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Hans Blix was the U.N. chief arms inspector for Iraq until he resigned last year. He has just published a memoir of the inspections and buildup to war titled "Disarming Iraq." Blix spoke with Global Viewpoint contributing correspondent Mikhail Skafidas in Manhattan on March 22.

QUESTION: What are the lessons of the Iraq war for you?

HANS BLIX: I think that the war has taught the world some lessons and that we all have a number of questions to ask and answer. In my view, it has shown that intelligence was very weak and that one needs to examine intelligence with a critical mind. The whole doctrine of preemptive war relies upon dependable intelligence, so I think that that doctrine has hit upon some problems.

Then on the question of terrorism, the war, of course, was not primarily justified by the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The action had its psychological roots in the reaction to 9/11. But what we have seen after the war is that the feeling of humiliation in Iraq has spread a lot of hatred and the threat for more terrorism in Iraq and beyond.

Iraq is not a safe place today. We've also had Istanbul, we've had Madrid. This is not improvement. We must deal with terrorism firmly. I accept that. But one must also think of the psychological factors that provoked this kind of thing.
The great benefit now, of course -- even though I maintain that the war is not justified, in political or legal terms -- is that we can draw some conclusions after the war and distinguish between the positive and the negative aspects of it.

The positive side is that one of the world's most brutal and bloodier regimes has been eliminated. But that regime was not a threat to its neighbors. I don't think anyone ever thought so, with the possible exception of Kuwait. The regime was most of all a terror to its own people.

Q: Some observers claim that there might be a few more positive sides to it. Moammar Kadafi, fearing an Iraq-style invasion and humiliation, gave up Libya's WMD last December.

BLIX: One should not jump to the conclusion that Kadafi gave up whatever he had acquired because of the "demonstration effect" of the Iraqi affair. It was more of a diplomatic exercise, which was in the making for a long time.

Maybe one could even make the case that there was a policy of containment because Libya had been subject to sanctions and isolation for a long time, and we had seen how hard Kadafi was trying to settle the Lockerbie affair in order to bring his country out of isolation. Of course, I don't exclude the possibility that what went on in Iraq in March of 2003 could also have given him the final push to disarm. When it comes to Iran and North Korea, one must be aware that the geopolitical situation of these two countries is very different from that of Iraq.

Q: On the negative side, many observers, and especially the Europeans, predicted before the war that an Iraqi invasion would make terrorism worse. Is Spain -- as an ugly climax following Casablanca and Istanbul -- a corroboration of that premonition? Is it part of the "lesson"?

BLIX: Yes, I think it is. As I said, there is a sense of humiliation in the Middle East, and that is a very dangerous ground for further terrorism. And the firmness that is exercised and shown against a dictator like Saddam must be coupled with an attitude of the will to facilitate and promote economic development.

Q: Did you personally ever feel powerless or ignored during the inspection period last year?

BLIX: No, I was not. Of course, the United States would say that the Security Council was irrelevant. Eventually the Americans ignored what we inspectors were saying. They must have heard what we said, as everybody else did, but they ignored it. But we were not the arbiters, we were not judges to decide whether there should be a war or not; that was the Security Council. However, it is clear that for the majority of the Council, that would not even support an authorization, the role and the statements of the inspectors were of great relevance.

If we had said that we believed what the U.S. and UK intelligence are telling us, then the attitude of the members of the Security Council might have been different. I think they felt that the inspectors had not yet found any support for the concerns that there are WMD. There were a lot of questions, but we had not found any answer to them, we had not reached a conclusion, and therefore they viewed that the inspections should continue for some time. Not forever, but some time. I think that our reports had a great importance for the majority of the Council, but not for the minority.

Q: When did you first suspect that no weapons would be found and that the U.S. and British intelligence was off base?

BLIX: Well, I never excluded before the war occurred that the weapons were there. They could be there, but we were skeptical about the evidence. We certainly could not maintain that they existed. I think I concluded that there weren't any weapons, probably sometime in May, last year, when the United States had been in Iraq for a couple of months. They had had the opportunity to talk to people (in Iraq) who were no longer afraid to speak the truth. In fact, these people were offered rewards if they could give any hint on where weapons could be found. But they had no answers. According to the media they were consistently saying that they did not know anything about hidden weapons. So by that time I thought it was pretty clear that WMD did not exist in Iraq.

Q: (U.S. National Security Advisor) Condoleezza Rice recently cited your statement to Iraqis that "mustard gas is not marmalade," and that "unaccounted for" WMD convinced the United States to play it safe and not wait for a smoking gun. Was that a reasonable position for the United States?

BLIX: I said that "mustard gas is not marmalade" in order to emphasize that it seemed to me reasonable that the Iraqis should have kept track and kept documentation of how much mustard gas they consumed.

As for the "unaccounted for," the United States took the view that things that were unaccounted for -- whether 3,000 liters of anthrax, or several thousand liters of one thing or another -- still existed! Well, this was the worst-case scenario, and we did not exclude that. We said it could have existed. But the difference was that they said that "yes, it does exist." We warned against that attitude several times. But they used it regardless because they wanted to persuade the Security Council and influence the public opinion. They said that there were actual WMD, and this was taking it too far.

Q: You worked many years at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) on North Korea. Has the Iraq invasion indeed had a "demonstration effect" on the North Koreans -- in the opposite direction, accelerating their quest for nuclear weapons in order to ward off any U.S. invasion?

BLIX: It is possible, but I'm not so sure. They ought to realize that the invasion in Iraq demonstrated the furiousness with which the United States and the United Kingdom have dealt with the situation. But the geopolitical situation in places like North Korea and Iran is very different. South Korea is within artillery range from North Korea, and any military action against North Korea could have horrible consequences. And one must be aware of that.

Q: Would you do it again? Would you command, if asked, another inspection mission if a new crisis of Iraqi proportions arose tomorrow, let's say in North Korea?

BLIX: The experience I've had on the positive side is that we demonstrated that professional, independent inspection can be made very effectively, and that we came closer to the truth than what the national intelligence agencies did.

The independent inspections in individual countries can play a role in places like North Korea, and it does already in a case like Iran. There is no reason for the disdain that was shown by some part of the U.S. administration against the international inspections. And to say, for instance, that the IAEA missed it in 1991, in 1995 and in 1998 -- I do not see any evidence of that. I think that's wrong.

Q: Is bioterrorism an exaggerated fear, or nowadays, especially, is it a realistic one waiting to happen?

BLIX: Well, WMD are very sexy. This means that there are politicians and media playing with them. Of course, I wouldn't want to underestimate their importance. But we must see everything in perspective. For my part, I think that the risks to the global environment are as a big threat to us all, an existential threat, as are the WMD.

But to answer your question, yes, a biological weapons threat exists. The technologies are very much available, but one must also realize that they are not easy to handle. You need great expertise to deploy these weapons and make them a potential danger. The chemical weapons, I think, are the least difficult to have for terrorists.

(c) 2004, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 3/23/04)