Global Policy Forum

Richard Butler;

San Diego Union-Tribune
May 21, 2000

"For 18 months now Iraq has been in a position to reconstitute its weapons of mass destruction capability. I believe there's evidence that it is doing so."

Question: Would you bring us up to date in a general way on the status of the situation in Iraq? Are we slowly losing the game?

Answer: I'll answer the first part of your question before endorsing that conclusion because it's not over yet. It's now a year and a half since Iraq has had to accept any inspection of its past weapons programs to determine what remains to be disarmed or any monitoring of its ongoing work in industries that it has used in the past to create weapons of mass destruction. That was the task the Security Council set Iraq and UNSCOM now 9 years ago. The past was to disarm Iraq. The past means to take away from Iraq, the words were 'destroy, remove or render harmless' the illegal weapons that it had and to ensure, looking into the present and future, that it doesn't make them again. One was disarmament, the other was monitoring. My point is Iraq has accepted none of that for the last 18 months. There is no doubt that in that period Iraq has been at work increasing the range of its missiles. And maybe making new ones.

Q: And how do we know without monitoring that they have been working to extend the range of their missiles?

A: Because there have been external reports that say so. And indeed a week ago, the Iraqi deputy prime minister conceded in an interview that the factories that were bombed during Desert Fox had been rebuilt and that they were capable of making longer-range missiles. And reports that I have seen since leaving UNSCOM of Iraqi activities to acquire relevant materials overseas through front companies, there's no question that they're attempting to extend the range of their missiles. And I think to make new ones.

Q: And the fact that we haven't had inspections has inhibited them less?

A: Yes. The very least thing that an inspection presence or monitoring presence achieves is to inhibit such work. It may not prevent it outright, but it makes it far harder and much slower and it can sometimes prevent it outright. Some of the materials and machines involved are uniquely suited to that purpose. Iraq very often argued that these are dual purpose machines. But when you see as I have seen an order placed through a front company to an overseas supplier for a precision piece of equipment that was used by Iraq in the past for only one purpose ... it's unambiguous that that's what they're doing. Now, missiles are a delivery vehicle. They have to carry something militarily significant. Conventional explosives don't need to be discussed. But the other three possibilities, non-conventional weapons of mass destruction packages of nuclear, chemical and biological, do. And there there's been recent defector evidence that Iraq has reassembled its nuclear team. They are back in the business at least of bringing their nuclear team back together. And I call your attention to the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency was also removed from Iraq when we were. They've had them back in once to look at a stockpile of natural uranium.

Q: What evidence is there of chemical and biological weapon production?

A: Aerial imagery shows that they've rebuilt their plants that were bombed by Desert Fox. I can only assume that absent monitoring that they're using them again to make more chemical and biological weapons.

Q: Why hasn't the U.S. government taken action to knock those targets out? Can't they be disrupted through bombing?

A: Yes, of course. They're flying every day over the north and southern no-fly zone. But you know very well why they won't do that. Why didn't they go beyond four days (in the Gulf War)?

Q: Under the cease-fire, though, do we not have the authority under international law to strike?

A: I believe so because all of the resolutions involved are cease-fire resolutions. Because Iraq has not completed the disarmament process, and then sanctions lifted. Strictly speaking, the state of hostilities has never ceased. The Russians don't agree. They say any sort of bombing actions like Desert Fox are illegal. And the no-fly zones are illegal. But I don't think for a moment that it's a matter of legal argument. The administration clearly does not want to be involved, has not wanted since December 1998 to be involved in any further acts of military enforcement of Iraq's disarmament obligations.

Q: I want to know why, though.

A: First let me summarize my answer on where we are. Without disarmament activity and monitoring in Iraq for 18 months now Iraq has been in a position to reconstitute its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) capability. I believe there's evidence that it is doing so. Point two, who knows that apart from me? Answer: anyone of any importance knows it. The United States government knows it. The Russian government knows it. What does this mean in terms of the job of disarming Iraq, the threat that it constitutes, the defiance of the authority of the Security Council? That comes to your question. What it means is this: That Russia has identified support for Saddam Hussein and opposition to United States policy toward Iraq as consistent with its interests in one, getting a foot back onto the superpower stage for the first time since the end of the Cold War because this is an issue in which America is absent and weak. Two, that its relationship with Iraq can produce financial benefit to it by being repaid the money that it is owed for Soviet weapons, some $10 billion and by being a prime mover in the future development of Iraqi oil. And three, maintenance of an interest that is a couple of hundred years old of Russia in that part of the world. Russia assesses that those interests are more important to it than to play out its role as a responsible, permanent member of the Security Council that helped make the law on Saddam's weapons and has the unique authority to enforce it. The United States seems to come to the conclusion that enforcement of the disarmament law that was made by it and its colleagues on the Council, with respect to Iraq, is too hard. It's not acceptable to the American people or internationally to use American power to enforce this law.

Q: What is the situation on a successor inspection agency?

A: It took six months to negotiate a resolution on the institution. It was adopted last December. It's now May and it is not in Iraq and Iraq is still saying that it won't accept it. And Russia has said, 'We will veto any element of this new organization with which Iraq does not agree.' Now this is a bloody outrage! Here is Russia delivering at the table of the Security Council Saddam's veto. Now, the United States supported the new organization. The United States placed this as the third element of its new policy, that this work will be restored through the new organization. And when Saddam has accepted it and we've got a monitoring system up and running again, then maybe there can be sanctions relief. But the prospect of that organization providing serious inspection, serious monitoring, given Russia's representation of Saddam's position on the Security Council, is small. So what is essentially at issue here is a division between the Russia and the United States on this, each for their own reasons, of which Saddam is the clear beneficiary, something that I say actually shows us the real contours of the post-Cold War world. Not those euphoric ones that we saw in 1990-91. The administration is not prepared, to answer your question, to pursue Saddam now in the light of the evidence we have that he's doing it again because it sees no domestic consensus here for doing so. There's no international support for doing so. So provided Saddam doesn't go off on some adventure like Kuwait again, it seems to me that it goes right back to the beginning when you asked if he is winning. It seems to me that he's in fair shape, in pretty good shape.

Q: So this challenge has great implications?

A: The permanent members are divided around a major issue of their own authority as the leaders of the U.N. Security Council. And the substance of which is very serious arms control matters. It's the greatest threat, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, in the crisis of global security. The authority of the Security Council is dual. It is to make the law and enforce it. Its decisions are binding in international law. And it made very strong international law to disarm this man who is a dictator addicted to weapons of mass destruction. Going beyond the intrinsic danger that he poses, there is a whole fabric of treaties that is 40 years old here, to which great importance is attached and rightly so. They've served us well in restraining the proliferation of these weapons. This is the major challenge to them. Everyone's recognized that for five or six years. There's a crisis in global security management. Look what's happened in the last 12 months. NATO knew that the Security Council would not permit it to deal with Milosevic. So they went around it. And what we've had as a result of that, Russia last week announcing a first use of nuclear weapons policy and saying that one of the reasons for this is what we saw happen in Kosovo.

Q: So what would you do?

A: The proposal that I make in my book -- which will be in the bookstores here the last week in May -- is this: that the major powers agree and put it of course to their fellow member states of the U.N., that the world community agree that weapons of mass destruction are actually special. Special destructive capability is actually recognized by all. And that it makes sense that when you've got a special category on your hands of this kind, a special phenomenon, then you make special arrangements for dealing with it. And the proposal I make is that what I call the principle of the exception for weapons of mass destruction should apply. Namely that they be excepted from politics as usual. That they not be made the subject of negotiations among states for advantage. There are a zillion things we can do that are mainly trade and economic and other issues of influence and power and profit. But that these be not the subject of politics as usual. And specifically that arrangements be agreed upon whereby whenever there is a credible report of an infraction of one of the key treaties, that consideration of action to deal with that be in a vetoless world. That the five powers agree that it is inappropriate to exercise their veto in the context of an infraction of one of these treaties. Because these weapons are different.

Q: That would require a change in the charter?

A: No. Because the charter is almost impossible to change. And because the permanent members, I'm sure, would not countenance a suggestion that seemed to weaken absolute authority of their veto within the council. So, I propose that there be created a United Nations Council on Weapons of Mass Destruction. At the end of World War II there was the conference at San Francisco which produced the charter and the Security Council. We've never had a comparable conference at the end of the Cold War, we've just gone on trying to fix this vehicle while we were driving it. And fairly fast. I contend that the centerpiece of the Cold War was the arms race and the increasing sophistication and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And that sensibly a conference at the end of the Cold War would have those issues center front. And that that's the piece that's missing from the charter.

Q: How would this new body work?

A: My proposed United Nations Council on Weapons of Mass Destruction would sit as it were parallel to the Security Council. It would be a place to which reports of any serious question of possible infraction or infractions of the non-proliferation treaties, plural, were sent. This council would consider the circumstance and arrive at a decision. Presumably to make that decision secure on matters of substance it might be by a two-thirds majority of the body. The body would be larger than the Security Council and more representative. It would have a number of representatives from each of the regions and it could include countries that are of special interest or difficulty in this context now, namely India and Pakistan and Israel. But it would be a vetoless council. Its mandate would be to consider any credible reports of infractions to one of these treaties and to formulate a course of action. Which, if it required military action or sanctions, things within the power of the Security Council, would be sent to the council for it to implement. You say, well, why wouldn't the state veto it there? I don't know the answer. But the understanding would have to be that that would be contrary to the whole notion of a vetoless world when it came to considering these specially excepted weapons, weapons of mass destruction. I actually think it's extraordinarily constructive in that it would get this stuff out of everyone's political life in this sense. Take Russia and America or the United States and China -- there's an immense number of issues to deal about, argue about. Trade, particularly with China. Human rights with China. Rebuilding Russia, trying to get Russia properly launched toward a better kind of society which if it isn't it's going to be dangerous. It just clutters that agenda hopelessly if at the same time as doing that you're putting into the mix that you're negotiating with chemical weapons, biological weapons. Virtually all the states in the world have said these weapons are uncivilized and inadmissible, that we shouldn't have them. Here in the United States we're destroying them. Biological weapons are done and chemical will be by 2007.

Richard Butler knows controversy well, having dealt with Iraq as the United Nations' chief arms inspector from 1997 to 1999. A career diplomat for Australia, Butler is now diplomat in residence for the Council on Foreign Relations and based in New York. He is the author of the just-released book, "The Greatest Threat -- Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Crisis of Global Security." Butler's visit to San Diego was arranged by UCSD's Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies. He was interviewed by members of the Union-Tribune's editorial board.

More Articles on Iraq


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.