Military Strikes in Iraq: Inspections, Sanctions Must Stay in Place to Prevent Nuclear Weapons Program Reconstitution

December 17, 1998

For additional information, contact David Albright, President at (703) 683-4862

WASHINGTON, D.C.– When the dust settles from the military strikes in Iraq, the United States must ensure that effective inspections resume in Iraq to ensure that it does not reconstitute its nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction programs, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) warned today. The inspections are conducted by the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Action Team, where the IAEA Action Team is responsible for the nuclear inspections. If inspections are not resumed, or if the UN-imposed sanctions are severely weakened by military action, Iraq is likely to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program.

“We need to avoid a situation where military action results in no inspections, weakened sanctions, and a Saddam Hussein that is determined to get nuclear weapons,” David Albright, the president of ISIS, said today. “Iraq could make significant progress towards acquiring nuclear weapons in a short period of time” if inspections do not resume and if sanctions are weakened, he added. One objective of the military strikes is to degrade Iraq’s ability to produce weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. But it is unclear if the strikes can meet this objective in the long term.

Iraq’s pre-Gulf War nuclear weapons program was largely destroyed during the war and by the Action Team. However, according to ISIS, Iraq has not stopped its efforts to build nuclear weapons. Yet the IAEA inspections have severely limited Iraq’s progress on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Absent inspections and robust sanctions, Iraq could easily reconstitute its program to produce nuclear explosives. It would find it easier to acquire plutonium or highly enriched uranium from Russia. “If Iraq acquires plutonium or highly enriched uranium from Russia, Saddam Hussein could have nuclear weapons within a matter of months,” Albright said.

Iraq also would be able to restart its program to make nuclear explosive materials indigenously, with little risk of detection by the outside world. Unless there are inspections, detecting an Iraqi program to produce fissile materials would be extremely difficult. During the 1980s, German firms secretly provided extensive assistance to Iraq’s effort to produce highly enriched uranium. The risk today is that struggling Russian enterprises would provide key help. According to David Albright, “with the right kind of assistance, Iraq could be making annually enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear explosive within a short time–perhaps a few years.”

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