United Nations Security Council should Require Iraq to Allow Iraqi Nuclear Scientists to Leave the Country without Fear of Reprisal

by David Albright and Kevin O'Neill

November 3, 1997

Almost seven years after the end of the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein cannot be trusted to honor its commitments against seeking nuclear weapons. The harsh economic sanctions and other punitive measures imposed by the UN Security Council after the war have not changed the nature of the regime, despite the immense suffering of the Iraqi people caused by these sanctions. Saddam Hussein is likely to restart his nuclear weapons program as soon as sanctions are lifted and his agents can more easily obtain banned items for a new, more secretive nuclear program.

Here is a new and untried way to keep that from happening. If the UN Security Council forces Saddam to allow his cadre of knowledgeable nuclear weapon scientists and their families to leave Iraq without retaliating against them, Iraq may be unable to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program. To enforce this resolution, the Security Council must be ready to punish Iraq in case it retaliates against these experts, their immediate families, or any relatives remaining in Iraq. The reactions should include the refusal to remove sanctions or to reimpose any sanctions that had been lifted.

With years of valuable experience before the War, Iraq’s nuclear weapon experts are both a valuable and necessary asset to implement a decision to seek nuclear weapons. Against this possibility, the UN Security Council has constructed a powerful set of measures besides economic sanctions, including the destruction of Iraq’s old nuclear weapon assets and capabilities, and the world’s most intrusive monitoring and inspection system, which is operated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Action Team and the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM).

Although inspections are constantly being improved, they are unlikely to become adequate to successfully monitor the activities of those scientists involved in the pre-Gulf War nuclear weapons program. In particular, the monitoring is not sufficient to learn if these scientists are putting together a new, more secretive nuclear weapons program that is explicitly designed to exploit weaknesses in the Action Team’s monitoring system. Under some scenarios, Iraq may be able to construct a nuclear explosive before it was detected.

Would any scientists leave Iraq voluntarily? There is a growing recognition that many of the nuclear experts are essentially prisoners of Saddam’s regime, or at least not committed to remaining in this highly repressive police state. Most of the experts were arbitrarily assigned to the nuclear weapons program after returning from overseas education. After suffering years of hardships created by sanctions, many scientists and their families could be expected to leave. The vast majority of the former nuclear weapon scientists have been identified through captured Iraqi documents and Action Team inspections. The resettlement of even a few dozen key scientists would devastate Saddam’s ability to rebuild his nuclear weapons program.

Key to the success of this initiative is protecting the scientists and their families from retaliation. The United States would be a possible resettlement country, because it can provide adequate protection against Saddam’s agents if he decides to violate the Security Council resolution. The Security Council would also need to mandate the Action Team and the UN Special Commission with the task of investigating any suspected retaliation against family members in Iraq. In the event of retaliation, the Security Council must be ready to punish Iraq decisively.

The scientists would also need to be provided economic support until they could find adequate employment. Any costs during this resettlement process could be collected from Iraq, just as the costs of UNSCOM and Action Team inspections are taken from proceeds of Iraqi oil sales.

For their part, these experts would commit not to work in any weapons of mass destruction program and agree to host government or Action Team monitoring to ensure that they are not violating their commitment or secretly helping Saddam to rebuild his military programs.

Time is running out to rob Saddam of his most valuable remaining nuclear weapons asset. If successful, this initiative could nip an Iraqi nuclear weapons program in the bud. The alternative is letting the nuclear cadre, intimidated by Saddam, remain in Iraq, awaiting the inevitable orders to reconstitute the nuclear weapons program or train the next generation of nuclear weapons experts.

email us twitter share on facebook