Prague, 19 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - The intensity of the air strikes against Iraq over the last two nights indicates a fundamental change in U.S. and British strategy toward Iraq and arms inspections.
Analysts say that previous air strikes have been punitive and limited, with the stated aim of forcing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein into renewing cooperation with UN arms inspectors charged with verifying that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.
In 1992, when Iraq denied access to two sites to UN inspectors, the two sites were bombed, forcing Iraq to back down on denying access.
But the current waves of strikes are preventative and sustained, with the stated aim of significantly reducing Saddam's capability to develop mass destruction weapons or use them against his neighbors.
Sir John Moberley, an expert on British policy toward Iraq at the Royal Institute for Foreign Affairs in London, says the bombing of weapons development facilities heralds a new U.S.-British policy toward Saddam which emphasizes deterrence in place of a previous policy of containment.
Moberley says that Washington and London have now resolved that if Iraqi efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction cannot be reliably contained by UN inspections, then Saddam must be deterred from developing or using them by making it too costly for him to do so.
"I suspect that what is planned is a period of these heavy air attacks and then perhaps a pause to see what the effect has been, whether this has affected any change in Iraqi governmental attitudes ... And I suppose [the United States and Britain] have in the back of their mind that if those [UN arms] inspections don't resume, or resume very soon, that what you're left with is a deterrent situation. I mean they would have to rely on deterrence and, of course, we saw that when Saddam Hussein had, as it now appears, the ability to put warheads with chemical and biological weapons on missiles at the time of the Kuwait Liberation War (1991), that he didn't in fact do that, presumably because of being deterred by what he judged might be the consequences of using such weaponry. So we might be back in the circumstances of that kind of deterrence being regarded as the [best] way to contain Saddam Hussein," he said.
According to Moberley, the new policy of deterrence has evolved from U.S. and British frustration with seven years of weapons inspections which has seen the work of arms inspectors repeatedly blocked by Iraqi officials. When the inspectors have been permitted to resume work again following the threat of punitive air strikes, their work has only been blocked anew.
The current air strikes follow a one month test of Iraq's readiness to cooperate with arms inspectors afer Saddam Hussein promised to do so in order to avoid punitive air strikes last month. But U.S. arms inspectors told the UN Security Council after the 30 day test period that the Iraqi government was still refusing to turn over key documents and provide full access to its suspected weapons sites.
Moberley says that Washington and London have not given up their desire to see inspectors with the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) on disarming Iraq return to their work. But he says many U.S. and British officials no longer see UNSCOM's return as an essential part of a new deterrent strategy toward Iraq.
"I think one has to accept that the UNSCOM phase may indeed be over, because it is difficult to see Iraq after these attacks readily agreeing to the return of UNSCOM, though that is not impossible ... I think the U.S. and British governments must accept that given the level of the attacks that it may be impossible to reinstate the UNSCOM inspections and indeed the monitoring which has been regarded as highly important," he said.
Moberley says that whether or not Saddam Hussein makes a new agreement with the United Nations to let arms monitors return, the United States and Britain are likely to impose their own policy of deterrence upon him by maintaining a clear and public readiness to carry out additional preventative strikes.
"Readiness to strike very hard indeed and making this clear and public, should he make any move to use these weapons, or appear about to be make a move to use these weapons ... I think the hope of the two governments is that by the attacks as they are at present they will have made it much more difficult for Saddam to maintain and carry on with any large scale program of developing these weapons.... I suppose another aspect of it would be that he will, they hope, not be able to have the delivery systems ... be of use to him, he has to be able to deliver [weapons] in some way and without appropriate rockets this would be difficult for him," he said.