When Iraq announced last week that it would allow inspectors to return without conditions, many diplomats and the press jumped with glee. At last, Iraq, responding to pressure, had a miraculous change of heart. China, Russia, France and many Arab nations quickly asserted that no new Security Council resolution would be necessary. All studiously ignored the statement's fine print, which was reinforced in the lengthy, more formal notification to the United Nations later in the week.
Iraq stipulated that inspectors had to respect the country's dignity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. It also stipulated that the U.N. had to apply the rules governing elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to Israel as well. If that wasn't enough condition-setting, Saddam Hussein then came back to add that all conditions previously negotiated with the U.N. had to apply, notably the hamstringing agreement by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that called for prior notification and accompaniment of inspectors by diplomats to "sensitive" sites. This is progress?
Given 24 hours notification, any country could hide even "smoking gun" evidence of a biological weapons program. Such inspections are designed for failure.
From its inception in the 1970s, Iraq's biological weapons program included both military and terrorist applications, the latter part of which were not actively pursued by United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspectors. The biological weapons program, founded and funded by Iraq's intelligence service with some limited technical input from the Ministry of Defense, has remained under the intelligence agency's control since 1987.
The existence of the biological weapons program was categorically denied and actively concealed from UNSCOM until July 1995. And the pattern of denial and concealment continued right through the termination of inspections by Iraq in December 1998. Fraudulent statements, false and forged documents, misrepresentation of the roles of people and facilities, and other acts of deception were the norm. The extent and objectives of Iraq's biological weapons program have never been disclosed.
Iraq's multiple so-called "Full, Final, and Complete Declarations" that it had disclosed everything about its prohibited biological weapons program have never been accurate or complete. Nothing appears to have changed Iraq's willingness to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction. Nor does it appear, in spite of the lip service given to getting inspectors back into Iraq, that there has been any significant change in the support that an inspection regime might expect from U.N. Security Council members. The existing resolutions also existed in 1997 and 1998 and failed to get Iraq's full cooperation, in part thanks to Russia's and France's support for whatever Iraq wanted.
Even while UNSCOM inspectors were still operating, Iraq was constantly trying to restrict our activities, curb our access and require notification of inspections, even to monitored sites. What, in Iraq's latest pronouncement regarding the return of inspectors, makes countries such as France and Russia believe that there is no need for a stronger resolution with discrete dates for Iraq to accomplish a true disarmament and specific action for failure to comply?
None of this should reflect negatively on the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, the successor to UNSCOM. Its success or failure depends too much on uncontrollable elements. What will be the conditions under which the inspectors return? Iraq wants to retain all the obstacles that it had wrangled out of the U.N. through the series of "crises" that it had instigated during UNSCOM's tenure -- a clear obstacle to success.
What support will the inspection regime have, given Iraq's recalcitrance and what appears to be a lack of strong, unanimous support in the Security Council? Will Iraq truly cooperate and reveal or destroy all its biological weapons activity? Will it, on readmitting inspectors, behave differently this time? Based on the findings of broad panels of international experts including representatives of all Security Council members, a first indication of cooperation could be a significant further verifiable disclosure by Iraq in all weapons of mass destruction areas. Iraq's continued denial of possession of any weapons of mass destruction may be semantic hairsplitting: no weapons, but what about programs to produce them?
It will take a shift in the attitude of the Iraqi ruling regime before any elimination of weapons of mass destruction programs will be possible. The current charade being carried out on the U.N. stage by Iraq and its surrogates reflects no desire for true disarmament but only steps to lifting sanctions. How this change in attitude comes about may tell much about the U.N.'s effectiveness and its future relevance.
Should Iraq be allowed to retain its biological weapons (and other weapons of mass destruction programs) it will remain a menace not only to its neighbors, but to the world at large because of the concomitant instability it would create in the region. The Gulf states would need to judge all their actions in light of the Iraqi threat. Saddam's regime is unpredictable. It is already openly supplying support to Palestinian suicide bombers. Iraq might try using weapons of mass destruction against Israel, with who knows what repercussions.
The world's press in recent weeks has cited the opposition of most nations in the Middle East and Europe to any action against Iraq. It is claimed that Iraq is weaker than it was a decade ago, and does not pose any immediate and significant threat. But this does not seem to address the terrorist threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. One would think that after Sept. 11, a more realistic appraisal of Iraq's capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction as terrorist weapons would be forthcoming. Iraq's biological weapons program from its inception included a terrorist component. Such terrorism applications would undoubtedly evolve to meet changing situations and can be expected to be retained even after the development of its nuclear capability.
The threat that Iraq's biological weapons program poses as a bioterrorist weapon to any of its perceived enemies is enormous. While much attention is focused on bioterrorism against people, the economic devastation that could be wreaked on agriculture could be far greater in the long term. For the U.S. at home and abroad, the greatest danger from Iraq's weapons development remains the potential for its use in terrorism, whether by Iraq directly or through support to terrorist organizations.
Made in Baghdad?
How certain are we that the weapons-grade anthrax spores contained in the letters sent to various U.S. addresses last October were not "Made in Baghdad"? Should Iraq be involved with using its biological weapons expertise in bioterrorist activities, it may be impossible to find a "smoking gun." Biological weapons agents are unlikely to have a signature that will definitively pinpoint a laboratory or a country as the origin. As long as Iraq does not change its attitude, as long as it continues trying to acquire and retain weapons of mass destruction, its support for terrorism is a major threat to the world. Too bad that the diplomats are unable or unwilling to recognize this danger.
Mr. Spertzel was the United Nations' chief biological weapons inspector in Iraq from 1994 to 1998.