November 21, 1997
Return to this forum's introduction.
Questions answered in this forum:
Wouldn't it have been better to remove the American inspectors? What do Arab nations think of America's peace keeping objectives now? Who would be impacted most by an unrestricted Saddam Hussein ? Why is U.S. foreign policy so inconsistent? How would the U.N. have reacted to a U.S. military strike? Viewer comments?
Dan Updegraff of Hesperia, CA asks:
Would it have been better to temporarily accept Iraq's ban of American inspectors in order to keep the inspections going?... The way it was handled, Iraq could have used this as an opportunity to hide chemical weapons.
Ambassador Alvin P. Adams of UNA-USA responds:
It would have been a serious mistake to give into any of Iraq's demands under any circumstances. There is convincing evidence that Iraq staged this latest confrontation with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) arms inspectors because they were getting dangerously close to finding a large cache of biological and/or chemical weapons. Therefore, even if the U.N. had temporarily accepted Iraq's ban of American weapons inspectors, it is unlikely that UNSCOM would have been able to carry out its inspections without interference from the Iraqi authorities.
While it is likely that Iraq has tampered with UNSCOM's monitoring equipment and moved suspect material into hiding, the consequences of giving into Iraq, however small, would have been very serious for the United Nations. By giving into Iraqi demands, even temporarily, the U.N.'s weapons inspection operations in Iraq would have been compromised. This would have established a couple of dangerous precedents. First, it would have made it difficult for U.N. weapons inspectors to dictate the terms of future inspection operations in Iraq. Second, it would have sent a signal that international civil servants can be discriminated against because of their nationality – not just in Iraq, but also in other U.N. operations. The United Nations would have lost considerable credibility in the international community. And, with its authority severely undermined, the U.N. would have been unable to effectively and convincingly cope with future challenges from Iraq or other rogue states.
John Bolton of American Enterprise Institute responds:I believe that Saddam Hussein had two goals in provoking this latest crisis: (1) weaken or cripple the UNSCOM inspections regime in order to regain a workable capability in weapons of mass destruction ("WMD") and their delivery systems; and (2) break the back of the Security Council economic sanctions in order to enhance both his WMD and his conventional military capabilities, as well as enhance Iraq's overall recovery from the Persian Gulf War.
Saddam Hussein's strategy from the outset of this particular gambit was to exploit gaps and weaknesses in the international community's resolve to keep him politically isolated and militarily weak. Thus, by objecting to American weapons inspectors, he hoped to cripple UNSCOM's effectiveness, or, at an absolute minimum, buy sufficient time to conceal, disperse and rebuild WMD research, production and storage facilities. This minimal tactical objective he obviously achieved. Whether he has also achieve the larger military objective remains to be seen.
Had UNSCOM agreed to eliminate or minimize the U.S. presence in the inspection teams, however, Saddam would have gone a long way to rendering UNSCOM ineffective over the long term, as well as further splitting the international coalition. It also would have caused a profound institutional wound to the United Nations, with ramifications not only in the Persian Gulf, but in the U.N.'s role or potential role in an enormous range of other activities.
As for weakening the economic sanctions against Iraq, stay tuned. I believe that this is the hidden story, which, if things really are returning to "normal" for UNSCOM, will emerge over the next several weeks. Saddam may well have calculated, and Russian Foreign Minister Primakov may have promised, that it would be easier to weaken the economic sanctions once UNSCOM had resumed its work. As I just said, stay tuned.
Yahya Sadowski of The Brookings Institution responds:American policy makers would probably argue that it was necessary to reject Iraq's ban on American inspectors a) in order to prevent Saddam from scoring any kind of public relations victory, and b) to keep America away from a "slippery slope" on which Saddam might have continually pressed for new and increasingly restrictive limits upon UNSCOM inspections.
While these are real concerns, they do not really justify the stance that America took. First, it might have been possible to keep the inspections going without surrendering to the Iraqi ban. For example, the American inspectors might have been replaced by dual nationals who held both American and some other citizenship. They could have presented their Swedish or Irish passports to the Iraqis while continuing to act as America's representatives in UNSCOM.
Second, Washington took an enormous risk when all UNSCOM inspectors were pulled from Iraq. It might have proven very difficult to get them reinserted: Washington has been very lucky in that regard. Moreover, the Iraqis almost certainly took advantage of their hiatus to conceal some of the evidence UNSCOM has been looking for. It would have been preferable to keep the bulk of the UNSCOM team in Iraq, even if the American members had been temporarily banned.
Next: What do Arab nations think of America's peace keeping objectives now?