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Dr Hans Blix interview

April 1st, 2005 · No Comments

Truth is often cited as the first casualty of war.

For former chief weapons inspector Dr Hans Blix, the US-led invasion of Iraq left another ideal seriously wounded – critical thought.

In a world increasingly fragmented along religious, economic and geopolitical lines, he says the need for governments to examine complex issues through rational thought, no matter how politically explosive or emotive they may be, has become progressively more important.

But the Bush administration’s unilateral approach to launch a pre-emptive war against the supposed ‘imminent threat’ posed by Saddam Hussein, signalled an end of critical thinking and damaged the collective security enshrined in the UN charter.

Strong words from a man who has spent a long career practising diplomacy in all its multifarious forms; who shot to global fame during those knife-edge months of 2002-3 when it appeared that this aging Swede was the only thing standing between the world and a major Middle East conflict.

Dr Blix came out of retirement in January 2000 to be appointed executive chairman of Unmovic by UN secretary General Kofi Annan. Unmovic had been formed to effectively disarm Iraq’s WMD programme, and Dr Blix had the credentials for the job.

An associate professor and veteran adviser on international law, former Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Director General of the global energy watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981-1997, he was also a recipient of the Henry de Wolf Smyth Award (Washington, DC, 1988), for “outstanding contributions to the many aspects of nuclear energy activities”.

At the start of inspections in November 2002 his “gut feeling” was Saddam had something to hide. Nevertheless, in the 700 odd inspections made to 500 different Iraqi sites – including dozens identified by British and US intelligence – Unmovic drew blanks.

“We asked ourselves if this is the best intelligence they [the British and US governments] have then what is the rest? ”

Dr Blix’s failure to prove Saddam had an arsenal of WMDs frustrated the Anglo-American pro-war lobby, and a war of words ensued. “The US conservative media was skinning us alive, ” he recalls. “It was clear to me that in the winter of 2002 they were irritated that we didn’t come with any smoking guns. ”

Despite the media attacks, Dr Blix maintains that his relationships with Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice were “perfectly civil”, and retains a balanced view of Bush and Blair’s motivations.

“I never asserted that they did anything in bad faith. What I am critical of is their lack of critical thinking, ” he says. “They were more like witch hunters who had a conviction these people [Saddam’s government] were guilty and we only had to find the evidence. ”

“What we don’t know yet is to what extent were they predetermined. I say in my book [Disarming Iraq: The Hunt For Weapons Of Mass Destruction] that I think the war was premeditated, but not predetermined.

Despite huge protests around the world, the ‘coalition of the willing’ bypassed the UN and pressed ahead, a move which Dr Blix says damaged the UN’s function as a peacekeeping organisation.

“Collective security collapsed, ” he says. “When you go back to when the UN was formed in 1945, it had been the first time in history that mankind had decided to establish collective security. ”

Dr Blix cites the first Gulf War in 1991 – when the first President Bush used UN authorisation to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait – as the first time that the Security Council really worked.

This provides a stark contrast to the events which led up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The pressure and horsetrading initiated by the US when it tried to push through a resolution to justify the war, has left a bad taste in many member states mouths, he says.

“It is inappropriate if you have a developing country in Africa sitting on the council and the US offers it US$58 million in assistance, if it votes for them. ”

One way to regain its position as a peacekeeping organisation, he believes, is to strenghten the position of the security council’s non-permanent members. This could be done by making them formal representatives of their region, for example, Latin America or Africa, thereby creating more powerful blocs.

“They will become stronger through the security council if they consult with their group. ”

As for the US, he believes its current activities hamper efforts to build a safer global future, and suggests that the Bush Doctrine of reserving the right to launch pre-emptive attacks on threats to US national security could derail the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

“They’re [the US] not one bit keen on disarmament. They want WMD proliferation to be seen as the world’s greatest danger, but they build up missile shields to make themselves immune. They refuse the international criminal court under which they make their soldiers immune and they will not go along with a treaty that bans further production of highly enriched uranium. They seem to distance themselves from inclusive cooperation with the world. ”

With the US acting in such a way, Dr Blix feels that creating the political atmosphere where weapons inspectors will be allowed into countries like Iran and North Korea would be difficult.

He calls for a “softer tone” to “remove the incentives” for countries like Iran and North Korea to seek possession of WMDs.

“It is security that makes countries want to obtain weapons of mass destruction. The Iranians and North Koreans hearing that they are ‘evil regimes’ will ask ‘how do we secure ourselves? ’

“One way round this may be some sort of negative security guarantee whereby if you behave yourself and keep uranium enrichment at the allowed 5% level and you can verify this through inspections, then we will guarantee non-intervention. ”

But with North Korea’s claim that they possess nuclear weapons fresh in the air and the Bush administration’s fervour for spreading ‘democracy’ round the world unabated, is this possible? Really?

He smiles and delivers a typical diplomatic response, perfect in its measured ambiguity. “No, I don’t think it is too unlikely. ”

Make of that what you will.

Tags: Asia Books magazine · interviews

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