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
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inspectors led by Hans Blix were withdrawn from Iraq ahead of the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
Three key questions remain
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
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.
U.N. Criticism of the Bush
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.
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.
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.
Credibility of the U.N.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy at the