February 27, 2003 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

The Iraq Endgame

The long-simmering Iraq crisis finally appears to be coming to a boil. Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, has ordered Iraq to begin destroying its prohibited Samoud 2 missiles. The Iraqis generously have offered to "study" the matter, although they know full well that those missiles exceed the 93-mile limit the U.N. Security Council imposed after the 1991 Gulf War.

If Iraq refuses to comply, the way will be cleared for the United States to disarm Iraq through war. The United States and Britain are pushing a resolution that will declare Iraq to be in violation of U.N. Resolution 1441, passed last November to give Iraq a last chance to avoid war. But even if Iraq bows to U.S. military pressure and destroys the missiles, the underlying problem will remain unresolved. As President Bush says, the missiles are "only the tip of the iceberg."

Iraq is suspected of retaining huge stocks of anthrax, nerve gas, and other chemical and biological poisons, as well as a clandestine nuclear-weapons program. If Iraq can obtain the necessary fissile material, it could build a nuclear weapon within a year. And once Iraq has such a weapon, it could pass it on to its terrorist allies. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said repeatedly: "Time is not on our side."

The previous U.N. inspection process failed to uproot Iraq's prohibited weapons programs in seven years of inspections between 1991 and 1998. There is no reason to believe that inspections now will be any different.

The fundamental problem is the nature of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. Given its long record of using terrorism against its own people as well as its neighbors, the United States can't afford to allow it to obtain the world's most dangerous weapons -- particularly a nuclear bomb, which would be the ultimate terrorist weapon.

It's now clear that the Iraqi dictator has squandered his "last chance" to avoid war by complying with Resolution 1441. But France, Russia and Germany appear determined to ignore the terms of that resolution and give Saddam yet another "last chance."

France has proposed to expand the U.N. inspection force and give Iraq more time to comply with its disarmament obligations. But more inspectors won't solve the problem. Nor will turning inspections into an endless game of hide-and-seek.

The simple truth is that the inspectors can't inspect what they cannot find. And they're not likely to find much of Saddam's hidden arsenal; Iraq is bigger than Texas and the Iraqis have had years of experience hiding prohibited arms and materials.

Nor is extending the time allotted for inspections a realistic way of solving the problem. The inspectors so far have turned up 12 empty chemical warheads. But Iraq has failed to account for roughly 30,000 of such warheads. At this rate, it would take over 500 years for the inspectors to find those warheads.

The problem is not a lack of inspectors but a lack of Iraqi cooperation. The inspectors cannot do their jobs unless the Iraqis show them what needs to be inspected and destroyed. Yet it's futile to expect that Saddam Hussein will cooperate in disarming his own regime, because that would threaten his own survival.

France cynically sees inspections not as a way to disarm Iraq, but to disarm the United States. But we can't go along with the charade of continued inspections. Ineffective inspections are worse than none at all, because they give the world a false sense of security by conveying the illusion that arms control is working in Iraq.

The endgame in Iraq is at hand. The Bush administration should press the United Nations to uphold its own resolutions against Iraq, which has violated Resolution 1441 and 16 other U.N. resolutions. If the Security Council fails to do the right thing, then Bush should lead a coalition of willing allies to disarm Iraq by force without a new resolution.

This wouldn't be unprecedented. The Clinton administration chose to use military force in Bosnia in 1995 and in Kosovo in 1999 without obtaining a specific resolution from the Security Council. The threat posed by Saddam Hussein's murderous regime is too dangerous to do anything less.


James Phillips is a research fellow specializing in the Middle East at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based research institution.

The long-simmering Iraq crisis finally appears to be coming to a boil. Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, has ordered Iraq to begin destroying its prohibited Samoud 2 missiles. The Iraqis generously have offered to "study" the matter, although they know full well that those missiles exceed the 93-mile limit the U.N. Security Council imposed after the 1991 Gulf War.

If Iraq refuses to comply, the way will be cleared for the United States to disarm Iraq through war. The United States and Britain are pushing a resolution that will declare Iraq to be in violation of U.N. Resolution 1441, passed last November to give Iraq a last chance to avoid war. But even if Iraq bows to U.S. military pressure and destroys the missiles, the underlying problem will remain unresolved. As President Bush says, the missiles are "only the tip of the iceberg."

Iraq is suspected of retaining huge stocks of anthrax, nerve gas, and other chemical and biological poisons, as well as a clandestine nuclear-weapons program. If Iraq can obtain the necessary fissile material, it could build a nuclear weapon within a year. And once Iraq has such a weapon, it could pass it on to its terrorist allies. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said repeatedly: "Time is not on our side."

The previous U.N. inspection process failed to uproot Iraq's prohibited weapons programs in seven years of inspections between 1991 and 1998. There is no reason to believe that inspections now will be any different.

The fundamental problem is the nature of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. Given its long record of using terrorism against its own people as well as its neighbors, the United States can't afford to allow it to obtain the world's most dangerous weapons -- particularly a nuclear bomb, which would be the ultimate terrorist weapon.

It's now clear that the Iraqi dictator has squandered his "last chance" to avoid war by complying with Resolution 1441. But France, Russia and Germany appear determined to ignore the terms of that resolution and give Saddam yet another "last chance."

France has proposed to expand the U.N. inspection force and give Iraq more time to comply with its disarmament obligations. But more inspectors won't solve the problem. Nor will turning inspections into an endless game of hide-and-seek.

The simple truth is that the inspectors can't inspect what they cannot find. And they're not likely to find much of Saddam's hidden arsenal; Iraq is bigger than Texas and the Iraqis have had years of experience hiding prohibited arms and materials.

Nor is extending the time allotted for inspections a realistic way of solving the problem. The inspectors so far have turned up 12 empty chemical warheads. But Iraq has failed to account for roughly 30,000 of such warheads. At this rate, it would take over 500 years for the inspectors to find those warheads.

The problem is not a lack of inspectors but a lack of Iraqi cooperation. The inspectors cannot do their jobs unless the Iraqis show them what needs to be inspected and destroyed. Yet it's futile to expect that Saddam Hussein will cooperate in disarming his own regime, because that would threaten his own survival.

France cynically sees inspections not as a way to disarm Iraq, but to disarm the United States. But we can't go along with the charade of continued inspections. Ineffective inspections are worse than none at all, because they give the world a false sense of security by conveying the illusion that arms control is working in Iraq.

The endgame in Iraq is at hand. The Bush administration should press the United Nations to uphold its own resolutions against Iraq, which has violated Resolution 1441 and 16 other U.N. resolutions. If the Security Council fails to do the right thing, then Bush should lead a coalition of willing allies to disarm Iraq by force without a new resolution.

This wouldn't be unprecedented. The Clinton administration chose to use military force in Bosnia in 1995 and in Kosovo in 1999 without obtaining a specific resolution from the Security Council. The threat posed by Saddam Hussein's murderous regime is too dangerous to do anything less.


James Phillips is a research fellow specializing in the Middle East at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based research institution.

About the Author

James Phillips Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire