Arms Control Today Interview with David Kay on Iraq Inspections and Absence of Prohibited Weapons One Year After U.S. Invasion

For Immediate Release: March 15, 2004

Press Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107;
Paul Kerr, Research Director, (202) 463-8270 x102

(Washington, D.C.): One year after the United States and Britain bypassed ongoing United Nations weapons monitoring and disarmament efforts and invaded Iraq, U.S.-led teams scouring the country have failed to uncover any prohibited Iraqi weapons stockpiles. In an Arms Control Today interview published this week, David Kay, the former head of the U.S. post-war weapons inspection effort-the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), reiterated his view that there were no significant chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in Iraq. He suggested that previous, underrated UN weapons inspections played a vital role in constraining Iraq's weapons programs. When asked if going to war with Iraq was wise if "it was just a WMD-based decision," Kay replied, "It was not worth it."

Kay also addressed a range of other questions about his findings in Iraq. These include: the reasons why no significant prohibited weapons stockpiles have been uncovered, what the Iraq episode tells us about U.S. intelligence, and why the Iraqis failed to fully account for their past arms activities. Kay was interviewed March 5, 2004 by Arms Control Today editor, Miles Pomper, and Arms Control Association research analyst, Paul Kerr.

Kay noted, "Most intelligence reports from around the world said that the Iraqi chemical and biological programs had already been restarted and that they had weapons. Turns out, I think, those reports were wrong, and now we know they were wrong because inspections were more of a hindrance, and [the Iraqis] feared them more in the mid-90s than we anticipated."

Kay also commented on Vice President Dick Cheney's recent claims that there might still be weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Kay said, "I think most others at the working level recognized the correctness of the assessment that those weapons don't exist. … What worries me about the vice president's statements is, I think people who hold out for a Hail-Mary pass … delay the inevitable: looking back at what went wrong. I think we have enough evidence now to say that the intelligence process, and the policy process that used that information, did not work at the level of effectiveness that we require in the age that we live in."

Asked whether he thought the UN-mandated monitoring and verification system would have been effective if allowed to continue after March 2003, Kay responded that continued UN efforts may not have led to a fuller Iraqi disclosure. Still, he added, "I think in retrospect it is obvious that rigorous inspections and accompanying sanctions played an important role in limiting the possibilities of the Iraqis to restart their [prohibited weapons] program."

In the lead-up to the March invasion, UN weapons inspectors could not find evidence of active programs or stockpiles of prohibited chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons and were dismantling ballistic missiles that exceeded UN-mandated range limits. Although the inspectors could not account for discrepancies in Iraq's declaration on its programs and previous stockpiles, chief inspector Hans Blix warned against equating unaccounted-for stockpiles with existing weapons.

Kay told Arms Control Today that Iraq did not fully account for the destruction of their prohibited stockpiles because "some were destroyed in ways that the Iraqis were embarrassed to admit" and "some disappeared in the normal chaos and accidents that occurred" since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Kay said the final ISG report would document that some weapons material and biological agents were disposed of in ways that were not approved of by the regime and dangerous to the health of people in Baghdad.

"I actually have come to the conclusion that international inspection is even more important now than it ever was. The on-the-ground examination of what's going on is irreplaceable as to what it can do," Kay said. He added, "the good news part of the story is: I think if there is effective inspection, the need for unilateral preemptive action becomes much less critical."

Excerpts from the Kay interview will appear in the April issue of Arms Control Today. The full transcript and other Arms Control Association resources on Iraq are available online at: <>.

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Arms Control Today is the monthly publication of the Arms Control Association (ACA). ACA is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies.