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chemical and biological weapons as well as the missiles necessary to deliver them over vast distances.
The capability to produce weapons of mass destruction arising from a national program on the scale of that of Iraq's cannot be eliminated by simply destroying "weapons" facilities. And while we should credit the UN inspection process with destroying a substantial nuclear weapons establishment in Iraq that was largely unidentified at the time of the Gulf War and that had survived largely unscathed the coalition bombing campaign. The nuclear weapons secrets are now Iraqi secrets well understood by Iraq's technical elite, and the production capabilities necessary to turn these "secrets” into weapons are part and parcel of the domestic infrastructure of Iraq which will survive even the most draconian of sanctions regimes. Simply put, Iraq is not Libya, but very much like post-Versailles Germany in terms of its ability to maintain a weapons capability in the teeth of international inspections. As long as a government remains in Baghdad committed to acquiring WMD, that capability can be expected to become and without much warning - a reality.
To compress a lot of bitter history: In December 1998, the United States conducted military attacks against Iraq after UNSCOM reported that it could not achieve its mandated disarmament and monitoring tasks with the limited access and cooperation Iraq allowed. All UNSCOM activities in Iraq then ceased. UNSCOM, the first UN effort to eliminate Iraq's WMD program, passed out of existence and was replaced by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) through the adoption of Security Council resolution 1284 on 17 December 1999. UNMOVIC was to be more acceptable to Iraq, led by a Commissioner that Iraq and their sympathizers on the Security Council found more acceptable. Even under this more favorable inspection regime, however, Iraq has continued to refuse UN inspectors.
In the nuclear area, there is a set of critical questions that need to be considered to understand Iraq's nuclear potential: • How has the Iraqi nuclear program changed from the Persian
Gulf War and UNSCOM inspections to today?
What impact has UN sanctions had on the weapon program?
• How has international opinion of the Iraqi nuclear threat changed
during this time period?
The point of beginning to think about how one would describe Iraq's nuclear program today is to recognize the serious impediments that we all face in trying to understand that program. On-site inspections in Iraq were never easy, and by 1995-96 Iraq had put in place a major deception and concealment effort designed to mislead inspections as to the intent, scope and continuing activities in the nuclear area. When UNSCOM inspections managed, as they often did, to penetrate this web of deceptions, Iraq
resorted to physical denial of access and threats of violence to neck down the scope of inspections. By 1997, effective, sustained inspections in Iraq had come to an end. The final ending of all inspections in 1998 was in fact an anti-climax. Lacking on-site inspections, with unfettered access to all of Iraq, for four years has meant that it is impossible to be sure where their nuclear program stands today. It also means that even if inspections were to begin tomorrow, it would be impossible to answer this question without a very long, sustained period of unfettered inspections. The baseline of Iraq's nuclear program is broken and it will be impossible to quickly re-establish it.
It is very unlikely that national intelligence efforts can add much clarity to the exact status of Saddam's nuclear program. The same deception and concealment capabilities that were directed at the inspectors will have hindered national intelligence services. WMD programs have long been the hardest targets for intelligence service to unravel, even when they are very large. One should remember that the very large Soviet-era biological program, which included putting smallpox on long-range ballistic missiles aimed at the West, went undiscovered until after the end of the Cold War. The size of the Soviet uranium enrichment program was seriously underestimated and major nuclear production facilities unidentified until after the fall of the Soviets.
Based on Iraq's activities before 1998 and sketchy insights available from defectors and
fissionable nuclear material from any outside source it will be able to fabricate at
of intelligence. • Iraq will have dispersed and shielded with elaborate deception arrangements its
nuclear activities, requiring highly intrusive inspection techniques if there were to
capability and that given the time it will devote the resources and technical
The attitude of states in the region and even many of our European allies toward Iraq's WMD program is harder to understand. By 1996 the real aim of the inspections, the elimination of Iraq's WMD weapons and production capacity and the establishment of a long-term monitoring process, began to slide away in the face of resolute Iraqi defiance and the desire of the Russians and the French for short-term economic gain. We should also credit a successful Iraqi propaganda campaign that has gone largely unanswered and has convinced many in Europe and in our own country that the US is responsible for keeping on economic sanctions that have devastated Iraq women and children.
Major states in the region, certainly including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are no longer willing to let an automatic anti-Saddam reflex define their policy in the Gulf. Even states, such as Kuwait and Bahrain, which are much more dependent upon the US for their security, are resisting US leadership when it threatens military confrontation. Equally important, Iran is no longer the marginalized state that it was in 1990-91 and has learned to skillfully play each crisis to benefit its long-term goal of removing US influence from the Gulf.
We are left with “allies' that lack sufficient military power to stand up to a rearmed Iraq, and that are increasingly unwilling to provide the US with the political support and operational bases that would allow the US to deal with Iraq even in its present weakened state. This same splintering of alliance ties can be seen in the non-regional allies that were a key part of Gulf coalition structure. The French are no longer willing partners, and the Russians can no longer be coerced or bribed into silent cooperation. If there were ever a psychological campaign that either was not fought or misfired, it has been the US effort to make the states of the Gulf and our European and Asian allies understand how much more dangerous the future is about to become as Iraq rebuilds its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, the Iranians further accelerate
their own efforts, and the rest of the region scrambles for political and military protection
What choices are we left with? Few and mostly bad is the simple answer. The easy nostrums - support the opposition, containment as we did with the Soviets, or the UN Secretary General's 1998 statement "I can do business with Saddam" – seem expensive, risky and, at best, only partial answers.
The re-introduction of UN inspectors, now called UNMOVIC, not UNSCOM, into Iraq may well result not in constraining Iraq's WMD ambitions, but freeing them of all restraint. UNMOVIC is a product of a successful effort to remove UNSCOM from Iraq and replace it with an inspection regime more acceptable to Iraq. The Iraqi complaints concerning UNSCOM related to UNSCOM's insistence on unrestricted access to anything in Iraq it deemed relevant to determining the scope of Iraq's WMD program, and an equal insistence that they would not accept any time limit on how long it might take to accomplish this objective. If UNMOVIC were to compromise on either of these, we might end up with Iraq being declared free of WMD, when if fact all that would be certain is that UNMOVIC could not find any evidence of WMD.
The best hope of the opposition was in the chaos at the end of the Gulf War. This opportunity, however, was lost when the US decided to stand aside and let Saddam freely slaughter many brave Iraqis. In the intervening years US policy toward the opposition has grown to resemble nothing so much as the mating ritual of the female Back Widow – promising but quickly lethal to the male. I do not believe that it is true that supporting forces of democratic change is something that Americans are genetically unable to do. It is clear, however, that we generally have been so inept at it that it is likely to deplete the gene pool of promising opponents to tyrants before we are successful.
Containment has a nice ring and the virtue of a clear success in the fall of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, one can only despair that those who urge containment of Saddam as an appropriate policy have not examined the preconditions of the Cold War case to see if they exist in the Gulf. The US maintained for 40 years more than a million troops in Europe as part of its effort to contain the Soviets and invested vast resources in the social, political and economic reconstruction of Europe into a bastion of democratic values. In the Gulf there is no simple overriding fear of Saddam that will dominate all politics the way the Soviet threat did. For example, the Iranians who have every reason to fear the Iraqis will not see a US presence that contains Saddam as serving their interest. Many holders in the region of traditional tribal societal and fundamentalist religious values worry more about the threat of democratic and modern influences that flow from US presence than they do the threat from Iraq. Some of the states in the region are more fearful of a rapid democratic modernization of their societies than they are of Saddam.
Iraq is of a class of problems where all the easy answers seem to have been in the past and all the low risk, near terms options are not answers. But that is the past and future of the Middle East. If it is of any comfort, we should all acknowledge there were never any easy answers in the past.
What is clear is that unless we take immediate steps to address the issue of removing the Saddam's regime from power in Iraq, we will soon face a nuclear armed and embolden Saddam. With time, and we can never be sure of how long that will be, Saddam will be able to intimidate his neighbors with nuclear weapons and find the means to use them against the United States. Saddam's own actions to obstruct the efforts of the international community to carry out the removal of his WMD capacity as mandated by the UN Security Council at the end of the Gulf War accounts for the uncertainty as to the exact status of that program today. These same actions of obstruction, however, remove all doubt about his aim to acquire and enlarge his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons stockpiles. Absence the forceful removal of Saddam, unambiguous certainty as to the status of his WMD programs is likely to come only after the first use of these weapons against the United States and its friends. This is a very high price to pay – potentially many times over the human toll one year ago in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania - for clarity as to the exact status of any nuclear program.