Today's date:
  Summer 2004

Global Warming as Big a Threat as WMD

Hans Blix was the UN chief arms inspector for Iraq until he resigned last year. He has just published a memoir of the inspections and buildup to war titled "Disarming Iraq." Blix spoke with NPQ contributing correspondent Mikhail Skafidas on March 22, from which these comments are adapted.

Stockholm-What have we learned so far from the Iraq war? First, it has shown that intelligence was very weak and that one needs to examine intelligence with a critical mind. The whole doctrine of preemptive war relies upon dependable intelligence, so I think that doctrine has hit upon some problems.

Second, the war had its psychological roots in the reaction to 9/11. But what we have seen after the war is that the feeling of humiliation in Iraq has spread a lot of hatred and the threat for more terrorism in Iraq and beyond.

Iraq is not a safe place today. We've also had Istanbul, we've had Madrid. This is not improvement. We must deal with terrorism firmly. I accept that. But one must also think of the psychological factors that provoke terrorism.

The positive aspect of the war, of course, is that one of the world's most brutal and bloodier regimes has been eliminated. But that regime was not a threat to its neighbors. I don't think anyone ever thought so, with the possible exception of Kuwait. The regime was most of all a terror to its own people.

Many have argued that the "demonstration effect" of force in Iraq was what led Moammar Kadafi to disarm in Libya, but one should not jump to conclusions. Kadafi's move was more of a diplomatic exercise, which was in the making for a long time. One could even make the case that there was a successful policy of containment because Libya had been subject to sanctions and isolation for a long time, and we had seen how hard Kadafi was trying to settle the Lockerbie affair in order to bring his country out of isolation. Of course, I don't exclude the possibility that what went on in Iraq in March of 2003 could also have given him the final push to disarm.

WHERE ARE THE WMD? | I never excluded before the war occurred that the weapons were there. They could be there, but we were skeptical about the evidence. We certainly could not maintain that they existed. I think I concluded that there weren't any weapons, probably sometime in May, last year, when the United States had been in Iraq for a couple of months. They had had the opportunity to talk to people (in Iraq) who were no longer afraid to speak the truth. In fact, these people were offered rewards if they could give any hint on where weapons could be found. But they had no answers

As US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has since remarked, it is true I said that "mustard gas is not marmalade" and that weapons material was "unaccounted for" in order to emphasize that it seemed to me reasonable that the Iraqis should have kept track and kept documentation of how much mustard gas they consumed.

The US took the view that things that were unaccounted for-whether 3,000 liters of anthrax, or several thousand liters of one thing or another-still existed! Well, this was the worst-case scenario, and we did not exclude that. We said it could have existed. But the difference was that they said that "yes, it does exist." We warned against that attitude several times. But they used it regardless because they wanted to persuade the Security Council and influence public opinion. They said that there were actual WMD, and this was taking it too far.

In the end, we demonstrated that professional, independent inspections can be made very effectively, and that we came closer to the truth than the national intelli-gence agencies did.

Independent inspections in individual countries can clearly play a role in places like North Korea, and it does already in a case like Iran. There is no reason for the disdain that was shown by some parts of the US administration against the international inspections. And to say, for instance, that the IAEA missed it in 1991, in 1995 and in 1998-I do not see any evidence of that. I think that's wrong.

GLOBAL WARMING | WMD are very sexy. This means that there are politicians and media playing with them. Of course, I wouldn't want to underestimate their importance. But we must see everything in perspective. For my part, I think that the risks to the global environment are as big a threat to us all, an existential threat, as are the WMD.

Having said that, yes, a biological weapons threat exists. The technologies are very much available, but one must also realize that they are not easy to handle. You need great expertise to deploy these weapons and make them a potential danger. The chemical weapons, I think, are the least difficult to have for terrorists.