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Iraq: New Arms Inspection Commission Faces Challenges

  • Robert McMahon



With the UN Security Council poised to pick a new executive chairman to lead arms inspections in Iraq, attention is focusing on how united -- or disunited -- the council is on this issue. The last person to serve as UN arms inspection chief in Iraq, Richard Butler, says he is concerned by the divisions shown by the Security Council in its efforts to mount its new monitoring mission. In an interview with RFE/RL's correspondent Robert McMahon this week, Butler said that without a united Security Council pressing Baghdad, full compliance with resolutions on removing its weapons of mass destruction will be difficult to achieve.

United Nations, 27 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- When Richard Butler took over as head of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) in 1997, divisions were already beginning to appear in the Security Council over how long to maintain tough sanctions to enforce cooperation with arms inspectors. Russia, China, and then France called for the easing or lifting of sanctions and were at odds with Butler's strict approach to inspections and monitoring.

Butler, an Australian, resigned as chairman last summer and is now a diplomat-in-residence at the Council on Foreign Relations, a prominent, New York-based think-tank. In an interview with our correspondent, Butler said there are numerous challenges facing the new UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission, UNMOVIC.

Butler expressed concern about the ability of the Security Council to move ahead with the restoration of arms control in Iraq. He noted that UNMOVIC was created last December in a vote that involved abstentions by three permanent members of the Security Council. And he said the rejection of the secretary-general's first candidate for inspection chief -- Rolf Ekeus -- by those same three members did not bode well for the launch of the new commission. The former arms inspector noted a recent report published in the journal "Foreign Affairs," in which the author (Daniel Byman) cautioned that any weakened inspection system could be more dangerous to arms control than no inspection system at all. But Butler said he did not agree with the report's suggestion that arms inspections should remain stalled so that the world powers keep Iraq under suspicion, and close supervision.

Butler said if Iraq would simply obey the UN resolutions on removing its weapons of mass destruction, the inspections and sanctions against it would disappear. "The fundamental requirement is for Iraq to decide to obey the law. I have no doubt that if it did that then the new organization would act quickly to verify Iraq's declarations, to destroy whatever weapons or weapons capability that revealed, and then unambiguously recommend to the council that all sanctions be terminated. No one is interested in maintaining Iraq as a pariah as such. What the world community is interested in, is in removing that weapons capability. And as has always been the case, the key to that rests with the government in Baghdad. If they're prepared to obey the law and cooperate, then I feel I'm quite sure that the job could be completed quickly and the sort of isolation that they've suffered as a consequence of their own actions could be ended."

Butler said UNSCOM was often accused by Iraq of being unduly suspicious. But he said the evidence and facts it had gathered clearly established that Iraq was seeking in a clandestine way to maintain missile systems that were forbidden by the UN and of continuing to try to make and deploy chemical and biological weapons. He expressed concern that with detailed inspections delayed since December 1998, Iraq was continuing with its outlawed weapons plans. "Now that there isn't such a presence in Iraq, it's much harder to know exactly what is going on. But I think if one looks at Iraq's past track record, what it has done in those weapons fields and the ways in which it sought to mislead the international community through false and misleading declarations, then I think it's fair to assume that, absent monitoring in Iraq, the chances are good that the Iraqi government has once again sought to build or deploy or develop these prohibited weapons."

While UNMOVIC provides a new organization and a slightly different approach to sanctions relief, Butler says, its basic requirements for ending the arms inspection regime are similar to UNSCOM's. It will look into Iraq's missile, chemical and biological weapons capabilities, draw up a list of disarmament requirements and build a long-term monitoring system.

The Security Council appears to have reached consensus now on an executive chairman to lead UNMOVIC. He is Hans Blix, a Swedish diplomat and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has monitored nuclear activities in Iraq. Butler, interviewed before Blix emerged as a top candidate, said the council needs to be united over the long term to bring Iraqi disarmament to resolution.

"I have nothing in particular to say about what motivates [Council members]. But the point I would make is they surely must be aware that failure to find some degree of unity amongst them harms the prospect of a solution of the problem of Iraq. And they have a major responsibility as the pre-eminent powers in the peace and security system of the United Nations to find that unity and serve both the principles of the charter and fulfill their own decisions on matters such as disarmament."

Butler said one of the biggest problems posed by missions such as UNSCOM and now UNMOVIC is that, to be successful, they rely on the cooperation of the subject state. The Security Council is empowered to take any necessary measures to ensure compliance, but those measures, such as sanctions or military action, require consent of all members of the council. The subject of Iraqi compliance is a sore point with Butler.

"I first must note for the record that Iraq never fully cooperated with UNSCOM. That's really a very important point that needs to be registered if for no other reason, for the historical truth of the matter. From the beginning Iraq never fully cooperated or allowed UNSCOM to exercise all the rights that were set forth in the decisions of the Security Council."

Another sore point was the allegations by Iraq that UNSCOM was used to assist in spying by the United States, Israel, and other countries. Butler denies the allegations. But he says UNSCOM did benefit from information on Iraq provided by other UN member states.

"The resolutions of the Security Council asked all member states to give UNSCOM all possible assistance and that was completely legal. We were given assistance by in excess of 40 member states, and it came in all forms from money and material to information and equipment. When I was in charge of UNSCOM, I absolutely insisted that all information and assistance that was put at our disposal would only be accepted or deployed if it was connected to our disarmament task. Our job was not in any way to wage an attack upon the government of Iraq, but it was simply to find and get rid of the weapons that the Council had declared illegal. So the organizing principle of our work was always disarmament."

Butler said he remains hopeful that an effective arms control system can be reinstated in Iraq and lead to the eventual removal of sanctions, allowing ordinary Iraqis to have a more normal life.

"I'm sorry that this past year has been lost, because it seems to me that while a new organization is being created and there are some new approaches that are signaled in the December resolution, especially with regard to sanctions, that the basic problem of bringing into final account Iraq's weapons capability and establishing a monitoring system remains. And it's a pity that this process has been interrupted for a year, chiefly because it has meant that the circumstances under which ordinary Iraqi people are living have continued on for a further year. My earnest hope is that these circumstances can be brought to an end as soon as possible."

Iraq on Wednesday gave another strong denunciation of the UN weapons program. Iraq's UN ambassador, Saeed Hasan, said it made no difference who was named chief inspector because Baghdad did not accept the Security Council's resolution creating UNMOVIC.
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