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– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Interview with Hans Blix
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On June 19, 2004, ACT Editor Miles Pomper, Nonproliferation Research Analyst Paul Kerr, and ACA Executive Director Daryl Kimball sat down to speak with Hans Blix, former director-general of the IAEA.

ACT: Can you tell us about the new Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission that you’re heading[1]? What are its objectives, its elements, its status?

Blix: The Swedish government gave me a free hand in putting the commission together, and said they will finance it, giving about $2 million, and asking for a report before the end of 2005. We’re going to commission 15 members, geographically spread, as they should be, [including]: [William] Perry from the U.S., and we have Gareth Evans, and we have one Chinese general [Pan Zhenqiang], and we have another Indian general [Vasantha Raghavan] and then we have some people you know well: Patricia Lewis, she is Irish-British, and Alyson Bailes who is the head of SIPRI.com, and Mr. [Marcos] de Azambuja, from Brazil, Prince El Hassan [bin Talal] from Jordan, and from Russia we have [Alexei] Arbatov, Jr. So it’s a good spread, and very competent….We had one meeting in Stockholm at the end of January. That was the inaugural meeting. We outlined then what kind of studies we want to have made before we proceed. A number of them have come in already and will be before the members, early this month. We have the next meeting in Vienna at the end of June, and that will be focusing on nuclear questions. The third meeting this year will be in Vancouver in November. So with a lot of studies and basic material, I think we will be able to go through a nuclear agenda. I have listed a number of items that I think would be desirable to discuss. I’m not stating what the view should be, that would be presumptuous with so many competent people on board. Then we will go on, of course, with the other weapons of mass destruction—chemical, biological, and missile. I am confident that we will come out with some separate memoranda, and if we agree on that even before, it doesn’t have to be all at the end, but it can also be something in between.

ACT: What do you hope to accomplish with this commission?

Blix: It’s an interesting fact that we have the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] Review Conference at the end of next spring, and the presidential election here in the middle of it all. I’m not sure that will affect our views, what’s to be desirable, but it might affect what could be doable, because it seems to me that there is a difference between what Mr. [presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John] Kerry is saying here, and what the administration has said so far. I have understood Mr. Kerry to say that he would not go along with further work on a new nuclear weapon, and that he would favor an FMCT [Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty][2]. I didn’t hear him say anything about the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty][3], but at least on the two first points I’ve read as to what he said, and I haven’t heard similar sounds coming out of the Bush administration so far.

One of my strong feelings is that we would need to get back to a dynamic work on the disarmament agenda. We have seen lot of suggestions and a lot of new things in the past year, and I welcome much of that—the PSI [Proliferation Security Initiative][4], the discussion about the fuel cycle, etcetera, using NSG {Nuclear Suppliers Group][5]. I have no problems with most of these things, but I think that we need to get back to the bigger issues of the [fissile] cut-off and the Comprehensive Test Ban. I find it politically puzzling that we have not been moving on this agenda. We were celebrating, or we were all seeing and recollecting the Reagan era, and Mr. Gorbachev was here in Washington, and recalled the ambitions that they had - to do away with nuclear weapons. I was at the opening of the Cold War and indeed the end of the Cold War was the greatest thing that has happened for disarmament. Tensions drive armament, and the de-tension, détente, helps to promote disarmament. And it did. Indeed, much has happened. You see the dismantling of weapons, and it’s nice that the problem is rather how to do away with plutonium [more] than anything else.

However, there still remains this fact that this disarmament process has stalled in Geneva for a number of years. There are to my knowledge, no big territorial or ideological issues at stake between great powers and continents or blocs, if there are any blocs any longer. We shall see, of course, more civil wars, we shall see more regional conflict in the world, but we do not see over the horizon any conflict between the blocs, and that being so, it is puzzling that we are stuck in the big disarmament process. A re-launching of the disarmament process would inject a new atmosphere. I’m not going so far as to contend that it would affect the North Korean situation or Iranian situation, but there would be a new atmosphere. It’s hard to work up a great enthusiasm … among the non-nuclear-weapon states at a time when you see a strong reluctance on the part of the U.S. at any rate to move ahead with the big issues that are stuck.

ACT: You mentioned the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. What do you see as its particular utility?

Blix: I don’t see that anyone needs more enriched uranium today, nor do they need any plutonium today, and in fact, if I read Wolf (correctly) [Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf in the June issue of ACT[6]], here there isn’t any production, hasn’t been any production for a long while. If you take the FMCT and relink it to the uranium situation and to the North Korean situation, where we certainly would like to see an end to reprocessing in North Korea—reprocessing is not per se prohibited under the NPT, and in Iran you have enrichment, and that of course is not prohibited. But if we then say that we need—and I agree with that—a termination of enrichment in Iran, regardless of whether they aim for a weapon or not. I agree there is reason why one could be suspicious. But if we ask that this be terminated for good, and ask for their commitment to that effect, I think that will be easier to sell if at the same time we had an FMCT under which the great powers said “Fine, we will continue to enrich, but we will stop any enrichment, for highly enriched uranium.”

ACT: You mentioned CTBT. In the nonproliferation context, what are the other big disarmament issues that you think there’s opportunity for?

Blix: Well, Comprehensive Test Ban of course.

ACT: Why?

Blix: It would prevent any one of those who can now [from going] further in development of their programs, and it is safer than the situation in which we find ourselves. Of course, they can do a lot of things by computers now, we know that, but still it would be one more obstacle.

ACT: In a speech that you gave in Italy you mentioned a four-tier approach for keeping countries from developing nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. The first tier was reducing the incentives of states to acquire the weapons, then export controls, then international inspections, and finally the reduction of existing nuclear arsenals. Can you explain and elaborate on that a little bit more?

Blix: I’m probably known to the world mostly as an inspector, and I had that function at the IAEA. But I always felt that the first barrier to proliferation is the political one, and sometimes I feel that in the arms control community we tend to look at all these technical fixes, and the control of this material, and that’s fine—I’m not against all that. But let us look at what is the basic thing that drives countries to go for nuclear weapons, or get more of them. It’s security concerns. When you look at Iran, or you look at Israel, or you look at India, Pakistan, Iraq, certainly North Korea, you have to see what are the perceived security concerns they have?

In the case of North Korea, I think it’s absolutely clear that they have that concern. They have been talking about a non-aggression pact, using language that we had around the Stalinist period, and we laugh a little at. But when you look at what they want, it seems to me that they want an assurance that their borders are inviolable, and I don’t see that that part of the problem should be very difficult. I don’t see anyone who wants to invade North Korea, because the problems of taking care of them would be very great.

The other side of the Korean thing may be the more difficult part of establishing inspection, verification, which must be sufficiently far reaching, and you only ever talk about nuclear. What about biological and chemical and missiles in North Korea? In Iraq [biological and chemical weapons were] not that irrelevant, but when you come to North Korea you have the feeling that no one talks at all about it. So inspection I think will be important and it raises special difficulties in a country so hermetically closed as North Korea. But what must drive them a lot is an almost paranoic feeling that they have no friends. They used to have the Russians, and they had the Chinese, etcetera, and they felt stronger earlier. But today they feel on insecure grounds and I don’t think this guarantee should be a difficult one to give.

One could have other views on North Korea. If it is now argued that Iraq was a humanitarian intervention—I don’t remember that was really the main argument at the time, but I see some people arguing it now—then of course you could have a humanitarian intervention in North Korea. It is probably the worst, most inhumane regime you have in the world. But I don’t think anyone wants to press that point today, nor do I. I am in favor of humanitarian intervention in the long run, and I think we ought to feel ashamed about the Rwanda business. But big countries are [not] going to send hundreds of thousands of their soldiers to liberate the country. Maybe if you had another genocide like Cambodia, and media were there, it would happen. And I think it would be good, because that would indicate a high level of human solidarity. But that’s not where we are with North Korea, yet. Therefore I think that it is right to zero in on the six-party talks, and on their demand for a guarantee on inviolability. And when we talk about their demand for oil and for food, etcetera, I [would] see if this can be [done], not as a humanitarian prop-up, but for an evolution of North Korea into a more viable [state]. If North Korea is to have a peaceful exit, what I would like to see would be that the outside assistance, which they no doubt will ask for, be geared toward an economic development in which they will come over in the Chinese direction. Not simply helping them not starve for the next period, but actually leading them somewhere.

Clearly Iran is an area where they have seen the [region] equipping itself with weapons. You had of course first Israel, but Iran must also be aware that Iraq is now termed a sovereign state in a few weeks time, and although I hope that there will be effective verification remaining in Iraq after sovereignty is supposed to be passed to it. Nevertheless, the technical know-how still remains in Iraq. And I’ve seen the holes in the Bushehr reactors, which the Iraqis shot with some Exocet rockets in the past. So, I imagine this will also figure in their thinking.

And while I approve of the diplomatic efforts of the European states[7], which are also coordinated with the U.S.—I think that they must not lose sight of the larger political approach to détente in the Middle East. It seems very far away, and I’m not naïve, and I know it’s not happening tomorrow. However, it has been conspicuous all the time that all the states in that region support the notion of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Israel does, and so does Iran. And if you were to move on with the roadmap, and if one were to tackle the central problem of the Middle East, the relations between Israelis and Palestinians, and if that issue is moving forward, I think it will also prove easier to tackle the issues of weapons of mass destruction. I’m not at all against the Europeans’ initiative. But I think in all these cases, we need to remember the political dimension.

Now the third big case, of course, is Pakistan and India. And clearly—although we know that India started its nuclear program because of China, not because of Pakistan, and also that Pakistan then started its program because of India. However, it ought to be much less difficult to approach that situation if you were to have a sub-solution to the Kashmir issue. And one can be a little more hopeful today than we were a couple of years ago. Vajpayee did quite a lot and it’s clear that the Congress party will want to go on. I don’t think that they are going to roll back, like South Africa. If India doesn’t do it then Pakistan won’t do it. But some things might be easier. They might get them to agree and subscribe to a comprehensive test ban, might get them to subscribe to an FMCT. And I think India has always been very reliable in terms of export controls, which Pakistan has not been. But there are lots of other things in reducing the risks that would work if you could diffuse the Kashmiri issue.

Now then, if we were to have, say, a new nuclear weapon being developed in the United States, and if it were clear that we continue to have blocks on the FMCT, then I think that the general atmosphere surrounding these issues will be harder. And you could have a problem in the Middle East. Certainly if Iran were to develop further in the wrong direction, there is a risk for other countries considering going for nuclear weapons. And if the North Koreans move on, well the risks are very, very great. If the North Koreans were to test a weapon, yes, it would be very, very serious.

ACT: When you talked about the political aspect of this, in both Iran and North Korea for example, you’ve emphasized the incentive side—the carrots—rather than the sticks. How effective do you think these kinds of incentives can be in getting states to comply with their nonproliferation obligations?

Blix: Well you have the sticks also, but how serious and how credible they are is another question. If you take North Korea, remember that in the crisis that we had before the Agreed Framework, they were [opinion] articles by [former national security adviser] Brent Scowcroft talking about the possibility of using arms against North Korea. It may be that it scares the North Koreans, but in a situation where you have Seoul in artillery range of North Korea, I’m not sure how credible it is.

In the case of Iran, surely the Iranians must be able to tell themselves that after the Iraqi affair there will not be any great inclination, on the part of the U.S. at any rate, to go for missile strikes. The Israelis might perhaps be a little less away from such an action but on the whole I think that the present juncture is not one where these threats are genuine. It is an uncertainty and the uncertainty about it may be a helpful one. But I would not rate the chances very high that they will be used.

There are other disincentives, and they are, as we know, in the economic sphere. That’s what the Europeans talked about. The U.S. doesn’t have much by way of economic relations with Iran today, but in Europe they do. That should hover in the background. If you begin to brandish them, then it may be counterproductive. Especially when you’re talking in the case of Iran, yes I agree, they have not been forthright, they have not been open. Their lack of transparency increases the suspicion, all of that I agree with.

At the same time, when one asks them to renounce or suspend their enrichment capacity, I think one also has to remember there’s a certain pride in these things, and technological prowess. I have heard it said, Why should Iran have nuclear power, they have oil? No one asked that question when the Shah was about to launch a huge project. I think this nuclear technology is part of the feeling that yes, we are also able to do the most advanced modern technology. As a strong protagonist of nuclear power, I’m not against it. Not least today, when we are seeing attacks on pipelines in Iraq, and when we have a feeling that terrorist movements are trying to scare away Western technicians or Westerners from Saudi Arabia, then we are in getting into a situation that may be similar to the past fear of a cutting off of supplies of oil. And we should be reminded then that with nuclear power you can at least reduce the reliance upon oil somewhat, not that much, but this is one of the most significant ways of doing it for electricity. In long term, if we were to make use of fuel cell cars, instead of gasoline-powered cars, the hydrogen could be produced with the help of nuclear power.

I do not mind countries like India, certainly a huge country, going for nuclear power. I think that’s desirable. But it also leads me to be an even stronger advocate of nonproliferation and of safety in the operation of reactors and the disposal of waste.

ACT: One of the items in your four-tier approach is export controls. There obviously is a problem with the widespread availability of uranium-enrichment technology, a matter of much discussion about how to deal with it. How would you propose dealing with this issue? President Bush has outlined a proposal that involves the Nuclear Suppliers Group, tightening its controls. [IAEA Director-General] Mohamed ElBaradei has mentioned another approach that might involve internationalizing the fuel cycle[8]. Could you comment on this problem and how it might be addressed?

Blix: Having international institutions running big, practical operations like nuclear enrichment plants is not easy. It is something that is within the statute of the IAEA—at the time, it was a much bigger suit than we could fill. But I am not at all against exploring that, and I appreciate that he [ElBaradei] is trying a constructive way on it.

We do have quite a number of non-nuclear-weapon states that have enrichment: Brazil, South Africa, Japan, of course. If we are asking that no one else do it, I don’t think that it can be a hard or fast rule. You may have a country that would develop very fast into using nuclear power much more. And I think it would have to be an arrangement on which you can have some flexibility. Suppose that Ukraine for instance, which has a lot of nuclear power, if they would also go for enrichment then I don’t see any absolute obstacle why that should not be so. At the present time we have licensed five nuclear-weapon states. Should we now license a few more for enrichment, and that’s the end of it? That’s a rigidity. I think we need some sort of flexibility in that for the future.

ACT: But even with that flexibility there is the problem of the illegal black market, which has been made so clear with the A.Q. Khan situation[9]. How does one get at that when there is wider availability of these technologies?

Blix: Using the NSG for these purposes is something that must be contemplated. It’s already being done, and I think that’s maybe a necessity. There have been some thoughts, as you know, about basing the NSG on a treaty basis instead. I think there will be some difficulty in that push. So far I’m not convinced that that is the right way to do it. Then everyone who would like to adhere to it would come in, and I’ve seen how the NSG already now has some difficulties with the tensions within the group that is there. But it is a weapon, the export control is a weapon, and is useful that this group seeks to uphold high standards, and send information to each other. This has been, by and large, helpful.

ACT: One of the reasons there is this concern about the fuel cycle is that it’s very difficult to distinguish between peaceful and military use, short of actually finding a weapon. Is there any way that the IAEA might develop some criteria that would give an early warning or some sense of what the intentions are when people are doing this kind of fuel cycle development? Iran, obviously is one example.

Blix: Well, I think if countries like Iran maintain that they only are only interested in enrichment to produce fuel then it should be in Iran’s interest to increase its transparency and to have impeccable relations via safeguards. If they do not do that, well then I think that is something that will provoke suspicions and concern. So the attitude of the country to inspection and to openness would be one criterion. I’m not saying that you could conclusively draw a conclusion that they’re doing a weapon if they’re not (transparent), but certainly it would be a reason for suspicions, and (would affect) how the outside world treats that country.

You cannot draw a conclusion that, yes they are [making] a weapon. It could also be a question of pride. You have to be cautious. I’ve been asked the question, why did [deposed Iraqi President Saddam] Hussein behave as he did in Iraq, when we now think there weren’t any weapons? I think it had a lot to do with pride. Also perhaps they wished to create the impression that they had weapons although they protested that they didn’t have any. And also personal pride that I think he felt the inspectors were like fleas in his fur. Some of them probably were, as well.

ACT: During our last interview[10], we had talked about the possibility of inspecting everywhere; that was also in your Wall Street Journal piece.

Blix: I deliberately wanted to put inspections third, in order not to overemphasize and say that this is a sort of panacea. It is not. Recently I’ve been trying to explain how far can you come with inspection, how useful is it? When Mr. Cheney said, for instance, that the inspections are useless at best, and instead [the administration relied on] defectors, he clearly went wrong.

On the other hand, I think it’s also risky to say that inspection is the key. Don’t underestimate it, don’t overestimate it. They are like search machines. They have their merits and they have their limitations. The great merit is that they can go into any place legally, they can be entitled to go in, and especially with the [IAEA] Additional Protocol[11], so you can go much further than before. You have the right to have access to the information, to people, to documents, etcetera. But they also have their limitations, they cannot go around the country. For that, they need to have information.

Intelligence on the other hand, they have their sources, they listen, and are spending billions on listening to what we say on our mobile phones, and what Blix: says to ElBaradei…Although what Mr. Khatami says may be more interesting. So they have an enormous amount of that. They have spies on the ground and satellites…that’s sort of common property nowadays.

ACT: But how would you propose, after your unique experience, to enhance inspections? You’ve mentioned the idea of creating a standing inspectorate, similar to UNMOVIC. I’m sure that you’ve thought about how weapons inspections and monitoring could be improved. Could you be a little bit more specific about this?

Blix: I was talking about the nuclear inspections now, but of course with UNMOVIC it would not be nuclear. I’m not suggesting at all that one should do away with the IAEA – the capacity is there, and the OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] [12] is also developing well and that’s the chemical. But in New York, it would be for biological if it’s needed, or for missiles if it is needed. But my starting point was this: that you have search machines with different capabilities, and you should make use of those. Both of them report to governments. If you say it’s the [United Nations] Security Council, or it is the [IAEA] Board of Governors, well it’s governments. If the governments are actors they should take action, so they receive the information that come from these search machines, and they [national intelligence and international inspections] are both valuable. But don’t mix them, don’t merge them, because I think that’s what happened in UNSCOM with disastrous effects, when intelligence often took over UNSCOM. So these are the two machines.

Now what can we do then with an organization like UNMOVIC? Yes, I would be in favor of a modified mandate that would allow it to continue with a broadened base that could be used ad hoc by the Security Council. It is not a very expensive item for the moment. They are managing on leftovers from the Oil for Food [Program][13], and that will last for a while. But they will need a budget. And the beauty of it is that they are not dependent upon a standing group or standing army of inspectors. Rather, we had the roster system set up for a different reason: that you were not allowed to go in.[14] And so we created a roster system, we train people, they work at home, and they are available like an international reserve that can go in. And it is very economic, they are given the refresher courses, and they learn the latest techniques.So with a relatively low cost you could have a reserve for some inspection.

Now how often would it be called in? Not terribly often…I hope there won’t be so many cases where they’re needed, but it would be there. And, in addition, you could have the standing group in New York, which is not very large now, 30 or 40 people or something, and they could continue with analysis. And they could also serve the Security Council. Carnegie [The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace] advanced the idea of a rapporteur for the Security Council on issues of nonproliferation. It could also be a sort of secretariat-basis for a rapporteur. There are difficulties for a secretariat to report on suspicions. You have to be very, very correct in what you say, or else you will get into trouble. Still, I think that backing up a rapporteur who might be, not a civil servant but appointed by the Security Council, could be of use. In any case, I can’t see any harm coming from that, and it would also fill a gap when it comes to anything to inspect on biological or on missiles. How often that will be I don’t know, but it’s not a very expensive proposition.

And presumably when the U.S. leaves Iraq, there will be some need for a continued inspection in Iraq. This has not been treated yet, and I’m somewhat skeptical about the idea of reducing the rights of inspection there. I don’t think that one should reduce what we have. If you look as Resolution 687 it describes the inspections in Iraq as a system precisely as a step in the direction of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction[15]. So I think that would be a reason for retention of UNMOVIC and since I have no fealty myself any longer, I think I can say that without being suspected of any ulterior motives.

ACT: The fourth item you listed in your speech was reducing existing nuclear arsenals, and obviously one of the discussions that’s likely to come up at the next Review Conference for the NPT is the compliance with Article VI[16] particularly, as you cited, the U.S. possible development of new nuclear weapons, and general disarmament by the nuclear weapon-states. How important do you think that is, and what role is that going to play at the review conference?

Blix: You can also have an item like a treaty-based ban on tactical nuclear weapons. You had the agreement made by Bush the elder to withdraw tactical nuclear weapons from foreign territory[17], but that was not based on a treaty. It’s not a big deal, but it’s one of the things you can do. It would be part of a new momentum in disarmament. They are doing rather well in drawing down. There may be limitation to the speed with which you can do that. We already now have big piles of plutonium and highly enriched uranium. So I’m not complaining about that side of it. They can certainly look at lowering further levels than they have agreed now. But since they can’t take care of all those anyway at the moment, I don’t see that as the most difficult issue.

Now counterproliferation is another. It was not in my list there. And I think I discussed it both in my book and also publicly that after 9/11…[there is a] fear that you could have terrorists or a rogue [state] attacking or making use of weapons of mass destruction. I have some understanding for the argument advanced by President Bush, mainly that if something is imminent, it’s too late. No government—not only the U.S.—no government which is sure that an attack with weapons of mass destruction is coming will wait for it, but they will seek to prevent it. So I understand that, too. But in all these preventive actions, intelligence that comes in, how do you know it will actually occur? I mean the UN Charter is very clear in Article 51, and says that you have the inherent right of self-defense if an armed attack occurs. An armed attack occurs you see it, but if it hasn’t occurred but simply is imminent, how do you know? You will not sit and wait for it, but you are dependent upon the intelligence. And what you can see today, of course is, that after the Iraqi affair there is no political inclination to rely too much on intelligence.

So the whole concept of counterproliferation has been weakened. It’s not gone, because if something is imminent then sure they will act. But they can also go to the Security Council and share the responsibility of a decision. I don’t accept their contention that the Security Council is impotent. I saw that [Prime Minister Tony] Blair said that the council is not there just to talk but also to act. Alright. Within a short day or two after that, the council acted within less than 12 hours to take a decision on Haiti. So if they are agreed they can act.

But in the case of Iraq last spring they were not agreed, and I think it was to the credit of the council that they did not authorize the war. Where would we have stood today if the council had said fine to the Spanish-U.S.-[British] resolution, had authorized it on erroneous premises? They were skeptical of the premises. They were right. Therefore, I think it was a good thing that they didn’t authorize the war. And with the present composition of the council, there is no automatic veto. The Russians, the Chinese are not automatically vetoing things. And therefore the council should not be ruled out as impotent. I think it is there, and if you had a threat that is not within 12 hours, well, I think that you might also share the responsibility in taking action by going to the council.

So one cannot rule out counterproliferation in exceptional circumstances. But at least if counterproliferation implies the use of force, and I’ve usually seen it in that context but it can be more innocent than that. The biggest case of counterproliferation—apart from the Iraqi War—was the Israeli attack on Osarik[18]. You have had assassinations of nuclear scientists in the past, but there might be a more innocent method.

Let me say something more about intelligence, and merging or mixing it with the inspection. This is fundamental. We know now, after the Iraqi affair, that international inspectors under the authority of the Security Council or the board of the IAEA came to conclusions that were closer to reality than what the intelligence agencies did. There are a couple of reasons that helped us on the [inspectors] side. One was that we had the Security Council as our master. The Security Council did not push us or breathe down our neck to come into any particular conclusions. They just said, “You do your professional work, and you report accurately to us.” Intelligence agencies clearly felt there was an expectation that they would come up with something that pointed to the direction of the existence of the weapons because their executive branch of the government wanted that, both in the [United States] and in the [United Kingdom].

The other [factor] was the international civil servants concept, which is strong in the UN and the IAEA. You are there to assemble facts, and submit that to a political level. You are not part of the policymaking. I was very clear to the Security Council that I am not advising what you are to do. I simply am responsible for our job of collecting the data and giving it to you.

In the national governments I think there has been a risk of the blurring, whether we see it, not only in this particular sphere, but we see of course in many areas where government, executive branch, in the policymaking, and selling it to the public, will want to create their own reality. And they repeat again and again the same thing of questionable factual value, and it turns it into virtual reality. I think you might say Iraq is a case where eventually the virtual reality collided with old-fashioned, real reality.

So this distinction between the role and the ability of the international inspectorate to work in their way, that argues in favor of making use of that as a force that can give you important objective data. Not doing away with intelligence data—they have their side, but keep them apart. And as I said the intelligence can provide the inspectors with ideas where to go, because they have other sources than inspectors do. However, what I have seen in the case of Iraq during the ’90s and described in some extent in my book, but [former White House terrorism expert Richard] Clarke has also come up with more material on this, and Gallucci [Robert Gallucci is former deputy executive chairman of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM)] had a statement before David Albright’s group [Albright is the president of the Institute for Science and International Security] where he described the close liaison between UNSCOM and inspection and intelligence. Now, it was clear when they adopted [Resolution] 687 that intelligence—that UNSCOM was to have intelligence tips from the agencies. It was also stated clearly that the IAEA should not have direct access to intelligence but UNSCOM should designate sites for IAEA to inspect on the basis of the intelligence that they had received.

Now we know that at the end of UNSCOM the bubble burst and we know that UNSCOM was piggybacked directly by intelligence, notably U.S. but also UK intelligence. And that they had listening devices and they listened to traffic in the air and it was not just to identify weapons of mass destruction but [to find out] where was Saddam,where were his mistresses, etcetera. UNSCOM did not even get the result of these things but was just piggybacked, and that bubble burst in January 1999. UNSCOM withdrew at the end of 1998, it burst in 1999. There was plenty of writing about it in the U.S. media, Barton Gellman [of The Washington Post] and others came out with lots of things about it. That, I think, destroyed, the UN legitimacy of UNSCOM.

At the IAEA we had drawn another conclusion at the beginning of the Iraq War and that was that yes, we need intelligence, but it is mainly one-way traffic. They could not come and criticize us for not having found something if they hadn’t told us where to look. So we said please help us, give us something, but its one-way traffic. You tell us, we have safeguards confidential, we get all the information from the state, but that’s safeguards confidential. For us it was natural to say that we are in no position to give you something in return, except if we find something that’s in the interest of the government.

So one-way traffic was what they said, and we went for it. And in the Amorim committee report, which preceded UNMOVIC, you’ll find the same thing, they say one-way traffic. And you’ll find also in my introduction to the Security Council, of UNMOVIC, I stated yes we want to have intelligence. And they asked from whom and I said anyone who wants to give us, but it is in principle one-way traffic. Now in principle, you cannot be absolutely watertight, because if they give you a tip about a place to go, you go there, you find nothing, then of course you have to tell your supplier. And you must also be able to tell the supplier what are you interested in. But it is not a joint operation. And it is not that they can come and say we’d like to look at your archives on this point or that point. And when I read Mr. Clarke[19] now I find that he is describing the important IAEA [inspection] in 1991 when they got stuck in the parking lot. That was an area we were working inspection. However, he says he planned it together with a few outside people. UNSCOM was given the idea to go to this place, yes, but…it was a joint operation that probably mainly was led from the intelligence. In the long run you cannot do that and maintain a UN legitimacy. Especially if the intelligence will piggyback and use the inspections as an extended arm for their operations.

ACT: Let me ask you a question on this issue of role of the international civil servant. Obviously you took a lot of guff from the administration as they were leading up to the invasion of Iraq. And as you said ultimately it’s the government’s decision about what to do on these things. But you must have some advice for the next Hans Blix who might be in this position where you’re trying to persuade the governments that maybe there isn’t this kind of evidence there. How do you do this as an international civil servant?

Blix: Well I never said in the Security Council that I would advise against war. It would be presumptuous of me, and The New York Times was rather good about this and I agreed completely with them. But that is one thing. Mohamed [ElBaradei] explicitly asked for a few more months. You will not find that I said that I explicitly asked for it. They asked me how much more time do you think you would need. And I said well it won’t take years, and it won’t be weeks, but it would be months if the Iraqis cooperate. That’s what I said. Now my personal wish was of course to continue the inspection, and I think that’s probably how people perceived my attitude. But I did not explicitly ask Security Council to vet that.

However, on the question of the evidence, we were not silent. You will find in my book the description of the conversation with Blair—I have the transcript of it, and it is amusing. I think it was in February [2003]. It makes clear that I do not exclude the possibility that there are still weapons. But I am making clear to him that we were not impressed by the evidence that we had. I do say to him that it would be paradoxical if you invaded with several hundred thousand men and you didn’t find anything. This was in February. And he then said, no, no. All the intelligence agencies are agreed. And to top it off he said, “and the Egyptians too.”

So I had no doubt at all that he was [acting] in good faith, nor have I ever suggested that Bush was [acting] in bad faith. But our doubts or skepticism about the evidence began in the autumn because David Albright and his people were doubting the aluminum tubes. And I was doubtful about the yellow cake contract. Not because I had any suspicion at all that it was a forgery, but I felt that yellow cake is a long way from a bomb. And why should the Iraqis bother to import yellowcake. That was my simple layman thought about it.

But then in January and in February we went to dozens of sites given by intelligence—U.S., [British], and others—and found no weapons of mass destruction. In only three cases did we find anything at all, and in one case it was the illegal import of Volga engines, in another case it was the stash of nuclear documents on laser [uranium enrichment], and in the third case was a farm that turned out to contain conventional ammunition. So in no case, of all these dozens [of places] where they suspected there were weapons of mass destruction, did we find anything. That shook us quite a lot. Then came [Secretary of State] Colin Powell with his beautiful presentation—I won’t use another noun for it—his beautiful presentation to the Security Council. Perhaps we should have felt humiliated because he was then presenting all these smoking guns we hopeless inspectors had failed to see. However, I felt more like sitting in a court bench, saying well, the chief prosecutor is now putting forth the evidence then let’s see what the experts say about this evidence. So I let our experts dig their teeth into it. Now there were of course many things they could not check—the intercepted telephone calls and so forth that they could not check. But there were several others that they could check and each they were skeptical about.

Now that was when I said I have to go to the Security Council and also register our doubts about the evidence, and I did so. There I referred to three things, I referred to the fact that you cannot say that simply because something is unaccounted for it exists. Secondly, I referred to the sites that we had been to [that were] not building any weapons of mass destruction. And thirdly, I took up the case of the chemical sites, which Colin Powell had referred to, it was the only one that I took up, and I said the trucks that he had seen they thought were decontamination trucks or that our inspectors had seen and they were then at least water trucks and we had taken lots of environmental samples and seen no traces of chemicals. So, this was still in February [2003], that I went before the council. Maybe I could accuse myself today of not speaking louder, but that was the only voice that came, apart from Albright, who I think persistently pursued a respectable line. And we had the case of the drones, which Wolf came to me and threw on my desk. [20] I didn’t exclude at the time that it could be something but the inspectors were certainly not convinced of it, and we had had no reason to go forward, I can say that.

The case where we came closest to a suspicion was the anthrax, and because we had people analyzing that and it seemed that they could have squirreled away a quantity of anthrax. But I looked at it at very long briefings in which I examined step-by-step and I said, no, this is not conclusive. It is a strong indication, but not conclusive. In retrospect, well I couldn’t exclude even now that maybe we find a cistern of anthrax somewhere, there will be probably debris somewhere. But it was not conclusive.

ACT: What might the outcome have been today if inspections had continued for another three, four, however many months?

Blix: If inspections had continued I think that two things would have happened. First, we would have been able to go to all sites suggested to us by intelligence—[British], U.S., or any other—and since there weren’t any weapons we wouldn’t have found any. And we would have reported that fact, and I think that ought to have shaken the intelligence agencies. We didn’t have bad relations with intelligence, we were not so antagonistic at all. I think it should have shaken them to say “Sorry, but then our sources were bad.” Maybe the time was too short, maybe the number of cases was too short for them to retreat on that, or draw that conclusion. So that would have been the most important [outcome].

The other thing that could have happened was also important, but slightly less work, that was that the Iraqis gave us at the end of February and the very beginning of March, they gave us long lists of people whom they said had participated in the unilateral destruction operation in 1991. I had had discussions about this with Al Saadi [Amir Al Saadi, a senior adviser to then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] about this, and I said “you must have some documents.” Afterward, I am still puzzled that this country that has fairly good bureaucracy didn’t have any documents. Some diaries came up and that was all. So I said, if you don’t have any documents you must at least have people that participated and they said yes. And eventually they came with this long list of people. And what we would have done would have been to interview these people. And there are difficulties you have with interviewing in totalitarian countries, but nevertheless there were some 80 or so names and in such a large number if you could interview them, there might have been some hope that we would understand more about the operation in ’91. Remember that they came forward and proposed that we should take samples of the soil, we should analyze it, we should come out with some quantitative conclusions which…

ACT: The Iraqis?

Blix: The Iraqis, yes. We went up against that. We would have done it, but I didn’t have much hope I’m not a scientist but I wouldn’t have much hope. But these two things—the interviews, and going to the science would have happened. And I assume that the Iraqis would have continued to give access without any difficulty because they invariably were okay on the access side. But if there had been a renewed cat-and-mouse game, then I am of the view that the Security Council would have gone along and authorized the use of force. However I think its more likely that, having 200,000 or more people at their borders, that they would have continued to gnaw their teeth and give access even to presidential sites[21]. And I think it would have become more difficult then to launch any invasion. This could have gone on over the summer, and I don’t quite see why they [the U.S.-led coalition] could not have waited until the autumn. I understand they didn’t want to have fighting during the summer, but if they had let inspectors go on until the autumn, I think the chances are that the air would have gone out of that. But the result would have been that Saddam [Hussein] would have stayed in power probably. Some people say that he couldn’t have survived the rumor that they had weapons of mass destruction—that’s not so sure, I think. So the chances are that he would have stayed, Saddam would have remained. The sole good result of the war I see is the disappearance of one of the world’s most bad regimes.

However, what would have been the case then? It would have been a little like [Fidel] Castro, like [Moammar] Gaddafi, who is now supposed to be a good boy. It would have been a situation similar, where the world does not intervene on a humanitarian basis but leaves it to foreign policy by obituary as The New York Times calls it elegantly. You wait him out. It would have had many negative aspects, but it also would have had many positive aspects.

ACT: The Bush administration has argued since the war that if inspections had ended that Saddam could have quickly reconstituted his chemical, and biological programs, perhaps even his nuclear weapons. Was it your expectation in the spring of 2003 that if the inspections had been allowed to continue, that they were going to end? Could these inspections have continued for a longer time in your view?

Blix: That was the mandate of the Security Council. UN Resolution 687 distinguishes between the inspections and long-term monitoring. And it was quite clear that when inspections were over, then you go into long-term monitoring. There was no end that wouldn’t require a specific decision of the Security Council. Now with [UN Security Council Resolution] 1284, this system was modified and they constantly introduced what they called reinforced long-term monitoring[22]. Well anyway, they were reinforced inspections, and so they made no difference between inspection and monitoring and there was no limit set to that. The real limit would not be formal, but it would be the risk of a fatigue in the council. A beginning resistance from the Iraqi side, and fatigue in the council, a wish not to implement it, to enforce it. That could have happened but that’s containment. And if they saw a sign of new nuclear things then they would probably pull up their socks again. So that’s the risk of containment. It’s not absent. But there was nothing in the cards at the time. Especially when you look at the situation in the spring of 2003, if they had gone on well, for quite some time, I think there would not have been any fatigue, but they would have watched them clearly. And we have now seen that [during]the whole ’90s, the UN actually succeeded in disarming [Iraq]without really knowing it. And even [from] 1998 to 2002, they didn’t do anything.

So the pressure, the combination, I think, of the risk of something happening militarily. The continued bombing of the no-fly zones, the economic sanctions, and the inspectors milling in the country helped to keep them away. I’m still a bit puzzled in why they played cat and mouse. And although I’m proud of what we did because we didn’t err as much as the intelligence agencies did, nevertheless it is somewhat puzzling that, especially UNSCOM but also we, were not able to conclude that there were not any weapons. And here, for eight years they were there, and UNMOVIC has now shown in the 14th quarter report after I left that there were no weapons destroyed after 1994. There was infrastructure, there were precursors, there were growth materials, but no weapons destroyed after ’94.

And I’m not sure even that UNSCOM ever found a weapon that had been hidden. They found a lot of chemical weapons in Mutanna, but Mutanna was declared. There were more weapons there than [what] had [been] declared, but the site was declared. But the fact then that no weapons were found after ’94 should then have given them and others a thought, a wonder: are they really so smart in hiding them? We went through all the cases in denial of access—cat and mouse—and while we had reports that [Iraqis] drove away with trucks, and that there were weapons that they burned, etcetera, in no case did [inspectors] find any weapons of mass destruction. When they went in eventually—after hours or sometimes after days—they didn’t find anything at all. And you do not drive away with large quantities of chemical weapons if you are being under surveillance. These facts should have struck a stronger bell. But instead we were all, including myself, so impressed by the fact that they were playing with inspectors and drew automatically, uncritically the conclusion “Ah Hah! They must be hiding something.” And that’s not what they did.

ACT: Hindsight is 20/20. You were talking earlier about sort of the need to create a new dynamic in nonproliferation, especially nuclear nonproliferation. Going toward the Review Conference next year, do you have any sorts of specific steps or ideas on what should be on the agenda for the Review Conference, and what would constitute success there?

Blix: I think the comprehensive test ban, FMCT, and the fuel cycle business. The NPT allows enrichment and reprocessing. But this is a subject that must be tackled in some flexible way because we cannot set the rules once for everyone who wants to have it now—that’s the licensees forever. I think this is essential. And of course we’ll have to watch the discussion. Everyone is so focused upon the acute cases, understandably and rightly, but I worry that opportunities are missed. I mean we do live in a détente, after all. It’s bizarre, that we are not doing better.

ACT: We just wanted to ask you one final question on “WMD”. In your recent book you use the term weapons of mass destruction to describe nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and yet there have been many who’ve not been happy about the conflation of these three.

Blix: I agree.

ACT: And yet that’s also the name of your commission. Can you elaborate a little…

Blix: It is so firmly entrenched that we can’t get away from it. We discussed the possibility. We discussed the possibility that we have another name, but no, no. We are stuck with that. I had begun my introduction for Monday by denouncing the concept of weapons of mass destruction, because the only thing they have in common is that we would like to do away with all of them. And biological of course, I mean you could say that, they could lead to mass death. But otherwise, it has some drawbacks in that it allows governments to come forward and say that you know we may have 30 countries in the world with weapons of mass destruction, but we do know that we may have less than 10 which are nuclear weapons. And I think this is part of hyping.

Yesterday I spoke before the Cosmos Club and I began by saying “Look, put these things in perspective.” I’m dealing with weapons of mass destruction, nonproliferation—both expressions are bad—but everyone is absorbed in these in the Western world to the exclusion of other problems. If you go to Asia, you will not find that people say that the risk of use of weapons of mass destruction is an “existential issue,” as Blair said recently. But they said “Well, you know, for those of us who hunger, hunger is more of an existential issue.” I would say for myself, and I think for everybody, that global warming, the threats to the global environment are as great if not greater than the threats from weapons of mass destruction. And that’s why I’m very much in favor for peaceful nuclear power.

So yes, weapons of mass destruction is a bad expression, everyone agrees about that, but at least in the arms control community we know the weakness. The other expression is nonproliferation. The Carnegie Endowment says that it’s a strategy for nonproliferation and they also say it’s a Nuclear Safety Strategy, which I prefer, because when we talk about nonproliferation, there is still the connotation, an echo of the idea that you have five licenses given. And that beyond that anything is bad. Whereas the Carnegie Endowment says no, it is not, and that it is a dual bargain. And I think one must remember that. But proliferation of course doesn’t question the parents. It questions the offspring.

ACT: How do you close that gap between the nuclear haves and have-nots?

Blix: It’s simple. Those who have it should negotiate to do away with it, and those who don’t have it they should recommit not to get it. Now how sincere it was at the outset I’m not so sure. Because it says negotiate toward doing away with the weapons and general and complete disarmament. Any talk about general and complete disarmament in 1968 was not terribly sincere. But since then it has become more important and it has been seen that you cannot simply have an alcoholic telling those who have not yet tasted alcohol that they should stay away from it. And they have committed themselves, at the latest NPT Review there was the commitment, and I think that they realized that if they are not moving in that direction that undermines the commitments of others.


[1] Sweden’s foreign ministry announced the commission’s formation in December 2003. For more details see Arms Control Today, January/February 2004.

[2] An FMCT would prohibit the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) for nuclear weapons purposes. For more details see http://www.armscontrol.org/aca/npt13steps.asp

[3] The CTBT prohibits signatories from conducting explosive tests of nuclear weapons. For more details see http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/ctbtsig.asp

[4] For a comprehensive analysis and description of PSI, see Jofi Joseph, “Can Interdiction Stop Proliferation?,” Arms Control Today, June 2004, pp. 6-13.

[5] The 44-member NSG is comprised of nuclear supplier states that have agreed to coordinate their export controls governing transfers of civilian nuclear material and technology to prevent nuclear exports intended for commercial and peaceful purposes from being used to make nuclear weapons. For more details see http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/NSG.asp

[6] See “The Bush Administration's Nonproliferation Policy: An interview with Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John S. Wolf,” Arms Control Today, June 2004, p. 14-19. http://www.armscontrol.org/interviews/Wolf.asp

[7] See Paul Kerr, “With Deadline Looming, European Foreign Ministers Strike Deal to Restrict Iran’s Nuclear Program,” Arms Control Today, November 2003.

[8] See “Curbing Nuclear Proliferation: An Interview with Mohamed ElBaradei,” Arms Control Today, November 2003, pp. 3-6. http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_11/ElBaradei_11.asp

[9] Khan, a key official in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, ran a covert network of suppliers who transferred nuclear technology to states suspected of developing nuclear weapons. For more information see "The Khan Network", March 2004 Arms Control Today, pp. 23-29. http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2004_03/

[10] See "Verifying Arms Control Agreements: An Interview with Hans Blix, the Outgoing Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC," Arms Control Today, July/August 2003, pp. 12-15.

[11] States concluding Additional Protocols to their safeguards agreements with the IAEA are obliged to disclose to the agency significantly more information regarding their nuclear activities than they would under their original safeguards agreements. Such protocols also increase the IAEA’s authority to detect clandestine nuclear activities. For more details see: http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/IAEAProtocol.asp

[12] The OPCW administers the Chemical Weapons Convention, a 1997 treaty ratified by 160 countries, which bans the use, development, production, and stockpiling of chemical weapons. For more details see http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/cwcglance.asp

[13] The Oil for Food program, which allowed Iraq to sell oil for buying medicine, health supplies, food, and other supplies “essential” for civilian needs, was created in 1995. For more details see: http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2002_10/UNresolutionsoct02.asp

[14] Iraq did not allow the UN inspectors to resume work in Iraq after they left in December 1998 until November 2002.

[15] The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 687 in 1991 after Iraq's defeat in the Persian Gulf War. The resolution formed the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) to verify that Iraq complied with UN-mandated non-nuclear disarmament tasks. For a list of relevant UN resolutions, see http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2002_10/UNresolutionsoct02.asp

[16] Article VI of the NPT reads: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” For a complete text of the NPT see http://www.armscontrol.org/documents/npt.asp.

[17] Blix is referring to the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives concluded by George H.W. Bush and former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. For details see Presidential Nuclear Initiatives section in U.S./Soviet Russian Nuclear Arms Control factsheet at http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2002_06/factfilejune02.asp

[18] In 1981, the Israeli air force destroyed the French-built Osarik nuclear reactor in Iraq.

[19] Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War

[20] According to Blix, Wolf arrived at Blix’s office on March 6, 2003 with photographs of an Iraqi Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, as well as a cluster munition, and demanded to know why UNMOVIC had not declared their discovery a breach of Iraq’s disarmament obligations. See Blix, Disarming Iraq (New York: Panteon Books), pp. 221-222.

[21] UN Security Council Resolution 1154 endorsed a February 1998, memorandum of understanding (MOU) between UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Iraq which placed special conditions on inspections of these sites. The MOU did not give Iraq the right to impede the inspectors, but Iraq used these sites to conceal what were believed to be possible weapons activities. Resolution 1441, adopted in November 2002, specifically mandated unrestricted access to these sites.

[22] Resolution 1284, adopted in 1999, authorized the creation of UNMOVIC to replace UNSCOM after UN inspectors were withdrawn the previous year and verify that Iraq had fulfilled its remaining disarmament obligations.

Posted: June 19, 2004