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Preventing the further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction

The importance of on-site inspection in Iraq

Lecture by Dr. Hans Blix, Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC at the Third Training Course of UNMOVIC
Vienna, 19 February 2001

The Gulf War was fought ten years ago to liberate Kuwait.The objective was attained in a short period of time.However, the world is still grappling with the question whether Iraq retains some weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles or dedicated capacity to produce these deadly items.And Iraq, which was one of the most advanced States in the Middle East - with excellent schools, universities and health care - has been tragically set decades back by the combined effect of the long war with Iran, the Gulf War and sanctions.

I propose to discuss the measures taken by the United Nations Security Council regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in the context of the broader international efforts to prevent the spread of such weapons and their means of delivery globally.

Iraq used chemical weapons in the war against Iran and against its own citizens.It used long-range missiles both in the Gulf War and against Iran.So its capacity in these two respects was known to the world, when the cease-fire was concluded in 1991.Iraq’s achievements in the spheres of nuclear and biological weapons was not known at the time, but the cease-fire conditions of Security Council resolution 687 (1991) stipulated broadly that Iraq must be rid of all biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and long-range missiles and facilities to produce them.

These provisions of the resolution must be seen as expressions of the Council’s determination to eliminate the danger which Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction would present to its neighbours, but also as a part of the Council’s global efforts to prevent the further spread of weapons of mass destruction.

In paragraph 14 of the resolution, the disarmament requirements for Iraq were described as “steps towards the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery…Thus, although the Council has not linked the disarmament of Iraq with the establishment of a zone, it showed a disarmament vision that went beyond Iraq and that envisaged future mutually reinforcing commitments from States in the region.

The regional approach to non-proliferation is, indeed, one that commends itself especially in areas where there could be risks of arms races between neighbouring States. While agreement on a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles cannot be negotiated in the current political climate in the Middle East, zones free of nuclear weapons have been established in a number of other regions of the world. Indeed, the regional nuclear-weapon-free zones cover the whole of the Southern hemisphere.While Cuba has yet to ratify the Tlatelolco Treaty covering South and Central America and the Caribbean, The Rarotonga and Bangkok treaties cover South Asia and the South Pacific, and South Africa’s walk back from a nuclear weapon capacity allowed the African nuclear-weapon-free zone treaty to be concluded.

The reference in Security Council resolutions 687 (1991) and 1284 (1999) to a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction was thus to a concept that was well established for nuclear weapons.

The years since the end of the Cold War have seen a growing international engagement - including a summit meeting on the subject in the Security Council - against proliferation.   In several respects this engagement has been successful. In a few cases it has failed. It is sobering to realize that if it had not been for the Gulf War and the revelations and disarmament measures that it brought, Iraq would have been equipped with arsenals of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missiles to deliver them.Iraq would have constituted a case of flagrant and dangerous failure.


Let me for a moment discuss the international non-proliferation efforts apart from NWFZ - regarding the different types of weapons of mass destruction and for long-range missiles.

The effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the five Permanent Members of the Security Council has been more successful than many had thought possible and, yet, not as successful as all had wished.The efforts have focused on making the Non-Proliferation Treaty universal but it has also aimed at promoting nuclear-weapon-free zones and comprised ad hoc approaches, as in the cases of Iraq and the DPRK.The efforts have also been paralleled and helped by quantitative reductions by Russia and the United States, which have very substantially reduced their nuclear weapons arsenals.The UK and France have also undertaken some scaling-back. All this has contributed to a welcome global reduction in the number of nuclear weapons and a limitation in the number of nuclear weapon States.Today, not only NGOs but also many governments demand plans for a complete elimination of nuclear weapons, a goal that may be somewhat distant but is now acknowledged and accepted by all.While all this is encouraging, other developments in the nuclear sphere are not.

Three States - beyond the five - are generally deemed to possess nuclear weapons: Israel, India and Pakistan.   While none of these States had adhered to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, their possession of nuclear weapons nevertheless obviously constitutes proliferation beyond that which is represented by the five Permanent Members of the Security Council.

The DPRK has agreed to suspend its indigenous nuclear programme in return for assistance in the building of two nuclear power plants to be placed under international inspection. In the Middle East, lastly, Iraq was found to have violated its obligation under the NPT, to have mastered the technique of enriching uranium and to have been close to developing a nuclear weapon.The ability of the Security Council to hold Iraq to the nuclear-weapon-free status to which it had committed itself by adhering to the NPT is evidently important not only for the credibility of that treaty, and for future efforts to achieve a zone free from WMDs in the Middle East, but also for the global outlook.  A revival of the nuclear weapons programme in Iraq would be a grave and colossal failure.The IAEA is charged by the Security Council to map and to eradicate Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme.While few question marks were deemed to remain in the nuclear dossier at the end of 1998, the IAEA is now obliged to examine whether the situation remains unchanged.UNMOVIC is requested to assist the IAEA – not least at the practical logistical level. We are happy to do so and pleased with the very close cooperation that exists.Indeed, I am glad to acknowledge that we at UNMOVIC are learning a great deal from our friends at the IAEA.

In the field of chemical weapons, the efforts to prevent a proliferation - indeed to eliminate existing arsenals - are focused on the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which bans not only the use but also the possession and production of these weapons. It was especially important that the Convention covered all States equally – that the great powers were to eliminate their stocks just as all others.It was also highly significant that a comprehensive system for inspection, including on-site inspection, was set up.While the adherence to the convention is as yet by no means universal - and this is a concern - we can register with satisfaction how huge quantities of chemical weapons are being destroyed under international inspection in Russia, the United States as elsewhere.Iraq has not yet ratified the convention.However, its use of chemical weapons was in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol and international customary law.

The Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 prohibits the development, production, and stockpiling of bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons and requires their destruction.Like the CWC this convention treats all States, including great powers, equally.While not all States have yet adhered to the convention and while there is so far no international protocol on verification, States - including Russia and the United States - have taken steps to implement the Convention.Iraq was moving in the opposite direction.

Long-range missiles are a category of weapons system which constitutes a pressing problem.The world community has only had limited success in regulating it through the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The Iraqi use of missiles against neighbouring States and the testing by the DPRK of a three-stage rocket have contributed to the current discussion of missile shields of various kinds.Such shields, it is argued, would constitute a response to the proliferation of long-range missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction.Another approach discussed would be a common effort to focus on the States perceived as actual or potential dangers and seek to defuse these dangers.It is UNMOVIC’s task to seek to ensure that Iraq is rid of missiles of a range over 150 km and does not produce or acquire any more.


Whether we look at bans on the possession of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons or restrictions on long-range missiles, we find that invariably international on-site verification is demanded.For States to be able to rely on commitments given and to feel confident that the risk of being cheated is small, they need effective, credible verification.This is true whether we talk about multilateral regimes, such as the NPT and the CWC, or commitments such as Iraq’s under the cease-fire agreement and resolution 687 (1991), and that of the DPRK under the so-called agreed framework.International inspection is a growth business.

We have to note that States are not enthusiastic about receiving foreign inspectors on their territory and in their industrial and military installations - whether nuclear, chemical or other.If sufficiently reliable means of verification were to exist through satellite imagery or seismic surveillance or other non-intrusive means, it would be preferred.   However, currently existing non-intrusive means of verification are not deemed sufficient.States come to accept on-site inspection first because it is important for themselves to create confidence that they are abiding by their commitments and, secondly, because they want other States to accept the same kind of inspection.

On-site inspection regimes may be

mutual-bilateral, as in the case of many of the bilateral US-Russian agreements in the disarmament field;

(b)regional, as in the case of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) or in various nuclear-weapon-free zones; or

(c)international, as in the cases of the NPT, CWC and CTBT (Complete Test Ban Treaty).

There may also be hybrids between the different types.The right for individual parties to a multilateral regime to request so-called challenge inspections introduce a bilateral element.A regional regime could be supplementary to an international one, as in the case of the nuclear-weapon-free zones, which in the main uses on-site inspection through the IAEA international safeguards system but may add some kind of regional inspections for various situations.

An international regime may appear less disturbing to national sensitivities than bilateral arrangements, as the inspected State is likely, itself, to be a party to the regime, which may inspect a large number of States.On the other hand, reaching agreement about the sharing of costs is often a problem in international arrangements and providing intelligence to international inspectors is more problematic than giving it to one’s own.


The rapid expansion of the need for international inspection and the development of technology have led to the employment of powerful new means of verification:

.Satellite imagery provides important overview and is obtained without any intrusion into the territory or airspace of States.But satellites do not see through roofs and camouflage or decoys may fool them. While imagery from them used to be available only to or through a few States, it is now becoming available commercially - at a price.

·On-site videos and sensors may provide continuous surveillance and may even transmit images automatically reducing the need for inspector presence.

·Environmental sampling of air, soil or water and subsequent analysis for relevant chemical, biological or nuclear substances is becoming ever more powerful means of inquiry.

These and other techniques have been used increasingly and much experience of them has been accumulated in the IAEA, OPCW and UNSCOM.They may be useful not only in providing data for analysis but also in providing a disincentive to violations.However, they supplement but do not replace more traditional means of verification.

·Declarations by the inspected State provide the normal starting point for verification, monitoring and inspection. In banking and business, careful and consistent accounts provide some confidence of correct operations and the same is true of States’ accounts relevant to weaponry.Inconsistencies require explanations.

·The inspectors on the ground can hardly be replaced.Their professional expertise and experience may lead them to ask pertinent questions and to observations unavailable through other means.

·Information about a State’s imports – through declarations by the State itself or suppliers – may give important clues.

·Open sources, like newspapers, professional journals, radio and television reports may provide valuable information.   They are easily available though not so easily scanned.


A special source of information for international verification is intelligence.It can readily be used where States are mutually inspecting each other.It is by no means given, however, that national intelligence agencies will supply relevant information to international inspection organizations. Indeed, it appears that before the revelations of Iraq’s programmes of weapons of mass destruction, no international inspection regime did receive any national intelligence - not even satellite imagery.

International verification regimes are invariably present and active in inspected countries with the consent of these countries.They gather information only by methods that are authorized and must use the information only for purposes authorized.They do not have the means of checking international electronic communications.

It is clear, on the other hand, that national intelligence organizations may obtain much information that could be directly useful in the inspection and verification work of international organizations, notably to raise pertinent questions and to identify objects and installations for inspection.It is also obvious that if such information is not made available to the organizations, it loses some of its potential value.Moreover, an international organization could hardly be criticized for not following up a lead, which had never been given to it. This is not to say that there could not be good reasons why such information was not made available.The need to protect sources could be one.A fear that the international organization could not handle the information in a secure or meaningful way could be another.

This being said, it seems highly desirable that international inspection regimes be assisted by national intelligence under conditions acceptable to both sides. Defectors do not normally come to international organizations but to States, which can give them asylum.Where inspected countries do not provide full or reliable information, defectors and others may give very important data. Information about attempted procurement may provide significant clues and is usually not directly available to international regimes.

At the same time it is obvious that an international regime must guard itself against misinformation. It must critically analyse all information that may be given to it and preferably have information from several sources.   It must not engage in any information trading.It is in everybody’s interest that UNMOVIC is in nobody’s pocket.


There is no doubt that cooperation by the inspected State is crucial to achieve inspection results that are credible. Where the inspected State is anxious to obtain the trust of neighbours and the world, such cooperation should come naturally.An interesting example is South Africa, which invited the IAEA to verify that the nuclear weapons it had possessed had been irrevocably eliminated.From the outset, South Africa offered access to whatever documentation and whatever sites the Agency wanted to check.While such attitudes do not by themselves amount to evidence, they create a degree of credibility that may make it easier for States to disregard the residues of uncertainty, which will almost invariably exist.It is significant that resolution 1284 (1999) makes “cooperation in all respects by Iraq with UNMOVIC the condition for the suspension of sanctions.


In the case of Iraq, nearly ten years of inspection has seen cooperation and very significant results but also much obstruction.Many lessons have been learnt:

· One is that even when they have the most far-reaching rights of access, inspectors remain basically ‘observers’ in a country where full executive power is in the hands of the Government.The host country is always able, if it so chooses, to deny inspectors access, even though they are legally entitled to it. However, it can only do so at a price, namely, that the denial of access may suggest to the inspectors and to the world that prohibited items might be concealed.

· Another lesson is that it is not practically feasible to search for every possibly relevant item or data in large weapons programmes lasting over many years.Matters deemed of marginal importance may have to be left aside unless and until some new data invest them with importance.Even so, there will inevitably be a ‘residue of uncertainty’ and it will be for the Security Council to decide what impact it will have. There is no such thing as a completely ‘clean bill of health’ - neither in medicine nor in inspection.The best that can be attained is that after very thorough inspection and good cooperation no significant questions remain and no indications of proscribed items are found.

· A third point is that no inspecting authority should ever testify to more than actually has been clarified and established.Inability to establish real facts may be understandable and excusable, especially if there is no cooperation, but it is not the task of the inspecting organization to discount other than marginal unresolved issues - and these should be clearly reported.Nor, indeed, should an inspecting authority artificially enlarge the question marks it cannot straighten out.It should have no other agenda than to use its skills and instruments to establish the facts and to neutralize the weapons of mass destructions and their means of delivery.


It is now over a year since the Security Council adopted resolution 1284 (1999) and established UNMOVIC.   Neither the resolution nor UNMOVIC, which has been built up in the past year, have been accepted by Iraq, nor have any inspections taken place since UNSCOM left at the end of 1998. What will happen?

Iraq contends that all weapons of mass destruction have been eradicated, that the requirements of 1991 have been fulfilled and that the economic and financial restrictions should be immediately lifted.Public opinion in many parts of the world, sympathizing with the people of Iraq, supports a lifting of sanctions.At the other end of the spectrum, many warn that Iraq has not fully revealed its arsenal of WMDs and long-range missiles and that it may be taken for granted that more prohibited items have been produced and hidden during the absence of inspectors. It is also argued that if Iraq were freely to use its oil proceeds much of it would go to rearmament.What are we to make of these conflicting views?

First, we must note that although there are, indeed, differences between the Members of the Security Council, they seem to remain firmly behind the demand in resolution 1284 (1999) that Iraq must accept inspection by UNMOVIC.Further, although the resolution acknowledges that Iraq has made progress towards the required eradication of its programme of WMDs, it states explicitly that there remain “unresolved disarmament issues and among them key remaining disarmament tasks to be completed by Iraq.

Referring to the failure of Iraq to implement relevant resolutions fully, the Council states further that it is unable to lift the prohibitions (sanctions).It offers Iraq a – somewhat less ambitious way from the economic restrictions imposed by the Security Council.The resolution of 1991 holds out a lifting of sanctions in return for an eradication of the programme of WMDs as foreseen in the resolution.

The 1999 resolution offers the suspension of sanctions in return for “cooperation in all respects with UNMOVIC and progress on “key remaining disarmament tasks.While Iraq seems to decline the new path traced by the Council, it should be noted that it is additional to the original solution, which remains in place.   It should also be noted that “sanctions in 1991 included a total ban for Iraq to sell oil; today, Iraq can sell all the oil it is able to pump.“Sanctions today is rather a control of what Iraq is allowed to import.

If Iraq accepts inspection, it would seem that ‘cooperation in all respects’ with UNMOVIC will be necessary, regardless of which attitude it takes to resolution 1284 (1999). Indeed, as I have already explained, cooperation between an inspected State and the inspecting organization is a crucial factor to achieve credible verification.Such cooperation has no room for harassment, humiliation or provocation from the inspecting party but also no room for laxity.Cosmetic inspections are worse than none.They may create impressions that do not correspond to the reality.Only firm, professionally competent and effective inspections serve the purpose for which they are undertaken, namely, to create justified confidence. Resolution 1284 (1999) envisages such inspection and explicitly makes ‘cooperation in all respects’ - including progress on ‘key remaining disarmament tasks’ the crucial condition for a suspension of sanctions.

Iraq might perhaps ask what UNMOVIC will regard as such cooperation.It is not possible to make a checklist.In some earlier comments on this question, I have pointed to two essential matters and they may deserve to be repeated.

First, Iraq must cooperate to ensure the full protection of UNMOVIC personnel.The Government of Iraq has full control on the ground and is responsible for the security of our personnel, premises, equipment and transportation against any violence, threat of violence or harassment.

Second, Iraq must cooperate to assure UNMOVIC and the IAEA access to all sites that they wish to inspect. As the Security Council has stated many times, access must be “immediate, unconditional and unrestricted. There are good reasons for these requirements.   Access that is not ‘immediate’ loses in effectiveness.If the inspected party were to learn in advance about the object of an inspection, it would be in a position to remove or conceal objects and equipment.  Even if it would not do so, the very possibility that it could have done so, would reduce the value - the effectiveness - of the inspection.Obviously, infrastructure and heavy equipment could not be moved away or hidden in minutes but documents might.I should add that for the special case of inspections of sites that are ‘sensitive’, UNSCOM issued special internal guidelines and UNMOVIC is doing likewise.

As it is in the interest of both Iraq and UNMOVIC that inspections have maximum credibility, there should be cooperation to ensure immediate access.An obvious need parallel to the need for immediate access is that inspections should take place without prior notice or, with short notice. Another need is for the means of transportation to allow the speediest possible arrival of inspectors on site. For distant sites, fixed-wing or helicopter transport is desirable.To reduce transportation time, there may also be good reasons for some field offices in areas far away from Baghdad.

The value of access would be reduced if conditions were attached, e.g. regarding the number of inspectors to be admitted, or restrictions on samples to be taken or similar.   The credibility and value of inspection would also be reduced, if there were restrictions as to where on a site inspectors could go.Locked rooms, rooms for which keys are lost, etc. do not inspire confidence.

While access usually denotes access to sites, access to persons, data and documents is of similar great importance.Iraq has submitted large volumes of data to UNSCOM in the past and will be asked to continue to do so.

At this point I should like to add, however, that UNMOVIC should avoid making requested cooperation unnecessarily burdensome.We should make periodic reporting as simple as possible and we might discuss with Iraqi counterparts how to achieve this.There is no point in asking for data that are not needed.It would burden both them and us.It would be important, on the other hand, to have data in electronically readable form.

We should also aim to be as transparent as possible.When Iraq is expected to cooperate with UNMOVIC, it is reasonable that we make it quite clear what cooperation is expected.

 By cooperating in all respects with UNMOVIC in providing data and access to sites and persons and destroying whatever is left of the programme for WMDs and long-range missiles, Iraq can facilitate implementation of the Security Council’s resolutions.This is precisely what Iraq needs in order to build confidence, and to be enabled eventually to resume its place in the family of nations.Evidently, the Members of the United Nations - and not least the Members of the Security Council - must, on their part, also fully abide by Security Council decisions – as, indeed, they are obliged to under Art. 25 of the UN Charter.


There is no sign at the present time that Iraq is inclined to accept inspection whether related to the resolution of 1991 or that of 1999.In this situation, the Secretary-General of the UN has agreed to a ‘comprehensive dialogue’ with Iraq.

Although UNMOVIC is not a party to this dialogue and no agenda is indicated, we may surmise some of the items that may be in focus.

From the side of the UN, the implementation by Iraq of binding resolutions seems likely to be a priority item, e.g. regarding inspections, repatriation of Kuwaitis or third country nationals and cooperation with the UN coordinator for that issue.   The Iraqi side has urged that the dialogue should be without preconditions.The Secretary-General, for his part, has noted, naturally, that the UN must take cognizance of existing resolutions.

The Iraqi side might raise the issue of no-fly-zones and the bombings, and demand respect for the principle of territorial integrity and political independence.This UN Charter principle is, evidently applicable to Iraq as it is to all other States, including Iraq’s neighbours.Iraq might also like to know what arrangements there would be at the end of the tunnel that leads to suspension, in particular the effective financial and other operational measures that are to be put in place in connection with such suspension “to ensure that Iraq does not acquire prohibited items (para. 33). While these and many other matters that might come up in the dialogue are not linked to UNMOVIC, some questions relating to Security Council resolution 1284 (1999) are.

For a suspension of sanctions, progress has to be made on “key remaining disarmament tasks to be completed by Iraq (para. 7).Iraq would like to know which these tasks are.The procedure foreseen in the resolution is that UNMOVIC will list them in a work programme to be submitted for Security Council approval 60 days after the organization has started work in Iraq.In the last resort, it is thus the Security Council, which will decide, which the ‘key remaining disarmament tasks’ are, although it is envisaged that the Council do so on the basis of a report from its technically competent subsidiary body, UNMOVIC.Iraq may have an idea of which issues were regarded as ‘priority issues’ by the Security Council panel that was headed by Ambassador Amorim early in 1999.However, about two years have passed since then without inspection and ‘key issues’ cannot be defined by UNMOVIC until it has acquired substantial experience through new supplementary Iraqi declarations and has undertaken new on-site inspections.

What UNMOVIC is trying to do today is to make an inventory of the much broader category of  “unresolved disarmament issues’. Even this task can only be tackled provisionally, pending access to supplementary declarations and essential rebaselining.

For its part, Iraq seems to be saying that, contrary to the view expressed by the Security Council, there are no unresolved disarmament issues and that it will demonstrate this by documents.It would be welcome if Iraq could volunteer new information that may shed light on issues - not least the biological ones - which were deemed unresolved, when inspections ceased at the end of 1998.However, such information will not obviate the need for new inspections.Given the statements of Iraq that all prohibited programmes have been eradicated and that this can be shown, it would seem natural that Iraq would avail itself of the opportunity to place relevant evidence, especially new evidence, before UNMOVIC as the professional international inspection regime set up by the Security Council.

Two more points. Iraq seems to have been concerned about the time frames laid down in resolution 1284 (1999) – that new inspections would go on forever. Let me say that it is regrettable that over one year has been lost in starting the activities foreseen.For its part, UNMOVIC is at present doing all it can with a staff that represents the whole UN family to move close to a readiness for work inside Iraq.However, before there is green light for inspections, we do not wish to assume large financial commitments, e.g. contracts for helicopter services.Nor do we want to take a large number of staff on board at present.The training we provide is designed to give us a rostrum of experts who would be available to work for us in Iraq.

Lastly, there is sometimes a tendency to see disarmament functions and humanitarian functions as conflicting efforts.I think that is a false way of looking at the problems.To provide food and other necessities for life and to seek to ensure the absence of weapons of mass destruction are, in my view, both humanitarian missions.UNMOVIC works side by side with the Oil for Food Programme and the rest of the UN system.

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