to high levels or acquire plutonium or highly enriched uranium, the threat will all of a sudden jump in seriousness, and that will be an enormous concern. And we don’t want to get to that point, given Iraq’s past behavior.

I understand the administration has been making an effort to link Iraq to al Qaeda specifically, and what I have heard has not been overwhelmingly persuasive to me. But from my perspective, absent that, there is still a good reason for concluding that passively containing Iraq is not a prudent, durable policy for the United States and that we have been driven to our current course of action by the Iraqi resistance of inspections over time. Containment has failed as a policy. The situation is worsening, and I think the administration and the international community does have an obligation to deal with it.

Tucker: I would just add that Iraq is a special case because it is a country that invaded its neighbors, both Iran and Kuwait, and lost the Gulf War. It was the object of a series of Security Council resolutions that it then proceeded to violate. So, I think that the Security Council does have an obligation to enforce those resolutions, to make sure that other countries are not emboldened by Iraqi noncompliance to acquire weapons of mass destruction or to invade their neighbors. A general principle of international law is at stake here.

Kimball: Let me add a different facet to the answer. Although quick action is needed, as many experts and observers have pointed out, the administration has not been able to present evidence about Iraq’s program that is particularly new. Nevertheless, action is needed to move weapons inspectors back in there under more effective rules.

I want to go back to one thing that Jessica Mathews said earlier about the administration’s shift toward embracing the idea that strengthened weapons inspections can work. I would just point out that the administration is not simply doing what its allies want, but that this approach is also clearly in the interest of the United States and the Bush administration because a war with Iraq could involve weapons of mass destruction. If the Iraqis do indeed have chemical and biological weapons capabilities, Saddam Hussein might use those weapons in a last attempt to stave off attack. That could have very serious consequences, of course, for U.S. troops and countries in the region. Israel, for one, has nuclear weapons and might respond. So, an all-out war to disarm Saddam Hussein could produce the very effect that we’re all so concerned about.

Question: There are stories where UNSCOM inspectors would enter an Iraqi facility and the Iraqis would simply go out the back door. How do you prevent that from happening again? And if you need to use force, how do you do that without putting the inspectors in danger?

Tucker: I’m uncomfortable with the idea of inspectors being accompanied by armed troops because I think it could put the inspectors in jeopardy. It would also make their work more difficult because the inspectors need to talk to Iraqi scientists, technicians, and plant managers, and people generally won’t talk with a gun pointed at their head, at least not freely.
So, I think there should be a credible threat of military force if Iraq refuses to comply, but the forces should not be right there on the scene. They should perhaps be deployed nearby in the region, but it would be highly problematic for troops and inspectors to be intermingled.

Gallucci: There’s a nice contrast here that can be built between what we had in UNSCOM in one of our more aggressive inspections that was successful and what we could have had if we’d had more aggressive inspections. If you remember in September of 1991, we had what inspectors called the “parking lot tour,” where we spent four days in a parking lot because we wouldn’t give up some documents on the design of Iraqi nuclear weapons.

Now, what people have forgotten is that the day before the parking lot standoff happened, we were at another building where we tried to do without any military capability what the Carnegie report recommends with coercive inspections. We had inspectors armed only with little Sony Handycams, and we arrived at o-dark-thirty and surrounded the building before we started to search. The idea was to contain the situation and then launch a thorough search of the building. In the course of that, there was an awful lot of movement by the Iraqis as they began to figure out that we had actually come upon the right place.

When the end of the day came and we had actually found nuclear weapons design information, the Iraqis took a lot of the material from us. They physically just took it away from us. We had boxed it up and put it in our vehicle. They shoved us aside and they took the material from us. The next day, we were a little smarter and we put the material on our bodies to raise the level that the Iraqis would have to go to to seize the material that we had found. They decided not to strip search 41 UN inspectors, so that led to the parking lot situation.

What we were trying to do was raise the threshold in a small way—and that could be done in a much more demonstrative way. There’s a proposal for a no-fly, no-drive zone so that you have military capability to contain an area for an inspection. Then you can make sure that, if the Iraqis want to prevent an inspection team from a successful inspection, they have to use force greater than the force that’s deployed, in which case they have tripped a wire, which unambiguously leads to an invasion, and that’s the whole point.