Let Us Inspect Everywhere
by Hans Blix, May 16, 2003
Originally published in the Wall
After Sept. 11, the risk of a further spread of
weapons of mass destruction is seen in a new light. There is a
fear that terrorist groups or reckless states might launch attacks
with such weapons. The United States and its allies have now shown
their readiness to deal with the risk through armed action in
the case of Iraq. A horribly brutal regime has been eliminated
and can no longer reactivate a weapons program -- if there still
was one. How are other suspicious cases to be tackled?
First, which are the suspicious cases, and which
weapons are we talking about? Listening to the debate one might
sometimes get the impression that the world is full of terrorist
organizations and rogue states bent on proliferation. The matter
is serious enough without such exaggerations. Chemical and biological
weapons might be within the reach of terrorists -- whether these
are groups or individuals. That risk is taken seriously and there
seems to be relatively little problem achieving cooperation between
police and financial institutions.
However, the greatest concerns relate to states.
The spread of long-range missiles seems to be only somewhat impeded
by export controls. As for nuclear weapons, we know that the U.S.
and Russia, the UK, France, China, Israel, India and Pakistan
have them. We know further that Iraq was developing them and that
its capability was eliminated under International Atomic Energy
Agency, or IDEA, supervision after the Gulf War. North Korea currently
claims it has developed nuclear weapons, while Iran denies it
has any ambitions to do so.
If North Korea is not induced to abandon its present
course of action, it may create incentives for a further nuclear
buildup in East Asia. If Iran were to move toward a nuclear-weapon
capability the Middle East situation may be further aggravated.
Clearly, we are no longer where we were only a
few years ago, namely, in an almost universally shared effort
to write the final chapters of the nuclear nonproliferation book.
The U.S. is developing a missile defense, has rejected the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty and may be interested in constructing new types
of nuclear weapons.
What can be done to resume the remarkably successful
efforts that were under way only a few years ago? Nuclear-weapon-free
zones had come to extend from Latin America across the whole of
Africa to Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. These developments
were brought about not through armed actions but through regional
and global détente, patient negotiation and the good example
of the great powers participating in real disarmament.
The crucial point was always that the foreign and
security policies of individual states in the regions, and of
the great powers, helped to reduce the incentives to acquire nuclear
weapons and to pave the way for a renunciation of them. Security
guarantees, including alliances, are among the means of reducing
It is not hard to see even now that peaceful solutions
of the political and security problems in the Middle East, on
the Indian subcontinent, and the Korean peninsula probably are
the most important elements both to prevent armed conflicts and
to tackle the problem of proliferation in these areas. Multilateral
assurances to North Korea that it will not be attacked must be
a central part of the effort to lead that country away from the
possession and export of nuclear materials and missiles. Security
Council resolution 687 on Iraq states that disarmament in Iraq
constitutes steps toward the goal of establishing a zone free
of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. That thought
should not be missed at the present time, when disarmament is
being secured in Iraq and the road map for peace is on the table.
Steady movement along the map is clearly fundamental not only
for peace but also to the eventual freedom from weapons of mass
destruction in the whole region, including Iraq, Iran, Israel
It has not been questioned that export controls
remain important. Effective long-term international on-site inspection
similarly remains a vital instrument in the efforts to counter
proliferation. Inspection is designed to create confidence among
neighbors and in the world by verifying the absence of weapons
programs and by deterring such programs through the risk of detection.
In open societies, like Japan's and South Korea's, the task is
relatively straightforward. The transparency of the societies
combined with the international inspection process gives a high
degree of confidence. In closed totalitarian societies, like Iraq
and North Korea, the task is more difficult.
Inspections in Iraq brought a high degree of confidence
that there remained no nuclear-weapon capability and few, if any,
SCUD-type missiles. However, despite very far-reaching rights
of immediate access to sites, authorities and persons, and despite
access to national intelligence and overhead imagery, many years
of inspection did not bring confidence that chemical and biological
weapons had been eliminated in Iraq. In March, the U.S. gave up
on the possibility of attaining adequate and durable assurance
on the elimination of proscribed weapons in Iraq through U.N.
inspections and instead moved to seek it through armed action.
Does this suggest that international inspection
is meaningless in closed societies? No, it can be relied on to
verify the absence of the large installations that are likely
to be indispensable for nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
Full guarantees against research and development are hardly attainable
and possible hidden stores of biological and chemical weapons
may also be very hard to discover. Armed action and occupation
can obviously deal with these risks, but these approaches have
great costs and problems and the assurance obtained from them
is not likely to last forever.
Inspection and long-term monitoring requires patience
and persistence, scarce commodities in national and international
politics. While it requires support by individual states it is
clearly more easily accepted -- and more credible -- if managed
by authorities which are independent of the states which assist
them, for instance, by providing intelligence. Used in this manner,
inspection and long-term monitoring through international organizations
could provide an important element in the prevention of the spread
of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, on the Korean
peninsula and elsewhere.
In the fields of missiles and biological weapons,
there are presently no specialized intergovernmental organizations
that could provide inspection in the manner that the IAEA and
the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons do in
the nuclear and chemical fields. Over the years, the United Nations
Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission -- Unmoved
-- has acquired much experience in the verification and inspection
of biological weapons and missiles as well as chemical weapons
-- but only in Iraq. It has scientific cadres who are trained
and could be mobilized for cases other than Iraq. If the Security
Council gave it a broader mandate, it could provide the Council
with a capability for ad hoc inspections and monitoring, whenever
this might be needed in the efforts to prevent proliferation.
* Hans Blix is executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring,
Verification and Inspection Commission.