In the latest lecture in the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series, Former U.N. Weapons Inspector Dr. Hans Blix discussed the issue of weapons of mass destruction. The lecture, which packed the Social Science Lecture Hall on May 5, was sponsored by UCI’s Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies.
Entitled ‘Controlling Weapons of Mass Destruction: Lessons From Iraq,’ Blix’s lecture focused on his role as chief weapons inspector for the United Nations in the time leading up to the United States’ war in Iraq, as well as on weapons of mass destruction and some of the countries suspected of having them.
Swedish-born Blix was appointed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2000 to head the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. Blix retired in June 2003 and is now chairman of the International Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction. Blix’s book, ‘Disarming Iraq,’ which he joked stayed on the United States’ fiction list because of the Bush administration’s disagreement with his claims and policy recommendations, was released in March 2004.
Blix started his lecture by giving an overview of WMDs and how he feels that a nuclear weapon in the hands of a terrorist group is unlikely. However, Blix explained that a ‘dirty bomb’ made of nuclear materials and detonated by conventional means is far more likely.
‘[A dirty bomb] would not cause a nuclear explosion and would be a weapon of mass disruption rather than a weapon of mass destruction,’ Blix said.
He also discussed how the post-Cold War nature of the world, in which several countries have nuclear capabilities, has led to the conclusion that ‘war between great powers is becoming unthinkable.’
As the man who led the U.N. inspection effort in Iraq, Blix had to stand between members of the U.N. Security Council who called for further inspections and the United States, who was pushing for justification for military action. After months of inspections, Blix came to feel very strongly that Iraq had no WMDs and that Iraq had destroyed them all after its defeat in the first gulf war in 1991.
In one of several critical comments of the Bush administration’s handling of the war, Blix said ‘the purpose of the Iraq war was to get weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.’
Although Blix admits that Saddam Hussein handled the situation poorly by acting like he still had WMDs, Blix still felt enough evidence was there for the United States to see that Hussein was bluffing.
‘We conducted over 700 inspections of 500 sites, including several dozen inspections of sites suggested by intelligence agencies in the [United States] and the [United Kingdom] and we did not uncover any ‘smoking gun.’ And U.S. and U.K. evidence was increasingly rebutted,’ Blix said. Blix even went so far as to say that some of the evidence presented by President Bush in his State of the Union message ‘was shown to have been a forgery.’
Blix believed that the days of Hussein threatening world security were over and that the United States could have done plenty of things short of an invasion to keep him in check.
‘Saddam would have remained, I think, like a Castro,’ Blix said.
Despite Blix’s strong comments criticizing the Bush administration, David Grotts, a fourth-year political science major, felt that Blix did a good job and did not come across as overly opinionated.
‘I liked how he seemed to remain neutral,’ Grotts said.
Although Blix felt like his team did a thorough inspection of Iraq for WMDs, he understands that his role was not to make decisions but only to make recommendations.
‘Inspectors can never say that there is nothing in any basement or attic in a big country,’ Blix said. ‘And to the extent to which this uncertainty is acceptable is a question of policy judgment, not inspectors.’
Blix also addressed the problems posed by states like Iran and North Korea, which ‘make us hold our breath.’ Blix feels that they must be dealt with differently because ‘the war in Iraq is not a model that many would like to see followed.’
Blix feels that the United States’ current approach of threatening these nations may be counter-productive as he fears it will push them to seek out further protection in the form of WMDs from a possible attack by the United States.
‘Rather, I think the right course would be to promise not to attack in return for their relinquishing nuclear weapons,’ Blix said.
He added, ‘We would like to see the United States in the role of the lead wolf rather than in the role of the lone wolf.’
Several times during the lecture Blix’s comments drew applause from the audience. After his speech there was a period in which Blix fielded unscreened questions from the audience, but most of what was asked and answered was reiteration of his speech.
Said Jamie Dow, a fifth-year sociology major, ‘I thought it was a very good talk, very intellectually rigorous. I enjoyed it.’
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