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‘Saddam was a man of brinkmanship, but he calculated wrongly, ’ proposes Hans Blix

A former foreign minister of Sweden, Hans Blix, found himself in the international spotlight as the head of the UN’s weapons inspectors in Iraq. From his spacious apartment in Stockholm, Blix spoke to Kathimerini’s Sunday magazine «K» in carefully measured diplomatic language, although his views were clear. He believes that nothing that might eventually be discovered in Iraq is justification for war. He refers to Israel’s nuclear program as proof of a double standard in the policy of disarmament in the Middle East. Before the war, Blix had refused to confirm Washington’s claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Events have vindicated him, although he himself prefers not to say so. Do you feel vindicated? This is not a word I would use. It is clear that the critical thinking we applied led us less astray than did the assertive thinking of the US administration. We never said there were weapons of mass destruction. What we said was that the Iraqis could not answer all our questions regarding their arsenal. But for the Bush administration, «unaccounted for» equaled «existing.» It clearly seems that our caution was justified. So if the conclusion is they had no weapons of mass destruction, and they probably didn’t already since 1991, then the question arises as to why they behaved the way they did? Why did they give the world the impression that they had something to hide? Maybe that is because they actually did not mind letting the world believe that they had something to hide. It is a bit like hanging outside your door a sign that reads «beware of the dog» without actually having a dog. However, the sign alone doesn’t protect you. I think that Saddam was not well informed. His deputies were encouraged by the surge of the anti-war protests in Europe and the US so they did not inform him of the real dangers. He was a man of brinkmanship. But he calculated wrongly. We never met Saddam. We asked for a meeting but were rejected. The Iraqis did not deny us access to any of the sites, but they were cooperating in form rather than in substance. They needed to be shaken up. As pressure piled up, in February they were beginning to be a bit more forthcoming. In March they did come up with names of people who had taken part in the destruction of the weapons. They said they had destroyed the weapons and the documentation about the destruction, so the names of these people were the most valuable tool we ever had in our hands. But it was too late. We had no more time. Do you feel the war was decided all along? No. In summer, the US began to increase the military buildup. Cheney, Wolfowitz, the Pentagon, they all thought the UN was useless and that only applying pressure would force Saddam to disarm. But was disarmament the reason for the war? Well, there was a mixture of reasons. We should keep in mind that even Wolfowitz himself eventually said that the argument about the WMD [weapons of mass destruction] was chosen for bureaucratic reasons, because it was something everyone could agree on. What worries me is the doubtful sincerity of an administration that publicly advances a cause and privately has other considerations. Such as? Well, timing was an important consideration. They really wanted to start this war before the weather got too hot, thinking that, if WMD were indeed used, it would have been too hot to wear the protective suits. If they had waited till the autumn, maybe the [United Nations] Security Council would have concluded that Iraq did not cooperate in substance with the inspectors. How legitimate was this war? I cannot reconcile this action with the UN Charter. Even if one was to examine a more lenient interpretation of the Charter, at least two conditions should be met. First of all, the threat must not be guesswork, which it was. There were many scandals concerning that. The yellowcake from Niger, the essay of a student used as evidence, the trucks and the aluminum tubes that were not what they were said to be. They now acknowledge that they relied too much on defectors for their information. Now they have even begun to say Saddam sent false defectors to disorient them. The second thing that at least needs to be there if you start a pre-emptive unilateral war is the imminence of the threat. If it’s 10 years, it’s a long time. A lot of things can be done in 10 years to cope with the threat. It was not shown that there was any imminence. I don’t think anything that comes to light in Iraq will justify the invasion. That of course doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take adequate measures against the threat of biological warfare. But a vaccination campaign, general health measures are much more effective than a war – because whate ver you do, you can never be 100-percent sure you won’t be attacked. However, if something has been done illegally, we cannot exclude altogether the fact that it can have beneficial effects. One of the most brutal regimes in the world is now gone. Do you think there are double standards regarding weapons of mass destruction? Well, yes. It is clear that Israel has nuclear weapons. The idea is to do away with nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Israel votes for that in the UN. But its own arsenal could backfire against this goal. Would you say the world is now a safer place regarding weapons of mass destruction? Both. There are problems with Iraq, North Korea, there’s a big question mark about Iran. There is the Israeli arsenal and the new nuclear states, Pakistan and India. But there are also success stories. Take a look at Argentina and Brazil, a problem that could have triggered a regional buildup. Take a look at South Africa, which did away with its nuclear program. There has also been a decisive reduction in the number of nuclear warheads. But what you see now is more worrisome. Despite this considerable reduction, the trend in the US has been to facilitate as much as possible the resumption of nuclear testing if there’s a decision for that. It’s worrisome that the US turned down the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The United Nations is not the only form of multilateralism in this world. In Korea, the multilateralism of the US is wise. What happens in North Korea is that Pyongyang wants a non-aggression pact. That has an echo from the Stalinist times. Behind it there is a worry on behalf of the Koreans about the security of their borders. I think this is a misunderstanding. Why should anyone threaten them? They will collapse anyway. They try to avoid this by asking for more things, such as trade benefits and so on and so forth. On the other hand, I sense an ideological aversion on behalf of the US toward the UN. An attitude that we don’t need it and it can slide into the East River. That’s worse than disagreeing. There is no way you can produce harmony out of a piano you don’t use. Actually, the very fact that the US did not in the end go to the Security Council for approval of the war means that the Security Council matters and that a «no» would have been a blow. Do you think the UN, which is now considering a new resolution on Iraq, is about to legitimize the war? I disagree. The Council did not and will not legitimize the war. The French and the Germans have resisted and will resist any such move. Are there fears that the UN might be identified with the occupying powers? No, and this is why we had the UN headquarters bombing. There are groups who want to see a clear-cut enemy and the UN sort of blurs the lines. This is why they want to see the UN out, same for the Red Cross and everybody else apart from the US and the British. And if they’re also gone, then they’ve won. Do you think that the war makes the world more dangerous for the US? Yes. The number of their hard-core enemies might have increased. I do not think that the invasion of Iraq will act as a deterrent for whoever wants to attack the United States. Let us move to Britain. What do you make of the 45-minute claim [that Iraq could deploy WMD in that time]? Well, I find it a bit extravagant. 45 minutes from when? And for what weapon? Against whom? Much of what is now criticized is the culture of spin. It spreads from the advertising industry to the politicians and to the media. There is a borderline between simplification and impermissible simplification. We might be ready to show some lenience toward media exaggerations – never attack the media!! – but we are more demanding from the politicians. In the Hutton inquiry what stands accused is the culture of spin. I am not very optimistic about the outcome, I don’t think there is going to be any reduction of spin. Did you know David Kelly personally? What was your opinion of him? He was one of the foremost inspectors of UNSCOM. He helped us by giving lectures to our trainees. He was one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet in the field of biological weapons. He was respectable and he felt himself to be respectable. When examining the Iraqi weapons claims he applied the critical thinking of a scientist. In the same way he was skeptical about Iraq, he was also skeptical about his own government. Do you think the UN inspectors team, headed by Dimitris Perrikos, has a role to play in Iraq? Or are the Americans going to go on looking for weapons by themselves? I do not exclude a future role of the UN at all. But first, I’m glad to tell a Greek newspaper that Perrikos is the world’s most experienced weapons inspector. He’s got intelligence, a critical mind and energy. He handled Japan and South Africa and in Iraq it was he who set up the mission of the inspectors quicker than was ever expected, quicker than the dates given by the Security Council. Now, the inspections should be established in a more authoritative way. We need to make sure there are long-term controls so that nothing is revived.