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AMBASSADOR ROLF EKEUS: LEAVING BEHIND THE UNSCOM LEGACY IN IRAQ
Control Today, Vol. 27, No. 4
After more than six years as the executive chairman of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), Ambassador Rolf Ekeus is stepping down to become Sweden's ambassador to the United States. As the United Nations' chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Ekeus has led the international effort to eliminate Baghdad's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs and proscribed ballistic missile activities since UNSCOM was established by the UN Security Council in April 1991. Ekeus has also directed UNSCOM's program to implement a monitoring system to prevent Iraq from reacquiring any such capabilities in the future. As Ekeus was preparing to turn over the reins of UNSCOM to his successor, Ambassador Richard Butler of Australia, on July 1, Arms Control Today caught up with the Swedish diplomat to ask him about his tenure at UNSCOM and the agency's accomplishments.
During his distinguished diplomatic career, Ekeus has played a major role in a number of disarmament negotiations. Among his assignments, from 1978 to 1983 Ekeus was Sweden's permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. In 1984 and 1987, he chaired the UN Committee on Chemical Weapons, and in 1985 he chaired the Drafting Committee at the nuclear NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference. In 1996, Ekeus was a member of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. He is expected to take up his new post in Washington on September 12. The following is an edited version of his comments.
Arms Control Today: In assessing UNSCOM's activities over the past six years, how completely do you believe it has now fulfilled its mandate? How confident are you that Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and prohibited ballistic missile programs are not continuing clandestinely?
Rolf Ekeus: The UNSCOM mandate has two major components: the identification and elimination of proscribed weapons and the means for their delivery; and, designing and implementing a system for ongoing monitoring and verification of Iraq to prevent it from acquiring the prohibited items again.
The latter part of the mandate has been fulfilled as UNSCOM now has in place a fully functioning regime of monitoring supported by a mechanism for export-import control. The monitoring regime was developed by UNSCOM during the summer and early fall of 1991 and approved by the UN Security Council through Resolution S/715 (1991). After years of tense and bitter resistance from Iraq, the regime was declared fully operational in late 1994. Today, more than 100 personnel are working from inside the Baghdad Monitoring and Verification Center (BMVC). The core element—around 20 scientists and specialists in nuclear physics, chemistry, biology and missile technology—carry out daily no-notice inspections of relevant facilities. They are supported by the use of cutting-edge technology, such as sensors, detectors and field laboratories, as well as some 150 cameras that monitor major dual-use equipment (for example, machines, production lines and missile test stands) beaming real-time imagery to the operations center at the BMVC. A key component of the monitoring system is the aerial surveillance of Iraq provided by U.S. U2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and by UNSCOM's own helicopters, five of which are stationed in Baghdad. The helicopters are also used for the transport of inspection teams and for direct operational support of inspections.
The export-import mechanism, adopted by the UN Security Council in the spring of 1996 under Resolution S/1051 (1996), obligates all UN member-states to notify UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of all exports to Iraq of dual-use items listed under the monitoring regime established by S/715.
The accomplishment of the first part of UNSCOM's mandate was complicated because of systematic efforts by Iraqi authorities to prevent UNSCOM from discovering the full extent of the country's weapons capabilities. Examples of these efforts include the secrecy surrounding and Iraq's denial of an offensive biological weapons program; of Program 1728, for producing missiles based on Scud technology; and, of research, development and production of the nerve agent VX. The identification of these ultra-secret programs has been one of the major successes achieved by our scientists and experts, and constitutes a vindication of our methods for inspection and analysis. These results have to be counted on top of the massive destruction of both declared and detected chemical warfare agents (sarin and mustard gas); production equipment and thousands of chemical munitions; most of the Scud missiles supplied by the Soviet Union during the 1980s; missile production equipment and facilities; and components of the ambitious nuclear weapons program.
ACT: What remains to be carried out to assure the complete elimination of these weapons programs? What critical equipment and material do you believe may remain hidden in Iraq?
Ekeus: If the Iraqi leadership had decided once and for all to forgo the option of acquiring weapons of mass destruction, the task of eliminating the remnants of proscribed weapons programs would have been a straight-forward and technical one, which could have been accomplished within a time-span of some six months. A continuation of a policy of hiding and misleading will obviously delay for a long time attaining a full accounting of its programs.
However, the successes over the last few years, in spite of Iraq's obstruction, demonstrate that UNSCOM's investigation methods are effective and that, in turn, gives hope that in due time we shall see the end of the proscribed programs. It appears from documentation and other information that the Iraqi leadership has been trying to retain strategic capabilities relative to all the proscribed weapons categories. This means that the government is striving to retain quantities of high-quality biological warfare agents, some chemical warfare agents like VX, as well as munitions and production capabilities. Furthermore, the Iraqi government is trying to preserve as many components as possible of the disclosed 1728 program and similar activities for the future production of longer-range missiles.
ACT: Given what is known about Iraq's nuclear weapons program, in your opinion, how close was Baghdad to building such a weapon? Is this estimate based on the diversion of safeguarded nuclear material or Iraq's indigenous production of fissile material?
Ekeus: The so-called crash-program initiated by Iraq in August 1990 was aimed at building a complete weapon, not only an explosive nuclear device. The nuclear warhead had to be designed to be small enough in dimension and weight to fit on a missile that would be capable of delivering the weapon to its target at a range of over 600 kilometers. This was a tall order and we know now that the two leading missile project managers were at loggerheads whether this was achievable within the narrow time frame of the program.
The nuclear fuel for the one warhead would, according to the crash program, be made up of the safeguarded fissile material existing in Iraq at the time. The present assessment is that by late 1990, Iraq had a good grasp both of warhead design and of what was needed for the successful enrichment of uranium through centrifuge technology. In 1990, the momentum of Iraq's nuclear weapons program was strong in spite of international export controls of enrichment technology. It can therefore be estimated that Iraq would have had a capability to acquire a couple of usable nuclear weapons well before 1995, had the Security Council not intervened with Resolution 687. The present nuclear threat from Iraq is, in my judgment, linked to the possible import by Baghdad of highly enriched uranium (HEU). You may recall that in late 1993 and early 1994, Iraq's remaining source of HEU—irradiated reactor fuel—was shipped to Russia. The lack of HEU, together with the effective brake that has been applied to the country's missile programs, constitute the real bottleneck for Iraq for the acquisition of a nuclear weapon.
ACT: While UNSCOM has made tremendous progress in eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs and their means of production, the Iraqi government has retained the experience and know-how of its weapons designers and producers. How has UNSCOM responded to this remaining component of Iraq's weapons program? What, if anything, could be done to address weapons potential provided by this pool of trained personnel?
Ekeus: It is true that UNSCOM can do nothing about the intellectual insight and institutional memory Iraq has developed in the weapons area, but knowledge alone does not constitute a production line. Therefore, UNSCOM will use its detailed insight of Iraq's production and acquisition methods when applying measures to effectively block weapons developments. UNSCOM has a detailed database of dual-use equipment in Iraq. These items have been tagged by UNSCOM inspectors and are monitored continuously from the BMVC. We have a team of specialists who closely watch ongoing procurement efforts, including payment and transport routes, major suppliers and supplier countries. The export-import control mechanism is improving. UNSCOM is keeping track of those senior scientists and specialists who are known for their involvement in the development of the proscribed weapons programs. All these efforts support UNSCOM's objective of obtaining a complete and detailed understanding of all aspects of Iraq's proscribed weapons.
ACT: How would you assess the effectiveness so far of the export-import mechanism established under UN Security Council Resolution 1051? Are you satisfied with the information UNSCOM has received from UN member-states, which are obliged to report the transfer to Iraq of items that could be used to produce proscribed weapons programs? What improvements would you like to see made to this monitoring system?
Ekeus: The experiences so far are good. Because of the continuing UN sanctions, the mechanism has not been overwhelmed by data, and it has therefore been possible gradually to test different methods and adjust them accordingly, and to familiarize UNSCOM personnel with the potentials of the mechanism. Following the oil-for-food decision by the Security Council, the flow of goods to Iraq is increasing and the mechanism is showing its worth. So far, no major omission in Iraq's notification obligations has been observed. It is still too early to asses to what degree all UN member states will effectively cooperate with the mechanism. It looks promising but it is already clear that one major problem will be the matter of notification of trans-shipments through neighboring countries. Also, some adjustments to the lists of notifiable items will probably be necessary as a result of our early experiences, including the deletion of certain items, which with modifications, acquire the character of general-purpose items.
ACT: Was the extensive nature of Iraq's weapons programs simply a reflection of Saddam Hussein's determination to pursue such programs, or do you believe there are political and institutional factors present in Iraq that might induce a future government to seek similar capabilities?
Ekeus: The systematic pursuit of the proscribed weapons and the huge funds thrown into their development point to a singular mind and extraordinary insistence. The present leader of Iraq has demonstrated that he has ambitions for his country reaching far outside the borders of Iraq. These grand designs of extended influence presuppose access to weapons of mass destruction and the means for their delivery. Even if there appears to be a commonly held view in the country's military and political circles that Iraq, because of its geopolitical situation, needs a special military capability to balance the presumed extension of Iran's sphere of influence, it is highly doubtful that any alternative Iraqi leadership would continue to pursue a weapons of mass destruction program, considering that the consequences of such a policy would be sanctions, political isolation and loss of huge financial revenues from blocked oil exports.
ACT: You have described UNSCOM as a victim of its own success, in that some members of the Security Council have become complacent because they believe everything is under control in Iraq. Is there a danger that such complacency could lead to a weakening support for UNSCOM's mission? If so, what can be done to counter that trend?
Ekeus: Obviously, some immediate, national financial and political interests may inspire member-states of the UN Security Council to consider a loosening of the controls on Iraq before the weapons provisions of the cease-fire resolution have been implemented. In June, however, when the Security Council had to respond to Iraq's efforts to break out of the control mechanism, all members stood up to be counted in defense of the cease-fire arrangements. The adoption of Resolution S/1115 on June 21 demonstrated that all members, when tested, chose to put their responsibility under the UN Charter and the credibility of the Security Council above perceived national interests.
Admittedly, this splendid result was obtained after a show of strong leadership by the United States. Continued attention from the United States is necessary to maintain international support of UNSCOM. Given the devastating consequences for the world's energy security and for international economic and financial stability were the Gulf region to be brought into turmoil, it is not likely that the United States would lose interest. Awareness of UNSCOM's crucial role for peace and security in the region must be kept high.
ACT: To what degree has the financial and material support provided to UNSCOM affected its ability to fulfill its mission?
Ekeus: Since December 1996, the cash needs of UNSCOM have been covered by a small portion of the revenues generated by the oil-for-food arrangement laid down in Security Council Resolution S/986. UNSCOM does not receive any funds whatsoever from the UN budget; it is completely dependant upon voluntary contributions from UN member-states, based on the presumption that the costs for disarming Iraq should be paid for by funds from Iraq itself. During the more than six years of its existence, UNSCOM, which also has to pay for all the activities of IAEA personnel, has financed its operations through voluntary contributions. It has had to convince member-states to provide personnel, technology and cash on a voluntary basis. As chairman of UNSCOM, I have had to spend an inordinate amount of time on fundraising and recruitment of salaried personnel in order to finance the complex and diversified activities of UNSCOM and the IAEA. However, as long as Resolution S/986 is implemented, my successor will fortunately not be burdened by that task.
ACT: UNSCOM has faced some criticism for the degree of secrecy regarding its findings on the involvement of Western companies involved in Iraq's weapons programs. What has been UNSCOM's rationale for balancing the need to expose publicly those who helped Iraq build its weapons of mass destruction and the need to secure the cooperation of national governments and private businesses in understanding the nature and extent of those programs? Was this decision made by UNSCOM? Was it influenced by supplier states? How concerned are you that the withholding of this information might encourage these or similar companies to engage in trading with other potential Iraqs?
Ekeus: As soon as we understood that Iraq had no intention of cooperating with UNSCOM, we had to design a policy for information gathering from sources other than the Iraqi government. That meant that when we approached the governments of the countries from which suppliers to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs had operated, we had to build a lasting relationship. Some of these governments feared that legislative action by the U.S. Congress would punish those companies that were dependant upon exporting to the United States.
When our inspectors found machines, equipment and weapons components that had been imported by Iraq, it became necessary for UNSCOM to approach the relevant supplier companies to investigate the complete extent of their dealings with Iraq. Most of the companies were reluctant to talk to our investigators, and only insistent requests to respective governments for support could give us direct, or sometimes indirect, access to the company. For that reason, assurances of protection from public exposure had to be given in order to encourage the companies and their governments to accept our investigation of their dealings with Iraqi authorities.
Most of the more mature governments have been helpful to UNSCOM in its investigation of the supplier issue. Thus, UNSCOM has been working under circumstances somewhat like a journalist who has to protect his sources, otherwise they would quickly dry up. Over the years, I have had some quite vigorous discussions on this problem with leading members of the U.S. Congress as well as with representatives of the U.S. administration. My interlocutors never managed to convince me that our policy with regard to supplier data was wrong.
Having said that, I admit that our policy has little deterrent value for potential supplier companies contemplating exports of prohibited items to Iraq. However, my experience is that most Western governments have taken a number of important steps at the national level to punish suppliers for violations of existing rules and to effectively prevent the resumption of prohibited export activities.
ACT: The role of intelligence sharing has become one of the central concerns of international nonproliferation efforts. Are you satisfied with the extent to which national intelligence communities have supported the work of UNSCOM? Are there areas where there can be improvements?
Ekeus: One of our greatest sources of satisfaction has been the success of UNSCOM in obtaining high-quality intelligence data. The early formation within UNSCOM of an "Information Assessment Unit," with the capability to receive, protect, process, store and analyze sensitive data, was a unique feature for any UN organization. This capability of UNSCOM changed the character of the sharing of intelligence data with us from a mere trickle to a broad stream of data, supported by professional and multilayered cooperative efforts. The confidence in UNSCOM's competence in this area has grown quickly over the years so that now several governments allow the sharing of information on a large scale involving high-quality intelligence.
As a consequence, UNSCOM is now much better informed about most aspects of Iraq's activities related to its weapons of mass destruction programs than is any individual government. Critical to this success has been the operation, with the help of the United States, of the high-altitude U2 reconnaissance flights and UNSCOM's full access to imagery obtained from that operation. However, a severe bottleneck in the system remains UNSCOM's limited capability for photo interpretation.
Another key area for UNSCOM is the acquisition of supplier data, both past and ongoing. Although the intelligence sharing in this respect has become a major success, there is ample room for improvement. Governments should understand that the Information Assessment Unit, due to its overview of all aspects of Iraq's proscribed activities, is equipped to deal not only with fully developed intelligence but also partially developed intelligence.
ACT: As a result of the systematic analysis UNSCOM has undertaken of Iraq's so-called "concealment policy," what lessons have been learned that would benefit other non-proliferation efforts?
Ekeus: While searching for concealed prohibited items, UNSCOM is following the institutions and individuals involved in the concealment effort as much as it is following the items. Concealment is a highly sensitive activity and only the government's most trusted and elite organizations and individuals are involved. Furthermore, concealment requires methods and a structured mobility that result in certain patterns. For UNSCOM, it is important to identify and read these patterns; to do that UNSCOM has to make full use of all the technical and analytical resources at its disposal.
CT: Based on UNSCOM's experience in Iraq, what are the lessons learned that can be applied to the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the strengthening of the Biological Weapons Convention?
Ekeus: UNSCOM managed to break through the secrecy surrounding Iraq's offensive biological weapons program through a combination of inspections and analytical work. Thus, an examination of the pattern of Iraqi imports of equipment and material, as well as of the quantities imported, in light of the country's declarations with regard to its civilian, non-prohibited programs, showed large discrepancies. For example, the number of fermenters and the quantities of complex growth media imported by Iraq many times surpassed reasonable civilian requirements. In a similar fashion, close analysis of the quantities of dual-use chemical compounds and equipment imported by Iraq provided UNSCOM analysts with enough data to sound the alarm. These are only some examples of detection possibilities. It would require a separate essay to describe fully the lessons that have been learned.
ACT: In your opinion, given the realities on the ground in Iraq, how long do you see a need for UNSCOM's continued monitoring of Iraq's weapons potential?
Ekeus: Even if UNSCOM and the IAEA at a given moment in the future could report that all proscribed items had been identified and eliminated, the monitoring of Iraq's dual-use capabilities would be necessary for many years thereafter. A major reason for that is the know-how available in Iraq through all the personnel involved in weapons development and production. In this context it is interesting to recall Paragraph 14 of the cease-fire resolution, which provides that the arms control arrangements in relation to Iraq could be seen as steps toward the establishment in the region of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. This provision is a reflection of the so-called Mubarak plan.
ACT: Despite the remarkable precedent established by the Security Council with regard to the creation of UNSCOM and the goal of preventing Iraq from reacquiring its weapons programs, do you believe the Security Council is capable of sustaining the political will to support UNSCOM in what could prove to be its very long stay in Iraq? What role can the United States play in this process?
Ekeus: As mentioned earlier, the adoption of Resolution 1115 restated forcefully the Security Council's resolve to see the cease-fire arrangements fully implemented. The unanimity in support of this resolution, however, should not overshadow the fact that some permanent members of the Security Council consider themselves as having important national interests in bringing to an end the economic and political isolation of Iraq. At times I have had a concern that these interests could overtake the international principle of collective action in accordance with the UN Charter. The notable success of the adoption of Resolution S/1115 could not have been achieved without U.S. leadership and a strong personal commitment by President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright.
ACT: In retrospect, or perhaps as a road map for your successor, is there something you would have done differently during your tenure as head of UNSCOM that you believe might have changed the view from where you are sitting right now? Would a less diplomatic approach in dealing with Iraq have been supported by the Security Council?
Ekeus: Obviously, I underestimated from the beginning, both in quantity and quality, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program and, even more, the degree of resistance with which our efforts would be met. I believe that we adjusted quickly to the unfriendly environment. It is my feeling that, in spite of some missteps, we, in light of what was politically possible, have found a reasonable and balanced approach in our work. It has been possible to keep the Security Council in its shifting political configurations united in loyally defending the cease-fire provisions, which must be considered a success.
In leading UNSCOM, it has been necessary sometimes for me to finesse certain crisis situations by developing political solutions to a problem. But in the final analysis, it is clear to me that only a firm and consistent response to the practically daily challenges from the Iraqi authorities can defend the integrity of this historic mission and lead to the ultimate goal of justice, peace and stability in the region.
As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated. Click here for more information.
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