Hans Blix’s report to the U.N. on the progress of the UNMOVIC inspections of Iraq turned out to be harsher than expected. The pre-report buzz was that it would be ambiguous, report nothing new, and essentially constitute a stepping stone to more inspections. Yet Blix reported some important discrepancies in the Iraqi disarmament effort, particularly 6,500 missing chemical bombs, “several thousands of chemical rockets” unaccounted for, 8,500 liters of wayward anthrax, a variety illegally manufactured, modified, or smuggled delivery systems — in short, everything you need to fight wars Saddam-style. He also described a pattern of Iraqi non-cooperation which itself constituted a violation of U.N. mandates. While Blix did not use the much-anticipated term “material breach,” this is exactly what the report describes.
Let’s return for a moment to Resolution 1441, the document that activated this phase of the ongoing Iraqi disarmament process (12 years and running at this point) and walk it through. The Security Council opens with the statement that “Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions” and offers Iraq “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council.” Thus from the outset, from the very premise of the instrument under which the UNMOVIC teams began their mission in Iraq, the burden of proof was on the Iraqis. The assumption was not that Iraq was clean until the inspectors uncovered evidence to the contrary; rather, it was up to Iraq to prove that the fabled smoking gun had already been destroyed. Saddam’s regime was being given a “final opportunity” to convince the international community he had lived up to the requirement that he disarm. The resolution further stated that “failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq’s obligations.” The Security Council was called upon to “convene immediately upon receipt of a report … in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance with all of the relevant Council resolutions in order to secure international peace and security.” And the resolution cautions that “in that context, that the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations.” When the expression “serious consequences” was drafted last fall, it was universally assumed that this referred to bringing about disarmament by force. It was the démarche President Bush had sought, the promised consequences should Iraq revert to its old habits of “cheat and retreat.”
On its face, the case for concerted action against Iraq under Resolution 1441 seems clear. Yet, the Blix report concludes with several paragraphs discussing the growing capabilities of UNMOVIC, which he seems to feel is a bureaucracy with a future. The current group of inspectors is doing an excellent job, and more are being trained. UNMOVIC has newly refurbished offices, air and ground transport capabilities, and support staff members who, the report adds hopefully, “serve the United Nations and report to no one else.” This useful tool, he concludes, “is at the disposal of the Security Council.” The clear implication is that it would all be a wasted effort if UNMOVIC were not allowed to continue the mission.
The call for extended inspections was vigorous even before the Blix report, and can be counted on to increase in volume in coming days. Saddam’s regime, of course, has a survival interest in delay, and is promising to be even more cooperative, given the chance. Muhammad al-Duri, Iraq’s representative at the United Nations, said that “I think we gave all what we have, but if we find anything, we will certainly provide it to the inspectors.” The French and Germans have called for a prolonged mission and strongly oppose armed action. Russia and China agree. A spokesperson for the International Atomic Energy Agency, which filed its own companion report on Iraqi nuclear developments (finding no significant violations) suggested that a permanent inspection regime would be a useful alternative to war. How could Iraq ever pursue Gulf hegemony or seek regional nuclear dominance with the stalwart IAEA on the scene?
The imminent debate in the Security Council over the significance of UNMOVIC’s findings will demonstrate the extent to which the U.N. is willing to stand up to its responsibilities and enforce its own edicts. It is a chance for the organization to show its relevance, or lack thereof. In order to help clarify the issue, the US is edging closer to revealing some of the critical intelligence that has led it to conclude that Saddam retains illegal WMD capabilities. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz alluded to this in a major speech last week. The Blix report contains an intriguing passage referring to “information provided by Member States [that] tells us about the movement and concealment of missiles and chemical weapons and mobile units for biological weapons production.” A Washington Post report indicates that the White House is seeking ways to release more specific, sensitive information without compromising the sources and methods by which the intelligence was collected. The process is slow, but demands that the administration release such information at once and without adequate safeguards is both irresponsible and counterproductive. This is literally a life or death game for oppositionists in Iraq who may be cooperating with the United States. Furthermore, if the U.S. allows sources to be compromised, the intelligence agencies will lose not only the source in question but also any hope of recruiting new informants, who might reasonably fear being exposed and suffering the same fate.
The U.S. and several other states — Britain and Australia, probably also Spain, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Kuwait — will make the case to the U.N. that time has run out for Saddam Hussein. He has had twelve years to prove that he has rid his country of weapons of mass destruction, and he has come up short. Others will disagree, and argue for UNMOVIC to try again. This is as inevitable as the 1991 plea to “let sanctions work” rather than expel Saddam from Kuwait by force. The tendency is summed up in an expression credited to Manfred Eimer, formerly assistant director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency: “Arms control is the opiate of the apologentsia.” These are the people for whom the process of arms control — treaty negotiations, verification missions, reports, and more negotiations — is more important than its product. It is predicated on the belief that where these diplomatic processes exist, force will never be used, and that end in itself is an unqualified good. In pursuit of this end, arms control can be extended and morphed without boundaries, particularly temporally. No matter what the arms-control regime, it is always possible to ask for “more time” to allow a process to succeed, since for practical purposes time is unbounded, particularly in diplomacy, and success is measured in the persistence of the process. Another expression one is likely to hear is that the parties must “exhaust all means” before resorting to force. This is a further infinitely elastic phrase in which all three words are open to definition. What constitutes means? How many are all of them? When have they been exhausted? Sure, Resolution 1441 said this was Iraq’s last chance for full compliance or it would risk facing serious consequences, but teams of French lawyers are hard at work figuring out how this is actually a U.N. guarantee of a smooth transition of power from Saddam Hussein to one of his sons sometime after 2010.
— James S. Robbins is a national-security analyst & NRO contributor.