Inspections, not war, are the safest way to disarm Saddam Hussein. An invasion could be the quickest way to get undeclared weapons into terrorist hands
February 16, 2003
By Dan Plesch
How do we get Saddam to disarm and keep any chemical and biological weapons out of the hands of terrorists? This remains the key question after Friday's presentations at the United Nations from Hans Blix and Mohammed Elbarradei.
Both their reports concluded that Iraq had failed to fully comply with the UN resolution 1441. They also concluded that they had found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
On nuclear weapons the IAEA found that there was no significant new nuclear programme. However they are vigorously pursuing questions concerning possible components for bomb making equipment. These include specialised aluminum tubes and magnets.
On biological and chemical weapons Hans Blix made clear that there was still serious concern over unaccounted VX gas and anthrax which Saddam claims no longer exists.
On missiles, Saddam has been found to have weapons that slightly excede the 150 kilometre limit set by the UN. While still a very short range, the techniques being developed might contribute to future programmes.
So it is clear that Iraq has not fully complied with the UN's demands.
But what both Blix and Elbaradei also made clear is that they see inspections as an effective means of preventing Saddam posing a threat.
Reinforced inspections have the potential to keep the lid on new efforts by Saddam and continue to uncover and destroy illegal weaponry. The discovery of the illicit missile programme is concrete proof that inspections can work to disarm Iraq. These weapons have been identified and will now be destroyed without war.
The inspection process involves no loss of life or political turmoil. It requires 250, or perhaps 2,500 staff at a cost of 100 or 200 million dollars a year. In contrast war risks much, will kill many and involve hundreds of thousands of troops and hundreds of billions of dollars. Hans Blix made this very clear in a lunchtime briefing to reporters at the UN last week.
What was remarkable in Blix's remarks were a series of coded rebukes for Colin Powell. Blix specifically discounted Powell's claims about the movement of vehicles to coincide with inspections, the presence of chemical decontamination units and explained that for example two satellite photographs showing contrasting scenes were taken weeks apart. With what passes for dripping sarcasm at the UN, Blix said that nevertheless he appreciated Powell's briefing.
Blix went further in criticising Powell's presentation. He said that it was useful to get intelligence from member states when dealing with Iraq's closed society and that this was 'gradually increasing.' He had previously gone out of his way to praise intelligence given by Germany. On this occasion he stated that 'confidence could not arise' if government 'assertions' were not backed up by evidence.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Iraq has not properly accounted for its activities even if the US claims are feeble. In making the choice between reinforced inspections and invasion, one unconsidered issue needs to be thought through.
What will happen to any chemical or biological materials if the US kills Saddam and blows up Iraq? How will we then find these materials? Those who know where they are may be dead or fleeing. Written records may be burnt, lost or scattered. How many of those who know the truth about these weapons will want to come forward to tell what they know? Afterall, defection is already an option and the fear of reprisals will not go away simply because there are US troops in fortified camps scattered around Iraq.
Any remaining poisons may simply lie unnoticed in the ground until they decay or are accidentally uncovered and perhaps released. Finally, of course those with the knowledge may flee or go to ground. They may take samples of these deadly materials with them, or return later. They may use their knowledge as currency and a passport to other regimes and to terrorist groups. Is this likely? Nobody can know for sure. But if anything is certain it is this. Destroying by war Saddam's control over any hidden stocks and forcing those involved to flee is the surest method of getting weapons of mass destruction into the hands of terrorists. An invasion of Iraq should be characterised as stamping in a puddle of poison.