The 'revelation' that 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives have allegedly gone missing from the Al Qaqaa former Iraqi military complex near Baghdad has caused a political storm in Washington. Senator John Kerry has accused President George W. Bush of "incredible incompetence" and his aides have called for the Bush Administration to "answer for what may be the most grave and catastrophic mistake in a tragic series of blunders in Iraq."
The controversy arose after The New York Times published an exposé based on leaked information-most likely originating from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), headed by Director General Mohammed ElBaradei. Information had also been leaked to the CBS documentary program 60 Minutes. The Times article reported that the IAEA had received a letter from the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology on October 10 reporting the loss of 341.7 metric tons of HMX, RDX, and PETN. Are U.N. officials attempting to influence the U.S. presidential election?
The Role of the IAEA
TheTimes piece was published just one week ahead of the U.S. presidential election on November 2nd, undoubtedly timed to directly influence the electoral debate. Whatever the merits of the accusations in the Times article (which have been strongly contested by the Bush Administration and are largely unproven), critical questions need to be asked with regard to the behavior of the IAEA and its overseeing body, the United Nations.
Significantly, the IAEA chose to report the missing explosives to the Security Council on October 25, two weeks after it had received the letter from the Iraqi Science Ministry. Its failure to report the findings from Iraq immediately to the Security Council and the subsequent leak of critical information to two media outlets strongly critical of the Bush Administration strongly suggest a political agenda on the part of the U.N. body.
There is certainly no shortage of tensions between the IAEA and the Bush Administration. Since U.N. inspectors led by Hans Blix were withdrawn from Iraq ahead of the U.S.-British liberation of the country in 2002, relations between the IAEA and the U.S. government have been stormy. The United States has consistently opposed the return of U.N. inspectors to Iraq, despite repeated requests, and has been critical of the IAEA's performance with regard to the growing threat posed by Iran. The Bush Administration has reportedly opposed ElBaradei's attempts to seek reelection as Director General of the IAEA for a third term in 2005.
Three key questions remain unanswered:
Why did the IAEA decide to inform the Security Council of the Iraqi letter a full two weeks after receiving it and just a week before the U.S. presidential election?
How and why was sensitive information leaked to the New York Times and CBS?
What role was played by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the U.N. Secretariat in the decisions regarding the timing of the report to the Security Council and any leaking of information to the U.S. media?
U.N. Criticism of the Bush Administration
The controversy over the IAEA's role in the Al Qaqaa missing stockpile scandal must be viewed within the context of the increasingly tense relationship between the Bush Administration and the United Nations over the war in Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime.
The last few weeks have seen a series of outspoken attacks by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Washington's decision to go to war in Iraq.Annan described the war to remove Saddam as an "illegal" violation of the U.N. Charter in a September 16 interview with the BBC, adding, "I hope we do not see another Iraq-type operation for a long time."
In an interview with another British broadcaster, Annan again criticized the decision of the U.S. government to go to war against Iraq, firmly rejecting the notion that the world is a safer place with Saddam Hussein out of power:
I cannot say the world is safer when you consider the violence around us, when you look around you and see the terrorist attacks around the world and you see what is going on in Iraq.
Kofi Annan's ill-timed comments are a poorly conceived attempt to undercut the United States government and to influence the electoral debate in the country. They are a reflection of his deep-seated resentment of President Bush's decision to go to war against Iraq without his blessing. Such remarks are deeply unhelpful at a time when the United States and Great Britain, with the support of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546, are working tirelessly to generate greater international involvement in the reconstruction and stabilization of post-war Iraq.
Moreover, Annan's comments also undermine the efforts of the interim Iraqi Government in the lead-up to crucial elections in January. The Secretary-General's description of the liberation of Iraq as a violation of the U.N. Charter merely gives comfort to the insurgents who are determined to prevent the creation of a successful democracy in Iraq.
The Declining Credibility of the U.N.
Kofi Annan's attacks on the United States over its decision to go to war with Iraq is indicative of the insecurity running through the corridors of power at the U.N. headquarters in New York. The prestige and reputation of the world body is running at an all-time low. The world organization failed spectacularly to deal with Saddam Hussein's dictatorship and his flouting of the U.N.'s own resolutions, is failing to provide leadership in disarming Iran, and is weak-kneed in the face of genocide in the Sudan.
At the same time, the U.N. faces serious allegations of mismanagement and corruption relating to its administration of the Iraq Oil-for-Food Program. The ill-fated program is now the subject of at least four congressional investigations, three U.S. federal investigations, as well as a U.N.-appointed commission of inquiry, the Volcker Commission. Worryingly for Annan, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the role of Kojo Annan, Kofi's son, in connection to his role as a paid consultant to Cotecna Inspection SA, a Swiss-based company that received a contract for inspecting goods shipped to Iraq under the Oil-for-Food program.
The 2004 Presidential election may be not only a defining moment in American history, but also a defining moment for the future of the United Nations. President Bush's stark warning to the U.N. General Assembly that the world body faces a descent into irrelevance in the 21st Century and his decision to go to war against Iraq without the blessing of the Security Council have generated great resentment among the unelected bureaucrats of Turtle Bay.
President Bush is committed to fundamental reform of the U.N. system and has pledged to the American people that the organization will wield no veto over U.S. foreign policy. A second Bush presidency is also likely to strongly support congressional investigations into the Oil-for-Food scandal, undoubtedly a major threat to the standing and reputation of the United Nations-indeed, the scandal has the potential to bring down Kofi Annan and other senior U.N. officials.
It is hardly surprising then that the U.N. Secretary-General has been highly critical of the U.S. President's foreign policy in the weeks ahead of the presidential election and has sought to undermine the legitimacy of the U.S.-led war against Iraq. This undignified meddling in the U.S. political debate reflects poorly on an international institution that once took pride in its neutrality on the world stage.
The current controversy over the IAEA report and the missing explosives must be viewed against the backdrop of mounting U.N. hostility toward the Bush Administration. The strong possibility that Mr. ElBaradei and the IAEA deliberately sought to influence the electoral debate in the United States should be thoroughly investigated. In the face of growing scandal and declining credibility, accountability and transparency must be the watchwords that govern the U.N.
Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy at the Heritage Foundation.
Quoted by Fox News Online, October 26, 2004, at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,136663,00.html
James Glanz, William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, "Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq," The New York Times, October 25, 2004, at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/25/international
For further background, see Benny Avny, "The Bush Administration Questions Timing of IAEA Weapons Letter," The New York Sun, October 26, 2004, at http://www.nysun.com/article/3783, and the BBC News Online profile of ElBaradei, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2596447.stm
BBC News Online, "Excerpts: Annan Interview," September 16, 2004, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3661640.stm.
See also "Annan Rejects Iraq Oil Bribe Claim," BBC News Online, October 16, 2004, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3750126.stm.
For background on the Oil-for-Food issue, see Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., James A. Phillips, and James Dean, "The Oil for Food Scandal: Next Steps for Congress," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1772, June 30, 2004, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/InternationalOrganizations/ bg1772.cfm.
"Oil for Food Probe Includes Annan's Son," Fox News Online, October 15, 2004, at http://www.fox-news.com/story/0,2933,135503,00.html.