Executive Summary: Disarming Iraq: The Lessons of UNSCOM

Report Middle East

Executive Summary: Disarming Iraq: The Lessons of UNSCOM

October 28, 2002 4 min read Download Report
Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation
James Phillips is a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation.

The Bush Administration is pressing the United Nations Security Council to get tough on Saddam Hussein's regime, which has violated 16 of its resolutions since the end of the 1991 Gulf War. The United States presented a resolution to the U.N. Security Council on October 23 that would require Iraq to disclose and surrender its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and long-range missiles or face "serious consequences," including possible military action by U.N. member states. In particular, Washington is pushing the Security Council to put teeth behind Resolution 687--long violated by Baghdad--which required Iraq to dismantle its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs, and missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometers.

To deflate international pressure for a new and tougher U.N. Security Council resolution and to deflect the United States from war, Iraq recently agreed to permit the return of U.N. arms inspectors, which it had blocked since 1998. But the crucial issue is to disarm Iraq, not merely to inspect it.

Inspections can work effectively only if Iraq is cooperative. As the timeline in the appendix to this paper shows, Baghdad has been far from cooperative in the past, and there is little reason to presume that it will be more accommodating in the future. Indeed, the Iraqis already are backpedaling away from unconditional inspections. In its formal notification to the U.N., Iraq stipulated that inspectors must respect its dignity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, and that the U.N. must apply the rules governing the elimination of Iraq's WMD programs to Israel as well. Iraq later proclaimed that it would not abide by any new resolution that altered prior agreements with the U.N. Acceding to Iraq's demands would result in a stillborn inspection system and allow Baghdad to retain the tight restrictions it had placed on U.N. inspectors that watered down the effectiveness of the original inspection regime.

Washington cannot permit Saddam Hussein to make a charade of Iraq's disarmament obligations, as he did from 1991 to 1998. During that period, the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), which dispatched the inspectors to verify that Iraq had relinquished prohibited weapons, was thwarted by systematic Iraqi denial, duplicity, and deception. The lesson of UNSCOM is that Saddam Hussein cannot be trusted to disarm his own regime.

Inspections are worth doing only if the inspectors have a strong mandate from the Security Council to do their jobs on an "anytime-anyplace" basis. Any new inspection regime must be stronger and more intrusive than were the UNSCOM inspections. The Iraqi dictator will acquiesce to meaningful inspections only if he is convinced that the alternative is a war that will destroy his regime.

To disarm Iraq, the Administration should:

  • Preempt attempts by Russia and France to introduce a second U.N. resolution on weapons inspections. A single resolution that includes a hair trigger for military action is needed to defeat the obstructive tactics that Saddam used to undermine UNSCOM's effectiveness.
  • Ensure that inspectors have unconditional access to all sites and all Iraqis at any time. Washington cannot afford to return to the flawed 1998 Kofi Annan agreement that put some sites off-limits and made surprise inspections difficult to organize. The inspectors must be able to deploy quickly and descend on targeted facilities with little or no warning. The burden of proof should be put on Baghdad to prove that Iraq has disarmed, not on the inspectors to prove the reverse.
  • Require Iraqi officials and scientists to be interviewed privately without the presence of Saddam's minders. UNSCOM inspectors found that those whom they interviewed were intimidated by the presence of Iraqi government observers, which frustrated their information-gathering efforts. No Iraqi observers should be present at the interviews.
  • Reform UNMOVIC to make it more effective. Inspectors for UNSCOM's successor, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) should be selected for their experience, reliability, and specialized knowledge, not merely to achieve geographic diversity. UNMOVIC staff must be vetted to weed out weak links who may be bribed, blackmailed, or inclined to help Iraq. Personnel should be drawn from foreign government agencies on temporary duty, so as not to become career U.N. bureaucrats who could be subject to political interference.

Conclusion. The U.N. inspections program, as currently structured, cannot work. If the Security Council does not approve a strengthened new inspection regime backed by the credible use of force, then the United States should abandon the idea of inspections altogether. A weak inspection regime is worse than no inspections at all. The inspectors cannot destroy what they cannot find. And they cannot know precisely what they have not found. Inspections address the symptoms but not the cause of the chronic confrontations with Iraq. The root of the problem is the nature of the regime, not the regime's weapons. The United States and its allies cannot allow such an aggressive regime to attain the most lethal weapons, given its long history of terrorism. Ultimately, the only way to be certain of ridding Iraq of WMD is to rid it of Saddam Hussein's menacing regime.

James Phillips is Research Fellow in Middle East Affairs in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.


James Phillips

Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation