Back to Basics: Achieving Effective Inspections in Iraq

by Corey Hinderstein and David Albright

September 16, 2002

One straightforward way to create effective inspections is to recapture the rights of inspectors, and the obligations of Iraq, as they existed before the slow degradation of the system in the mid- and late-1990s. Inspections carried out in the early 1990s under the original United Nations Security Council (UNSC) mandates, particularly UNSC resolutions 687, 707, and 715, were more intrusive and comprehensive than the current UNMOVIC and IAEA Action Team inspection systems. As the Security Council and the international community weigh all of the options for actions in Iraq, it is vital that they have the opportunity to consider all of the tools at their disposal. There is a pressing need to return to the aggressive, creative spirit of the first Iraq nuclear inspection missions that took place during the Spring and Summer of 1991. At that time, inspectors were more willing to use all of the rights and powers granted them by the Security Council in order to accomplish their task of destroying, removing, or rendering harmless Iraq’s nuclear weapons programs. At that time, lack of Iraqi cooperation or transparency was judged a clear violation of the Security Council resolutions governing the inspections. It is now crucial to implement inspections in Iraq with the full rights and powers granted under Security Council resolutions 687, 707, and 715. This type of inspection system gives the world the best possible chance at detecting or deterring any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs, particularly nuclear weapons programs. A system of this design would be both politically viable and technically effective.

Some necessary improvements include:

    A greater focus on scientists - Scientists should be questioned outside the presence of their Iraqi minders. This approach may improve the scientists’ candor, and it reduces the chances that many different scientists could tell a coordinated cover story without revealing inconsistencies. The practice of allowing Iraqi minders to be present during interrogations was accepted in an ad hoc manner and was a tactical mistake by inspectors in the 1990s. As a new measure, key scientists could be taken overseas with their families if inspectors saw the need to question them away from Iraq. In the longer term, programs to encourage key Iraqi scientists to leave Iraq permanently should be created (click here for a January 1998 ISIS article on this proposal). Return to the “go anywhere, go anytime” approach - UNSC resolution 707 gives inspectors the right to immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access to any and all areas and facilities which the inspectors wish to inspect. This right has been eroded and needs to be re-asserted. Increase the number of inspectors and avoid using only UN or IAEA employees - More inspectors on the ground can improve the coverage of inspection efforts and reduce the time needed to conduct initial assessments. The pool of inspectors can be dramatically increased, as it was in the early 1990s, by recruiting inspectors on a temporary basis from national governments, especially national laboratories. Experts with specialized knowledge have demonstrated that they can begin inspection efforts quickly and carry them out effectively. More intelligence sharing between inspectors and key intelligence agencies - The value of national intelligence cannot be underestimated, especially given the length of time that inspectors have been out of Iraq. Intelligence data, specifically related to the location and status of possible clandestine weapons sites, could be the key to achieving effective inspections quickly. But, UNMOVIC’s emphasis on one-way sharing of intelligence information is self-defeating over time. UNMOVIC must share information with member-state governments and intelligence agencies for this process to work effectively.

A re-energized and enhanced inspection system gives the Security Council and the inspectors on the ground the best possible chance to succeed in the ultimate objective of achieving Iraqi WMD disarmament. For this system to succeed, however, Iraq must cooperate. No inspection system can succeed if it requires or expects that inspectors need to find a “smoking gun” to prove Iraqi noncompliance. Iraq must cooperate in order for the inspectors to do their job. With adequate cooperation, the inspectors can develop assurance that Iraq is free of WMD. If Iraq does not cooperate, the case for enforcement will be clear.

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