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ISIS Reports

Intrusive Inspections in the 1990s Means Iraq Lacks a Nuclear Arsenal Now

by David Albright

October 7, 2002

One of the most significant accomplishments of the intrusive inspections mandated by UN Security Council in 1991 is that Iraq is not believed to have nuclear weapons now. This single accomplishment demonstrates both the power and value of intrusive nuclear inspections in Iraq.

Any estimate of Iraqi nuclear capability is fraught with uncertainty. However, the best estimates are that Iraq has not acquired any nuclear weapons as of today and will need at least a few more years to reconstitute an indigenous capability to make significant amounts of highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

In the 1990s, the inspectors uncovered and destroyed a vast nuclear weapons production complex that was designed to produce several nuclear weapons each year when complete. The nuclear inspection process provided a powerful deterrent against Iraq reconstituting its nuclear weapons program until inspectors left in late 1998. Click here for a short description of some of the inspection procedures and techniques.

The table and graph compare the current situation of no nuclear weapons with two hypothetical cases, or scenarios, in which intrusive inspections did not occur in Iraq during the 1990s. They show that Iraq would have had significant numbers of nuclear weapons in the absence of the intrusive inspection system that operated in Iraq in the 1990s. The first scenario reflects the probable progress of Iraqi nuclear weapon production if Iraq had not invaded Kuwait, and safeguards inspections similar to those used in the 1980s had continued.

The second scenario is a likely estimate of Iraqi nuclear weapon production if Iraq had invaded Kuwait, but UN Security Council-mandated inspections were not instituted or were carried out for only a relatively short period. This case assumes economic and military sanctions would have remained in effect.

The third scenario represents the actual situation that included UN Security Council-mandated inspections following Iraq’s defeat in the Persian Gulf War. Following the departure of inspectors in 1998, Iraq is assessed to have reconstituted its nuclear weapons program, but it has not succeeded in making or acquiring enough highly enriched uranium or plutonium for a nuclear weapon yet.

Click here for a table showing a comparison of Iraqi nuclear weapon potential with and without intrusive inspections as of the end of 2001.

Click here for a graph showing the potential growth of the Iraqi nuclear weapon capability with and without intrusive inspections.

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