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Iraq: Arms Inspection Would Do More Harm Than Good

As the Security Council remains deadlocked over finding a new chief arms monitor for Iraq, one U.S. analyst argues that returning arms inspectors to Baghdad would only help Saddam Hussein develop weapons of mass destruction. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel interviews Daniel Byman, whose article "A Farewell to Arms Inspections" appears in the current issue of "Foreign Affairs."

Prague, 26 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The international community has spent the past year seeking ways to return arms inspectors to Iraq as the cornerstone of its new policy toward Baghdad.

That policy, as expressed in a UN resolution last month, would offer Baghdad a renewable suspension of sanctions if Iraq cooperates with the arms monitors to complete outstanding disarmament tasks. It would also require Baghdad to cooperate with a continued arms monitoring program designed to assure Iraq does not again seek to develop weapons of mass destruction.

So far, Baghdad has refused to consider the offer, and the UN Security Council itself is at odds over whom to name as the head of the new arms commission.

But even as the UN works hard to get arms inspectors back into Iraq, some analysts are challenging the whole strategy as wrongheaded.

These analysts warn that the UN arms inspection program has acquired a history of compromise which now makes it unable to effectively police any Iraqi arms development efforts. They argue that instead of returning to arms inspections, a better policy would be to maintain tough sanctions and contain Iraq militarily, by air strikes, as needed.

One of these voices is Daniel Byman, a policy analyst at the Rand Corporation in Washington, D.C. He spells out his position in an article in the January/February edition of "Foreign Affairs," a journal read widely by the American foreign policy community.

Our correspondent asked Byman to explain his argument that the return of UN arms inspectors to Iraq would do more harm than good. Daniel Byman:

"The key is understanding the difference between means and ends. The end that arms inspections are supposed to serve are preventing Iraq from reconstituting its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programs. The means is that inspectors are supposed to go in and discover these programs and, once they are discovered, destroy them. And there are several problems with the reintroduction of inspectors that actually will hurt the overall goals of preventing Iraq from reconstituting its WMD programs. First of all, inspectors will not have free access to the facilities in Iraq, so when they go in they are only going to be shown what [Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein] wants them to see. As a result, the idea that they will somehow discover these weapons and be able to destroy them is false."

Byman says that the reason monitors would not have free access to weapons facilities is that over the years since the Gulf War, the UN Security Council has become split over whether to take a hard or soft line toward Iraq on inspections. And Iraq's policy of constant confrontation with the UN over inspections has both helped fuel this split and, in Byman's words, made Iraq a negotiating partner in how arms inspectors perform their work.

But Byman says that even if any new arms inspections did manage to discover and destroy weapons, the result would still not be satisfactory. He says the inspectors would then have to ultimately declare Iraq free of weapons, leading to the end of sanctions and enabling Saddam to start rebuilding his weapons programs in earnest.

"If the inspectors finished their job and certified that Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction, then sanctions would be lifted on the materials needed to build weapons of mass destruction. To build these weapons it only takes a year, two years, and in some cases even weeks -- depending on the type of biological agent or chemical agent -- to reconstitute these types of weapons and Iraq could rebuild quite large stocks of these weapons very rapidly once sanctions were lifted. So to prevent Iraq from rebuilding its weapons of mass destruction, sanctions need to be in place. And if inspectors return, sanctions are more likely to be lifted."

He says that sanctions have been effective in depriving Baghdad of not only the materials but also the funds for rebuilding its weapons programs. He writes that sanctions have cut Iraqi state revenues by $10-$15 billion a year, slashing the regime's assets.

Byman says that critics of sanctions on Iraq -- who say the sanctions place an excessive hardship on ordinary Iraqis -- misunderstand the situation. He says that sufficient humanitarian programs are in place to alleviate that hardship but that the delivery of the aid is deliberately slowed by the Baghdad regime to increase pressure on the UN to lift the sanctions.

"There have always been exemptions [to the sanctions] for humanitarian items, for food and medicine. ...Where the United Nations has administered this program, where the United Nations has used the oil revenues to buy food and medicine, for example, in the northern parts of Iraq where the Kurds live, in those areas the mortality rates are actually much better than they were in the past; conditions have improved tremendously. It's only in the areas which Saddam controls, which unfortunately is most of the country, where things have gotten worse."

Finally, Byman writes that the international community cannot afford to let the standoff with Baghdad end in any way that allows Baghdad to restart weapons programs and emerge as an apparent winner. He says that other states would then learn from Baghdad's example and cheat on or ignore their commitments to the international community if they feel they would pay no price.

Byman also warns that -- most dangerously -- if international frameworks, UN resolutions, and the statements of world leaders of major powers mean little in Iraq, states in other dangerous regions will only be more likely to seek nuclear weapons, anthrax and sarin gas.