Recent columns by Barbara Crossette:
Much of World's Conflict Fueled by Small Arms
(January 28, 2004)
"In the heightened climate of fear over more spectacular strikes by international terrorists, it is difficult to convince nations that the threat of ordinary guns should not be overlooked."
Breathing New Life Into an Old Federation
(January 13, 2004)
"A little more than three years ago, a few prominent Americans thought it was time to reinvigorate the World Federation of United Nations Associations, a body created in 1946."
IAEA Chief Out Front on Arms Control
(January 5, 2004)
"Since the departure of Hans Blix, Mohamed ElBaradei has been the U.N. system's most visible arms controller. Some Bush administration officials have begun trying to undermine his authority."
Refugees in Limbo Where the U.N. Isn't Welcome
(December 29, 2003)
"For about a dozen years, tens of thousands of people, claiming to be Bhutanese citizens have been languishing in refugee camps in Nepal. Few officials believe they are all Bhutanese. Then who are these people, now numbering more than 100,000?"
Book on U.N. Creation a Welcome Reminder of Early Lessons
(December 16, 2003)
"Here's the perfect holiday gift for your favorite member of the U.S. Congress."
Too Soon To Count the U.N. in on Iraq
(December 9, 2003)
"The United Nations is not going to jump at the chance to take over the management of Iraq. Too much needs to change not only in Washington but also on the ground in Baghdad."
More from U.N. Notebook.
U.N. Notebook | February 2, 2004
Those U.N. Inspectors Were Not Wrong About Iraq
by Barbara Crossette
UNITED NATIONS—David Kay's resignation as leader of Washington's arms-hunting posse set off a new round of damaging denunciations of the Bush administration's repeated assertions that the war in Iraq was about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But the crucial question still not being asked is why the public or the media should be surprised and outraged by Kay's empty-handed return from Iraq. The answer is that nobody bothered to ask the real experts—those maligned U.N. arms inspectors, who could have predicted all this more than a year ago.
Worse, the absence of recent history and the obsession with political fallout that have characterized public discussion on this issue are creating a climate in which the idea is gaining currency that Iraq was effectively disarmed in 1991 or, as the BBC has been saying in newscasts, that the Iraqis may never have had weapons of mass destruction.
From Atlantic Unbound:
"Weapons of Misperception" (January 13, 2004)
Kenneth M. Pollack, the author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq explains how the road to war with Iraq was paved with misleading and manipulated intelligence.
The sobering facts about Hussein's potential for creating international havoc are already being lost in the coverage of the Kay mission and its failure to turn up something spectacular.
U.N. inspectors may have begun to accept at least five years ago that there were unlikely to be any more significantly large finds in Iraq—much of what Kay has been saying recently was public knowledge around the United Nations by the mid-1990s. But that does not mean that U.N. disarmament experts had any illusions about the continuing dangers Saddam Hussein posed.
To this day there are grave outstanding questions about unaccounted for weapons stocks and enough evidence to suggest that the Iraqis were actively searching for critical parts and materials through illegal imports or black market purchases abroad, in Europe, Asia and Africa.
As late as 1997, the United Nations oversaw the demolition of a major Iraqi biological weapons site at al-Hakam, along with a quantity of growth material for germ warfare. Iraq had been reporting that it had destroyed all such material and equipment in 1991. It was not until 1995 that the extent of that lie became apparent after the defection to Jordan of Hussein Kamal, a son-in-law of Saddam Hussein.
There are many other examples in chemical, missile and nuclear programs. In February last year, with war on the horizon and the U.N. inspectors about to be chased out by the United States, Hans Blix, the executive chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), reiterated that while his resumed and then aborted inspections may not have uncovered arms, the Iraqi government was still not being cooperative.
From 1991 until 1998, the U.N. inspectors steadily uncovered what UNMOVIC's predecessor, the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), called "significant undeclared proscribed weapons programs." Among these were a germ warfare arsenal, a program for making and delivering chemical weapons including the nerve agent VX and illegal long-range missile work. Under the 1991 cease-fire following the Gulf War, Iraq was allowed to have only defensive arms.
A report summarizing the work of the inspectors listed the destruction of 48 operational long-range missiles, 14 conventional missile warheads and 30 chemical warheads, six mobile launchers, 60 missile launch pads in operation or under construction and components for a long-range "supergun." Inspectors also found more than 3,000 tons of precursor chemicals for making lethal compounds, along with 600 tons of chemical weapons agents and 38,537 shells either filled or ready to be filled with chemical substances.
Around the neighborhood—in Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria and certainly Israel, where Saddam Hussein had been ostentatiously pouring money into Palestinian militancy—there was real fear of Iraq and the brutality and unpredictability of its leader and his potential heirs, his two sons, now both dead.
Under the Clinton administration, American policy had already adopted "regime change" as its goal in Iraq. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States learned what a mistake it had been to allow a festering sore like the Taliban in Afghanistan to go unattended—not necessarily by war, though eventually it was too late for anything else.
Even far-off Sri Lanka, where a civil war had simmered for two decades, suddenly received U.S. attention because it was by then clear how pockets of instability could become a threat to the broader global community. India knew this: a former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated by Sri Lankan Tamils.
But in tackling Iraq, however cold-heartedly logical the step may have been in the post-9/11 context, the Bush Administration caused unnecessary damage not only to itself but also to the United Nations in the eyes of the world by ignoring the wise counsel and nuanced assessment of men like the former chief U.N. inspectors, Blix, Richard Butler and Rolf Ekeus, along with Mohamed ElBaradei at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
History will show that in planning how to tackle Iraq and choosing not to rely on the archives and encyclopedic knowledge of veterans of the two major U.N. commissions—UNSCOM and UNMOVIC—Washington now stands exposed as having used disarmament as a politically marketable excuse more than a real reason for war. Or are Americans to believe that their intelligence services (or those in the United Kingdom) were so inept as to not have sought information in the reams of documentation in U.N. hands?
A book by Blix, due out in early March, is eagerly awaited. His predecessor, Butler, wrote his account, The Greatest Threat, four years ago. In it, Butler, an Australian, called for more American attention to disarmament and seemed to suggest that the United Nations, under diplomatic pressure from Russia, France and others, had somehow given up on bringing Iraq to heel, leaving the job to somebody else.
Butler's deputy, Charles Duelfer, an American, took exception to that. He was fierce in his defense of UNSCOM and in its remarkable achievement in the face of Iraqi lies, feints and obstructions. To him, it was the Security Council that let the system down. By 1998, the Clinton administration had begun to undercut U.N. inspections, preferring its dead-end, eternal sanctions policy and occasional bombing raids.
Duelfer has now been named Kay's successor as chief American sleuth in Iraq. Tough, astute, experienced and far more knowledgeable than Kay (who is a nuclear specialist) about the wide array of Iraqi biological and chemical weaponry and missile programs—and the Iraqis who knew about them—Duelfer may be the one man who can bring U.N. expertise back into the mix in Iraq. What he reports may really mean something.
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More on foreign affairs in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic
Barbara Crossette, a writer on foreign affairs and columnist for U.N. Wire, was The New York Times bureau chief at the United Nations from 1994 to 2001. U.N. Wire is a free daily online news service covering news about and
related to the United Nations. It is sponsored by the U.N. Foundation and
appears on the foundation site, but is produced independently by The National
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Copyright © 2003 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All