"I learned so much about arms control and disarmament at ACA! I learned more about arms control here in four months than I had in all three years at my college."

– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
Intern, Fall 2016
December 16, 2016

Disarming Iraq: Nonmilitary Strategies and Options

David Cortright and George A. Lopez

The uncertainty regarding Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, which has increased since United Nations weapons inspectors left Iraq almost four years ago, appears to be approaching a crisis point. Concerned that Baghdad is rebuilding its programs to produce nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, the Bush administration has strengthened its call for regime change in Iraq and spurred an increasingly vocal debate about the possibility of forcibly overthrowing the Iraqi dictator.

Whatever the merits of regime change in Iraq, discourse in Washington has focused on military options for dealing with Baghdad’s weapons of mass destruction without due consideration for the progress that UN weapons inspectors could make if they were readmitted to the country. In a world where the war on terrorism may take on new contours at any moment and challenges to U.S. policy mount daily in the Middle East, it is essential to explore scenarios that do not carry the diplomatic and strategic risks of military action. If U.S. officials determine that the costs of war against Iraq are too great, policy-makers must understand that there are alternative, viable options for achieving U.S. nonproliferation objectives.

Indeed, recent press reports indicate that military action may not get the domestic and international support it requires. The Europeans, never particularly supportive of a second Persian Gulf War, have become increasingly concerned that military action will interfere with the possibilities for brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians.1 Middle Eastern governments, like that of Saudi Arabia, have outright opposed an attack, and the Iraqi Kurds, who figure in some planners’ vision of regime change, are wary of U.S. military action.2 In the United States, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have reportedly expressed reticence about invading Iraq; and most recently Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to former President George H. W. Bush and was a chief architect of the Gulf War, wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in which he argued, “An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign that we have undertaken.”3

UN inspectors were remarkably successful in their efforts to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and although Saddam Hussein is likely reconstituting certain programs, evidence suggests that he does not pose an immediate threat to the United States. The past success of inspectors indicates that a high level of confidence in Iraq’s disarmament could be achieved if they were allowed to resume their work. The United States should push for the resumption of inspections in Iraq and also establish an “enhanced containment” system to monitor Iraq’s borders and prevent illicit materiel from entering the country.

Although a program of inspections and enhanced containment would not effect regime change and might not achieve the level of certainty of weapons control that would come with U.S. troops occupying Baghdad, it also is free of the costs and uncertainties that accompany those scenarios. Instead, a combination of resumed weapons inspections and enhanced containment addresses U.S. nonproliferation objectives and provides a viable, robust option for preventing Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction.

A Continuing Danger

Saddam Hussein poses a significant threat to regional and international security. His regime has initiated two wars and has developed and used chemical weapons and ballistic missiles against neighboring states and its own citizens. UN inspectors discovered after the Gulf War that Iraq had vast stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons as well as a major program to develop nuclear weapons. In fact, U.S. analyst David Albright and former Iraqi nuclear engineer Khidhir Hamza estimated in 1998 that Iraq had been only a few months from building a nuclear explosive when the Gulf War began.4

But after Iraq’s defeat in 1991, UN weapons inspections were an effective tool that largely disarmed Iraq and prevented it from reconstituting its weapons programs. According to reports by the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which were charged with overseeing Iraq’s disarmament, weapons inspections during the 1990s neutralized a substantial portion of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. An independent panel of experts established by the Security Council in 1999 to evaluate the results of UN weapons inspections came to the following conclusion: “In spite of well-known difficult circumstances, UNSCOM and [the] IAEA have been effective in uncovering and destroying many elements of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes…. The bulk of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated.”5

The IAEA concluded in 1998 that “there is no indication that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons or any meaningful amounts of weapon-useable nuclear material.”6 According to UN reports, UNSCOM achieved “significant progress” in destroying Iraq’s chemical weapons stockpiles and production facilities. UNSCOM was able to account for all but two of the 819 Scud missiles known to have existed at the start of the Gulf War. There is no evidence of successful long-range missile development since then. Former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter concluded in a June 2000 article in Arms Control Today:

It was possible as early as 1997 to determine that, from a qualitative standpoint, Iraq had been disarmed. Iraq no longer possessed any meaningful quantities of chemical or biological agent…and the industrial means to produce these agents had either been eliminated or were subject to stringent monitoring. The same was true of Iraq’s nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.7

Sanctions constrained Iraq’s ability to rebuild its conventional forces and further handicapped its nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile programs. Sanctions have loosened considerably in the past year, but the most important restriction, UN control over Iraq’s oil revenues, remains firmly in place. Because of these continuing financial restrictions, the Baghdad government has been denied control over more than $150 billion in oil revenues.8 As a result, Iraq has been unable to rebuild and modernize its armed forces. Iraq’s annual military expenditures dropped from an average of nearly $19 billion in the 1980s to an estimated $1.4 billion annually since the imposition of sanctions.9 Thus, UN financial controls have curtailed Iraq’s conventional rearmament and its ability to produce weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.

Nevertheless, despite past successes of inspections and the retarding effect of sanctions, UN officials have been unable to determine the status of Iraq’s weapons programs since UNSCOM’s departure from Iraq in 1998. U.S. and other intelligence services have continued to gather information on suspected weapons activities using national technical means and reports from Iraqi defectors, but clearly the lack of sources on the ground in Iraq represents a serious intelligence gap. Hearings this July on Iraq before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee produced a range of estimates and warnings about Baghdad’s continuing or renewed weapons activity, especially in the area of chemical and biological weapons.

Most experts agree that Iraq has maintained stockpiles of chemical weapons materials and still possesses considerable biological weapons potential. Of greatest concern is VX, the most lethal and persistent of the chemical weapons Iraq produced. More than 150 tons of VX precursor elements remain unaccounted for.10 It is also possible that Iraq retains the means to deliver chemical and biological weapons short distances. The United Nations reported in January 1999 that 50 conventional missile warheads Iraq claimed to have destroyed could not be accounted for.11

Estimates of Iraq’s potential for developing nuclear weapons vary. According to a January 2001 report from the U.S. Department of Defense, “Iraq would need five or more years and key foreign assistance to rebuild the infrastructure to enrich enough material for a nuclear weapon.”12 In the summer of 2001, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation Robert Einhorn agreed that Iraq was five years away from being able to produce a nuclear explosive.13 But the head of the German intelligence agency, August Hanning, told The New Yorker, “It is our estimate that Iraq will have an atomic bomb in three years.”14

Hans Blix, the head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), the successor agency to UNSCOM, confirmed recently that he has been briefed on possible weapons construction sites in Iraq and has received tips about other potential weapons activities. Blix noted that nothing has been proven, but in light of the accumulating evidence and Iraq’s past behavior, it is prudent to assume that the Baghdad government has been attempting to rebuild its weapons capacity.

Assuring the Return of Inspectors

The picture that emerges from this assessment is of a regime likely committed to the redevelopment of weapons of mass destruction, but constrained by diminished resources and the successes of UNSCOM’s efforts. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is clearly dangerous, but there is time to thwart Iraq’s reacquisition of weapons material and technology without resorting to war, provided that weapons inspections are allowed to begin soon.

Of course, getting UN inspectors back into the country is easier said than done, as demonstrated by Iraq’s intransigence over the last four years. Although the Security Council has recently demonstrated a new consensus on the need for weapons inspections, Iraq has refused to budge in its meetings with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. UN and U.S. officials have correctly insisted on the right of free and unfettered access for UNMOVIC inspectors. There can be no backing away from the right of no-notice, intrusive inspection that was key to the success of UNSCOM, and the monitors must have access to so-called presidential sites and other suspected weapons locations. However, Saddam Hussein does need some incentive to cooperate with the United States and the United Nations.

The sanctions imposed on Iraq shortly after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the prospect of their relief have been the primary carrot and stick used to coerce Baghdad into complying with inspections. Resolution 687 stipulated that once UNSCOM determined that Iraq had been fully disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction, the sanctions would be lifted. Although UN Security Council Resolution 1409 loosened the sanctions regime this May, allowing Iraq to import civilian goods more freely, its most important element—UN control of Iraqi oil revenues—remains in place.

Despite smuggling and kickback schemes, the UN escrow account still captures approximately 85 percent of Iraq’s oil income.15 Baghdad urgently wishes to regain control of these revenues, which at a production rate of 2 million barrels a day comes to nearly $20 billion a year. In fact, Iraq could dramatically increase oil production, but UN sanctions have prevented Iraq from attracting the necessary foreign investment to develop its potential further. Iraq possesses some of the largest, most easily accessible oil reserves in the world, and oil industry executives have described Iraq as the “Klondike of the 21st century.”16 With adequate investment in exploration and production, Iraq could significantly increase its rate of oil export to perhaps as high as 6 million barrels a day, tripling its current rate of production and raising potential oil revenues to a staggering $60 billion a year.

That revenue is enormously important to Iraq and is crucial to rebuilding its shattered economy, but such an economic windfall remains out of reach as long as sanctions are in place. The lure of these vast oil revenues is a powerful inducement that can be used to gain Baghdad’s cooperation. It should be possible for the United States and the United Nations to use this Iraqi objective to their advantage by structuring an inducement plan that offers the prize of oil revenues in exchange for full compliance with UN mandates.

That, of course, was the deal offered by Resolution 687, but the rules of the game were changed by Resolution 1284, passed in December 1999, which created UNMOVIC. Instead of promising to lift the sanctions once Iraq had fully cooperated, Resolution 1284 said only that the Security Council would provisionally suspend the sanctions for 120 days once Iraq had come into compliance with its disarmament obligations. After 120 days, the council would have to vote to renew the sanctions relief for another 120 days, and so on. Because of Security Council voting rules, this would have effectively given the United States the power to keep the sanctions on Iraq in place indefinitely.

According to Rolf Ekeus, the former head of UNSCOM, “the language of suspension” added an element of “instability and insecurity” for Iraq and was probably the major reason why Baghdad rejected the resolution when it was passed.17 Iraq needs to know whether it will get anything for its cooperation, Ekeus noted. This crucial element has been missing in recent years. A clear statement from the United States that sanctions would indeed be lifted if Iraq cooperates with UN inspectors would reinsert a vitally important element into the diplomatic equation and could be decisive in gaining Iraqi compliance.
Unfortunately, U.S. officials have done exactly the opposite. Far from stating unequivocally that sanctions will be lifted if Iraq cooperates with UN weapons inspectors, U.S. officials have declared that sanctions will remain in place indefinitely. In November 1997, for example, President Bill Clinton remarked that “sanctions will be there until the end of time, or as long as [Hussein] lasts.”18 This spring, President George W. Bush said that “the policy of my government is the removal of Saddam”; and Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “The U.S. policy is that regardless of what the inspectors do, the people of Iraq…would be better off with a different regime in Baghdad.19

Under these circumstances, Baghdad has no reason to cooperate, and sanctions have lost their potential bargaining leverage. To overcome this problem, U.S. and UN officials should return to the terms of Resolution 687, which specified that sanctions against Iraq would be lifted upon completion of the UN disarmament mandate. A clarification of this original Security Council obligation could help to gain Iraqi compliance. A restatement of the council’s original intent would remove ambiguities left by Resolution 1284 and provide Baghdad a clear and compelling incentive for cooperating with UN inspections.
Russia has advocated this approach for several years. In June 2001, Moscow offered a draft Security Council resolution that sought to clarify the ambiguities of Resolution 1284 by reaffirming the Security Council’s obligation to lift sanctions upon completion of the UN disarmament mandate. Under the terms of the Russian proposal, once UNMOVIC and the IAEA certified that a reinforced, ongoing monitoring and verification system was fully operational within Iraq, sanctions would be suspended and oil revenues returned to the control of the Iraqi government.20

Former weapons inspector Garry Dillon proposed a similar approach at a June 2001 conference in Washington. Dillon suggested that the Security Council adopt a new resolution pledging to lift remaining sanctions upon receipt of satisfactory assurances from UNMOVIC and the IAEA of Iraq’s disarmament. The proposed resolution would specify Iraq’s obligation to permit the continued operation of the ongoing monitoring and verification system, and it would also maintain the continuing arms embargo and prohibition against developing weapons of mass destruction.21

Finding a way to induce Iraqi cooperation is crucial if there is to be a diplomatic solution to the looming crisis over its weapons of mass destruction. A clear and unambiguous commitment to lift sanctions and revenue controls upon fulfillment of the UN disarmament mandate could provide the necessary incentive to gain Iraqi cooperation. The United States has refused to consider any easing of coercive pressure, however, and has become fixated on the goal of armed regime change. The U.S. policy of regime change and unyielding hostility toward the Baghdad government goes beyond the mandate of UN policy and has become a major obstacle to the resolution of the crisis.

Of course, giving up the tough rhetoric on Iraq may seem like appeasement to some. To be sure, making offers to aggressors can be seen as a sign of weakness and may embolden an outlaw regime to further acts of belligerence. But in truth the United States would simply be offering Iraq what it did 11 years ago, and any inducements would be strictly conditional, with conciliatory gestures linked to clear and unequivocal concessions from the Baghdad regime and the elimination of Iraq’s capability to develop weapons of mass destruction.

“Enhanced Containment”

Whether or not Baghdad permits the resumption of effective UN weapons inspections, it will be necessary to create an externally based, vigorously enforced system of enhanced military containment to restrict the flow of weapons-related goods into Iraq. Morton Halperin, former director of policy planning at the State Department, described such a system as “containment plus” during July testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. According to Halperin, such a system would build upon the new sanctions regime established by Resolution 1409. “Its goal would be to tighten the economic embargo of material that would assist Iraq in its weapons of mass destruction and other military programs as well as reducing Iraq’s receipt of hard currency outside the UN sanctions regime.”

The UN restrictions on Iraqi imports have not been 100 percent effective because there is presently little or no international monitoring of commercial crossings into Iraq. Shippers of approved humanitarian goods stop at the border to have documents authenticated so that they can receive payment from the UN escrow account, but their cargoes are not inspected. The limited customs and border monitoring stations operated by neighboring states lack the ability to impede the flow of weapons. An enhanced containment system would seek to establish a long-term capability for blocking Iraqi rearmament through strict controls on the import of weapons and dual-use military goods, putting greater teeth into Resolution 1409.

The chief component of enhanced containment would be a significant strengthening of border monitoring in Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and other states surrounding Iraq. To date, such states have not supported proposals for border monitoring, in part because of political and economic pressures from Baghdad. They do not want to disturb the growing commercial trade with Iraq that has developed in recent years. The challenge is to create an effective system for inspecting sensitive cargoes, while avoiding disruption to the thriving civilian commerce that is vitally important to local economies. Technology can help in this effort. The use of advanced scanning equipment would enable trained monitors to detect the shipment of nuclear materials and other prohibited weapons-related goods without major disruption to commercial traffic.

The “smart border” concept now being developed by the governments of the United States, Canada, and Mexico could serve as a model for the kind of system that would be needed on Iraq’s borders. Newly developed X-ray scanning machines are now available that can quickly inspect trucks and containers for contraband.22 The smart border concept also employs an electronic pass system of the kind being used on toll bridges and tunnels in the United States. A machine-readable electronic pass and automated detection system would enable approved vehicles to pass quickly without inspection. If such a system were installed on Iraq’s borders, passes could be issued to humanitarian agencies and other trusted suppliers of civilian goods financed through the UN escrow account. Those with electronic passes would proceed without stopping, while others would be required to stop for inspection or pass through the X-ray detection equipment.

Technology alone will not do the job. Enhanced border monitoring will also require the deployment of UN-approved international monitoring experts to work alongside officials from host countries. These international customs officials would help host countries in maintaining and operating the detection equipment and upgrading customs controls. A model for such a system can be found in the Sanctions Assistance Missions that were established by European nations during the UN sanctions in Yugoslavia from 1993 through 1995. Such customs assistance missions would substantially upgrade and improve border-monitoring capabilities in the countries neighboring Iraq.

When combined with continued military sanctions and revenue controls, the proposed border control system could preserve the containment of Iraq and help to prevent the redevelopment of weapons of mass destruction. No monitoring program can prevent smuggling entirely, but the proposed system could make illegal shipments more difficult.

The economic costs of the proposed system could be paid through the UN escrow account, as part of the budget for UN operations in Iraq. In addition, the United States could provide financial support and technical assistance to frontline states to help them offset the costs of monitoring equipment and additional customs staffing. But the greatest obstacles to creating an effective border monitoring system are not financial or technical but political.

Persuading frontline states to cooperate with the proposed monitoring mechanisms will require diplomatic bargaining. The United States and other major powers must be ready to offer substantial economic incentives and political assurances to Jordan, Syria, and other states in the region. This will be necessary in part to parry Iraq’s attempts to undermine the proposed border monitoring system. When the Security Council considered the British-U.S. proposal for revamping sanctions in May 2001, for example, Iraq warned neighboring countries that “compliance with this plan by any state or government would cause grievous harm to its interests.”23 If Baghdad were to cut off oil supplies or trade with Jordan or Syria, the local economic impacts would be enormous. The United States and its partners must be ready to counteract such pressures by providing assurances of economic assistance and political support in the event of hostile moves by Iraq.

To win support for enhanced containment, the United States should be prepared to improve political relations with countries in the region previously considered inimical. Among the diplomatic steps the United States might consider would be removing Syria from the list of states supporting terrorism. This would be a powerful inducement for gaining Syrian cooperation, which would be critical for controlling oil exports and limiting illegal payments to Baghdad. Washington might also consider dropping Iran from the “axis of evil” and adopting new political initiatives to build political and military cooperation with Tehran. Establishing new political partnerships with countries in the region will be essential to creating a cooperative border monitoring system that can prevent Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction.

Russian political support is also essential if the enhanced military containment of Iraq is to be successful. Russia has been implicated in past weapons-smuggling incidents in Iraq and has supported Iraq politically in the Security Council. Russia is in the midst of a major political realignment toward the West, however, and realizes that it has more to gain from cooperation with Washington than from its ties to Baghdad. Moscow and Washington are now cooperating across a broad range of international security issues and should be able to build upon this emerging partnership to forge a joint approach to the containment of Iraq.


Those committed only to a military solution and regime change in Iraq may consider a strategy of inspections bolstered by enhanced border control as too conciliatory, as “soft on Saddam.” In fact, the proposals outlined here call for an increase in international pressure on the Iraqi government. Continuing revenue controls, intensive diplomatic efforts to resume weapons inspections, and the creation of an enhanced containment system through strengthened border monitoring—these are the elements of a credible, coercive policy.

It is impossible to know what precise mix of carrots and sticks will prompt the Iraqi leadership to permit the re-entry of inspectors. Should the push to restart weapons inspections fail, or should Iraq obstruct the inspectors once they begin their work, the United States and the Security Council could adopt additional coercive measures. If Iraqi obstruction or aggressive action becomes egregious, the Security Council might choose to reiterate previous language authorizing “all necessary means” for achieving UN objectives.

The proposals outlined here present viable strategies for the continued denial of Iraq’s weapons ambitions, while offering the prospect of greater regional cooperation and stability. They offer realistic alternatives to the military scenarios currently being discussed in Washington. In light of the dangers and uncertainties associated with what could be a large-scale and destructive war in the region, the nonmilitary options outlined here deserve immediate and thorough consideration.

1. Patrick E. Tyler, “Europeans Split With U.S. on Need for Iraq Attack, Citing Mideast as Priority,” The New York Times, July 22, 2002, p. A5.
2. Todd S. Purdum, “Bush Team Is Divided Over Getting Tougher With Saudis,” The New York Times, August 12, 2002, p. A7; John F. Burns, “Kurds, Secure in North Iraq Zone, Are Wary About a U.S. Offensive,” The New York Times, July 8, 2002, p. A1.
3. Thomas E. Ricks, “Some Top Military Brass Favor Status Quo in Iraq; Containment Seen Less Risky Than Attack,” The Washington Post, July 28, 2002, p. A1; Brent Scowcroft, “Don’t Attack Saddam,” The Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2002, p. A12.
4. David Albright and Khidhir Hamza, “Iraq’s Reconstitution of Its Nuclear Program,” Arms Control Today, October 1998, p. 11.
5. “Report of the First Panel Established Pursuant to the Note by the President of the Security Council on 30 January 1999 (S/1999/100) Concerning Disarmament and Current Ongoing Monitoring and Verification Issues,” United Nations document S/1999/356, March 30, 1999.
6. Ibid.
7. Scott Ritter, “The Case for Iraq’s Qualitative Disarmament,” Arms Control Today, June 2000, p. 8.
8. Meghan L. O’Sullivan, “Iraq: Time for a Modified Approach,” Policy Brief 71, The Brookings Institution, February 2001, p. 4.
9. General Accounting Office, “Weapons of Mass Destruction: UN Confronts Significant Challenges in Implementing Sanctions Against Iraq,” May 2002, p. 14.
10. Jean E. Krasno and James S. Sutterlin, The United Nations and Iraq: Defanging the Viper, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, forthcoming).
11. “Letter Dated 25 January 1999 from the Executive Chairman of the Special Commission established by the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 9(b)(i) of Security Council resolution 687 (1991) addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations document S/1999/94, January 29, 1999.
12. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Proliferation: Threat and Response,” January 2001, p. 40.
13. Robert Einhorn, “The Emerging Bush Administration Approach to Addressing Iraq’s WMD and Missile Programs,” Keynote address at “Understanding the Lessons of Nuclear Inspections and Monitoring in Iraq: A Ten-Year Review,” conference sponsored by the Institute for Science and International Security, Washington, D.C., June 2001.
14. Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Great Terror,” The New Yorker, March 25, 2002, p. 75.
15. General Accounting Office, “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” p. 7.
16. Raad Alkadiri, “The Iraqi Klondike,” Middle East Report, Fall 2001.
17. Interview with Rolf Ekeus, “Shifting Priorities: UNMOVIC and the Future of Inspections in Iraq,” Arms Control Today, March 2000, p. 5.
18. Barbara Crossette, “For Iraq: A Doghouse with Many Rooms,” The New York Times, November 23, 1997, p. A4.
19. Press conference in Crawford, Texas, April 6, 2002; ABC News This Week, May 5, 2002.
20. Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, “Draft Resolution on Iraq,” June 26, 2001.
21. David Albright and Kevin O’Neill, “The Iraqi Maze: Searching for a Way Out,” The Nonproliferation Review, Fall/Winter 2001, p. 10.
22. Elisabeth Bumiller, “White House Announces Security Pact With Mexico,” The New York Times, March 22, 2002, p. A18.
23. Alex Wagner, “U.K., Russia Issue Draft Proposals to Revamp Iraqi Sanctions Regime,” Arms Control Today, June 2001, p. 22.

David Cortright is president of the Fourth Freedom Forum. George A. Lopez is director of policy studies and senior fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame.


The Inevitable Failure of Inspections in Iraq

Charles Duelfer

The United States is currently in the throes of a public debate over using military force to accomplish regime change in Iraq because of the threat Saddam Hussein could pose with weapons of mass destruction. The risks of a military invasion are serious, and some analysts are suggesting that the Bush administration instead pursue the return of United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq. Although this course of action would not achieve regime change, proponents argue that it would succeed in disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and it would do so at a far lower cost.

Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the experience of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 1991 to 1998, any weapons inspectors sent into Iraq under the ground rules of the existing UN Security Council resolutions and the existing Iraqi regime are doomed to fail. The only uncertainties are how long they will last, whether they will inhibit Iraq’s programs at all, and what role their presence will have in the overarching politics surrounding their almost inconsequential presence. Although inspectors accomplished much during their time in Iraq, their successes were temporary. The categorical goals established by the Security Council were not achievable at a price either the council or Iraq was willing to pay. It turned out that the permanent disarmament goals imposed on Iraq were out of proportion with the inspectors’ tools and the rewards and punishments the Security Council could practically impose. The result was a political and military muddle with the inspectors caught in the middle.

The Security Council passed Resolution 687 as part of the cease-fire arrangements ending the Persian Gulf War. The resolution, among other things, required Iraq to rid itself permanently and unconditionally of all nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons capabilities and allow inspectors full access to verify and monitor compliance forever. Resolution 687 also created a positive incentive for Iraqi compliance by linking a decision to lift sanctions with Iraq’s fulfillment of the disarmament provisions. The potential for negative reinforcement was implicit in the fact that the resolution was passed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, meaning that military force could be used to enforce compliance.

The role of the inspectors was intended to be straightforward. The burden of proof was placed explicitly on Iraq: Baghdad was obligated to make full declarations about its weapons programs and accept monitoring and verification activity as determined necessary by UNSCOM and the IAEA. The UN inspectors were obligated to verify the Iraqi declarations and report their evaluations to the Security Council, which would then make decisions on sanctions. The inspectors were not intended to answer, What illicit capability does Iraq have left? In principle, their job was strictly to verify that Iraq had fully declared and accounted for its weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq’s obligations were clear; the incentives for cooperation were sizable; and the job of the inspectors in the process was simple—on paper. Unfortunately, in reality the inspectors’ job proved to be anything but. The dynamics between Iraq and the Security Council, with the weapons inspectors in between, proved inconsistent with the objective of forcing Iraqi disarmament.

The UN Was Hesitant to Use Force

Immediately after inspectors arrived in Iraq, Baghdad began a pattern of only partially complying with Resolution 687 and testing the will of UNSCOM, the IAEA, and the Security Council. The response was tepid enough to convince Iraq that it could obstruct inspections without triggering a military response.

The first instance of noncompliance occurred in June 1991—the very month inspectors began work in Iraq—when IAEA inspectors were blocked in an effort to get access to calutrons Iraq was concealing. In the aftermath of this blocked inspection, the Security Council dispatched UNSCOM Executive Chairman Rolf Ekeus and IAEA Director-General Hans Blix to Baghdad to seek Iraqi agreement to comply. Subsequent discussion in the council yielded the strongly worded Resolution 707, which strengthened the mandated authorities of the UNSCOM and the IAEA and explicitly laid out the obligations of Iraq and the rights of UN inspectors.

Specifically, the resolution noted that Iraq had failed to comply on many scores by concealing activities, not providing access, and not making full disclosures as required. The resolution stated that Iraq’s failures put it in “material breach of its acceptance of the relevant provisions of resolution 687 which established a cease-fire and provided the conditions essential to the restoration of peace and security in the region.” The implication of this language was that if Iraq was in violation of its obligations of the cease-fire resolution, then military operations against Iraq might be resumed.

On the one hand, this was the high-water mark for the council in its collective demands on Iraq to comply. However, what Baghdad saw in this episode was the Security Council’s lack of will to recommence military action—it had blocked inspectors and only been sanctioned with words. No enforcement action had been taken. Moreover, it was quite apparent that U.S. forces in the region were being withdrawn. Demobilization of the Desert Storm buildup was proceeding even in light of Baghdad’s violent suppression of uprisings in the north and south of Iraq.

Thus it became clear to Baghdad early on that the risk of noncompliance was limited. The council was not going to invade Iraq to secure compliance with the disarmament goals, so there was no risk to the regime directly resulting from defiance of UN resolutions. Hence, the circumstances and elements of Resolution 707 were an early indication of an inherent flaw in the dynamic between the Security Council, Iraq, and the inspectors.

In fact, only two military attacks were ever conducted in support of inspection work. In January 1993, a very limited bombing raid by U.S., British, and French planes was conducted in response to Baghdad’s refusal to permit UNSCOM aircraft to fly into Iraq. The second attack was the December 1998 bombing by the United States and the United Kingdom called Desert Fox, which was carefully limited to four days.

Inspectors Were Undermined

The Security Council resolutions intentionally placed the inspectors in a position superior to Iraq. The Iraqis had to make their case to the inspectors, and the inspectors would report to the council. But in practice, Iraq worked to change this dynamic by appealing directly to sympathetic council members and the secretary-general. Moreover, the inspectors’ power over Iraq was derived from its relationship with the Security Council, so to the extent that Iraq could put distance between the council and the inspectors, the inspectors’ authority and ability to enforce Iraqi compliance was degraded.

Iraq decided moment by moment how fully it would comply with inspectors, and with each case of obstruction the inspectors had to make a decision as to whether they should report it to the Security Council. For example, if inspectors did not receive required biannual forms on the consumption of chlorine at a water purification facility, should they complain to the Security Council? Should an UNSCOM inspector report to New York headquarters if Iraqis at an inspection site said that they did not have a key for a certain room?

It quickly became clear that the Security Council could not be involved in issues other than major breaches, and Iraq learned that small offenses would not be punished. Simply put, would the council want to go to war because some scruffy, arrogant inspector could not get into a building that might be empty and that Iraq said was important to its national sovereignty and dignity? Clearly not. Baghdad developed a good sense of how to limit access rights incrementally in ways to which the council could not respond proportionately. It learned to keep its obstruction below the threshold that would trigger a response from the council.

Furthermore, Iraq worked incessantly to erode the credibility and position of the inspectors, so that when they did complain to the Security Council, their claims were challenged. Iraq accomplished this by accusing the inspectors of malfeasance and threatening to end all cooperation with the council—a problem epitomized by the 1997-1998 controversy over inspectors’ rights of access to sites Iraq claimed were sensitive or special.

UNSCOM was convinced that decisions about weapons of mass destruction were taken at the presidential level and therefore that corresponding documentation would be in presidential areas. But when inspectors attempted to access locations such as the presidential secretary’s office, Iraq blocked them and trivialized their goals by mockingly arguing to the council and the public that Saddam Hussein would not put weapons of mass destruction in his offices. Moreover, Iraq attacked the inspectors’ motives, claiming that they were serving the interests of only one council member, the United States, in its well-known objective of overthrowing the regime.

Such tactics eventually paid off. The UN secretary-general intervened to resolve the matter, thus shifting the power dynamic between the inspectors and Baghdad and radically undermining UNSCOM’s position. By agreeing to mediate the dispute, the secretary-general effectively made the Iraqis and the inspectors equals in presenting their cases before the Security Council. The secretary-general undertook to review the work of UNSCOM independently and discussed the possibility of conducting a “comprehensive review” that would allow outside evaluation of the questions of Iraqi compliance.
The implication, of course, was that the secretary-general did not trust that the inspectors were doing their jobs properly, and because the inspector’s power flowed from the UN, his intervention radically diminished the inspectors’ ability to force Iraqi compliance.

Weapons Were Vital to Iraq

Inherent in the design of Resolution 687 was the assumption that Iraq would value the ability to export oil and engage in normal commerce more than it valued weapons of mass destruction capability—an assumption that turned out to be dead wrong. Discussions with senior Iraqi officials eventually revealed the enormous importance the regime attached to these weapons.

For the regime, possession of weapons of mass destruction was an existential issue. Deputy Prime Minster Tariq Aziz, among others, pointed out that, during the Iran-Iraq war, hitting cities deep in Iran with long-range missiles and countering of human wave attacks (particularly in the battle for al Fao) with massive use of chemical weapons saved Iraq. Moreover, Baghdad believes that its possession of biological and chemical weapons during the 1991 Gulf War helped deter the United States from marching on Baghdad. Thus, the regime has two experiences in which it feels its very survival was linked to possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Nothing in the UN resolutions changed that judgment by Iraq. If anything, the lesson Baghdad learned from the Gulf War is that such weapons—especially nuclear weapons—are even more important than they had thought. Senior Iraqis privately acknowledged that it had been a mistake to invade Kuwait before completing a nuclear weapon. They are convinced the outcome of the war would have been radically different if Washington had had to consider an Iraqi nuclear capability. Certainly, Saddam Hussein understands that today’s debate about invading Iraq to effect regime change would not be taking place if Baghdad could threaten to hit U.S. forces or Israel with a nuclear weapon.

Unfettered Access Was a Myth

The phrase “immediate, unrestricted, and unconditional access” is oft repeated in Security Council language and sounds potent in the Security Council chambers in New York City. Implementing such access is another story. Practical measures taken to carry out inspection activity inevitably warned Iraq of what was coming, and the necessary compromise gave Iraq an advantage.

For example, Resolution 707 clearly states UN aircraft may fly anywhere and land anywhere. But this does not mean that inspectors can simply load up a plane, fly into Iraq, and land unannounced at some airport near a site designated for inspection. Iraq has, with good cause, an active air defense system. UNSCOM therefore had to establish procedures for notifying Iraq of UN flights over its territory to ensure they would not be shot down, but by doing so they gave Iraq advance warning of inspections. (Such procedures also applied to the U-2 surveillance aircraft flown by the United States on behalf of the UN.)

Such compromises marked all steps of inspection work and were a never-ending source of friction between the inspectors and the Iraqi government. The result of the pragmatic measures taken to conduct inspections was that Iraq was given advance warning.

Resources Were Mismatched

It is obvious but worth remembering that Iraq had the resources of a relatively wealthy nation-state to deploy in its efforts to obstruct inspections and that there was no higher priority for the government of Iraq, with the exception of protecting the president. By contrast, the inspection staff numbered a couple of hundred people who operated in the context of an international organization that valued transparency.

Iraq has one of the world’s most elaborate security and intelligence establishments, which it used to study inspector activities in detail and to monitor and contain the inspectors. For example, Iraq could observe the movement of inspectors from their offices and radio ahead to sites in the direction of their travel. Locations containing prohibited weapons or involved in illicit activity would be certain to have some amount of warning, which personnel could use to protect sensitive material. Locations distant from Baghdad could be secure in the knowledge that they would have significant warning times while inspectors traveled. Thus, the pragmatic compromises that UNSCOM had to make, as mentioned above, were compounded by Iraq’s effective use of its considerable resources.

From discussions with Iraqis no longer in Iraq, but who were involved in countering the inspectors, it is clear that Iraq developed a solid understanding of the entire system of inspection activity and worked to exploit every possible window into it. Techniques included paying individuals to provide information, seeking information from cooperative governments, keeping close surveillance on inspectors in Iraq and elsewhere, intercepting communications, and so on. Inspectors tried various methods to elude or deceive such efforts, but as a last resort Iraq always had the option of blocking access and therefore preserving ambiguity about what was going on at a site selected for inspection. The net result was that, although UNSCOM conducted hundreds of “no notice” inspections, perhaps a handful were truly surprise inspections.

The Council Was Divided

The members of the Security Council have different interests and priorities, and Iraq was able play one off against the other to weaken the inspection regime. The UN inspectors were placed between a dedicated, unitary actor on the one hand (Iraq) and a coalition of countries on the other (the Security Council). Over time, the incentives, agendas, and priorities of the countries on the council naturally shifted. Those of Iraq, especially with regard to matters it considered vital, such as its weapons programs, remained more constant. Hence, time has tended to favor the dedicated, unitary actor.

Baghdad has enormous potential rewards to disperse in support of its objectives, and it uses them accordingly, creating economic incentives for council members to lift sanctions. For example, Russia has an agreement to develop the large western Qurnah oil fields—contingent upon the lifting of sanctions. Iraq also dispenses its oil-for-food contracts with a close eye to who supports it in the council. When France supported the United States in revising the sanctions in 2001, it subsequently received far fewer contracts. With similar acumen, Iraq has succeeded in getting its neighbors to engage in the lucrative business of smuggling oil and other prohibited activities.

In a like fashion, Baghdad has disrupted the coalition by demonstrating that its ability to absorb pain is greater than the Security Council’s willingness to inflict it. Sanctions on Iraq have greatly hurt its civilian population (though not, of course, its leadership). Up until the end of the UNSCOM and IAEA presence in Iraq in 1998, the council was confronted with, on the one hand, UN reports on the devastating effect of sanctions on children and other innocents, and on the other, inspector reports that Iraq had not yet fully complied with disarmament. Members reasonably asked how much work UNSCOM had left and whether it was worth sustaining punishment of civilians. Were people suffering because of some insignificant outstanding issues? Iraq had been claiming for years that it had complied with Resolution 687; was it possible that the inspectors were wrong? The burden of proof, which was so central to the inspection process, was thus shifted from Iraq to the inspectors.

Using sanctions to enforce disarmament allowed a regime such as Saddam Hussein’s to take its own population hostage. The situation is not unlike a plane hijacker shooting one passenger every 15 minutes until he is allowed to take off. Under such circumstances, a dedicated individual actor can outlast a collective. By eroding the will of the United Nations—and even the Security Council—to enforce strictly the constraints on Iraq, Baghdad was able to isolate the inspectors, leaving them in a very lonely position when confronting obstructions on the ground.

Politics Trumped Science

The inspection regime was further weakened by the placement of the inspectors—particularly the executive chairman of UNSCOM and the director-general of the IAEA—at the junction of technical and political worlds. At the technical level, inspectors could be fairly categorical and analytical in their assessments. The closer one got to the Security Council, however, the more political and technical issues were mixed. Pressures from all sides were a major factor in the inspectors’ work, and objective reports and judgments became, in practice, impossible.

An example took place in the spring of 1995. At that time, Iraq was relentlessly demanding that the council remove the oil embargo because Baghdad said that it had complied fully with inspections and that UNSCOM and the IAEA had even finished putting monitoring systems in place. Iraq explicitly demanded that either the Security Council act on the embargo or it would quit cooperating. At the same time, some members of the council had begun asking UNSCOM how much more remained to be done. The French actually proposed that Ekeus report to the council on a monthly basis to assure it that progress was being made.

However, UNSCOM experts remained concerned about a number of issues such as whether Iraq produced the chemical agent VX, whether all missiles were accounted for, and whether there was an offensive biological weapons program. Indeed, in February 1995 UNSCOM had for the first time interviewed a defector who credibly reported that Iraq maintained material in all prohibited areas. Most obviously troubling were biological weapons, which Baghdad denied, often ludicrously, having ever produced despite enormous evidence to the contrary.

In May, Iraq informed Ekeus that, if he gave a positive report to the Security Council in June concerning Iraq’s fulfillment of disarmament in the chemical and missile areas, then it would satisfy him on his concerns about offensive biological weapons programs. Ekeus recognized that council support was weakening and took a decision to straddle all the technical doubts about Iraqi compliance. His report skipped over some of UNSCOM experts’ concerns in the missile and chemical areas. Tariq Aziz found this satisfactory and invited Ekeus to Baghdad where he made a very limited admission, saying that Iraq had had a modest offensive biological weapons program which had produced some agent but that the agents had never been weaponized and had been destroyed before the war.

This admission was demonstrated to be grossly inadequate three weeks later, when Saddam’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, defected to Jordan. He had been in charge of all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, and in the aftermath of his defection Baghdad admitted that its previous declarations were wrong and that illicit activities in all areas had been going on—and in fact were still going on—while UNSCOM had been monitoring the country. For example, Iraq had continued to procure material in support of long-range missile development, and it had even conducted surface-to-surface missile tests without UNSCOM monitors being aware.


Weapons of mass destruction apparently have fundamental importance to Baghdad, and the inability of the Security Council to sustain an equivalent threat to impose its will permanently makes long-term prospects for renewed inspections bleak. Baghdad may agree to a return of inspectors in the face of a military threat to remove the regime. But the practical cost of keeping such a military threat in place is huge, and as time goes on Iraq can be expected to apply all the same tactics discussed above for dividing the council and eroding the effectiveness of inspectors.

In December 1999, the Security Council passed Resolution 1284, following a year-long debate over Iraq in the aftermath of Operation Desert Fox and the departure of inspectors. The resolution reaffirms the disarmament goals set forth in all preceding resolutions, and as such the basic dynamics between the council, Iraq, and the inspectors are the same. The resolution creates a new inspector organization, called UNMOVIC, to replace UNSCOM, but the fundamental relationship problems that existed before remain.

Any decision to recommence inspections should therefore be part of a broader political or security strategy that would use inspectors to contain Iraq temporarily. Should such a course be taken, the near-term effectiveness of a reimposed inspection system could be greatly enhanced in a few ways.

First, inspectors should be mandated to interview the few hundred key scientists, engineers, and technicians who were involved in the previous weapons of mass destruction efforts and have them account for their activities since December 1998. The UN knows who these individuals are. If, as is suspected, Iraq has been continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction, some or most of these people will have been involved.

Second, the conditions for such interviews must be changed. Iraqi government observers must not be present. The previous UNSCOM agreement to the presence of such “minders” was a mistake. The fact that junior workers would shake with fear at the prospect of answering a question in a way inconsistent with government direction made this obvious.

Third, and most important, the UN should offer sanctuary or safe haven to those who find it a condition for speaking the truth. The people are key to these programs. Access to the people under conditions where they could speak freely was not something UNSCOM ever achieved except in the rare instances of defection. I often summarized this problem to Washington by suggesting that, if UNSCOM had 100 green cards to distribute during inspections, it could have quickly accounted for the weapons programs.

Yet, even by expanding the inspection system’s abilities beyond that presently envisioned, the long-term problem is the regime. Is it realistic to think that, if Iraq cooperated and maybe even complied to the satisfaction of the inspectors, the Security Council would return full control of all Iraqi oil revenues to Baghdad? Is it realistic to think that Baghdad would then still continue to comply and permanently give full access to inspectors? Is it realistic to think that the Security Council would be able to sustain the will to impose drastic penalties if Iraq proceeded to limit inspector access gradually or even tossed the inspectors out altogether? No. Setting down this path yet again would be an exercise in political delusion. Moreover, given the political advantages that Baghdad would gain from making temporary concessions, reinstalling inspectors would actually be counterproductive in the long term for our nonproliferation goals.

On the other hand, if Iraqis got the opportunity to create a new government in Baghdad, then much would be possible. Not only might it be possible to lift sanctions, but Iraq’s disarmament could also remove pressures that other actors in the region feel to develop weapons of mass destruction. To date, the lesson of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction is that they helped the regime survive; and regional states, such as Iran, have taken note. Long-term prospects for diminishing the spreading biological, chemical, and nuclear threat will only be reduced when the fundamental problem—the management in Baghdad—is changed. Moreover, quite apart from issues of disarmament, the enormous potential of the Iraqi people will never be achieved under Saddam Hussein’s regime. Narrowly defining the solution to the Iraq problem as the reinsertion of inspectors misses the larger and longer-term problem.

Iraq will likely engage in further dialogue with the United Nations on the possibility of allowing inspectors to return if the United States continues to move toward using force to support a policy of regime change. But sending inspectors back into Iraq would be nothing more than a tactical decision that is part of a political and military strategy to address issues far beyond disarmament.

Charles Duelfer is a visiting resident scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. From 1993 to 2000 he served as the deputy executive chairman of UNSCOM.


The Task of Disarming Iraq

Daryl G. Kimball

Despite the overall success of the global nonproliferation regime, a small number of nuclear and non-nuclear states threaten to undermine the norm against the development, possession, and use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The record of Iraq is particularly troublesome, and it remains vital that the United States and the international community firmly, appropriately, and effectively respond to Baghdad’s proliferation behavior.

Prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein violated the rules established by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In the decade since, he has resisted United Nations Security Council mandates to allow weapons inspectors to dismantle Iraq’s proscribed weapons and missile capabilities.

Despite Iraq’s failure to cooperate and the gradual erosion of Security Council consensus on inspections, the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) from 1991 to 1998 succeeded in ridding Iraq of most of its WMD capabilities and stockpiles. It has been four years since UN weapons inspectors operated in Iraq, however, and it is now difficult to assess Iraq’s capabilities with precision. It is therefore prudent to assume that Iraq has or will soon have biological and chemical weapons and that it may, within a matter of years, acquire nuclear weapons.

It is vital that the response to Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction reinforce the rule of law and the norm against WMD everywhere. The necessary, though difficult, next step is for the United States to secure the Security Council’s reaffirmation and Iraq’s acceptance of a UN inspections regime under new, more effective rules.

Upon arriving in office, President George W. Bush supported the readmission of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. More recently, top-level Bush administration officials argue that UN inspections are bound to fail and that nothing short of a pre-emptive military invasion and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein will suffice.

Such an approach risks greater instability in the Middle East and would require a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq. It would also increase the likelihood that Iraq might use weapons of mass destruction to lash out at its neighbors and the invading force. This scenario could provoke Israel to launch a pre-emptory or retaliatory strike against Iraq, possibly involving nuclear weapons. The cure could be worse than the disease.

Furthermore, pre-emptive military action—particularly in the absence of Security Council backing—would reinforce the perception and the growing reality of the Bush administration’s arrogant and unilateralist approach to foreign affairs. Worse still, asserting a world order based on U.S. interests and military primacy would undermine the international security principles and institutions the United States has long sought to uphold.

A successful policy toward Iraq begins with winning consensus from the five permanent Security Council members for a new resolution that fortifies Resolutions 1284 and 687 by calling on Iraq to admit the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). The resolution should authorize unconditional access by UNMOVIC to inspect and dismantle Iraq’s WMD capabilities and use of appropriate and necessary means by Security Council members to enforce its activities.

Gaining Iraq’s acceptance of the current or a fortified inspectorate will not be easy. Washington must focus diplomatic pressure on France, Russia, and China, who can help persuade Saddam to readmit the inspectors. Given the choice of supporting nonproliferation norms or allowing a rogue state to defy the Security Council and risk U.S. military action, President Bush should be able to win Security Council support. Iraq must also be convinced that its cooperation and compliance with no-notice, intrusive inspections on an indefinite basis would protect it from invasion. If a unified Security Council tries and fails to persuade Iraq to submit to new inspections, the United States would be in a far better position to pursue UN authority for military enforcement of UN resolutions.

Given what UNSCOM and Western intelligence sources have learned about Iraqi weapons programs, new inspections of suspicious sites are likely to reveal important evidence of any ongoing WMD-related activities. What if UNMOVIC and the Security Council determine that Iraq is effectively blocking the implementation of the inspectors’ work or that it continues to develop prohibited weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them? The new Security Council resolution should make it clear that the cost of Iraqi noncooperation outweighs that of cooperation.

Complete and verified elimination of Iraq’s WMD programs, as called for in Resolution 687, is probably unattainable without full Iraqi cooperation, which is unlikely. But, if the inspection effort is focused on, and measured by, its contribution to the more fundamental objective of preventing Iraq from developing or using weapons of mass destruction, it will have made an enormous contribution to international peace and security.

Despite the overall success of the global nonproliferation regime, a small number of nuclear and non-nuclear states threaten to undermine the norm against the development, possession...

UN Security Council Overhauls Iraqi Sanctions Regime

June 2002

By Alex Wagner

More than a year after it set out to revitalize the Iraqi sanctions regime, the United States won unanimous approval from the UN Security Council for a resolution that effectively lifts the international embargo on civilian trade with Iraq. The council’s 15-0 vote on May 14 came as the United Nations and Baghdad appear to be making progress on talks that would result in the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq.

The adoption of what Secretary of State Colin Powell has touted as “smart sanctions” removes UN export controls on purely civilian goods, allowing Iraq to import any nonmilitary item through a streamlined UN review process. Under the old regime, Iraq could import food items and certain infrastructure, health, and agricultural materials but was effectively prevented from importing most other civilian cargo.

Contracts with military applications will still be barred, and items delineated on a “Goods Review List” that have both civilian and military uses will require additional scrutiny before Iraq can import them. Two inspection bodies, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), are charged with examining all contracts that incorporate items on the Goods Review List.

Through the resolution, the Security Council also extended for another six months the oil-for-food program, under which Baghdad’s oil-sale revenues are placed into a UN-controlled escrow account that funds all of Iraq’s purchases.

The Bush administration began planning last year to revise the sanctions on Iraq, believing that the now-11-year-old regime was not effective and wanting to respond to international criticism that sanctions—not the policies of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein—were responsible for the humanitarian problems of the Iraqi people.

In May 2001, the United States and United Kingdom issued a draft proposal to reinvigorate the regime. In addition to lifting the civilian embargo and implementing a Goods Review List, the administration had wanted to tighten restrictions on Iraqi oil customers and designate permitted border crossings into Iraq to prevent Baghdad from illegally exporting oil to pay for imported, proscribed weapons and technology.

However, Washington and London apparently dropped their efforts to stem smuggling because of stiff opposition from Iraq’s neighbors, who profit from the illicit trade. As a result, the Security Council only approved a draft Goods Review List in late November 2001. Since then, U.S. and Russian diplomats have negotiated minor revisions to the list.

Because the new resolution eliminates nearly all the red tape that had held up Iraq’s import of some civilian goods, Washington views the new resolution as a public relations coup. During a May 14 interview with Washington File, Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John Wolf said, “These changes will further highlight that the situation of the Iraqi people is due to the [Iraqi] regime’s subversion of the UN system intended to provide for their well being. With this simple process for civilian goods in place, there can be no excuse for evasion of the focused controls aimed at preventing the Iraqi regime’s rearmament.”

Speaking to reporters May 14, Powell called the vote “a major achievement.” That same day, U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte noted that unanimous approval of the resolution was a “significant accomplishment, both politically and technically.”

Unsurprisingly, Iraq was critical of the Security Council’s action because it did not remove all sanctions, but Baghdad agreed on May 16 to accept the new arrangement. In a May 16 address carried over state-run television, Hussein blasted the move, saying it sought to forestall “Iraq’s awakening and effort to develop its scientific and technical resources.”

Although the United States remains committed to eventually disposing of the Hussein regime to neutralize the perceived Iraqi threat, the Bush administration continues to support an ongoing Iraq-UN dialogue to discuss the readmission of UN weapons inspectors into Iraq.

A second round of talks between the UN and Iraq concluded without agreement on May 3, but UN Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed hope that an upcoming third round would produce a deal.

Under the terms of the 1991 Persian Gulf War ceasefire, Iraq agreed to allow unfettered, comprehensive weapons inspections. Iraq’s subsequent resistance to inspections led to the removal of inspectors just prior to a U.S.-led bombing campaign in December 1998. For some time, senior Bush administration officials have expressed concern that Iraq has been actively rearming since inspectors left the country.

Speaking to the press May 3, Annan described the three days of talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri as “useful and frank,” emphasizing, “We did move forward.” Sabri echoed Annan’s characterization, saying the talks were “useful, frank, and focused.”

Annan also said that for the first time since inspectors left Iraq, the two sides held “thorough” disarmament discussions that focused on the technicalities of resuming inspections. UNMOVIC chairman Hans Blix participated in the first round of talks in March and was joined by IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei for the most recent session. (See ACT, April 2002.) At a May 3 press briefing, ElBaradei and Blix both estimated inspections would last about one year with full Iraqi cooperation.

A UN official said that the talks yielded “no breakthroughs” but noted that the focus on disarmament was “a positive sign.” The Iraqi delegation had wanted to raise additional topics such as the no-fly zones over Iraq and the lifting of sanctions, but Annan refused to discuss these subjects, the official said.

Iraq’s delegation will now report back to Baghdad and confer with Iraq’s leadership, while the UN awaits an answer as to whether Iraq will permit a return of inspectors. The UN and Iraq are scheduled to resume discussions in early July. The UN official said that the two sides might hold the next meeting in Vienna and that Annan is unlikely to agree to any additional rounds of talks.

UN Security Council Overhauls Iraqi Sanctions Regime

UN Talks With Iraq Fail to Yield Progress on Weapons Inspections

Alex Wagner

Marking his first high-level discussions with Baghdad since May 2001, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Iraqi representatives March 7 in New York but was unable to persuade them to permit the return of international weapons inspectors.

Although the talks produced no progress on Iraq’s refusal to readmit inspectors, in violation of Security Council resolutions and the terms of the 1991 Persian Gulf War cease-fire, Annan remained positive, calling the talks “a good start.” Speaking after briefing the Security Council March 8, Annan said he had continued to demand no conditions on inspections and unimpeded access to suspected Iraqi weapons sites.

After the March 7 meeting, Annan’s spokesman, Fred Ekhart, described the dialogue as “frank and useful.” According to another UN official, the “cordial” atmosphere of the talks was decidedly different than previous discussions, due largely to the personal style of Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, who led the Iraqi delegation. The official said that, although Sabri did not accept the terms of UN Resolution 1284, he did not reject them either.

Resolution 1284, passed in December 1999, created the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and charged it with completing Iraq’s disarmament. UNMOVIC succeeded the now-defunct UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), which was withdrawn from Iraq in late 1998 prior to U.S.-led air strikes.

Although apparently willing to allow some sort of inspections to resume, Iraq has reportedly demanded prenotification of inspection times and sites, as well as a predetermined timetable for how long inspections can continue—conditions that the United States considers unacceptable.

Perhaps most noteworthy about the dialogue was the willingness of the Iraqi delegation, which included Baghdad’s international weapons inspection liaison, Major General Hussan Amin, to meet for the first time with UNMOVIC chairman Hans Blix. In his March 8 remarks, Annan termed the presence of Blix and Amin “significant,” calling it “an indication” that Iraq is “taking this issue seriously.”

James Cunningham, U.S. deputy ambassador to the UN, was more pessimistic about the meeting, telling reporters that the secretary-general “did not get a positive response from the Iraqis.” Cunningham, however, commended Annan for keeping the focus “where it should be, properly,” that is, on implementation of Security Council resolutions as opposed to Iraq’s grievances with the 11-year sanctions regime.

Annan will meet again with Sabri in New York on April 18 and 19.

U.S. Intentions

The UN meeting came as Vice President Richard Cheney traveled to Middle East capitals in a quest to gauge support for U.S. military intervention against Iraq, but in a March 11 interview on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice stressed that Cheney was not seeking to warn U.S. friends and allies in the region about an impending attack.

Some analysts have suggested that the U.S. push for inspections, which it believes Iraq will reject, is being carried out simply to force a showdown that would facilitate military action. Washington, in making its case for regime change, has repeatedly emphasized the threat that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein poses to the world and to his own people. At a March 13 press conference, President George W. Bush said that “all options are on the table” regarding action in Iraq, calling Hussein “a problem” his administration was “going to deal with.”

Although he acknowledged that the Bush administration has “made very clear” that “the region would be better off with a different regime in Baghdad,” Cunningham disputed suggestions that the United States considered the UN dialogue with Iraq merely “a sideshow.”

Russia has taken issue with the “personalization” of the U.S. approach to Iraq. In a March 17 interview on Meet the Press, Russian Defense Minister Sergi Ivanov said that “the problem is not with Saddam Hussein…[but] with weapons of mass destruction.” When asked if Moscow would support a military operation to change the Iraqi regime, Ivanov said only that he hoped the United States would inform Russia if it made such a decision.

Bush Labels North Korea, Iran, Iraq an 'Axis of Evil'

Alex Wagner

Apparently attempting to increase international pressure on “rogue states” that could use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or provide them to terrorists, President George W. Bush characterized North Korea, Iran, and Iraq as “an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world,” in his January 29 State of the Union address.

Although he provided no new information about the activities of these countries, Bush stated that his administration would act to prevent “regimes that sponsor terror” from threatening the United States and its allies with WMD. Bush told the nation that North Korea, Iran, and Iraq “pose a grave and growing danger” and could provide WMD and missiles “to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred.”

Bush did not give specifics on what plan of action might be in store or when the United States might act, but he noted that he “will not wait on events while dangers gather,” warning that his administration “will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”

During a January 31 speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice elaborated on the threat posed by the named rogue states, saying Bush’s speech put state sponsors of terrorism “on notice” and enunciated the “growing danger” posed by North Korea, Iran, and Iraq.

She cited North Korea as “the world’s number-one merchant for ballistic missiles, open for business with anyone, no matter how malign the buyer’s intentions,” called Iraq “determined to acquire” WMD, and said Iran’s “direct support of regional and global terrorism” and “aggressive efforts” to develop WMD “belie any good intentions it displayed” after September 11.

Analysts have voiced concern that Bush’s speech was setting the stage for military actions against one or all of these states in the next iteration of the administration’s war on terrorism. Senior administration officials have acknowledged that a full range of options are being developed for Iraq, but while visiting Seoul February 20 Bush said he had “no intention of invading North Korea.” At a February 12 hearing before the Senate Budget Committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell also said that there is no plan to begin a conflict with Iran. Rather, the administration is likely to try to apply pressure on both Russia and China to end all nuclear and missile cooperation with Tehran. (See U.S. Presses Russia on Nuclear, Missile Cooperation With Iran.)

Unsurprisingly, Pyongyang, Tehran, and Baghdad all dismissed Bush’s accusations. North Korea’s state-run television called Bush a “nuclear maniac” and characterized his remarks as “reckless” and “tantamount to a declaration of war.” In a statement carried by Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Bush’s rhetoric was “intervening, warmongering, [and] insulting.” Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan rejected Bush’s charges as well, calling them “stupid” and “inappropriate.”

Some of Washington’s closest allies were also highly critical of Bush’s rhetoric. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw speculated that Bush’s remarks were intended to appease domestic political constituencies rather than warn of a credible threat. In Washington on February 1, Straw reasoned that the State of the Union address “was best understood by the fact that there are midterm congressional elections in November.” In a February 6 interview on Inter Radio, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine called Bush’s terrorism-based approach to foreign affairs “simplistic” and said that the Bush administration dealt with “international issues in a unilateral manner.”

Perhaps the strongest criticism came from Chris Patten, the European Union’s foreign policy chief. In an interview published in the February 9 Guardian, Patten said that Bush’s address was “more rhetoric than substance.” He also called the speech “unhelpful” and said that it is “hard to believe” that Bush’s axis of evil comment was a “well thought-through policy.”

Powell rejected characterizations like those of Vedrine in testimony before the House International Relations Committee on February 6, stating, “The suggestion that…the United States is acting unilaterally and not consulting with our European partners…simply couldn’t be further from the truth.” However, Powell added, “When it is a matter of principle, and when the multilateral community does not agree with us, we do not shrink from doing that which we think is right, which is in our interests, even if some of our friends disagree with us.”


Name-Calling or Nonproliferation?

Daryl G. Kimball

In a potent political one-liner delivered in January, President George W. Bush prominently labeled Iran, Iraq, and North Korea an “axis of evil” that is supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. While the threat of terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction is real, the problems of terrorism and proliferation are not identical and cannot be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach.

The president is to be commended for focusing attention on the ongoing threat of nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile proliferation in dangerous regions. But his gratuitous name-calling in the absence of practical, country-specific nonproliferation strategies has complicated the task of addressing proliferation problems, particularly in North Korea.

Bush’s statement puts North Korea and Iran in the same category as Iraq and has raised concerns about military action against all three. Our friends and allies may eventually agree to collective military action to enforce Security Council mandates for UN weapons inspections in Iraq, but leaders in South Korea, Japan, and Europe correctly understand that the most effective approach to Pyongyang is resuming the North-South-U.S. dialogue.

While in Seoul for a February state visit, Bush had to clarify that the United States “has no intention of invading North Korea,” and he reiterated his administration’s willingness to talk “anytime, anywhere” with Pyongyang on a range of security issues. Yet, in the same speech, he repeated harsh recriminations that substantially undermine the possibility that the North will re-engage. The president’s tough talk may play well in Washington’s conservative political circles, but it has plunged the United States and North Korea into another cycle of mistrust and missed opportunity.

Rather than launching verbal jabs and waiting for the North to resume the security dialogue, the United States should take concrete steps on the most significant issues: averting a looming crisis on the implementation of the 1994 Agreed Framework to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and resuming negotiations on a verifiable freeze of the North’s ballistic missile enterprise. To start, Bush should appoint a new, high-level coordinator for North Korea policy. The coordinator’s first task would be to bring some practical ideas and proposals—not harsh recriminations—to the bargaining table.

The Agreed Framework is a good, but imperfect, deal that both parties must honor. Under the agreement, the United States is facilitating construction of two safeguarded light-water nuclear power reactors, and, in exchange, North Korea is to verifiably abandon its nuclear weapons program. So far, this deal has effectively frozen Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but difficulties lie ahead.

North Korea will soon be obligated to comply with all International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, which prohibit military nuclear activities. It must do so when a “significant portion” of the two light-water nuclear power reactors are completed but before delivery of their nuclear components. Due to construction delays, a significant portion of the reactors will not be built until approximately 2005. IAEA inspection of declared and undeclared nuclear facilities in North Korea could take two to three years. Further slippage could set off a new high-stakes confrontation.

Prompt initiation of inspections is important, even though the Agreed Framework does not yet require North Korea to admit the IAEA. If the Bush administration is interested in results, it should re-affirm its support for the Agreed Framework, not threaten to stop implementation as some in Congress have suggested. Working with South Korea and Japan, Bush should, if necessary, be prepared to offer incentives—including in-kind food and electricity aid—for North Korean cooperation on early inspections. Such an arrangement could simultaneously improve the likelihood of completing the inspections and address shortcomings in the Agreed Framework’s implementation.

Through dialogue, not diatribes, Bush also has an opportunity to halt North Korea’s ballistic missile program—a prime source of global missile proliferation. In the final days of the Clinton administration, negotiators reportedly came “tantalizingly close” to an agreement. Sadly, the Bush administration has failed to pursue this possibility, though it is clearly in U.S. security interests. Given the North’s pledge to halt missile testing through 2003, there is still a window of opportunity to secure a sufficiently verifiable agreement that bans further missile exports, production, and testing and that bars further missile deployments.

Though Kim Jong-Il’s regime is difficult, undemocratic, and uninterested in its people’s welfare, history shows that pragmatic, principled engagement with such states can produce results that enhance U.S. security. Unless he is willing to seriously pursue such a course, Bush may fumble one of the United States’ better opportunities to solve one of the world’s thorniest nuclear and missile proliferation challenges.

Security Council Moves Closer To Adopting Iraqi 'Smart Sanctions'

Alex Wagner

The UN Security Council took a step closer to implementing a “smart sanctions” regime in Iraq on November 29 by unanimously agreeing to adopt a once-contentious Goods Review List, which aims to streamline the process of selling civilian goods to Baghdad.

Approved as part of a resolution that renewed the UN oil-for-food program for the eleventh time since 1996, the list contains weapons-related and dual-use items that would require UN approval before being exported to Iraq. The new resolution states that the Security Council intends to adopt the Goods Review List—“subject to any refinements”—for implementation on May 30, when the current phase of the oil-for-food program expires. The list can only be modified with the Security Council’s approval.

Iraqi Ambassador to the UN Mohammed Aldouri signed a memorandum of understanding December 2, accepting the resolution.

Once the list is adopted, Baghdad will be allowed to import—without UN oversight—any civilian, nonweapons, or dual-use items not specifically enumerated on the list. Contracts containing items on the list would need the UN Iraq Sanctions Committee’s approval before export. Proceeds from Iraqi oil sales held in a UN-controlled escrow account would pay for the items.

Under the current regime, all of Baghdad’s nonhumanitarian purchases are subject to UN review. But the arrangement allows Iraq to sell unlimited amounts of oil on the international market, with the proceeds placed in a UN account. The only legal way for Iraq to sell oil is through the oil-for-food program.

By facilitating the flow of civilian goods to Iraq, the “smart sanctions” proposals envisioned by the Bush administration aim to undermine arguments that sanctions are hurting the Iraqi people. It also seeks to tighten the existing sanctions regime to prevent Iraq from using smuggled oil revenues to develop weapons systems.

The planned adoption of the Goods Review List addresses the first point. However, the resolution does not take up the issues of strengthening border controls or cracking down on Iraq’s illegal oil-smuggling relationships with Jordan, Turkey, and Syria. The UN currently tolerates Baghdad’s oil sales to these states, which are conducted outside of the oil-for-food program, because of their importance to these nations’ economies. Iraq can use the revenues from these unaccountable oil sales for weapons purchases because these transactions lack the UN oversight.

A number of proposals for bringing these relationships under UN auspices were included in a draft June resolution put forth by the United Kingdom and backed by the United States, but they were subsequently scuttled by Russian opposition. (See ACT, July/August 2001.) Implementation of such proposals, however, would be difficult because they require Iraq’s neighbors to abandon extremely profitable transactions voluntarily.

Despite the absence of a means to stem Iraqi oil smuggling, U.S. officials appeared satisfied with the resolution. Ambassador John Negroponte, the U.S. permanent representative to the UN, remarked on November 29 that the unanimity with which the Security Council made the decision “should send a signal to Iraq” that the United States is committed to revamping the current sanctions regime. At a December 3 press briefing, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he too was “pleased” with the outcome.

Washington’s key Security Council ally, the United Kingdom, expressed a similar sentiment. On November 30, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the Security Council vote “a significant step forward” that demonstrates that the “international community is united over how to apply controls to the Baghdad regime.” Straw went on to say that Iraq is now “free to meet all its civilian needs” while leaving Saddam Hussein “with no excuses for the suffering of the Iraqi people.”

The review list had been the primary sticking point during the Security Council’s consideration of the U.S.-U.K. “smart sanctions” proposal in May and June. At the time, France and China approved the list. But Russia, contesting certain items on the list, refused to endorse the measure and issued a veto threat, forcing Washington and London to postpone the debate to November.

A UN official suggested that, because the revised review list is largely similar to the one proposed in June, Russia’s veto threat had stemmed more from a desire to maintain and possibly expand commercial relations with Iraq than disagreement with the list itself. The official characterized Russia’s turnaround as a “major concession,” noting that the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States had brought Washington and Moscow closer together and focused new attention on the urgency of dealing with Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

While not discounting the value of improved U.S.-Russian relations since September 11, a U.S. official emphasized that stronger French and Chinese support for the list had isolated Russia on the issue. The official explained that France and China officially supported the list in June 2001 because they knew that they could hide behind a Russian veto. Since then, however, negotiations with Washington and London persuaded Paris and Beijing to come out in full support for the arrangement.

The U.S. official was “optimistic” that the Security Council would finalize the list by June, although elements of the list are “likely to change.” The official also said that strong Security Council support could allow Russia to pressure Iraq to allow UN weapons inspectors to return to the country.

U.S. Names Countries Thought to Be Violating BWC

Seth Brugger

During a November 19 speech, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton accused Iraq and North Korea of breaching the terms of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and warned of possible violations by other countries.

Bolton spoke to delegations from BWC member states on the opening day of a conference that is convened in Geneva every five years to review and improve upon the treaty’s implementation. The accord outlaws biological weapons but contains no verification measures.

Bolton told the conference that Washington is “extremely concerned” that some states are engaging in treaty-prohibited activities and is “concerned” about potential use of biological weapons by terrorist groups. Specifically, the undersecretary said that Washington is worried about accused terrorist Osama bin Laden’s “stated intention to use biological weapons against the United States…. We are concerned that he could have been trying to acquire a rudimentary biological weapons capability, possibly with support from a state.”

Beyond this threat, Bolton said that “the most serious concern” is Iraq. “The United States strongly suspects that Iraq has taken advantage of three years of no UN inspections to improve all phases of its offensive BW program. The existence of Iraq’s program is beyond dispute, in complete contravention of the BWC,” Bolton contended.

Washington also believes that North Korea “has a dedicated, national-level effort to achieve a BW [biological weapons] capability and that it has developed and produced, and may have weaponized, BW agents in violation of the convention,” Bolton asserted. “North Korea likely has the capability to produce sufficient quantities of biological agents for military purposes within weeks of a decision to do so.”

Bolton added that the Bush administration is “quite concerned about Iran, which the United States believes probably has produced and weaponized BW agents in violation of the convention.” Other countries of concern included Libya, Syria, and Sudan, the latter of which is is neither a party to nor a signatory of the BWC. Bolton also said that he could name other states that are pursuing offensive biological weapons programs but that Washington plans to contact them privately.

Bolton’s speech marked a change from past U.S. practice. At previous review conferences, the United States did not name specific countries it believed were violating the convention, except Iraq. Explaining the shift in U.S. tactics, Bolton said, “Prior to September 11, some would have avoided this approach. The world has changed, however, and so must our business-as-usual approach.”

Iran, Iraq, and Libya denied the U.S. charges. According to a source in Geneva, other delegations did not officially comment on the U.S. accusations, believing that “there are already enough substantive problems that we have to deal with here without trying to sidetrack it and begin another debate, arguing whether the United States was correct to do what it did.”

Russia Blocks Reform of Iraq Sanctions Regime

Alex Wagner

In a major setback for the Bush administration, a Russian veto threat in late June forced the UN Security Council to set aside a sweeping reform of the Iraq sanctions regime. Instead, on July 3, the council unanimously approved a five-month extension of the oil-for-food program, which allows Baghdad to sell, under UN supervision, unlimited amounts of oil to purchase humanitarian and infrastructure supplies.

Iraq resumed its participation in the program July 10 after terminating its involvement following a June Security Council decision to work to overhaul the sanctions regime.

The Bush team had hoped to use the program’s July 3 expiration as an opportunity to introduce a new sanctions policy that would alleviate international concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Iraq while increasing the effectiveness of efforts to prevent Baghdad from reacquiring the ability to produce weapons of mass destruction.

Since early June, the administration had worked to convince both the Security Council and Iraq’s neighbors to support a British draft resolution that would have lifted international sanctions on most trade with Iraq while strengthening controls on items that could be used for weapons development. (See ACT, June 2001 and July/August 2001.)

In the weeks preceding the July deadline, one of the most contentious issues among the permanent members of the Security Council involved the composition of a U.S.-proposed list of “dual-use” items, whose export to Iraq would have required UN authorization. On June 29, the U.S. representative to the UN, James Cunningham, announced that China and France had agreed to the U.S. list. But Russia could not be persuaded to support any elements of the British draft resolution.

Addressing the Security Council on July 3, Cunningham criticized Russia, saying that the council should have “done better” and that “we all know why that was not possible.”

Revitalizing the international sanctions against Iraq had been one of President George W. Bush’s foreign policy priorities. Explaining why the United States agreed to the five-month extension instead of substantial reform, Cunningham said that, if the resolution had been vetoed, it would have effectively prevented the issue from being raised again. “A veto would bring our work to a halt and thus would be a victory for Iraq,” he said.

The British ambassador to the UN, Jeremy Greenstock, implied that Russia was allowing its financial relationship with Iraq to interfere with overhauling the sanctions regime. Addressing the council June 26, Greenstock argued, “None of us, on this issue in particular, can allow national economic self-interest to hold up positive measures for the Iraqi people.”

At a July 11 joint press conference with his British counterpart, Jack Straw, Secretary of State Colin Powell vowed to remain vigilant in pursuit of sanctions reform. Washington will continue over the next five months to “work with the frontline states” and with Russia to find a way to accommodate both Moscow’s interests and those of the Iraqi people, Powell said.



Subscribe to RSS - Iraq