Hans Blix on a Legacy of Nuclear Safeguards and Inspections

Hans Blix on a Legacy of Nuclear Safeguards and Inspections

More on:

Global

Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

Event Description

Hans Blix, former executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), joins Mitchel B. Wallerstein, president of Baruch College, to discuss Blix's experiences. Blix reflects on strengthening the IAEA's safeguards system, creation of the Additional Protocol, and leading UNMOVIC's inspections for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The Home Box Office History Makers Series focuses particular attention on the contributions made by a prominent individual at a critical juncture in international relations.

Event Highlights

Hans Blix on nuclear weapons in Asia:

"I think China has an enormously strong reason to avoid that North Korea moves on with a nuclear weapon capacity, because they would face the risk that Japan [would go in] this direction. …the big discussion between U.S. and South Korea is about enrichment. The South Koreans say…we have such a big nuclear establishment that we should have our own enrichment, and the U.S. has been pretty reluctant to that."

Hans Blix on the future and safety of nuclear energy:

"The fourth generation…is still perhaps a decade or more off. Then you can probably have an inherent guarantee that there will be no core melt at all. …if nuclear can survive the present crisis, then I think we will see newer and stronger animals on the scene."

Hans Blix on why Saddam Hussein remained ambiguous regarding possessing weapons of mass destruction:

"I brooded much on this, and one explanation is that he wanted to impress upon his own people and especially upon the Iranians that,'Well, I might still have it. I am still dangerous.' …I have another thought, and that is that he was just so angered by what he saw as the arrogance of the inspectors, they could kick in the doors and be rather brutal. There was a question of humiliation. And I always took great care that we should be like what we admire the old British bobby to be, sort of trusted agent of society. And I think we succeeded relatively well in that. But one should never underestimate the fury that comes from humiliation."

WALLERSTEIN: Good evening. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations History Makers Series with Dr. Hans Blix. I'm Mitchel Wallerstein, the president of Baruch College, and I'm pleased to be presiding this evening.

The History Makers Series focuses on the contributions made by prominent individuals at a critical juncture in U.S. foreign policy or international relations. On behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations, I would like to thank Richard Plepler and HBO for their generous support of this series.

So I would like to, first, welcome our guest, Dr. Blix. We are privileged to have him here with us this evening. You all have received a copy of his bio, so I will not go into a lot of detail, except to say that when the history of the international and regional affairs at the end of the 20th century is written, I believe Dr. Blix will be recognized as an important figure.

He played a significant role, first, as a Swedish diplomat and then as the foreign minister of Sweden and then, of course, as head of the—of two multilateral organizations, serving as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, from 1981 to 1997, and then coming back from retirement at the request of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to serve as executive chairman of—the first executive chairman, actually, of UNMOVIC, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission.

So we will engage in a conversation, and then I will open it to questions from the members.

Dr. Blix, you led the IAEA for sixteen years through a tumultuous period, from 1981 to '97, and you played a significant role and the organization played a significant role in events, including the aftermath of the Israeli bombing of the Osirak reactor in 1981 and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. We'll get into the Iraqi nuclear weapons program in a moment, but these earlier events, of course, raised serious debate about the circumstances under which a state has the—the ability to move unilaterally, to take military action when they feel that there's evidence of a nascent nuclear threat. And, of course, this is something that is now being discussed again today with regard to the nuclear program in Iran.

And in the Chernobyl case, given the initial secrecy and misinformation subsequent to the accident, and then the evidence of the radioactive—downwind radioactive impact in Central Europe and the Baltic states, there were serious concerns about international safety, nuclear safety.

So I'm sure the members would be interested to hear your views on the role that the IAEA played in both of these events and also your personal views on those subjects.

BLIX: Well, on the Israeli attack on the Osirak reactor in 1981, it was something that already happened when I came to the IAEA. I—and as you say, it raises the question of the unilateral act, without any authorization of the Security Council. They certainly did not have that, and they subsequently attacked also in Syria and without any authorization. And the matter has been discussed—was discussed in a high-level committee appointed by Kofi Annan with Scowcroft and with Primakov and with Lord Hannay and others.

And this specific issue about a nuclear threat, I also remember, when I come to—what they said, but I remember that in the U.S. there was discussions about an attack on China, Chinese nuclear program, when they realized that it would be coming along. It was decided against it.

Now, this commission in the U.N. was very strongly against. They said the U.N. charter is (inaudible) use of force against the territorial integrity and borders of other states unless you have an authorization of the council or you have—it is a response, self-defense against an armed attack. And there was no attack from Osirak, from the Iraqi side at that time.

I think many people also doubt that really Saddam—and there's been written about this—that doubt that Saddam was—had taken a decision to go for nuclear weapons at that time, but he came to that conclusion. Of course, the Israelis and others didn't do very much (inaudible) the IAEA did manage very much, because we were then operating under the old safeguard system, and under that system, we went to installations which were declared.

In fact, we wouldn't have known where to go elsewhere, because we had no satellite images, we had no intelligence coming from anybody. So we only could go to what was declared. And the main function was seemed to be checking (inaudible) diversion of fissile material. That was the fear, that the—the nuclear industries—peaceful nuclear industries that they would divert. So that was the main task. But I had not thought very much about someone hiding it. And I'm not sure the Iraqis didn't hide that reactor. It was built by the French.

So it may well be—it's a moot question at any rate whether—whether was on his way. And I don't think anyone has a really good record in that affair.

Now, as you say, similar situation with relation to Iran. We have heard the U.S. president, both Bush and Obama, say that all options are on the table. I don't think a president could say anything else. Do you rule out that could use bombing—I don't think he could say (inaudible) in reality, I don't think at this stage, at any rate, that there is a bombing option, whether conventional weapons or otherwise.

Today, the Iranians are participating in the battle against the ISIS. And they are probably one of the more stabler countries in the area. Whether they actually were moving towards a weapon, well, I would say that there is good reason for suspicion, because they were building a program of enrichment of uranium which was far too big for what they needed. They had research reactor with twenty megawatts. And they were—they were getting their reactors that were built for—by the Russians, by the Germans first, but then by the Russians, and I think only one of these is in operation now. So having enrichment capacity for that reactor—building it up was pretty much.

But one must remember—and I think it's often forgotten in the Western world—what were the background. I mean, the—when Khomeini came to power, the Iranians needed a new fresh fuel for the (inaudible) reactor. And they ordered in the U.S. because it was three-year reactor, and they paid for it. They got neither their money back, nor did they get any fuel. And eventually they had to buy—they managed to buy from Argentina.

And then the U.S. tried to stop them everywhere. And so it may well be that they felt, yes, they could not rely upon any—for the outside world market to get the fuel. However, there was not a reason for going to the size that they had. It was oversized, and that rightly raised suspicions.

Now, what was the explanation—did they aim at a weapon? I do not—I cannot rule it out. Some of them in that government were aiming at it. But it could also have been spite, pride that led them in this way. And we now hear that Iran should—they don't need enrichment, they should rely on the Russians. I think to me it sounds a little far-fetched, because we also hear (inaudible) to Germany, that you should not rely upon contracts about gas from Russia. But when it comes to Iran, they should be able to rely upon (inaudible) uranium.

So the suspicion came there, and I don't think that—the main objection to it on the U.S. and Western side to an attack, I think, again—I'm sorry to say—I don't think it's the U.N. charter. I mean, as a lawyer, I think it would be illegal. Iran has not attacked. And there's no—there would be no authorization. I think that the main reason will be that they don't know where it will end, that (inaudible) situation in a foreign Middle East is difficult enough anyway, so they don't know where—it's like a pot—Colin Powell said that, if you break the pot, you own it.

WALLERSTEIN: Pottery Barn theory, yes.

BLIX: Yeah. And I think that's the case—I hope very, very warmly that the negotiations that will be—should be ready by 24th of November, that they will work out. Partly at the present juncture, we'd also need a—some bright spots, some glimmer of hope in the world. Things are so bad in other respects that we would need this.

And I am fond of saying that we can see some what I call mini-resets. And I thought Syria is the first mini-reset. I know reset is not a very popular word (inaudible) but in the case of Syria, that was going pretty close to an attack, a unilateral attack, which, again, I think would have been a violation of the U.N. charter, because there was no attack—they were not part of the CWC convention. It would have been in violation of the U.N. charter.

And in addition, what—how could one explain that you'd bomb a few installations as punishment, the U.S.—U.S. would be the world policeman for judging and punishing straight away, and then they would strike out a few things, weaken Assad somewhat, and you wanted that to assure, and no one thinks it was a very nice regime he had. But when the attack was over, we're going to say to the opposition in Syria that now, boys, you go back to your fighting, but clean fighting, no chemical weapons, clean fighting? I thought that was a somewhat odd thing. And I am very glad that it came out.

It was not out of Russian magnanimity vis-a-vis the U.S. The Russians have two great powers, as we know. One is that they have nuclear weapons, and other one is that they have a veto power in the Security Council. And they don't like very much have U.S. unilateral action.

So here they managed to steer what seemed to be a continuation of the Iraqi affair, a unilateral—U.S. unilateralism and steer into the organized international community, steer it back to the Security Council, where the decision making power correctly, constitutionally, is, and to the OPCW in the Netherlands.

So I think they gained on that. And I think it was a good thing for everybody, actually, that it came—and I feel a bit...I look at it as a sort of mini-reset. There was a situation in which despite all the tensions and difficulties between the Russians and the West, that they were managed to set this aside and work on that field.

And I think they're doing—trying to do the same thing on Iran today. And I think the more we have of that, the better—the better it is.

WALLERSTEIN: Interesting. To go back to your point about the fact that the Osirak reactor was not hidden—of course, when the inspectors got in after the first Gulf War, they found the evidence of an actual attempt to hide nascent nuclear weapons or at least an enrichment capability.

BLIX: Oh, yeah, in 1991.

WALLERSTEIN: With the EMIS plant that the Iraqis had cleverly hidden...

BLIX: I don't think anyone knew that. Not even the U.S. were sure that they were doing it. But when the U.N. came with the inspectors, then the Americans, the U.S., had seen on the satellite pictures swarms of people at the place which there were bombing, then we—we got tips about that and went in there, and we were puzzled, because they were using the—an old type of method.

WALLERSTEIN: Yeah.

BLIX: But it was...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLERSTEIN: ... magnetic isotope separation.

BLIX: Yeah, it was clearly an attempt to come to enrichment. They also tried with a centrifuge, which was a more modern effort. But that shows, again, the weakness of intelligence. I mean, they claimed that we were blind, and we received a lot of criticism for that, but they themselves did not.

The Israelis, of course, suspected the Iraqis in 1981, but I don't—we had no tips from them that it was acute at that time. And I remember another occasion in Argentina, when I was there (inaudible) the Argentineans were building an enrichment plant in Pilcaniyeu, and I was invited to go to Argentina. And they—a day before I left, they phoned me and they told me about this plant. The U.S. had not discovered it.

WALLERSTEIN: Interesting. I don't know if you wanted to comment at all about the Chernobyl question, aftermath of that.

BLIX: Chernobyl. Well, it had many—perhaps the overriding thing is that, first, the people who died and they—the area that was shielded off, which now is very prospering and it's an area kept off since 1986, so it's full of wildlife and wild horses and whatnot. And there's likely to be opened to the public again very soon.

But it was a terrible disaster for the nuclear power. And I don't think we can afford, if we—to go ahead with nuclear power. Many countries will be put off. The Germans were very silly to put off by that time. They didn't stop nuclear until after Fukushima, but they were at the time. And the same—the effect in many other places.

So while I am an advocate for trying to rationally explain to the public what are the benefits and what are the risks of nuclear power—and I think the benefits vastly overshadow the risks—nevertheless, when it comes to actually reaching people, reaching people's hearts and thoughts, this is not enough. Intellectual persuasion is not enough. We can try to speak about radiation and explain the linear dose hypothesis and other things, but it will not really help.

What we need is good operations, and operations have been improved very much over time. We have far fewer unplanned stoppages today than earlier and for lower radiation doses to the professional people. So it has improved, but it's not enough. We simply cannot afford having accidents of this kind.

And we do get new types of nuclear reactors. The technical people are helping. I asked the head of the NRC the other day on a platform whether you could claim that the Westinghouse newest type AP1000 is a—has inherently safe, cannot have a core meltdown. Now, she didn't want to go that far, but what they are—I think can do with a new type of reactors is guaranteeing that there will be no emissions by the plant.

WALLERSTEIN: (OFF-MIKE)

BLIX: And the fourth generation, there is still perhaps a decade or more off. Then you can probably have an inherent guarantee that there will be no core melt at all. I saw one—when my wife and I were in China, we saw a (inaudible) reactor, and there—where you have cranes (ph) of uranium embedded in graphite. They cannot have a core meltdown.

So if we survive, if nuclear can survive the present crisis, then I think we will see newer and stronger animals on the scene. And the world scene is actually very mixed. We see Germany phasing out. We see Switzerland also phasing out, Italy also not going forward, Belgium, where you have a Green Party in a strong position, French also a green party, played a role.

But you go to China, they build as smart nuclear power as they can. And the South Koreans do. The Japanese, of course, are in holding pattern. Vietnamese are building. The Turks are building. India is building as much as they can. So it's a very mixed picture around the world.

As to the reasons for the accident in Chernobyl, I had two—I am a lawyer, so I shouldn't be really—have to know much about it, but I had two reasons. One was that there were weaknesses in the construction of it, and that was well-known before. And then—and it was a reactor that was very good at producing plutonium. That was the main—one of the main purposes, why (inaudible).

The other, I think, was had to do with the Soviet system, with the question of responsibility. In the Western world, nuclear staff were encouraged to be questioning and to have confidence, but to also be questioning. But in the Soviet system, questioning was not. It was the authority, the directors, and above the directors, the ministers and the government, and the last resort they decide—if they had decided whether it's their responsibility. And that is not a very good attitude.

WALLERSTEIN: Great. Let's move on to another topic. Another major milestone during your tenure at the IAEA was the negotiation of the Additional Protocol, which enhanced the ability of your organization to do more aggressive on-site inspection, if not surprise inspection, at least short-notice inspections to investigate other ancillary activities beyond the nuclear facility itself.

So the question, I guess, is, given the behavior of certainly the DPRK, where they, of course, broke out of the treaty, but—both the Iran case, the North Korean case raised the question—and be interested in your view—as to whether—had the Additional Protocol been in place, would these programs have been detected? And from the standpoint of other states that may be seeking to emulate the North Korean pattern, where they developed it in secret and then announced they were withdrawing from the treaty, would it find these development programs soon enough?

BLIX: Well, I think—the first point, I think, is that the world is not milling of would-be proliferators. There is a sort of attitude in the West that everyone is keen to do it, as if they can get away with it. That is not so. I mean, even if the NPT were to collapse, I think most of the countries that are parties would say that we have decided to join this treaty because we think it's in our interest not to have nuclear weapons. We are not going to have it, and we want to signal that by joining the protocol. So I think there are very few cases in the world where it really would make a difference.

But the protocol does help us to have a confidence-creating mechanism in the safeguard system. And when the nuclear started, then the—to enforce or demand inspection by international inspectors in big industrial installations was not anything popular in the countries of those days. Germany, Belgium, were traditionally very negative to having inspectors milling around, especially as the nuclear weapons states did not have to do it.

Now, they consented to do it on a voluntary basis, which was some little consolation, but anyway, the attitude traditionally in the world is not to accept international inspection. So it was something novel and I think very important. And I think fact-finding and partial fact-finding is a very valuable feature in the world, just as we have our criminal investigations, we want to have—also professional and capable organizations that do it objectively. We are not there as an enemy, but we are there as a trustee in the world.

Now, there was this attitude that meant that the whole system of safeguards inspection by the IAEA did not—were not given much teeth. They were to check—focus—upon the nuclear fissionable material and they were in practice confined to going to sites that were declared.

And as I said, they wouldn't even have known where to go elsewhere, because we had no intelligence, we had no spies, we had no satellites at that time. And we didn't get any intelligence from anybody else. So it was a weakness—weak system. And I think in most cases, in our reports, we said that we had not detected any diversion in the sites declared, but it may—I also found cases which they went a little too far and said there weren't any, because that's two different things, say, that we haven't seen anything in there and haven't detected anything.

And so in 1991, when it was discovered that the Iraqis had actually hidden and had a clandestine activity to generate enriched uranium, we drew the conclusion that the system needs to be changed. And I'm aware that in politics, timing is half of things, perhaps not everything, but it's quite important.

This was an occasion when you could move forward. Just as after the Chernobyl accident, we moved forward with the convention on nuclear safety. The international community was able then to do something that many, including the U.S., had resisted before that. But here was an occasion when the whole safeguard system could be strengthened.

And we did that. And it was the safeguards department that took the initiative, not I myself. I should give credit to them. And some—two Americans in the safeguards department, moreover, who are the instrumental. They worked with Norm Wulf, the State Department, Laura Rockwood in the legal division. They worked with me.

And we presented to the Board of Governors the proposal for what new powers we think we should have. And then brought it to the Board of Governors, and they discussed it there, and they come with their comments, and we realized—and they took in 1997 it was ready, was the year that I left or resigned from my position, and I was very happy about it.

It gives much, much more power. Above all—or one of the things was the so-called environmental monitoring. The nuclear gives such signs of footprints that are very easy to detect if you have the right instruments. I mean, people are scared of nuclear because we don't see it, we don't hear it, et cetera, but with the instruments, you can even—the tiniest things you can detect.

So if you go—in Iraq, we learned in Iraq—it was on the U.S. side that it was developed. And we used to call it—we take the urine test of Iraq, just like to take urine test of drug addicts—we could go and take a little water in the river and then test it and you will see. You could take some samples or leaves or sand or whatever and you could find it. So that was a new technique that was developed during the Iraqi affair and which then went into this.

But also much more obligations for states to declare. And we were able to put (inaudible) and so forth. So that was a great—but I would like to warn against-- nevertheless—against any view that you have 100 percent certainty. I mean, you can still hide somewhere, something, and so you need many sources.

When I asked about intelligence in the context of our work in Iraq, I say, well, they are different things. The intelligence people, they listen to our telephone conversations, including mine and ElBaradei's, but others, that may be (inaudible) do so. They have spies on the ground. They look at what kind of instruments, equipment are sold to countries, what type they buy directly or indirectly, so they have a lot of sources of information that inspectors don't have. But inspectors can go anywhere. They can talk to people. So they have a very direct input.

And so I don't despise the intelligence, though I know there some talks went very, very bad, very wrong. But I think that those who receive the information, the government receives the information from the intelligence and from the inspectors, they should see if they're telling. And if they do tell, well, that's—if they don't, well, then should be a little cautious.

And in case of Iraq, they didn't really care. Maybe they didn't spend enough billions to look important. I don't know. But—and certainly they wanted to go ahead with the attack that perhaps not necessarily was prompted by the fear of weapons of mass destruction.

The (inaudible) great step forward and helpful, but one should not overstate it. When you say that we have two goals, we want to know that the declarations are correct and that they are also comprehensive, but on the comprehensiveness, you cannot be.

But it would also be wrong to say that everything is—that the safeguards is the—it's not the only means. You have science. You read newspapers. You see the foreign policy of a country. We do not think that like a country like Vietnam would very likely move towards nuclear weapons, but you may have other cases. There were some reports about Burma for a while. There were reports about Zimbabwe for a while, et cetera. So there are many signs, at least reading. But this is a very, very powerful—nowadays very powerful means.

WALLERSTEIN: I think I will ask one more, and then we'll open it up to the members. You just made reference to attempts that states might make to cover up things and that it's difficult to do, but if the P5+1 negotiation with Iran is successful—and we're about a month away now from the deadline, which could, I suppose, be extended, but assuming for the moment that they do reach agreement, I wonder if you could draw on your experience both at IAEA and then at UNMOVIC to speculate about what will be required.

I presume that IAEA would be the logical, you know, organizational entity to conduct more enhanced and rigorous inspections, but we already know, for example, that at Parchin, the Iranians have paved over certain areas, thereby making it almost impossible to do environmental sampling. So the question is, how will the P5+1 and other states get a sufficient level of confidence that this program has really been suspended?

BLIX: Well, Iran is a lot more open country than North Korea, to be sure.

WALLERSTEIN: Yes.

BLIX: It doesn't say very much.

WALLERSTEIN: Right.

BLIX: But it certainly is. And there will be many—many pieces of information coming out from opposition in Iran and from the satellites. So I think there will be a fair amount—I would be—well, I would certainly be surprised if they try to cheat again.

In a way, I'm somewhat more worried about the intelligence, because there is as much disinformation as there is information. There was a book published by Gareth Porter in the U.S. some time ago about the whole Iranian affair, and, well, he certainly maintains that much of the evidence that was given to the IAEA was really cooked, was not authentic.

And I wouldn't be at all surprised. I mean, I saw in the case of Iraq, when we worked here, that on the—on the question of the one type of biological anthrax—it was anthrax—I had an inspector who told me that the information we had and the information we've got from the intelligence from the U.S. side clearly shows that there must be, what, 3,000 tons or 300 tons, whatever. It would have fit—fit very nicely.

And I said, well, what is the intelligence we get from it? Do we get to see the real evidence or not? No, you cannot see. And I said, I am not going to rely on this. I am going to say that there are strong indications, but I'm not going further than that.

It turned out later on, when we went in and when Saddam was gone, that—and we asked them, what happened? Was there something hidden? They said no, that this quantity had been taken for destruction, but they had such a short time, they dumped it a bit too near Saddam's palaces. And they would never admit, let it be known.

WALLERSTEIN: Not good for their health to admit that.

BLIX: Would not have been good for them, no. So the intelligence—I think one has to be very cautious. In the case of Iran, I think now we should be super cautious with what they can—kind of disinformation you can get, as well.

WALLERSTEIN: Uh-huh. Interesting. OK. I think at this time, I would like to invite members to pose—to join the conversation and pose questions. I'd like you to bear in mind that this series is called History Makers, so it's important to keep the questions focused on Dr. Blix's past experience, although I guess I've already violated that to some degree. But that's to be the main focus.

Please wait for the microphone to be handed to you and stand and identify yourself. And we will try to get as many questions as we can, so try to be brief. Yes, sir? Here's a microphone coming right there.

QUESTION: Stephen Schlesinger from the Century Foundation. The issue of Iran, I know you don't want me to ask futuristic questions, but I can't help it. Do you think it would be a terrible thing if Iran ever got the—a nuclear weapon? Or do you think it would lead to other countries in the Middle East demanding their share in nuclear production? Or can be—Iran, if they got the nuclear weapon, could they be contained? In other words, is there a kind of different way of looking at the arrangement and situation in the Middle East?

BLIX: Right, well, there has been and there would remain the fear that if Iran were to go for nuclear weapons, you would also have other countries in the Middle East doing the same thing—Saudi Arabia and Egypt—and would have a spread of it, just as I think in the case of North Korea, I would have been more worried that a more provocative nuclear behavior by North Korea could one day trigger Japan, where you have hawkish people who say that they should also go for it. And that would be a totally different situation.

But returning to the Middle East, I think what would happen, if they really went for that, and no one discusses the option that they could perhaps withdraw from the NPT.

WALLERSTEIN: Just like the DPRK did.

BLIX: And they might say that there are now two or three U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf, and we hear that all options are on the table, and we don't think we get any benefit from is treaty so we thereby denounce it and withdraw it.

Now, then, there would be nothing illegal about going for a weapon. Israel is not doing anything illegal, either. They've never been part of the NPT. And so it's not illegal what they've done, but it does have some effects, anyway.

Now, if the Iranians were—I don't think they will. I mean, I'd be—I was there not so long ago and discussed with many. I don't think they would go for a nuclear weapon. But you have one group sitting in power now, and maybe you have other people on some other—that they have the capacity, that they could do it, yes. They talk about breakout capacity here, but that's—how long time would it take for them to put together so much nuclear material that they have intellectual capacity and know-how to do it.

And we've always known that that is in the hands of anyone who has enough money and enough technical level, they can develop it. So they would have it in their hands. I don't think they will. If they did, well, my guess is for them—not an expert—that it would neutralize the Israeli nuclear weapon, because there could be a second strike. The Israeli threat of using nuclear weapons in the last resort would not be there any longer.

And I've been somewhat positive to the—somewhat I've been very positive to the idea of a nuclear weapon-free zone for the Middle East, which was supported by the last—latest NPT conference and was one of the reasons why the prolongation of the NPT came about, that the Arabs were promised conference that will discuss a nuclear weapon-free zone.

Now, I'm—my thought is simply this, that if Israel feels that there should be no enrichment whatever in Iran, that's the position that they've taken, there should be none whatever, then I think it would be in their hands to get it. They wouldn't go by my way but it would be in their hands. They could say that we are ready to join that zone, and that would mean we would do away with our nuclear weapons, and we would do away with our factories in which we produce plutonium, with strict inspection, but it would presuppose that the Iranians also dismantle theirs and that Egypt and Saudi Arabia and others commit themselves to inspection, strong inspection, and not go for it.

You can find other sources of enrichment in the world. You could have outside. So it's not impossible. I don't think the Israelis—certainly wouldn't agree with it now, and perhaps never do so. But I think it would be in their hands. And saying simply that Iran cannot have it and we can have it, well, I think that's at least a position that it's not sort of endorsed by everybody.

I don't think the Israelis—that the Iranians are going for it, but then I think there will be a good thing if they get an agreement done.

WALLERSTEIN: I'll take a question on this side. Yes?

QUESTION: Hello. Good to see you again, Dr. Blix. Evelyn Leopold, journalist at the U.N., who covered him minutely years ago. Anyway, there seems to be a big cry among many nations to get a nuclear reactor. And I wonder if they can handle it safely, get rid of the waste, or is it just boys wanting their toys?

BLIX: I think the newest types of missiles are greater toys, and I worry more about them, because they're the toys of military people who know how to shoot. The nuclear reactors—you look at the U.S. attitude to the reactors in North Korea, which you had something to do with in the Agreed Framework, I mean, the U.S. was so little concerned about building light-water reactors in North Korea that they agreed to help to finance this.

And the same thing in Iran, although they did tell the Russians that they should not continue supporting...

WALLERSTEIN: (inaudible)

BLIX: ... but it was rather because they fear that there could be nuclear scientists coming in the train of people going from Russia to Iran. And now we have seen how the Europeans, the Brits and the French and the Germans, they said to the Iranians that if you go along with a suspension or strong reduction of the enrichment capacity, we are willing to help you to build up the nuclear power industry. And the U.S. has come along on that.

So I think this shows that these countries, they cannot really be suspected of being indifferent. The question on nonproliferation (inaudible) light-water reactors, not worried very much. Theoretically, you can reprocess the spent fuel that comes out, but in practice, it is not really a—it's not a practical way. You don't get very good plutonium that way. And, secondly, it will also be picked up and discovered immediately.

So I do not see—enrichment is a different matter. If you go for reprocessing, it's a different matter. If you talk about the Arak reactor in Iran, well, that's a reactor that's very good for producing plutonium. It's one reason why there are suspicions about Iran. Why do you build a research reactor that is so very good to producing plutonium? But they don't have a reprocessing capacity. And if—without a reprocessing capacity, it's not that ominous, I would say.

So I can see and understand many arguments against nuclear power, but I think that it remains mainly—the big one is the question of safety, if there is any escape of radioactivity, because that is long-lived—long-living. It's—you don't have very many casualties actually. Even after Chernobyl, you can calculate, but there are between forty or fifty who died immediately, and there were a number of children who got thyroid cancers. Yes, but they had not seen any increased mortality among the so-called liquidators, those who were sent in. You don't see any increased mortality.

But it's still—I think there's an abhorrence against the idea of injury or even more death cancer from nuclear that scares people. And that we can only cure I think a long run by having such safe operations that it won't happen.

The light-water—I don't think that the proliferation argument is fairly strong, really. The waste argument is there, but, again, what we do with the fissile waste, this atmosphere that is dump site, routine dump site for the waste of the nuclear. The waste from the nuclear power is put down 500 meters more in the ground, in the crust of the Earth from where the uranium once came. And, I mean, nothing is totally zero risk, but I think it's certainly rather good.

WALLERSTEIN: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: My name is Charles Ganoe. I was in North Korea last month. And repeatedly, I got comments, why do you imperialist Americans want to invade us? And then when the conversation would pass to nuclear weapons, the insistence was that that's strictly for defensive purposes. And they would cite all kinds of reasons as to why they thought we were going to invade us, including the war games we held in August, where an American general talked about a preemptive invasion of North Korea and a quick capture of Pyongyang as part of the war games they were holding. But they cited other things.

My question is, if the United States took a different policy, and instead of intimidating North Korea, said, in effect, we're seeking an agreement with you, we will remove our nuclear weapons from South Korea and we will take other measures to assure you we're not going to invade you, do you think the North Koreans would come around to some sort of controls on their nuclear program?

BLIX: Are there any U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea now? Weren't they withdrawn under Bush the elder?

QUESTION: They think...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: They think they're—they cite the fact—they think...

BLIX: They think so, yes. Yeah, no, I think you make a good point. I mean, we go back to the Korean War, 1950. From what I have read, U.S. commanders asked the authority to use nuclear weapons, and they had the authority, but they did not use them. I don't think the Koreans have ever come over that suspicion or believe that they would be attacked with nuclear weapons.

And they also—of course, they have such a closed society that they can feed these feelings. And you get people on the U.S. side who occasionally say that, yeah, we might have to do it. And that doesn't make them any calmer.

So I think that if one is to have a settlement with them, I think it will have to comprise also a security order for the region in which you have not only U.S., but also Japan, Russia, and China. But the fear I have is that it might not be enough. A worry I could have is that you have military in control of the country, and that the military may need to have a constant trouble percolation in the area to justify their own power.

Now, then they can say one day is sunshine, the next time it is a thunderstorm, but I agree with you. I think that you get further with carrots than with sticks. I remember John Bolton said, "I don't do carrots." I always wondered how he brought up his own children.

(LAUGHTER)

But I think you probably get further with carrots. And with consistency—and that's difficult in a free world, as we are, with lots of generals, admirals, with different views. I think they have tried also. I think the U.S. has certainly held out to North Korea that, look here, you can have a peace treaty and you can have guarantees, et cetera.

But I think you need to come together, not only the U.S.—they look at the U.S. as the big enemy, of course. But I think you would need an arrangement security order for the region. The alternatives are pretty awful, because they are moving ahead now, and as I mentioned a moment ago that if they were to trigger some Japanese hawks—and we have a fairly hawkish Japanese prime minister at the moment—and they're modifying the constitution, well, that could change very much.

So now this leads me to the conclusion, again, that I think China has an enormously strong reason to avoid that North Korea moves on with a nuclear weapon capacity, because they would face the risk that Japan went to this direction. You have South Korea. You have South Koreans—the big discussion between U.S. and South Korea is about enrichment. The South Koreans say, we should—we have such a big nuclear establishment that we should have our own enrichment, and the U.S. has been pretty reluctant to that.

So I agree with you. I think you're right, one should try the carrots, if they work.

WALLERSTEIN: I'd just add, the complicating factor here, I think, is though that—as the North Koreans have been preparing apparently to test longer-range missiles, this adds a great—the kind of reaction you're getting from the U.S. military is reflecting the fact that suddenly there could be an existential threat, if the North Koreans have a longer-range missile that can range Guam, can range Hawaii or possibly Alaska, combined with an existing nuclear capability, nuclear weapons capability.

BLIX: I think the military always—they—it's right. I mean, we are diplomats, and we think in diplomatic terms. Lawyer thinks in lawyer terms. The military think in military terms. So they say, if they have this, then we must have that. If they move there, we must move there. And it is a very sort of simplistic exercise, I think.

In my view, the civilian governments where we have in the Western world, that they must have an overview of it all, in which you'll consider the military, but not be sort of commanded by it.

WALLERSTEIN: Let's try to get someone in the back. Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Jeff Laurenti. Hans, could you share with us, please, from your experience, the difficulties that you may have found in assuring the integrity and impartiality of international weapons inspectors, particularly in situations where you have to take people on from member states for short periods of time, so their loyalty is not going to be guaranteed to some international vision, because they're not going to be on the payroll forever, but rather have to look to their own futures back home.

Did you see that in UNSCOM, for example? And could you also share with us your sense of how what had been the consensus within the Security Council among the permanent five on Iraqi disarmament broke down in '95, '96, '97 with the Clinton administration breaking away to bomb Iraq, because it was convinced that the inspections weren't working, which some would say led almost inevitably to 2003? Where do you see those things happening?

BLIX: I think the civil service is a great asset in countries. And I think it's an equally important asset in international organizations. The British invented it, and I think that the politicians—they have—they get elected. They have their platforms. They have their—we should do certain things, and they feel—they have—are approved by the electorate.

So it's fair. They decide. But they need a dossier that is factual. That's the least we could ask. When they start fiddling with the dossier, whether it's science or the environment or anything else, then I'm worried. They should leave that to the civil servants. And the civil servants should be—not be corrupt. They should be factual.

And I think the—what the question you ask is absolutely pertinent. And the IAEA had a tradition of a very good civil service, the people coming as inspectors from all over the world. And in UNSCOM, that came in to take over inspections on biological, chemical and missiles, whereas we had the nuclear. UNSCOM was created and they had to—they didn't have the money. They had to go the governments and say can you give us some inspectors and good people? And they got a lot of good, excellent people from the CIA and from the British service and see Ph.D.s and very capable people, actually.

But of course, in a number of cases, I'm sure, they retained their links. And in—whereas the IAEA—the UNSCOM are rather contemptuous of the IAEA and said these guys go in with a striped pants, these diplomats, et cetera, whereas we all really go and we—we do something. And they were very popular with media.

But it also—the close links with intelligence, I think, meant that certainly the Iraqis had no confidence in them at all. And they were also, to a large extent, I think, inspired by—is a mild word—or they were led by intelligence what to do. And it's been testified by Gallucci and others. I mean, it's on the record.

And eventually, when Butler was here, it was a scandal. And all the newspapers, New York Times and others, wrote about how they actually—it was intelligence that led it. The UNSCOM always had an American as a vice president, vice chairman.

And one thing that Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice asked me about many times was, couldn't I have somebody in my office from the U.S. side? And I was sort of pushed to the side, gently and diplomatically. But I realized that the moment I had an American close to me in the office, they would say, oh, well, now the U.S. is taking over UNSCOM.

And the—I wouldn't say that the Israelis—the Iraqis really trusted us. They were difficult sorts of relations. But I think they probably saw that we made an effort to be objective. We were asked by journalists, how is the quality? We had a feeling that we had many more Ph.D.s among the people in UNSCOM than you have. And I said, well, I don't claim that we are the world's brightest, but I can assure you that we are in nobody's pocket.

(LAUGHTER)

And I certainly was not in nobody's pocket at all. I could—the amusing thing—during that period, I traveled by the—went by the subway in London to a meeting about Chernobyl, by the way. And Gary sat next to me, and he looked at me, and I saw that he wanted to strike up a conversation. I was not very keen to have a conversation, so I looked forward. And eventually he couldn't contain himself, said—looked over to me and said, "Are you Richard Butler?"

(LAUGHTER)

And I said, "No, I am not."

(LAUGHTER)

But during Butler's period, of course, you had a strong feeling that this had gone overboard, and the General Assembly—the Security Council, when they adopted Resolution 1284, for UNMOVIC, which I chaired later, says specifically that the inspectors per staff should be under Article 100 of the charter, civil servants that take no instructions from anywhere and also enjoins member states not to try to infiltrate and to make—and I think the U.S. and others have sinned a lot.

We look upon the U.S. as a friendly country, benevolent country, but you who have been in government, you also know that hands are pretty strong. And I read what ElBaradei was subjected to. I never had unpleasant relations, I must say, but—Condoleezza Rice and others were fine. But ElBaradei I think was subjected to much, much harder methods, threats, than I was.

So I think it's in the long-term interest of the U.S. and others to have an objective international civil service, civil servants that really deserve the name. And we (inaudible) and in the case of Iraq, I think in the '90s, the Iraqis distinguished between us and the—and the UNSCOM. I don't know whether that's a compliment to us. There were occasions when they say, we will not have any American and British inspectors from UNSCOM, but they did not say the same to us. We could still send Americans and Brits as our inspectors, but UNSCOM could not do it under (inaudible).

So it's a value for everybody. And it should not be squandered. And I feel that intelligence people everywhere probably sense about this. And I know that the IAEA, the Russians had many people who were copying lots of documents. There were not great secrets, but copied well and sent back during the Cold War. And I don't think it's in the long-term interest, but how do you keep intelligence people under control?

I mean, they operate—much of the time, they operate illegally anyway, and so they are used to that. And at home, they are often covered by secrecy. It's a great problem, and I think it requires a lot of oversight and a strong hand on the part of the civilian government. Yes, we need international civil servants and we need national civil servants.

WALLERSTEIN: Of course, there was a period in the '90s when it was fairly clear that Saddam was playing a shell game, moving things. You know, inspectors arrived at the front gate and the trucks are going out the back.

BLIX: But why did he do that? Why did he do that? I mean, after all, we know now that most of it, in fact, was destroyed in 1991 and 1992. So why did the guy even—I also thought in the autumn of 2002, I thought there was—there were some—not nuclear, because that I've seen. No nuclear. But biological and chemical and missile, I thought there were—and I was impressed by the fact that he had thrown them out, stopped them from getting into one building or another.

One—I brooded much on this, and one explanation is that he wanted to impress upon his own people and especially upon the Iranians that, ah, well, I might still have it. I am still dangerous. I might still have it.

I have another thought, and that is that he was just so angered by what he saw as the arrogance of the inspectors, they could kick in the doors and be rather brutal. There was a question of humiliation. And I always took great care that we should be like what we admire the old British bobby to be, sort of trusted agent of society. And I think we succeeded relatively well in that.

But one should never underestimate the fury that comes from humiliation. And I think Saddam felt—he was a damn proud fellow. I mean, he—after all, he wanted to be the emperor of Mesopotamia. So he was—so this is a very valid question.

WALLERSTEIN: Another question in the back, yes, over there.

QUESTION: Hi, Mike Moran from Control Risks. Having been kind of down-range, so to speak, in the U.N. for much of the time, what would you do with the cottage industry that is the U.N. Security Council reform debate? If you could do anything, one thing to change the orders that flow and create the environment you had to work in, what would it be?

BLIX: I think we were well placed in the U.N. I mean, I was not subordinate to Kofi Annan. And—but I worked nicely with him. I said, I think that you are a very good judgment, and I want to discuss these things with you, and we never had any disagreement. I know that both Ekeus and Butler had their difficulties occasionally. We did not. I had very good support there, all the way through.

Now, UNMOVIC, of course, was subject to less red tape than many other outfits are in the U.N. It's a big bureaucracy. We had our own budget, and we could handle it, as we—lot of freedom. And that facilitated things.

I still think that the U.N., of course, is—I don't know whether you've heard of it in Washington. I mean, here in New York, you have heard of the organization. And in the U.S. public, I think it is seen with more positive feelings than than among the politicians and among the political elite.

To me, well, I get back to this Syrian case and the Iran case now where you have the five permanent members—I mean, I see—of the Security Council, which have the power to take decisions and the decisions are bounding—binding-- upon member states. This is something enormous. In 1945, it was something enormous that—irreverently, I would call them the five warlords, the five warlords who won the Second World War, thank God. They said that, yeah, we won the Second World War, and now we will keep some order in the world together. And we have the power to do so.

And, unfortunately, we got the Cold War that paralyzed the organization until 1990. And then the end of the Cold War came, and Bush the elder, I think, was very skillfully handling the first Iraq affair. And he said afterwards that this is a new international order, remember. And I think—so—and it was very—it was wonderful days, because the Security Council functions. The five warlords were together again, and they were.

On the case of Syria, they went outside—the Russians and the Americans went outside, and they got an agreement. And then they (inaudible) to the P5, and it worked out. And having agreed in Geneva (inaudible) Security Council in New York. And what they don't have in Geneva, namely a legal stamp on it, when they get to the Security Council and they have the rest of the council with them, to be sure, that's—they get the legal imprint upon it. It's valid. It's constitutional. No one questions it. It's valid and dare I say a great—a great importance in the international society that we have an institution which can take formidable decisions. And they did so in the case of Syria, and they are about to do so—I hope—in the case of Iran.

So the council—we are not back to the Cold War level. The council still takes decisions about lots of peacekeeping operations. It is not paralyzed. People say that a great problem is with the composition of it. Well, it's clear that today's world does not—is not the same as in 1945. And countries like Japan and Germany and India and Brazil and others want to get it in, but I think they want to get in for the wrong reasons. They want to get in because there's part of the glory.

I am in favor of having big countries there, because it strengthens the economic power of the council. They have quite a lot of military power, to be sure, but it would strengthen their economic power, strengthen their authority generally, though having another three or four countries for the veto power is also an odd thing. And personally, I would favor the construction which would allow some countries to come in more often than others—than other countries do.

And if one could also engineer voluntarily restraint on the part of the P5 to exercise veto, not to exercise it outside the Chapter 5 situation. But this has been tried for years. And if I look back upon the Iraq affair, I do not think that it really would have made much of a difference if we had had Japan and India and Germany and Brazil and other things. I don't think the result would have been different. But by and large, the council would have been the heavier institution with having the big states in—on perhaps on a periodic basis.

WALLERSTEIN: I think we have time for one more question. Yes? Coming around.

QUESTION: I'm Nancy Kuenstner. On the beach in Cuba, there is a nuclear reactor which is in a state of disrepair. I don't know, in fact, whether it's ever been functional. The Cuban press says that there's been an agreement with Russia to reactivate or make functional that facility. Should we have any worry about that?

BLIX: No, it's—first of all, I wonder seriously—question whether they will go ahead with—many years ago that I was there and I saw this rustic structures down there, so I—I think it will take a lot of skill to breathe new life into it.

Secondly, they are light-water reactors. They are 440-megawatt reactors (inaudible)... old-fashioned, and they are not—they are not proliferating, so as long as they don't go for enrichment or reprocessing, I don't worry from a nonproliferation point of view.

But if I may say one last word about intervention, you know, the peace researchers claim that we have fewer wars in the world now than we used to have, and I think they are true statistically. This is right. But intervention is another matter. And President Obama said—recently talked about the Russian action in the Ukraine and said that, well, he, himself, had been against the Iraq war, but the U.S. did not—took care to stay within some bounds. They did not go there to annex, I think was the key word in it.

But, of course, the charter prohibits not only annexation of countries, but also threat of the use of force without authorization from the Security Council. And I'm wondering—going on from this observation that there are few wars in the world whether we are not maybe naive a little, too optimistic, moving to a situation with fewer interventions, fewer armed interventions.

And I go back (inaudible) see what Teddy Roosevelt said at the beginning of the 19th century, before the invasion and before the intervention in Panama. He is reported as summoned is solicitor general of the U.S. at the time and described the plan for intervention in Panama and asked the advice of the solicitor general, and the solicitor general sighed for a moment and then said, Mr. President, why have such a beautiful plan marred by any pesky legal considerations?

(LAUGHTER)

And I—well, that was the time. That was the beginning of the—what, 1907 or something. And we have seen many, many armed interventions since then. But I'm wondering whether the Iraq war perhaps was a bit of a watershed here. It did not really turn out well at all. I mean, they didn't find Al-Qaeda, because they weren't there. They were attracted by the U.S. military, so they came there. They couldn't find any weapons of mass destruction because there weren't any there. And they couldn't create democracy; they created anarchy. I mean, it was really miserable, the whole thing.

And then, I think that was a shock. Coming upon Afghanistan, which also is a little very tragic and horrible experience, and an intervention that was—could have had been avoided, could have been punitary strike, punitive strike, but not war.

And then we saw how the U.S. was cautious with intervention in Libya. They didn't want to go in. They did halfway house, as it were. In the case of Syria, I had at least the impression that Obama was not at all keen on going in with a punitary stick. And that—the main reason for the push for him was that he—one should take seriously his word that he was ready to punish Iran. That was the main—but he was not keen to go in there, and I don't think he's keen to go in, in Iran. I think he's absolutely right.

These are actions that I as a lawyer find—no, you cannot justify them in terms of U.N. charter. And I don't think they worry so much about that in Washington, frankly. They are worried about the consequences that they've seen of it, that they do not succeed, and they—once they've removed the Iranian government, they remove Mosaddegh, what do they get instead? They removed Saddam Hussein. What did they get instead? They removed in Chile a democratic government. What did they get instead?

So intervention, I think, has proved singularly—well, perhaps not in every case. There have been cases of successes still maybe, but most of—and I had a feeling that there is a greater restraint on that. And I'm not sure the Russian action in the Ukraine to be sure is an intervention, cannot be defended under the U.N. charter.

But whether it is the old-fashioned grabbing of land, that's another matter. I mean, I'm thinking more that is intervention—it is more like an intervention with political purpose and the limited purpose I think, above all, to keep NATO out.

We used to have—the West used to have a policy of containment, to hold back the expanding Soviet Communist empire. And it was successful and it was good. I have a feeling that the Russians, after Georgia and after Ukraine, say now this is our political containment. We are containing NATO, and we did so—we showed you in Georgia. We'll disproportionate action, OK, and we are now showing the same thing. We don't want to have NATO integrated militarily apparatus on the Russian border.

And therefore, we destabilize. And I'm sure that they will not have—Ukraine is not going to become a member. And I understand they will want to, so they're not going to—Georgia is also not going. And for my part, I'd also be very opposed to Sweden becoming a member of NATO, and that there—I have many opponents in my own country.

But getting back to it, I think that intervention is not à la mode any longer. And I think that's a good thing.

(APPLAUSE)

WALLERSTEIN: Thank you to the members for joining us this evening, this rainy evening. Thank you very much. And, again, Dr. Blix, thank you.

Up

Explore More on CFR

Germany

President Trump has targeted Germany over its supposed dependence on Russian natural gas, and the proposed Nord Stream 2 is dividing the EU. What’s in store for Europe’s pipeline politics?

Disasters

The U.S. government responds to scores of disasters each year, coordinating closely with state, local, and foreign partners. However, more frequent and severe storms, fires, and floods are straining resources.

Saudi Arabia

If Tesla goes private with significant funding from Saudi Arabia or other foreign investors, it would raise national security and ethical questions.