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Blix Says U.N. Discredited Iraq Intelligence, but “No One Cared”; Calls for a “Reality Check” on Purported Iraq-Terrorism Link
Former U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) Executive Chairman Hans Blix spoke this week with Global Security Newswire’s Joe Fiorill about Iraq, where Blix was the lead U.N. weapons inspector prior to last year’s war, and how best to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the world. Blix, who now leads the international Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, is on a U.S. tour promoting his new book, Disarming Iraq.
Global Security Newswire: Do you believe the war in Iraq was justified, whether by a WMD threat or for some other reason?
Hans Blix: No, I don’t think so, but there are many types of justifications. The simplest one is, perhaps, the almost limitless legal one, and it’s interesting that neither the U.K. nor the U.S. really advanced the doctrine of pre-emptive war. They are both saying that Iraq had violated a long series of resolutions, including the latest, [U.N. Security Council Resolution] 1441. I also think that such a contention, which might be reasonable, could be advanced ― but by the Security Council. My view is that the Security Council owns its own resolutions, and if they are breached, then the council can authorize action, but individual members cannot. …
So this is on the legal side. Now, what people most look at, of course, is weapons of mass destruction. Was there justification on that score? And I think, to be fair, one must measure that at the time when they started the war, not now. Now we will know that there aren’t any weapons, but, to be fair, I think we should look at that time.
And I don’t think it was justified at that time either. [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush has said that war and armed force is only the means of last resort; it was not the means of last resort in March last year. On the contrary, one could say that the evidence was beginning to fall apart. There was the tendency, which I commented upon in the Security Council, of equating “unaccounted for” with “existing.” There were lots of things unaccounted for, which we sort of identified as question marks, but there was also [Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz and others who said, well, where are they? …
Then, as of January, when the U.S.A. and others gave us sites to visit, in no case did we find any weapons of mass destruction, and they claimed they were the best sites. I said publicly somewhere, if these were the best, what was the rest?
GSN: The United States might say that the Security Council resolutions put the onus on Iraq to demonstrate it had disarmed.
Blix: That’s right, but even so, you can come ― I mean, I don’t doubt that you can come to a conclusion that Iraq had breached resolutions, but in that case, my point is simply that it’s the council that has to authorize it. They can’t do it. Not the U.S.
Now, as to a violation of Resolution 1441, it’s not self-evident that there was a violation of it. The U.S. would say there were false statements and that there were omissions, but you know, if you omit mentioning something you don’t have, it’s not much of an omission.
However, I agree that on the missile sector, there were breaches, and we ordered them to destroy some. They were not terribly vast breaches. … On the other hand, [former chief U.S. inspector David] Kay has said that they had plans for more, and we had, certainly, suspicions of that. So in that sector, yes, I think one could come to that conclusion. But it’s nevertheless, in my view, the council that can authorize them. …
When you have [Security Council members] who are prepared to go ahead with a war ignoring that they could not have a majority of support for it and probably even have the majority against it ― that, I think, is demeaning and reducing the council’s standing and authority. The U.S. saying that the council loses its relevance if it doesn’t vote with us, it would turn irrelevant if it didn’t work with the U.S. ― I think this is not very attractive. …
GSN: And you saw no evidence to support the U.S. perception of a WMD threat.
Blix: There were sites that we had visited, quite a number of sites, and in no case had we found anything. And the nuclear sphere ― which, after all, is the most important ― was the area in which you had the fewest question marks. By the time that the war started, the yellowcake contract [Iraq’s alleged bid to obtain nuclear material in Niger] had exploded, and the aluminum tubes [which Iraq allegedly intended for uranium enrichment work] were pretty clear, too ― that it wasn’t anything.
Both [International Atomic Energy Agency Director General] Mohamed [ElBaradei] and I … had stated that there was no infrastructure left and that we understood the whole program. There were simply some questions left which really didn’t relate with disarmament.
One of the more interesting ones was that Iraq had received information from a foreign country, I think about nuclear weaponry. And they never told us who it would be, but today, with the knowledge about the [nuclear black market run by Pakistan scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan], one begins to wonder whether it was not from there. So that was the kind of question, but that did not really suggest that Iraq had a capability any longer.
That’s my main objection ― that nuclear is the most important weapon, and there was no area which was less dangerous, and [that was] even admitted by the U.S. In my book, I describe that when France and Russia wanted to have a sort of settlement to dilute the sanctions system, the U.S. was not prepared to do that, but they were prepared, at one stage, to discuss closing the nuclear dossier.
Then you had [U.S. Secretary of State Colin] Powell’s performance at the U.N., and there, I was the only one who commented upon one of the cases. I only chose one; there were several we could not check, really. Because [the intelligence was based on] intercepted telephone calls and so forth, we could not check. But the one about the decontamination trucks ― we had had our inspectors in the place, we had taken environmental samples, we could see nothing about biological or chemical, and the trucks that we had seen were water trucks.
So I’m concluding in the book that I have published that there was a lack of critical thinking, there was probably not a wish to do critical thinking, and there was a will to do spin. … When you saw that, you felt, hey, this is a bit of an oversell.
GSN: You’ve used the term “faith-based” to describe the Bush administration’s approach to Iraq. Do you mean to tie the religious views of U.S. officials to what you are calling a failure of critical thinking?
Blix: No. I think I comment in the book that both Blair and Bush are religious persons, but no, I do not have the feeling that religion played a role. I mean, of course, Bush may be inclined to see it as representative of evil, and I think Saddam fits rather nicely in such a role. But it’s not that I’ve traced any religious thinking behind this. The WMDs, of course, is the area which they advanced. Which I think played a role, but I think they ― through the lack of critical thinking, both at the intelligence level and government level ― they [created] a sort of virtual reality.
And we pointed it out, but they ignored us. Which is the more strange because after the war, we had heard that they felt that in 1998, when the UNSCOM [UNMOVIC’s predecessor agency in Iraq, the U.N. Special Commission] inspectors left, that thereafter, they didn’t have any information. So it shows, on the one hand, how much information they got from the UNSCOM, and on the other hand, how little they had after. Why did they not look more at what we found? Because we were there for 3 1/2 months. So they didn’t.
Other justifications have come … afterwards, like that the war sent a signal to Libya and to Iran, to North Korea.
GSN: How do you react to those suggestions?
Blix: Well, we didn’t hear much about that before the war. A little, a little. And I think, by and large, the Libyan case has been going on for a long time and perhaps is more evidence of the value of containment ― that the Libyans had been under sanctions for a long time and [Libyan Leader Muammar] Qadhafi got tired of this. But I don’t exclude [the possibility that the Iraq war] gave it a bit of a push.
As to Iran and North Korea, well, their geopolitical situations are very different from Iraq’s. Again, it could have given a push, because they know that they are dealing with countries that are not taking things easily, but … no one could have justified the war in March by saying, “We want to send signals to Iran and North Korea.”
GSN: But you have defended the use of military pressure in moving these situations along. How do you strike a balance that might prevent a situation like Iraq ― an unnecessary war, as you see it?
Blix: Here you are in the doctrines both of pre-emptive war and counterproliferation, as they term it. Counterproliferation is more muscular. … The most prominent case of it was the Israeli attack on the Iraq reactor in 1981. It was the Osirak reactor. They destroyed it in a rather spectacular raid, and they were condemned by a unanimous Security Council, with the U.S. represented by Jeane Kirkpatrick. And they were then criticized that they had used this attack in a situation where they had not exhausted their other means of grappling with the problem. So that is interesting.
Now the whole discussion about when can pre-emptive strikes be used is an important one for the future. … We have heard [U.S. national security adviser] Condoleezza Rice say that we cannot sit and wait for a mushroom cloud, and we have heard President Bush say that if it is imminent, it is too late. But we have also heard him say there is a gathering danger.
GSN: Which is not an imminent threat.
Blix: No, that’s not imminent. Now, I understand all this against the background of 9/11 ― that if they get wind of another 9/11, they are not going to sit still. They will not; that I understand.
But that brings us then immediately to the crucial importance of intelligence, because if you do not have good intelligence, then you may send cruise missiles on things that are totally innocuous and [end up] attacking civilians, as it were. …
I mean, here a whole war [in Iraq] is started on intelligence that they firmly believe in, and it is shaky. We know that Wolfowitz had a number of other reasons. He talked about the WMDs as a democratically selected ground ... I understand that, because I think no other ground would have been enough to persuade Congress or the U.K. Parliament on this one. If they had said, “We want to create a democracy,” which was also written by a number of people in the media ― well, I don’t think the Congress would have said, “We’ll go to war in Iraq to create a democracy.”
GSN: You’ve started a commission now that’s looking into how to stop proliferation. Given the intelligence problems you describe in Iraq, how does one find and counter WMD proliferation threats?
Blix: I think the first barrier against proliferation, and also against terrorism, is always in the political field. I don’t dispute at all the notion that you must meet terrorism firmly, but the first barrier ― you cannot be so overwhelmed by military thinking that you leave it to that stage. Then it’s too late, and it’s horrible. …
The somewhat obvious [step is] to move towards peaceful settlement in the Middle East, because that’s the most bleeding wound that we have, and included in that is also a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Because Iraq needs assurances not only about Israel, but they need assurances about Iran, and vice versa. I don’t think there would have been any move from the Iranian side towards the capacity to enrich uranium unless you had had it in Iraq.
Now similarly, in India and Pakistan, the solution lies in a diplomatic resolution of the Kashmir problem, and for North Korea, it lies in assurances of some kind that their borders will be inviolable and that they will be gradually helped to some economic movement forward.
All this will take away the incentives to go for weapons of mass destruction. That will not really cover terrorism, because they have other axes to grind. But in terrorism, I think the U.S. did exactly, absolutely the right thing in the case of Afghanistan. …
GSN: Getting back to intelligence, you have said that UNSCOM was not independent enough of the national agencies. But the United States and UNMOVIC failed to communicate where Iraq was concerned. Was UNMOVIC perhaps too independent?
Blix: No, I think we were not too independent. See, the problem with UNSCOM was that they did not appear to the Iraqis, and also not to the General Assembly and the world at large, as independent of the CIA and of the U.K., etc. It began by the simple fact that UNSCOM did not have its own financing. …
The ideal thing is that you have cooperation, so that the intelligence gives you sites to go to. That’s the most important, and we also had satellite images, but they may have espionage, and they have telephone interception and so forth. So, sites, yes.
GSN: And that’s what happened in Iraq.
Blix: Yes, except that since there weren’t any weapons, they were mistaken. ...
But that’s what they give. Now what should they have back? Well, they should certainly have feedback ― that if we go to a site given by intelligence, and if we don’t find anything, then we’ll tell them, because that will give them some information about the source they had.
So it’s not that they can be totally silent; they can’t. But it should not be a situation where they can use you ― that in fact, the international organization is an extended arm of intelligence. Then it’s no longer the international community, and you can’t expect to have much cooperation with the Iraqis on that score.
GSN: But in Iraq, you did go back to the United States, and you said, “Here are the sites you gave us. We went there. There’s nothing there.”
Blix: But things were falling apart for them. If we had been allowed to stay for a couple of months more, we probably would have been to all the sites they had. All in all, we went to about 700 sites.
GSN: And you had already gone to the sites that were the most likely candidates?
Blix: Yes, and they ought to have been a little shaken by that, because that was what shook me. I’ve also confessed that if you asked me in December, “What are your gut feelings?” I would say, “I’m not here to tell anybody my gut feelings. I’m here to inspect.” Period. However, my gut feelings were like everybody else: “I think they have something.” But that feeling was shaken in January. When they didn’t find anything, well, then I certainly began to be more doubtful, and I said so to Condoleezza Rice, and I said so to the Security Council, but no one cared.
GSN: Is there anything that could have been done differently to change their reaction to what you had to report back to them?
Blix: Well, I mean, they are intelligent people, so gradually they must have seen the shakiness at the time. They had it from the inside. You take the drones, for instance. We know now that the U.S. Air Force did not believe that these were for biological and chemical weapons. We know on the enrichment side, the aluminum tubes, that it was the Energy Department that doubted it, and they are the ones that do enrichment in the U.S.
So they had it from the inside as well, but there must have been some sort of psychological political pressure that things were there, there were other people who said, no, no ― there was a wish to come to a conclusion. …
GSN: You have attributed the “psychological political pressure” that you mention to 9/11. U.S. officials continue to speak of a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda; [former White House antiterrorism official] Richard Clarke writes that President Bush, on Sept. 12, 2001, was insisting that a link be found to Saddam Hussein. Was there any such link?
Blix: I would like to see some shred of evidence. I think that a reality check is desirable. I have understanding also for the argument that governments do not have the luxury of inspectors: We go in, and we report what we see, with the black and white and gray. Governments have to come to decisions, and they normally have to do that on less than 100 percent data. However, I don’t think that exonerates them from examining the data they have with a critical mind, especially if you go to war, because if you do that, as in this case, I think it undoubtedly leads to a lack of credibility afterwards.
GSN: What is going to happen to UNMOVIC?
Blix: The resolutions are still in force, all of them, and that means also that the monitoring phase is still left. Because the resolutions [stipulated] that this was two phases. One was the inspection phase, during which you would find all the weapons and all the programs and you would eliminate them. That would be followed by a phase of monitoring, in which the inspectors would have exactly the same rights as before, but they would make sure that no new mushrooms were going up anywhere.
The question is, then, will the Security Council continue to have this, or will they dismantle all the inspection regime, including the monitoring? And then, Iraq would revert to the other regimes you have ― namely, the Nonproliferation Treaty and traditional inspection under that treaty, and the Chemical Weapons Convention [which Iraq has not yet signed]. So you would have no checking of biological, or the missile field.
Considering that [U.N. Security Council] Resolution 687 was really seeing inspection in Iraq as a step towards a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, I think there would be a strong argument saying, let’s maintain monitoring of Iraq, and let UNMOVIC continue with what it does ― namely, the biological and missile, at any rate, and perhaps also the chemical, in the case of Iraq ― and then say that we should not go down in inspection anywhere in the Middle East, we should go up.
So ask the Iranians to take this Additional Protocol under the NPT, which they have promised they will. … That would be one. And get the whole Middle East to move in that direction. There will be resistance to doing that so long as Israel has not taken a step forward, but the Israelis might perhaps take one step forward. They might perhaps submit some peaceful installations that they have which are not under inspection. They could show their goodwill. Now, real fruition will not come until you have a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, but the point I make is that they should not go backward in the case of Iraq.
Oct. 21, 2013
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