February 18, 2004,
The former U.N. arms inspector, Hans Blix, has resurfaced in an attempt to add to the woes of the British and American governments over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In a recent BBC interview, given in advance of the publication of his book on March 18, the anniversary of the war, Blix disparaged the British and American case against Saddam Hussein. Taking up the banner of the antiwar movement, Blix accused President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of exaggerating the Iraqi threat and that they should have shown "a bit more sincerity." The difficulty for Blix, however, is that his own statements in 2003 justified the war to liberate Iraq.
The former U.N. arms inspector conveyed his claims with ill-disguised snobbery. Demonstrating the haughtiness of a man whose career has mostly been on the public payroll, Blix compared the two governments' arguments to misleading advertising. According to Blix: "the intention was to dramatize it, just as the vendors of some merchandise are trying to increase and exaggerate the importance of what they have." It is unclear what fills Blix with more horror, chemical weapons or commerce.
Blix has the issue back to front. The war was legally justified by what Iraq had voluntarily failed to declare and surrender, not by what Britain and the U.S. claimed. The burden was always on the Iraqi regime to "unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless, under international supervision" of its WMD stocks and programs, according to U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 of 1991 which Blix was supposed to implement. The inspectors were to oversee and verify the destruction of these illegal activities, not to hunt them out like gumshoes from a Raymond Chandler novel.
Indeed, Blix told the Security Council on January 27, 2003 that: "As we know, the twin operation 'declare and verify', which was prescribed in resolution 687 (1991), too often turned into a game of 'hide and seek'." Iraq was supposed to demonstrate a willingness to disarm, but Blix felt that: "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance-not even today-of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace." Those words, and the hint of military action, demonstrated that Saddam had to realize that this was his final last chance.
Building on the core allegation of the antiwar movement, that the case for war was fabricated, Blix mocked British and American intelligence, telling the BBC that: "we need evidence and not just tales from intelligence." Speaking to the Security Council on February 14, 2003, Blix took a different view, that: "Intelligence information has been useful for UNMOVIC" and that intelligence had in the past led to discoveries of banned activities in Iraq. A year ago, Blix was content to use these "tales." Indeed, he understood the risks that Iraqis ran in communicating information of any quality. The penalty in Saddam's Iraq for saying anything, let alone telling "tales", was death. Before liberation Iraq was, according to Blix on February 14, 2003, a "closed society."
Forgetting his role in justifying the war, Blix says that that it was wrong to conclude that WMD stocks that could not be accounted for must have existed. What clever Blix is telling us is that he knew all along that there were no WMD stocks to be found in Iraq.
Unfortunately for Blix, that is not what he thought last year. Before the UN inspectors returned to Iraq in late 2002, Saddam's regime was suspected of possessing 8,500 litres of anthrax, a deadly agent that the Iraqis claimed to have destroyed. The U.N. view, published on March 6, 2003, was not only that Iraq still had anthrax, the inspectors increased their estimate for the volume of unaccounted anthrax from 8,500 litres to 10,000 litres. As Iraq could produce little evidence of either production or destruction, Blix's team concluded that: "Based on all the available evidence, the strong presumption is that about 10,000 litres of anthrax was not destroyed and may still exist."
Blix declared: "we had seen no evidence of any smoking guns." The stocks, Blix told the BBC, did not exist, nor was there evidence of banned programs. Put otherwise, for Blix, Saddam was probably innocent.
Like Mr. Magoo, the unfortunate Blix cannot see what is in front of his nose: that the reason why he was in Iraq in the first place was that the Iraqi WMD gun had already been fired. The international community demanded disarmament and maintained sanctions on Iraq as of April 1991 because Saddam's regime had used chemical weapons in flagrant violation of international law and at the cost of thousands of lives. Many countries have illegal WMD programs. Iraq alone was subject to massive international isolation because it had used WMDs repeatedly at home and abroad, against soldiers and civilians alike. According to Blix, on January 27, 2003, the Iraqi air force expended anywhere between 13,000 and 19,500 chemical bombs from 1983 to 1988, bombs loaded with an estimated 1,000 tons of chemical agents.
If international law is just paper, then regimes like Saddam's will casually ignore it. Iraq first used chemical weapons in 1983. Twenty years later, and despite twelve years of international sanctions and over seven years of U.N. inspections, U.S. arms inspector David Kay found what Blix could not: that Iraq still maintained banned programs in violation of U.N. resolutions.
Blix seems not to have noticed the shortcomings of the international controls that he was supposed to enforce, although fortunately President Bush has. It does not seem to have occurred to Blix that during 1981-1997, the years that he headed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global nuclear watchdog, India, Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Pakistan were developing nuclear weapons. Nor has he noticed that it was on his watch that Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistan nuclear scientist, started trading nuclear technology and encouraging nuclear proliferation.
Instead, Blix believes that: "global warming is as least as worrying a prospect as that of weapons of mass destruction." Even Mr. Magoo would have been able to tell the difference between climate change and chemical weapons.
Andrew Apostolou is director of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.