After two years as the United Nations’ chief arms inspector in Iraq, Ambassador Richard Butler resigned June 30 as executive chairman of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM). Butler’s departure from UNSCOM, whose operations in Iraq have been suspended since the U.S.-British air and missile attacks in December 1998, coincides with the apparent demise of UNSCOM due to Baghdad’s continuing refusal to fulfill its disarmament obligations and the widening rift within the UN Security Council as to how to deal with the government of Saddam Hussein.
During Butler’s tenure, UNSCOM faced a number of crises that moved the spotlight away from Iraq’s non-compliance and onto the commission and its executive chairman. Among them were the highly publicized resignation of American Scott Ritter, the former UNSCOM inspector who criticized U.S. policymakers for contributing to Iraq’s ongoing defiance, and charges that U.S. intelligence services conducted their own operations against Iraq under the guise of providing intelligence support to UNSCOM. Butler’s tenure also saw an increasingly divided Security Council, which has so far been unable to decide the fate of the UN-mandated disarmament regime in Iraq.
Butler is currently diplomat-in-residence at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, where he is writing a book about his experiences with UNSCOM and the disarming of Iraq. A native Australian and a career diplomat with extensive arms control experience, Butler spent five years as Australia’s permanent representative to the United Nations immediately prior to joining UNSCOM. In 1983, he was appointed Australia’s first ambassador for disarmament, and subsequently served as ambassador to Thailand and Cambodia. He holds degrees from the Australian National University and the University of Sydney.
On July 19, Arms Control Today managing editor J. Peter Scoblic met with Ambassador Butler in New York City to discuss the implications of UNSCOM’s withdrawal from Iraq, the current proposals before the Security Council and the future of arms control. The following is an edited version of their conversation.
Arms Control Today: What are the broader ramifications of UNSCOM’s removal from Iraq for arms control?
Richard Butler: The Security Council-mandated effort to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction is the major test case for the world’s attempt to prevent the spread of those weapons. Since the current crisis started last year on August 3 when Iraq decided to stop all of our disarmament work, I have said many times—to the Security Council, in public lectures, in private conversations and to the media—that the issue of Saddam Hussein is far bigger and larger than his own attachment to weapons of mass destruction.
In the last month or so, that view has strengthened. When I was dealing directly with Iraq, I felt strongly about the deceit we were faced with and about the attacks that were made upon us by Iraq and its supporters, many of which rested on falsehoods that were very damaging. That made me feel strongly about getting the job done with Iraq, but I also felt very definitely that Iraq was a paradigm case for something the world has been trying to do since the mid-‘60s when the modern attempt to restrain the spread of weapons of mass destruction began—the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT], the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention and so on.
ACT: What made Iraq the paradigm case for arms control?
Butler: The Iraq case had three elements. First, above all else, there was cheating from within the arms control regimes. The biggest nightmare of parties to these treaties is that a treaty partner will sign up but cheat. Iraq is a party to NPT and a party to the Biological Weapons Convention. It hasn’t ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, but after the 1925 [Geneva] Protocol no state was supposed to use chemical weapons.
Secondly, it was given the highest form of command in international law—namely Security Council resolutions, which are binding on all states under Article 25 of the UN Charter—to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction.
And finally, Iraq constituted one of the most conspicuous cases in modern times of rejection of the world’s assertion that no one should have weapons of mass destruction—something of indisputable importance.
ACT: Did the UN understand in 1991 that Iraq would be seen as a test case for enforcement of the arms control regime?
Butler: Well, let me put it this way. The Security Council didn’t attach sanctions to Iraq’s promise never to invade anyone again or to the promise of being peaceful in the future. It very specifically attached future relief of oil and financial sanctions to Iraq completing its disarmament tasks. If you look at Resolution 687, that’s what you see. So my answer is yes.
Now, people may have had other motives as well. Some people have an intense dislike of Saddam Hussein and his regime. Some people felt very deeply that the regime behaved with dreadful brutality in Kuwait and elsewhere. Some Middle East politics were involved. I will not comment on those things. But the Council attached relief of the main sanctions to completion of disarmament tasks. That’s unique.
That’s why I argued for the last year that it was essential to win the case against Iraq and its weapons because of what was at stake in the larger sense: the authority of the Council, the willingness of the Council to enforce the regimes of non-proliferation, the viability of those regimes, the moral standard that they represented. Those things are truly important. If Iraq succeeds in facing down the Security Council, what will be at issue is not that one rogue state will have gotten away with its wicked ways, but something far larger than that.
Put that alongside the other developments in the world and I see a confluence of events that suddenly relegates arms control to a secondary or even tertiary position in the thinking of those who run this world.
ACT: Describe the confluence of events that illustrates the diminished importance being given to arms control.
Butler: The nuclear non-proliferation regime is under threat from what both India and Pakistan have done, from what North Korea is doing, and from what it is suspected Iran is doing. There is good reason to think that absent UNSCOM Saddam Hussein is thinking again about re-creating nuclear weapons capability—he was only six months away in 1991. And a few weeks ago defense ministers from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates visited Pakistan to look at its missile and nuclear weapons programs.
There is also the nuclear weapons states’ intransigence in the face of justified criticism that they have slowed down their action on nuclear disarmament, something they promised to pursue in 1995 in the NPT review and extension conference.
Then there’s the Missile Technology Control Regime. Notwithstanding that regime, states such as India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea are developing missile capability. As I left UNSCOM it was clear that Iraq was continuing to try to develop an illegal long-range missile capability.
Then there are all the problems of potential leakage from the former Soviet Union. Then there’s what has emerged from the kind of military action that was taken against Yugoslavia, a deep attachment to high-tech weapons because only people on the other side get killed. And finally, there have been recent reports of the Russian military leadership admitting in public almost gaily that they just conducted war games that relied heavily on nuclear weapons. Why? Because their conventional forces are in such a pathetic state.
Putting all this together, I’m now alarmed—and I’m saying this publicly for the first time to your journal—that something which only a few years ago was axiomatic has been lost, that a train has been derailed, and that train is called arms control. Up to a few years ago there was a widespread and growing conviction in the international community that arms control was a good thing, that it was an integral part of a good security policy, that the smaller the weapons package you had to deal with in maintaining your own national security, the better, and that this required sacrifices by you as well as by others. Arms control was a going concern.
The alarm bell I want to ring is that arms control might be stopped dead in the water right now, that a confluence of events—and I haven’t mentioned all of them—has had the result that arms control has hit the wall. If this is how we’re going to answer the problems of the 21st century, then this planet has taken a wrong orbit.
And the Saddam Hussein case is central to this confluence. The Security Council is walking away from dealing with him and his weapons. They have decided it’s too hard.
ACT: Are all members of the Security Council walking away from the problem, or are the United States and Britain trying to hold the line?
Butler: I would put the membership of the Security Council into three categories. One is those who have clearly and avowedly decided for whatever reason to bring about an end to the Iraq crisis. Either they’re very friendly to Iraq, or they’re of the view that enough’s enough and we can’t go any further with this. Russia, China, France and, in the present Security Council, Malaysia fall into that category.
The second category is made up of the United Kingdom, supported by the Netherlands and the United States, saying there remain disarmament obligations to be fulfilled, that we need ongoing monitoring in Iraq and that Iraq must accept these facts before any suspension or relief of sanctions. They’re the harder-line states, and they’re in the minority.
Then there are those who are attracted to finding some diplomatic solution to a problem that has gone on too long. If you scratch the surface, some of these states will actually admit that there remain serious ambiguities about Iraq’s weapons status, but nevertheless they say this can’t go on, we’ve got to find a solution. They are gravitating toward the second option.
ACT: What are your impressions of the specific draft proposals that are now being considered by the Security Council?
Butler: All of the proposals on the table involve some kind of diminution of the vigor with which the Council will pursue the disarmament of Iraq. The Russian-backed proposal would basically say that it’s over, Iraq is disarmed, which is simply to call black white and they know it. Were they to say, “We’ve got other fish to fry, this continual pursuit of Saddam’s arms is not as important to us as those other fish,” they would be telling the truth. But when they argue it’s over, there’s nothing more to pursue in terms of disarmament in Iraq, they’re not dealing with reality, and they know it.
The British proposal is far closer to the truth, far more robust, but it does involve some political concessions to Iraq’s resistance to the Security Council. I don’t think it involves capitulation on the arms control side, but it tries to find some other form of political concession to get Iraq to come back into cooperation with the Council. While I think their attempt is brave and I understand it, they’ve got to be very careful that it doesn’t result in a lot of countries in the world thinking, “This is interesting, all you’ve really got to do with the Security Council is be prepared to wait, to tough it out for a long time, to take a few bombings, but to still say, ‘No, we won’t do what you say,’ and in the end they’ll cave in.”
ACT: What are the members of the Security Council subordinating arms control to? What is their primary interest?
Butler: It depends on what country you’re talking about. One could go through the motivations of each of the permanent members that is supportive of Iraq—Russia, France, China—and it wouldn’t be an edifying spectacle. But I think the primary motivation is a political anxiety about the consequences of there being only one superpower in the world. That’s something that those three in particular are uncomfortable with. Iraq policy is an area where they have doubts about the American position, and those doubts are, of course, supported by their own economic interests in the region. But I think at root there’s an anxiety in the Security Council about the full range and consequences of a unipolar world.
ACT: Is that anxiety also the cause of the events that make up the confluence you mentioned? Was it behind India’s testing, Pakistan’s testing, North Korea’s launches?
Butler: I’m not sure exactly why India decided to do it at that time. Pakistan’s response to it was very hastily put together and was very much a response to India. So regional politics had the major part to play there. I think, too, that the pressures on India to sign the nuclear test ban treaty were becoming effective and that, together with a change in Indian domestic politics, led to the cockamamie idea that if they were going to sign this treaty they’d better test first to prove they could.
But yes, the confluence of events that I’m talking about is shaped, not exclusively but importantly, by this underlying anxiety about a unipolar world led by a state that is highly and capably armed. I think what Russia and China witnessed in Kosovo was very worrying to them, the idea that the United States and its friends could fight a distant, high-tech war and do it in the way that they did. B-2 bombers flying from the continental United States to Europe and back, for example. That had to worry them. That anxiety could be seen in the recent Russian military exercise, which included flying antiquated nuclear bombers to Norway, and in China’s reaction to the bombing of their embassy in Belgrade—that had much deeper roots than the fact that the embassy was bombed.
And if what I’m saying is true, that a factor in this confluence of events is their anxiety about a unipolar world led by a country that is brilliantly and capably armed, then a key consequence for arms control is that the United States needs to step up to the plate.
ACT: What specific measures could the United States take?
Butler: One thing would be if the United States indicated that it was itself prepared to enter into significant arms reductions on a proper basis. At the time that the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency became a part of the Department of State about two months ago, I was asked to speak. And in my remarks I made several points to them.
First, insist that what you do is an integral part of national security policy. Secondly, do not allow the professional diplomats at State to use the “G.R.” argument against arms control—that is, “good relations.” “Our good relations with India demand that we go softly on complaining to them about their weapons control,” for example. I heard the “G.R.” argument many times in my career. The regional director or assistant secretary of state for Asia or whatever would always say, “Get those arms controllers out of my hair, I’ve got relationships to run here with India and Pakistan.”
Finally, I said, remember this: the classic mistake that arms controllers make is that they characterize arms control as being about the other guy’s weapons. I said it’s actually also about yours. People say the world would be a whole lot better if those other people didn’t have those weapons, but they don’t say much about their own.
The only way that leadership by America will work is if it says, “The first contribution we will make to this whole deal is that we’ll put certain weapons of ours on the table.” Now that’s really hard to do with Senator [Jesse] Helms and those types. But I ask you a question, do you know any other way of doing it? Look at NPT. The only thing that will save NPT is if nuclear arms reductions resume. And the key to that is the United States and Russia. They have to do that together with determination.
ACT: Would ratification of START II accomplish that?
Butler: It is essential, but if that’s a problem, then the obvious thing to do would be to leap over it and go to START III, to go to new limits for the 21st century as was proposed by the Canberra Commission.
More immediately, the United States and Russia could de-alert significant quantities of their missiles—decouple the warheads from the launch vehicles, store them separately, and come down off this hair-trigger situation that the Russians put themselves back on in early July.
ACT: Do you feel that UNSCOM has, at this point, lost its viability as a tool for disarming Iraq?
Butler: UNSCOM has always remained the best instrument for disarming Iraq. Its track record has been terrific. What it has lost is the political support of the Security Council. And so according to the Russians, who are supported by the Chinese, UNSCOM is dead, and the job of monitoring Iraq’s progress has to be done by someone else—UNSCOM II or another organization. It’s pathetic—I want that on the record—pathetic. It flies in the face of the practical reality of what UNSCOM achieved. It focuses on the mechanism, not the problem.
The problem is what it always has been, which is the refusal of Saddam Hussein to stop making or secretly acquiring illegal weapons of mass destruction. It’s absolutely simple. If the central government of Iraq were to decide, “We’re out of this business, we’re not going to do this anymore,” it would be over. But because it’s refused to do that and because UNSCOM has continued to battle with that refusal in ways that have brought about recurrent crises, Russia and some others have decided that the way to solve this problem is to remove the thorn from Iraq’s side, namely UNSCOM, rather than insist that Iraq comply.
ACT: When UNSCOM was created, it was expected that Iraq would comply with Resolution 687. When it was realized that Iraq was not going to cooperate, should UNSCOM have been altered, should the inspection mechanism have been strengthened?
Butler: Theoretically, yes. But what happened was that UNSCOM did that to itself. It strengthened itself by trying different solutions to the same problem. Once it became clear that Iraq was determined not to comply, but to conceal and deceive, then it was clear that the fundamental operational assumption was wrong and UNSCOM had to deal with that.
ACT: What challenges did you face in balancing the work of UNSCOM with the delicate, complex politics of the Security Council?
Butler: “Complex” is an accurate way to describe the Council, but “delicate” certainly isn’t. The word “delicate” doesn’t sit well other than as an oxymoron for the somewhat thuggish behavior that is often seen inside the Council. The Council is a place where power is deployed rather unsentimentally, particularly by states that have the veto and that are prepared to throw their weight around—very often without getting to the meat of things in other than perfunctory terms. For example, if someone says to China, “Why do you want x?” the answer “Because I say so” is hardly an answer. It says, “Because I’m powerful.” That’s not a rational answer, and one hears answers like that. You hear a little bit more than that very often, a sort of papering over by saying that it would be bad for international peace and security if China or Russia, for example, didn’t get its way.
But the real answer to your question is that, yes, it was difficult, and in doing my research and writing about it, I’m sure I’ll find places where I would quite readily say, “Well, I made a mistake there.” And I suspect that those mistakes will relate to telling the Council sometimes too plainly or too truthfully what the circumstances were. Very often there’s a place in the Council for circumlocution rather than for plain speech, and I think one of the hallmarks of my reports to the Council is that they were very plain. They just said, “UNSCOM did x, Iraq did y. Figure it out for yourself,” instead of dressing it up in more elaborate diplomatic language that gave people ways out.
So I think the largest challenge in the Council is truth telling. The basic function of the Council lies between the exercise of great power, which is typically exercised in terms of separate national interests, and the justification for it, which is supposed to be presented through the Council’s reports in a way that demonstrates what was done was in fact good and right. And if those reports are not readily capable of ambiguous or elliptical interpretation, then the naked exercise of power, in terms of national interests, gets uncomfortably exposed. And I think that became characteristic of the last few years of UNSCOM.
ACT: What were your impressions when Operation Desert Fox began last December? Was the use of military force necessary at that point?
Butler: I was surprised when military action started. I genuinely didn’t know what the decision would be. I was in the Council when it started happening—as we all were—and I remember thinking to myself, “Oh my God, they’ve really done it.” And they had.
ACT: Was force needed at that point?
Butler: Not my call.
ACT: What did UNSCOM need if not a show of force to reinforce its position and its viability?
Butler: Unity in the Council would have helped.
ACT: But even with political unity in the Council, you would have been facing the same problems on the ground in Iraq. What else could have been done to bring the Iraqis into compliance?
Butler: Unity in the Council and a lot of political pressure from their friends the Russians. Who knows? Maybe military attack will have helped. Maybe, when the story is told, it will show that Desert Fox actually did have an impact on the Iraqis. There were reports that it had shaken them a lot. But that wasn’t my call or my calculation.
There is no substitute for Iraq being in compliance with the law. That required a simple central government decision by them to get out of the business of making weapons of mass destruction. If they won’t make that decision voluntarily, the theory is that they will be coerced into it through sanctions or threat of force. If that doesn’t seem to work, then there’s political pressure, waiting, maintaining a close watch on them.
ACT: Do you think that removing the sanctions would be enough to restore unity in the Security Council?
Butler: I don’t know. I would be giving a merely speculative answer. It’s a very theoretical question. One would have to think that Saddam Hussein would simply pocket that change and continue to make his weapons. It depends on how important we think sanctions are to them. I think sanctions are important, but I think in the future the Council needs to find a better way of getting states to comply with the law. Sanctions seem to hurt the wrong people and don’t necessarily bring about compliance. But I can’t fathom what the reaction would be.
ACT: Do you think that sanctions will remain the principal tool of the Security Council to compel Iraq to comply with its disarmament obligations?
Butler: Yes. And therefore an a priori weakening of sanctions will make it less likely Iraq will comply with those obligations.
ACT: As UNSCOM’s involvement with national intelligence agencies increased, did you become concerned for UNSCOM’s independence and integrity?
Butler: This intelligence issue has been played with such dramatic success by Iraq and its friends, including in the Secretary General’s office, that it’s a travesty.
First of all, the fundamental legal requirement was for Iraq to tell the truth and to comply with the law. It never did. Never. You look at [former UNSCOM Chairman Rolf] Ekeus’ reports and mine over the last nine years. It never did. What is more, through a major defection of Hussein Kamel in 1995 and some others, it became clear that Iraq had been playing an elaborate shell game with UNSCOM, a game to conceal weapons, the full extent of which is probably still not known.
There are U2 pictures that show things like 100 heavy trucks with Republican Guard markings gathered in the Iraqi desert, 100 kilometers from absolutely nowhere. They had been flushed out by UNSCOM inspectors and zipped off into the desert. And we happened to have our bird overhead and took photographs of this and said to Iraq, “What were those 100 trucks doing in the desert having disappeared from a place where we thought weapons materials were kept?” And Iraq looked us in the eye and said, “What trucks? There were no trucks.” In the name of God, we had photographs of them. Iraq said it buried missiles in certain places. We took photographs of those places, no burial pits. But they were elsewhere, where we did find them. I could bore you to death going on like this. I could go on and on about the degree of deception, the elaborateness of Iraq’s program to maintain its weapons capabilities. I have no doubt that it is Iraq’s second-largest industry, after oil. It’s what I call the anti-UNSCOM industry.
Second, the laws passed by the Security Council require all member states to give all possible assistance to UNSCOM, including the voluntary provision of all relevant information. We received legitimate assistance from some 40 states, including those who are now very supportive of Iraq. We received assistance from Russia and France, and when I was head, I invited the Chinese to come out with us.
My third point is that I have no doubt that when officials of states that later complained about UNSCOM worked with UNSCOM, they fully briefed their own governments on what they learned. The point I’m making is that when Russia, for example, says it’s wicked that the Americans have done intelligence work through UNSCOM, it’s shedding some crocodile tears.
Now, finally, as the wall of deceit got thicker, we did ask for more assistance, and my position on that is this: I did approve of some kinds of technical assistance from intelligence bodies to penetrate the wall of deceit that was put up to prevent us from doing our work. I also refused to authorize some suggestions that were made because they could have been misrepresented or compromised our integrity.
ACT: So that was something that was on your mind?
Butler: Absolutely. And toward the end of my time in the job, I would actually argue that your fundamental premise is wrong. Under me, I think there was less utilization of member states’ intelligence assistance than there had been before. When I inherited the previous situation at the beginning of my term, I looked at it and decided to go ahead, to continue most of it. Intelligence assistance therefore in 1996 and ‘97 was at a higher level than it was in 1998, when I began to disapprove of possible operations. So your premise is wrong. It got smaller, not larger.
Now, UNSCOM was particularly hurt by Scott Ritter’s carrying on. We can argue about what influenced the decisionmakers—there are different versions. But when you claim to be in the room when you weren’t, when you claim to be part of the conversation when you weren’t, when you claim that conversations took place that never did—the false assertion that I met [Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright in Bahrain in March 1998, for example—when you make those kinds of claims that are factually so wrong, that’s very different from having a more honest argument about what went into certain decisions.
I don’t know why he’s behaved that way. Some say he’s not just dishonest, but he’s actually delusionary, that he actually thinks he was there. You know there was one inspection that he implied he was on, and it was canned by the Iraqis, and there was a big fuss. He wasn’t ever on that inspection. He wasn’t in country then. It’s just wrong, but Ritter got to a point where he thought he was UNSCOM, that everything that happened there was him. And if you look at his interviews, you hear that coming through. He actually said on public television, thumping his fist on the table, “I was UNSCOM! I was it!” So, his claim late in 1998 that I somehow sold the store to the CIA is dramatically untrue. And on the contrary, as I said, I actually scaled down the extent to which we were using member states’ intelligence input to do our work because I was concerned about what it could do to our reputation. I was concerned about protecting the independence of multilateral disarmament activities.
ACT: Are you aware of instances where member states took advantage of legitimate intelligence assistance for their own purposes?
Butler: Do I know of instances of malfeasance? Yes. Will I name them? No.
ACT: What sorts of malfeasance, specifically?
Butler: I am perfectly aware that people on my staff were reporting to their home governments, separate and apart from their responsibility to me. Now that’s a low level of malfeasance. Ritter’s stuff is more dramatic, that somehow the National Security Agency or some electronic agency piggybacked on us and listened to Saddam Hussein’s private traffic. Am I aware of that? No. Had that happened, would I have approved of it? No. Because that would compromise our integrity as an arms control agency. But you gave me a terrific opportunity when you asked am I aware of any instances of malfeasance. Yes, I am. I am aware that members of UNSCOM’s staff were leaking assessments and reports and information to their sending governments. And I’m not talking about Americans. I’m talking about other nations. I’m trying to get away from this single focus that somehow we got done over by the United States.
ACT: That you were co-opted by the United States.
Butler: What a belly laugh. How would I have been? I mean, I’ve never particularly felt the need to robustly address some of these charges because I find them quintessentially ludicrous. I’m also aware that if I go orbital about them in public, it will actually draw attention to them.
As recently as today I read an Iraqi report saying that the UN is a nest of spies and put special germs in Iraq to infect the Iraqi people and stuff like that. In the name of God, what do you want me to do with propaganda like that? Call up CNN and say I’m prepared to make a statement about how we didn’t put germs in Iraq? So I have not felt the need to respond to things that are so ludicrous, and I would put in that same category the notion that I have been co-opted by the United States government.
I’m sure the Americans have some wonderful stuff in their files on me. It was an act of great generosity that the U.S. agreed to my appointment because years ago we were at real loggerheads over its opposition to a nuclear test ban treaty. Ken Adelman, who used to be head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, used to call me “Red Richard.” The very idea that I’d be co-opted by the United States government is a joke.
ACT: Have any illegitimate uses of your access between minor incidents and what is absurd come to your attention?
Butler: It’s been credibly argued that there was an attempt to piggyback on us, that in giving us some technical assistance an extra circuit might have been added to monitor some extra traffic. But I’ve already said many times in public, I know what I approved of, I cannot know what I didn’t know. I know what I disapproved of. Was there something done behind my back? I don’t know. All I can say, as Rolf Ekeus has said and in his own way [UN Secretary General] Kofi Annan has said, is that were it to be the case, it would have serious implications for the independence of multilateral arms control work. And I would lament that. But to pursue this further, you would have to ask U.S. authorities.
ACT: What lessons does UNSCOM’s experience with national intelligence agencies hold for multilateral inspections teams in the future?
Butler: Great care will have to be taken to be sure that any intelligence given is given for the service of the mandate involved, the disarmament mandate, and not for the service of any other purpose.
ACT: UNSCOM has had great successes, and yet Iraq is not fully disarmed and we no longer have a presence there. Do you think the experience of UNSCOM, on balance, did more to advance or to degrade the idea of multilateral inspections as a tool of arms control?
Butler: I think there’s no clear answer, the jury is out on that one, but I think it’s a valid question. This kind of work is needed and it should be expanded. You think of what there is now: there’s the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectorate, there’s the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons inspectorate, there should be one—I hope in the not-too-distant future—on biological weapons. This is work that needs to be done. It’s a necessary part of giving treaty partners assurance that there isn’t cheating from within and that people are keeping their obligations.
UNSCOM was the most ambitious of such inspectorates ever created, but the anti-UNSCOM period over the last year or so and the associated propaganda has been very successful. Harm has been done to this kind of effort by that propaganda, including, quite frankly, by some of the things that Ritter has said and done, which is really tragic because as he left he actually told me that his basic purpose was to defend the kind of effort that UNSCOM had made.
So I think if the Council were asked to devise something similar to UNSCOM today—and in a sense it has been—their wiggle room would be smaller because those memories of this period are fresher. The earlier period with all the success is less fresh. But a few years from now, there will be a more balanced view. I hope the book that I write will land on that view and point to how we can do this better in the future because, sure as hell, we will have to do it. UNSCOM was a fantastic experiment, did a lot of good, and there are a lot of good things that can be learned from it.
ACT: What are the most important lessons that can be drawn from UNSCOM’s experience?
Butler: One of the lessons here is that the lawmaker shouldn’t make laws that it won’t be willing or able to enforce in the future.
Secondly, in the future the lawmaker might want to take more care about the impositions it puts upon a sovereign state in the position Iraq found itself—UNSCOM was given quite extreme, almost draconian powers.
I also think there is a need for the Security Council to reach an agreement on the uses to which the veto can be legitimately put. Specifically, I say a permanent member should not use it to defend a state because it’s a friend when that state is seen to be violating its arms control obligations. It shouldn’t be valid for a state to step in on a national interest basis to defend a state that is objectively in violation of the very agreements of which the Council is supposed to be the protector.
ACT: In terms of Iraq’s proscribed weapons activities, what do you believe the Iraqi government has been able to achieve during the seven months since UN inspectors have been in the country?
Butler: I believe they have worked hard on increasing their missile capability, the range of those missiles and probably the number of them. I’m sure they’ve asked their nuclear team to start meeting again, and I feel certain, too, that they have commenced work again on making chemical and biological warfare agents.
ACT: How close could they be to a nuclear, biological or chemical capability?
Butler: Not sure. Nuclear relies very much on access to weapons-grade fissile material, in which they’re very poor. In chemical and biological, they’re really quite skilled, and I don’t think there’s any particular barrier to progress there. It’s a question of what they choose to do. The missile field is an area where they lack certain machines and equipment, but there’s reason to think they’ve been out in the world trying to procure those covertly. Now, how long all that will take, I’d only be guessing because we’re not there and we can’t see what they’re doing.
ACT: Is Iraq transferring materiel, personnel and technology to other states in efforts to protect its weapons programs?
Butler: I don’t know. There were reports in the past of some such transfers, but to be truthful, I don’t know what the situation is today.
ACT: In the course of UNSCOM’s inspections, what did you learn to that effect?
Butler: We saw critical information that there had been such transfers.
ACT: Can you say to which states?
Butler: No, I won’t.
ACT: Is it better to have some sort of inspection mechanism in Iraq, even if it is not as strong as UNSCOM? Is something better than nothing?
Butler: That’s a highly theoretical question. I don’t honestly know the answer. There’s a great temptation to say yes, something is better than nothing, but I have a deep-seated feeling that this could create illusory inspections—inspections that give the appearance of being sound when they aren’t. It could be that, in this sort of arms control work, something could be worse than nothing because it could provide a false sense of security.
ACT: Even given ideal circumstances, is it possible for an inspection team to disarm a non-compliant state with 100 percent certainty?
Butler: The answer lies in finding the point of intersection between the highest possible degree of objective verification and agreement on the desirability of no one being armed with weapons of mass destruction. What I’m saying is that objective verification, by scientific and technical means, can always be cheated on. What fills that gap, whether it’s a 5 percent gap or whatever, is the political commitment of states not to acquire weapons and of the enforcers to enforce the law. This is somewhat theoretical, but it adds up to the functional equivalent of something like 100 percent.
Iraq is a good case in point there. The means of verification and the work of UNSCOM has been very successful, but it won’t hit 100 percent. For a while the Security Council was committed and that made the job broadly successful. But what was absent from the Iraq case from the beginning was a decision by the central government of Iraq not to comply with the resolutions. Absent that, there’s always going to be a shortfall. The critical question then and now is, what is that shortfall? How many hidden missiles does it represent with what agents to be carried in the warhead and when will one of those warheads actually contain a nuclear explosive device? Those are the critical questions left by this breakdown when UNSCOM was halfway down the straight on the last lap of this race. That’s what we don’t know.