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Iraq: Weapons Inspections and the Blix Report
With William D. Hartung
Director, Arms Trade Resource Center

Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2003; 11 a.m. ET

On Monday, Jan. 27, U.N. weapons inspectors are due to submit a report to the U.N. Security Council detailing their findings after two months of searching sites in Iraq for weapons Saddam Hussein may have concealed. Expectations of the report have been managed considerably over the last month, with chief inspector Hans Blix warning that there is no "smoking gun," though inspectors recently uncovered a cache of empty chemical warheads.

What will the report say? How will it affect the ability of the Bush administration to build a coalition to invade Iraq? Is war inevitable?

William D. Hartung is the President's Fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School. He is an expert on the arms trade and military spending, and the author of "And Weapons for All" (HarperCollins, 1995), a critique of U.S. arms sales policies from the Nixon through Clinton administrations. He will be online on Tuesday, Jan. 28, at 11 a.m. ET, to discuss the Blix report and where the U.S. goes from here.

Hartung directs the Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center, which provides the media, policymakers, and the public with timely research and information on the issue of global weapons proliferation. He is a member of the advisory committee of Foreign Policy in Focus.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Sandy, Utah: This may not appear to be directly related to Iraq, but: what other countries, apart from the obvious (Britain, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, U.S.) have WMD, including nuclear, biological, and chemical?

William Hartung: Besides Iraq, the states known to have nuclear weapons include the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, and Israel. U.S. intelligence analysts believe that North Korea has enough plutonium to build one or two nuclear weapons, but is not certain whether they have yet turned this material into actual weapons. A number of other states beyond this list have active chemical and biological weapons programs, some of them covert (unacknowledged). A good place to get the full details on this is the web site of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, at www.ceip.org. Their non-proliferation project recently completed a book called "Deadly Arsenals" which gives up to date information on the state of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs worldwide.

Wheaton, Md.: If Saddam Hussein is able to create weapons of mass destruction, how long would it take for these weapons to get to the PLO, bin Laden or any other international terrorist?

< B>William Hartung: The question is really whether Saddam Hussein would share weapons of mass destruction with a terrorist group. The CIA's assessment, as of last November, is that he would not do so, except possibly as an act of final revenge if he thought that he and his regime were about to be destroyed in a U.S.-led nuclear attack. As former NSC analyst Daniel Benjamin has pointed out, Iraq and al Qaeda are not natural allies -- they are natural enemies. From al Qaeda's perspective, Saddam Hussein is exactly the kind of secular leader they are trying to get rid of in the Middle East and South Asia, in hopes of replacing him and his kind with Islamic fundamentalist regimes. From Hussein's stand point, as a dictator whose main interest is in maintaining power, he will not be inclined to share weapons of mass destruction capabilities with terrorist groups that he cannot control. Iraq has given money to the families of suicide bombers, and it has over the years supported terrorist attacks on Iraqi dissidents overseas, but there is nothing in Hussein's record to suggest that he would therefore take the extreme step of sharing weapons of mass destruction with a terrorist group. The best way to ensure that terrorist groups don't get a hold of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons is to eliminate the huge stockpiles of these materials that exist in Russia and elsewhere around the world. Sen. Richard Lugar, the incoming chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has proposed the establishment of a global non-proliferation fund for this purpose; the Bush administration has so far failed to support this program.

New York, N.Y.: Dear Mr. Hartung,

It has been widely reported that current and former senior figures in the military establishment are opposed to a war on Iraq. In your opinion, how significant is this?

Thank you for your time.

William Hartung: There have been leaks suggesting that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have serious doubts about the administration's war plans for Iraq, with particular concerns about instability in a post-invasion environment. As for the war itself, part of the concern is that overthrowing a regime may be a far more difficult task than ejecting troops from a foreign country, as was done in the 1991 Gulf War. Gen. Joseph Hoar, the retired former head of the U.S. Central Command, said the following in Congressional testimony last year: "The nightmare scenario is that six Iraqi Republican Guard divisions and six heavy divisions reinforced with several thousand anti-aircraft artillery pieces defend the city of Baghdad. The result would be high casualties on both sides as well as in the civilian community. U.S. forces would prevail, but at what cost and what cost as the rest of the world watches while we bomb and have artillery rounds exploded in densely populated Iraqi neighborhoods?" Other military officials who have spoken out publicly against the war and/or the Bush administration's rush to war without giving the inspections more time to work, include Gen. Anthony Zinni, another former head of the U.S. Central Command; James Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration; and Gen. Wesley Clark, former supreme commander of NATO. A significant number of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War have also opposed this intervention, either because the situation differs (Iraq has not invaded a neighboring country and has no imminent plans to attack the U.S. or its allies) or because of the "hidden costs" of the last conflict, in which over 100,000 veterans applied for and received disability status after the conflict due to illnesses and conditions linked to their service in that conflict.

Alexandria, Va.: In the first Gulf War, U.S. allies helped to substantially fund the war by paying the United States directly for our involvement. Who is willing to do that this time? Is there any word about how the buildup and probable war will be funded?

William Hartung: U.S. allies -- Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Japan, and others -- paid 80 percent or more of the costs of the first Gulf War, which was about $61 billion measured in 1991 dollars. This time around, while there will be cooperation from some allies if the administration decides to go to war -- most notably the United Kingdom, with lesser contributions possible from Turkey (still in doubt), and maybe France (depending on the terms under which a war begins), and perhaps Australia and a few other close allies -- no other country will offer to help pick up the costs of the U.S. contribution, which will be substantial. OMB Director Mitch Daniels gave an interview recently in which he suggested that the administration had a working assumption that it should set aside about $50 billion to cover the costs of the war; he later backed off from that figure. Former Bush economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey cited a figure of $100 to $200 billion in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last September, and some press accounts suggest that that was one of the reasons he was fired. Independent assessments by the Congressional Budget Office, the Democratic Staff of the House Budget Committee, and Yale economist William Nordhaus suggest that the cost of the war could range from $50 billion to $1.9 trillion, with most estimates of the direct costs to the federal budget clustering in the $100 billion to $200 billion range (the $1.9 trillion figure takes into account possible negative impacts from disruption of oil supplies and the related possibility of a global recession being triggered). As far as I know, the war will be on the "pay as you go plan," just like all the others we have engaged in in recent memory. Emergency and supplemental appropriations will be sought, over and above the Pentagon's regular budget, which is approaching $400 billion per year. And and administration which is pushing a $670 billion tax CUT is hardly likely to impose a war tax or surcharge to make sure the costs of a war don't push the deficit higher.

Bothell, Wash.: It seem very clear that Saddam is creating obstacles for the inspectors in an attempt to conceal his weapons programs. Does anyone in the U.N. really believe Saddam is disarming?

William Hartung: As Hans Blix tried to explain in his report yesterday, there are two levels of cooperation. Hussein's regime has been fairly cooperative in giving inspectors access to any sites they have requested, helping them get to the locations, and so forth. Blix has described this as "passive" cooperation or cooperation on "process" rather than "substance." Where Hussein has not been forthcoming is in documenting what happened to the suspected weapons that were at issue when the inspectors left Iraq in December 1998: has it destroyed several thousand chemical warheads? What happened to the 6,500 chemical bombs that were not utilized in the Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s? What has happened to Iraq's anthrax and anthrax precursors? The bottom line isn't can Saddam be trusted. It is can the inspections regime be made effective enough to keep him from developing additional weapons of mass destruction capabilities while eliminating his existing capabilities. In the area of nuclear weapons, the IAEA is reasonably certain that he has no current nuclear weapons program, but it would like several months to make absolutely sure of that. On the chemical and biological weapons fronts, there is much still to be accounted for, and the question is whether to give the inspectors additional weeks or months to make progress on those issues, while forcing better cooperation out of Hussein's regime.

Cumberland, Md.: Isn't the U.N. in danger of making itself irrelevant if it fails to confront Iraq? Right now the strategy of the U.N. appears to be appeasement.

William Hartung: The United Nations is only as strong as the consensus of the major nation states that make up the organization. If the United States goes into Iraq without explicit U.N. authorization, it will be in an awkward position after the war, when it will seek U.N. assistance in dealing with post-war reconstruction, just as we have done in Afghanistan and the Balkans. The member states that oppose intervention now -- France, Germany, Russia, and China, among others -- need to make the case the inspections and monitoring of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction will continue and grow, not wither away once the threat of war recedes. And the Bush administration has a responsibility to be more supportive of the inspections process, instead of undermining it or attempting to label it "irrelevant." As was noted by Hans Blix yesterday, inspections have achieved far more in destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction than air strikes or the first Gulf War ever did. And even in an intervention designed to drive Hussein from power, there is no guarantee that elements of chemical and biological weapons won't be either smuggled out of the country or hidden away until after the war; or, worst of all, used against U.S. forces. Given that inspections have had some success when the major powers at the UN have stood up to Hussein's resistance, and given the risks involved in trying to solve this problem militarily, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is right to stress that we need to give the inspectors more time -- not forever, but certainly the weeks or months they need to finish their work. If the U.S. presses for war before that point, it may have a huge down side for the perception of the United States in the world, and on our future relationships with key countries.

William Hartung: Note to questioners: We had a fuse blow in my office, so I lost about five to 10 minutes logging back on. I will answer questions until at least 12:15 or so, and will get to as many of them as I can. Thanks, Bill Hartung

Manassas, Va.: Mr. Hartung, it is treasonous of you to hold such a discussion at this time of war. President Bush needs all Americans to get in line. If Americans don't "watch what they say," it will be like we American "citizens" took a gun and shot our soldiers in the back ourselves. You, sir, by having this discussion, are loading that ammunition against our troops!

William Hartung: First of all, we're not at war at the moment. We are in the midst of deciding, as a nation, whether it makes sense to go to war with Iraq or to pursue our objectives through another method, such as stepped up inspections and monitoring of Iraqi weapons programs. If citizens fell silent every time the President raised the idea of going to war, we wouldn't have much of a democracy left to defend. Let's not get involved in name-calling, let's debate what's best for our country and the world.

Alexandria, Va.: If and when we decide to go to war with Iraq, how will we protect the oil fields from Saddam’s sabotage? Who will control the oil after Saddam has been ousted?

William Hartung: There are plans to send U.S. or allied troops to surround and guard the main oil installations as a first priority. That is one of the reasons the administration has put so much diplomatic effort into opening a "second front" from the North, in Turkey, to get quick access to the oil fields in the north. Whether this can be accomplished without the Iraqi regime being able to sabotage or burn the oil wells first is an open question. As to who gets the oil resources after the war, there are various possibilities, ranging from giving concessions to U.S. companies (and companies of allied regimes), to allowing Iraqi oil production to remain nationalized and using the bulk of the resources for reconstruction of the country. There have also been rumors of concessions being sustained or offered to countries like France, Russia, and Turkey based on whether they participate in the war. According to a recent piece that John Judis did for the New Republic, there are at least some in the administration who want to avoid making it look like an "oil grab" on the part of the United States, and are therefore in favor of leaving the Iraqi oil resources in the hands of an Iraqi state-run enterprise for some period of time after the war (if there is a war).

Washington, D.C.: Would waiting past, say, March make a military campaign impossible (therefore delaying it until next winter)? What would happen to U.S. credibility if that were to occur?

William Hartung: A war after March would be inconvenient, but not impossible. It gets much hotter in Iraq after March, and fighting in chem/bio protection suits would be difficult and uncomfortable. This could be dealt with by adjusting the pace of operations, and using night vision capabilities to fight after dark when it is cooler. We shouldn't let a decision to go to war hinge on a tactical issue like this.

Hartford, Conn.: If the U.S. decides to act alone in this war, how will this impact our nation's ability to serve as a leader and mediator in other crises? Do you see a significant fall out represented in other nations' criticisms, or do you believe that these criticisms have no staying power?

William Hartung: The reaction to the U.S. in the wake of an intervention that is launched over the objections of key allies and without explicit UN authorization will undoubtedly be a further increase in anti-American sentiment around the world. As was noted in a Washington Post article that ran today, when Time magazine ran an informal poll for its European readers asking which nation was the most threatening to the world today, the United States won hands down. Now, this wasn't a scientific poll, so it may have been skewed by the fact that people who resent recent U.S. policies were more motivated to reply. But it does suggest that the perception that the United States is willing to go it alone -- on global warming, on an International Criminal Court, on missile defense, on how best to stop the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and now, possibly, on war with Iraq -- is undermining the influence and respect for the United States around the world. If the war is quick and Iraq is relatively stable after the conflict, the reaction may not be as harsh. There are really several issues here: 1) Does the United States have the right to act unilaterally if its security is threatened?; 2) What level of threat justifies unilateral action?; 3) Is Iraq the kind of threat that would justify unilateral or ad hoc military action? To my mind, the Bush administration has not made the case that Iraq is a sufficient threat to justify unilateral action, and it has compounded the problem by its occasional flights of harsh rhetoric -- the "axis of evil," Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's dismissal of Germany and France as the "old Europe," and so forth. So, we have too problems, one regarding the substance of our policy, and one regarding how we communicate with the rest of the world.

Stafford, Va., Re: waiting past March: "We shouldn't let a decision to go to war hinge on a tactical issue like this." What about protecting our troops?

William Hartung: The best way to protect our troops is to send them to war only when necessary, and only when we have a clear strategy. In the case of Iraq, it would be far safer for our troops if we let the inspections take their course, so we know more about Iraq's chemical and biological capabilities before rushing into the country. As Gen. Wesley Clark noted in a roundtable run in the Washington Post Outlook section last year, our military personnel are not experts on chemical and biological weapons -- they won't automatically know dangerous substances if they see them, and in the heat of war the chances of blowing up a stockpile of toxic materials could he high (at least one major source of injuries to veterans of the last Gulf War was due to the destruction of a building containing Sarin gas -- up to 100,000 U.S. troops may have been exposed as a result of that one incident). If our military commanders decide fighting in the March/April/May/June period poses too great a risk to our troops, there is always the option of fighting in September, if the inspections have bogged down and the President has made the case that Iraq is an imminent danger to the United States.

Cumberland, Md.: Is there any situation in which you or your organization would feel that war was the best option in dealing with Iraq?

William Hartung: Our organization takes no unified position on the question of war with Iraq. In my own opinion, if we had proof that Iraq had nuclear weapons, and the means and motive to deliver them against targets in the United States or against major U.S. allies, that would be grounds for war (subject to an authorizing resolution from the United Nations). Likewise, if Iraq invaded one of its neighbors, or was imminently threatening to attack the United States, a case for war could be made. But none of these circumstances exist at the moment, and it is my belief that we can dismantle and disable Iraq's weapons of mass destruction through vigorous inspections and monitoring, without resort to war.

Cumberland, Md.: Doesn't the current situation with North Korea make the case for the military removal of Saddam so that he can never be in a position to "blackmail" the U.S. as North Korea is doing?

William Hartung: The North Korea case needs to be seen in context. Under the 1994 framework agreement, Pyongyang agreed to stop reprocessing plutonium from its reactor at Yongbyon, and to put several other reactor projects on hold, in exchange for a statement of "non-aggression" by both parties, and specific assistance with food, energy, and the lifting of trade sanctions. These commitments were met intermittently by the Clinton administration, with occasional delays due to their own internal debates or resistance from Congress to provide funding for certain steps in the process. But the framework agreement worked in its original intent -- it stopped North Korea from building bombs using the plutonium capabilities of the Yongbyon reactor. Without the agreement, North Korea could have had 50 to 100 bombs by now. Things have obviously fallen apart in recent months, but that is in part due to the fact that the Bush administration rejected the framework agreement and refused to talk to North Korea for it first eighteen to twenty months in office, THEN labeled Pyongyang part of the "axis of evil," AND put out a nuclear posture statement which made it clear that North Korea was a potential target. So much for "non-aggression." The reason the Bush administration has to negotiate with North Korea is not because they might have one or two nuclear weapons -- it is because even without nuclear weapons, a war would be disastrous for our allies in South Korea, given how close Seoul is to the border with North Korea; this is a case where there is no good military option, and carrying forward on the diplomatic progress made by the Clinton administration would have made a lot more sense than hurling empty threats. Hopefully it's not to late to rescue the situation.

Washington, D.C.: Is it a worthwhile endeavor for the U.S. to amass troops in the Persian Gulf simply to put pressure on Iraq to disarm? Without the threat of imminent invasion, why would Iraq voluntarily disarm?

William Hartung: The threat of force clearly helped get the inspectors in, and got a lot of countries moving on the diplomatic front, both in the U.N. and in the region (e.g. the recent meeting sponsored by Turkey involving regional states). It's not clear that it required THIS MUCH force, or this large of a deployment, to get that process moving. In my opinion, the smartest move President Bush could make would be to use the leverage he has created through the threat of force to make the inspections and monitoring process work better. As Colin Powell said at some point last year, if Saddam Hussein gets rid of his weapons of mass destruction, that too would be a form of "regime change."

Mt. Rainier, Md.: From this limited vantage point, it does not seem that the World Policy Institute has been able to have much impact on the arms trade. It appears that militant groups all over the world (especially Africa and Mideast) are easily able to buy the arms they want to keep civil unrest boiling over. What is the strategy for preventing arms manufacturers/dealers from selling to any group that has the money to buy?

William Hartung: You're right, the World Policy Institute has not had much impact in limiting the arms trade. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth the effort to try to promote policies that would limit the trade. The trade operates on a number of levels. The overt trade in major conventional weapons -- tanks, fighter planes, long-range artillery, missiles and so forth -- is mostly controlled by governments, and the U.S. is by far the largest supplier in the post-Cold War period. This trade should be limited through negotiations among the big suppliers. The arms trade to terrorists and warlords is mostly the trade in small arms and light weapons, much of which is carried out by networks of dealers, middlemen, front companies, and other shadowy operators, some of whom have links to governments due to their past involvement in covert arms sales of the Iran/contra variety. This part of the trade demands a coordinated action plan involving increased law enforcement, marking and tracing of weapons, cutting off financing for the illicit trade, shutting down unlicensed brokers and front companies, and so forth. Unfortunately, when the United Nations had a meeting on small arms and light weapons in the summer of 2001, the Bush administration worked to water down the plan of action to limit the spread of small arms and light weapons, and to eliminate altogether a plank proposed by African nations to prohibit the transfer of weapons from governments to non-state actors (rebels, terrorists, and so forth). The U.S. representative at the meeting, John Bolton, even made it sound as if efforts to stop the spread of small arms and light weapons to regions of conflict would somehow undermine the Second Amendment right to bear arms. In fact, the majority of the measures in the U.N. Action Plan would have had little or no bearing on gun ownership in the United States. So, curbing the arms trade is possible, but it will require greater political will on the part of the United States and other key governments. Particularly, now, given the threat of terrorism, these efforts deserve a much higher priority.

Chattanooga, Tenn.: Mr. Hartung,

Could you speak to the political economy of war in the context of arms manufacturers' political and economic connections to the current administration? Does a larger, permanent military presence in Iraq bode for better arms business?

Mike Knapp

William Hartung: The buildup so far has mostly involved operating and maintenance costs for the armed forces. But war in Iraq, and the Bush administration's "doctrine of preemption," suggests there will be ample business for the arms sector if the current policy trend continues. According to a study we did last year, called "About Face" (available on our Web site at www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms), there are at least 32 major policy makers in the Bush administration -- in the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the Department of Energy, and the White House -- who were either executives, paid consultants, or major shareholders of major defense contractors prior to joining the administration. Lockheed Martin, the nation's top defense contractor, had eight former associates appointed to jobs in the administration, including the head of the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration's nuclear weapons complex and the Air Force official responsible for coordinating the acquisition of military space assets. Just as the presence of energy industry executives in top posts has skewed the administration's energy policy, it's hard to imagine that the employment of so many former arms industry executives isn't having an effect on how the administration makes its decisions on issues of war and peace. It may not be a one-to-one correspondence -- in some cases civilian ideologues from conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation are more pro-war than folks from industry -- but the presence of large numbers of arms industry alumni in top policy making positions is not a healthy development.


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

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