Former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq. He is currently chair of the Swedish government’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission. His latest book, just published, is Why Nuclear Disarmament Matters.
The Bush administration’s claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq formed the key justification for the war to Congress, the American people and the international community. As the former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, Hans Blix was at the center of the storm. From March 2000 to June 2003, Blix oversaw the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission’s 700 inspections at 500 sites in the run-up to the invasion. Blix is currently the chair of the Swedish government’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission. His latest book, just published, is Why Nuclear Disarmament Matters. Blix joins us for the hour from Stockholm, Sweden. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: More than five years after the invasion of Iraq, one the war’s leading architects has admitted the Bush administration made mistakes in the lead-up to the war but maintains the decision to invade was justified. Douglas Feith, who served as undersecretary of defense for policy, claimed Monday Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the region even though he had no weapons of mass destruction.
DOUGLAS FEITH: And so, while it was a terrible mistake for the administration to rely on the erroneous intelligence about WMD, and, I mean, it was catastrophic to our credibility, first of all, it was an honest error and not a lie. But even if you corrected for that error, what we found in Iraq was a serious WMD threat, even though Saddam had chosen to not maintain the stockpiles. He had put himself in a position where he could have regenerated those stockpiles, as I said, in three to five weeks.
AMY GOODMAN: The Bush administration’s claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq formed the key justification for the war to Congress, the American people and the international community. One of the people at the center of the storm was Hans Blix, the former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. He joins us today from Stockholm, Sweden.
From March 2000 to June 2003, Hans Blix was executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission, which carried out over 700 inspections at 500 sites in the run-up to the invasion. Hans Blix is currently the chair of the Swedish government’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission. His latest book is Why Nuclear Disarmament Matters.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Hans Blix.
HANS BLIX: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Your response to Douglas Feith?
HANS BLIX: Well, I think there was no way that Saddam Hussein in Iraq could have reconstituted his nuclear program within years after 2003. David Kay went in, and he came out and said, “Well, there are no weapons, but there are [inaudible] programs.” And then he went out, and in went his successor, and he came out after a year and says there are no programs, but there were intentions. In fact, Iraq was prostrate after so many years of sanctions, and it would have taken them many years to recover and to contemplate any nuclear weapons.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you understand at the time? What were you saying at the time?
HANS BLIX: Well, at the time, we were saying that we had carried out a great many inspections and that we did not find any weapons of mass destruction, and we also voiced some criticism of the some cases that the US Secretary of State Colin Powell had demonstrated in the Security Council. My colleague, Mr. ElBaradei, who was the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had revealed that the alleged contract between Iraq and the state of Niger in Africa for the import of uranium oxide was a forgery and that the — also the tubes of aluminum, which had been alleged to be for making of centrifuges to enrich uranium, they most likely were not for that purpose.
So while the evidence that had been advanced from the US side and the UK side had been very weakened, we had carried out some 700 inspections without finding any evidence at all, and we had actually been to something like three dozen sites, which were given to us by intelligence, and had been able to tell them that, no, there was nothing in them, so that all allegations had been weakened very much, but not to the point of saying that there is nothing, because to prove that there is nothing is really impossible.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn back to February 2003 to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s address before the UN Security Council, where he made the Bush administration’s case for war. This is some of what he had to say.
COLIN POWELL: I asked for this session today for two purposes — first, to support the core assessments made by Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei. As Dr. Blix reported to this council on January 27th, quote, "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it," unquote, and as Dr. ElBaradei reported, Iraq’s declaration of December 7th, quote, "did not provide any new information relevant to certain questions that have been outstanding since 1998."
My second purpose today is to provide you with additional information, to share with you what the United States knows about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, as well as Iraq’s involvement in terrorism, which is also the subject of Resolution 1441 and other earlier resolutions. I might add at this point that we are providing all relevant information we can to the inspection teams for them to do their work.
The material I will present to you comes from a variety of sources. Some are US sources, and some are those of other countries. Some of the sources are technical, such as intercepted telephone conversations and photos taken by satellites. Other sources are people who have risked their lives to let the world know what Saddam Hussein is really up to.
I cannot tell you everything that we know. But what I can share with you, when combined with what all of us have learned over the years, is deeply troubling. What you will see is an accumulation of facts and disturbing patterns of behavior. The facts on Iraqis’ behavior — Iraq’s behavior demonstrate that Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort — no effort — to disarm, as required by the international community.
AMY GOODMAN: That was, well, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell addressing the United Nations February 5th, 2003. Hans Blix, you were the chief UN weapons inspector at the time. Your reaction then and now, more than five years later?
HANS BLIX: Well, Secretary Powell talks about what ElBaradei and I were saying in January 2003, but the invasion took place in the mid-March of 2003. And we started our inspections in Iraq in November, and at the end of that month I think we got the 12,000 pages of report from Iraq, and they were disappointing, apart from the sections about biology, where they had given some new information. But they were disappointed, and we were disappointed in that result.
But the responsibility for taking action, actually go into war, must be assessed at what was known in the middle of March 2003, when the war took place. By that time, we had carried out the 700 inspections without finding any results and also finding a lot of weakness in the evidence that had been presented. So I don’t think that one can seem to rely upon or refer to what the inspectors were saying in January 2003. A lot had happened, and I’m sure that the invasion should — was weighed in what they knew in mid-March 2003, and they should have known and understood that Iraq was not nearly in possession of any significant quantities of weapons of mass destruction. I think they suspected that there were chemical weapons left, because the US military carried protective suits with them, and they donned some of them, as well. But there could have been no illusion that they were on their way to reconstituting their nuclear weapon program.
AMY GOODMAN: They knew a lot about what you thought, both publicly —- you also said that you believed that they were bugging you, that you thought it would be Iraq that would eavesdrop, that would bug you, but in fact you felt it was the United States. Could you explain?
HANS BLIX: I hear a little badly what you say on the satellite feed. Could I explain what? Why one thought -—
AMY GOODMAN: You had said in 2004 that you believed the United States was bugging you, your office and your home. Can you explain?
HANS BLIX: Oh, I see, OK. Now I hear you better. Well, there were noises on the telephone and things that happened that made me suspect that. I have never said I had any evidence to that effect. But in the light of what I’ve heard since then, I would not be at all surprised. And I’ve been asked about the question, and my only comment has been I wish to heaven that they had listened a little better to what I had to say, if they did listen.
AMY GOODMAN: You went to great lengths to try to find out, is that right? You had a UN counter-surveillance team sweep your home and office for bugs.
HANS BLIX: Yeah, that happened, but that was sort of routine at the UN that they would sweep the office. And I think we mostly assumed that there could be someone bugging us. We didn’t really have any secrets. What we did, we were told to at the Security Council.
AMY GOODMAN: You also learned that the Pentagon was briefing against you, you the chief UN weapons inspector. Explain what that means.
HANS BLIX: Well, there was some occasion when the Washington Post reported that Mr. Wolfowitz had asked the CIA about my character and about my preceding activities. And I didn’t really mind that. I thought it would have been more practical for them to ask the State Department, because they have seen me in diplomatic action since 1961. But I had really no objection to his asking the CIA. I had — there was nothing to hide in my career.
AMY GOODMAN: Hans Blix, we’re going to take a break, then we’re going to come back. Hans Blix, the former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, currently the chair of the Swedish government’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, has written the book Why Nuclear Disarmament Matters. We’ll talk not only about history but about what is happening today, from Iran to other places around the world. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest today, Hans Blix, former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, currently the chair of the Swedish government’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, writing a book, Why Nuclear Disarmament Matters. Going back to your tenure with weapons — investigating weapons of mass destruction, how much time do you think you needed to ultimately prove Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, if the US hadn’t invaded on March 19, 2003?
HANS BLIX: Well, as I said, to prove that there is nothing is almost impossible. But, of course, to reduce the probabilities, you can do, and we would have reduced them very strongly. I think that if we had been in Iraq for a couple months more, it would have been enough to make it extremely clear to everybody that the chances were nearly nil that there were any weapons of mass destruction for a very simple reason. And that was that we had tips coming to us from the US and others as to places where they suspected that there were weapons. There were about a hundred such tips. And by the time of the invasion, we had investigated about three dozens of them. A couple of months more, we would have investigated all of them. And since there were no weapons of mass destruction, we would have been able to see that there weren’t any at these places that were indicated and had been able to draw a very strong conclusion that Iraq actually had no such weapons. So a few months more, I think, would have been enough.
But, of course, one must remember that the allegation about the existence of weapons of mass destruction was only one reason why the US and their allies went to war. There were other reasons, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: But that was the chief reason that the Bush administration gave. They had floated other reasons, but they didn’t fly with the American public. And this imminent threat was one that had stuck and was cited over and over by those senators who authorized war.
But let me ask you, Hans Blix, a critical question. This was Scott Ritter, who has been very critical of your role in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. He was the UN’s top weapons inspector in Iraq in the United Nations Special Commission between 1991 and 1998. This is some of what he had to say about your role and that of Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
SCOTT RITTER: Look, Mohamed ElBaradei deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, not only for the potential work that his organization can do down the road regarding Iran and North Korea, etc., but let’s take a look what this guy did. He stood up to the Security Council when it counted. In the weeks and months before the war, this is a man who spoke truth to power. He stared the United States in the face and said, “The data you have provided is false. It’s based on forgeries. There are no nuclear weapons in Iraq. There is no nuclear weapons program. I don’t know what you’re talking about when you say that we don’t want the smoking gun to come in the form of a mushroom cloud, because no mushroom cloud is coming out of Iraq.” Had Hans Blix, his counterpart, done the same thing, showed the same courage, you know, it would have been very difficult for the United States to try and bully the United Nations into this mad, headlong rush to war.
AMY GOODMAN: What did Hans Blix do?
SCOTT RITTER: Hans Blix was a lawyer. He parsed phrases. He didn’t commit to anything. His statements were so watered down.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
SCOTT RITTER: I call him a moral and intellectual coward. This is only an answer that Hans Blix can provide. For me, Hans Blix had an opportunity to stand up and be counted in the face of history, and history is going to condemn this man for not doing what was necessary in one of the more critical times of modern history.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq in October of 2005. Hans Blix, your response?
HANS BLIX: Well, I think it was a little hard to hear it from Scott Ritter, who was one of the most flamboyant and one of the most pushing inspectors earlier on and one of the weapons inspectors. I think he misunderstands the role of those who are responsible for the inspections. We are supposed to be exactly assessing what we see and tell the Security Council about it. We were not in a position to say possibly there are no weapons of mass destruction. We were able to say that we had carried out so-and-so many inspections, that we haven’t found anything. But that doesn’t mean that we had examined every basement in Iraq. But what we said was precise in description, and the majority of people in media also understood us to mean that the chances that there are something are very slim. So I think Scott Ritter is fairly lonely in the judgment that the inspectors were too timid. If we had gone ahead and said there is nothing, we would not have had a credibility.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything you regret at this point, Hans Blix, for how you dealt with the lead-up to the invasion, seeing on how determined the US was to invade Iraq?
HANS BLIX: Well, when the invasion took place, there was nothing we could do any further. I think that perhaps both the Security Council and everybody could have been leaning harder on Iraq at an earlier stage, because at the — in February 2003, the Iraqis got frantic, but that was a bit late. The report that we received in late in 2002 was an enormous one of many thousands of pages, and it did not really help us very much. I think if they had been as energetic as they were in 2003, if they had been that earlier, maybe we would have been able to be stronger also in our statements.
AMY GOODMAN: And your assessment of the war in Iraq today and what it has done?
HANS BLIX: I think it’s an utter tragedy that — what has happened. The US and others expected it would be a short warfare. They expected to find weapons of mass destruction. And it has now gone on for many years, and Iraq is still not at rest. So I think it shows that the military solution was an erroneous one.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn now to the issue of Iran. Do you think the US will attack Iran?
HANS BLIX: I think, on balance, not, but it’s a bit uncertain, because the signals that come are a bit mixed, and there are still US aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, so the threat is there. But I think your Secretary of Defense is certainly not encouraging the impression that they might go to war. And that would be a very big affair. They would have to attack a great many places in Iran, and of course the capability — there couldn’t be any ground invasion. But the capability to reconstitute the program would be there anyway.
Now, the US has been asserting that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and there are some indications going in that direction, but I don’t think that it is really conclusive, what has been brought forward. Iran is — has built two nuclear power plants on the Persian Gulf, and the world is not, nor is the US, quarreling with that. They are simply saying that next to that program there is also a military program. And while in the case of North Korea the US is offering North Korea a lot of guarantees that North Korea will not be attacked if they abandon their nuclear program, there is no such offer being made in the case of Iran. On the contrary, the threat seems still to be there, that US could attack Iran. And under such circumstances, the Iranians are not giving away. I think that it would be far better if they were to say to the Iranians that the inspection and the nuclear power program would be alright.
AMY GOODMAN: According to the Washington Post, Iran has offered to discuss cooperation spanning nuclear disarmament, peaceful nuclear technology, improved UN nuclear supervision, and what it calls a fair solution for the plight of Palestinians. It was revealed last year the Bush administration rejected a similar overture in 2003. Meanwhile, this news comes as the White House is denying a new report that it plans to attack Iran before Bush leaves office. On Monday, Israel’s Army Radio reported a senior member of the Bush entourage told a high-level meeting last week in Jerusalem that Bush and Cheney believe an attack is called for. President Bush was there for the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. Hans Blix?
HANS BLIX: I think the Iranians are very purposely developing a nuclear power program, and some people say that this is not justified, they have enough oil. But so does Mexico, also develops a nuclear power program in spite of the fact that they have oil.
They’ve also undertaken some steps that are — that I think are — one has reason to be suspicious about. They are enriching uranium, and this is very — is not really called for in a country that has only two nuclear power reactors. It would be more economic for them to import nuclear fuel from abroad, and they have in fact been offered such export from Russia. So the negotiations are intense. And one option, I think, would be that there would be a very close inspection of the enrichment facility that they are building.
Another one would be that there would be guarantees of export of enriched uranium to Iran, and that would definitely be safer, because if you have an enrichment plant, you can go from five percent to four percent enrichment that is needed for to produce nuclear fuel to 85 or 90 percent that is needed for weapons purposes. So it would be safer for the world if Iran did not have enrichment. And that is also the line that the commission that I headed was recommending. The Iranians have so far insisted on having their own enrichment capability, and they have come a long way on it.
However, I think what the Iranians — one must also look at it in the geographical context. And the zone free of weapons of mass destruction for the whole Middle East, including both Iran and Israel, is a proposal that has been long on the table. The Israelis are not going to do away with their nuclear weapons, for sure, at the present time, but maybe one could have a zone of a more limited purpose, that there would be no further enrichment of uranium in the area. That would at least prevent that Israel produce more nuclear weapons than they do at the present time. And the whole zone is one in which many other countries are planning to go for nuclear power. And I think the world would gain if they all joined a zone in which no enriched uranium were produced, in which they were sure that they would get fuel from abroad.
AMY GOODMAN: Iran’s nuclear program was one of the issues that came up at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East. The conference was held on the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. This is what the head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, said about Iran’s nuclear program Monday.
MOHAMED ELBARADEI: The Iranian issue is part of this regional security in the Middle East which is totally absent. You will not have a regional security structure in the Middle East as long as you have a region where no country, including Israel, has
nuclear weapon, chemical weapon, biological weapon.
AMY GOODMAN: Also at the conference, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit asked why Iran was being singled out.
AHMED ABOUL GHEIT: Would you please tell me, did anybody — anybody — raise the issue of the Israeli nuclear capability? Why are you hiding it? Tell me. Convince me. Why are you hiding the Israeli nuclear capability? Is it only Iran? Mind you, the moment — and I hope not — Israel is declared a nuclear capable, and you have an Iranian nuclear capability, I assure you there will be others, too.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the Egyptian foreign minister. Hans Blix, your response?
HANS BLIX: Well, in the 1980s, Iran had a severe war with Israel and with Iraq, and they rightly suspected that the Iraqis were aiming at a nuclear weapon. And I think we can see the roots of the Iranian program as a possible defense against Iraqi nuclear weapons. However, with the defeat of Iraq in 2003, there would be no justification for Iran to seek nuclear weapons any longer. And I think that it is right then to try to search for a zone free of nuclear weapons. But so long as Israel feels threatened, this will not happen. And the state in between, the state before that, would be to assure, at any rate, that there would be no production of highly enriched uranium and — or plutonium. That will also involve Israel. And that is one idea that has been floating by the commission which I headed, that in the whole Middle East there would be an agreement not to produce highly enriched uranium or plutonium.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain that further.
HANS BLIX: Well, Israel is not likely to give up its nuclear weapons until you have a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, and let’s hope that that comes sooner rather than later. But they could stop producing more plutonium; they have enough to defend themselves at the present time. And you have many countries in the Middle East that are now planning to go for nuclear power. Several of them have declared that they will not go for any enrichment or for reprocessing, but it would be an advantage to have an agreement over the whole Middle East that none of them would produce any plutonium or enriched uranium. And if that were to include Israel, then Israel would at least do something to contribute to an agreement. And the Iranians could get guaranteed assurances about the supply of uranium that they need for a nuclear power plant in the future. This is one idea that was launched in the commission that I headed and that presented a report two years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the US presidential elections. Hillary Clinton, the senator from New York, presidential candidate, was asked by ABC on April 22nd what she would do as president if Iran were to launch a nuclear attack on Israel. She responded, "I want the Iranians to know, if I’m the president, we will attack Iran. In the next ten years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them." Your response, Hans Blix?
HANS BLIX: Well, I think these are a hypothetical question. If the Iranians are in the beginning of a nuclear program in which they tell the world that they are willing to have full inspection of the enrichment facilities which they are building, the world is saying that it would be safer and better if they didn’t have any enrichment at all, if it were to — if they were to be given guarantees that they could receive the enriched uranium that they need for the nuclear power reactors that they have. So I think going this far is not helpful in the discussion at the present stage. It would be better if the Iran — Iranians do not have enrichment of their own, and that’s what the aims are, both of the Bush administration and of the Europeans.
However, there’s a difference between the negotiations carried out with North Korea and Iran. In the case of North Korea, there is a guarantee that North Korea will not be attacked if they are doing away with their nuclear program. But there is no guarantee in the air to Iran against an attack from the outside, even under any circumstance. And on the contrary, rather, I think they feel rather threatened by the military buildup of the US in the Persian Gulf.
AMY GOODMAN: Hans Blix, what do you think of Mordechai Vanunu, imprisoned for almost two decades, continues, a tremendous pressure within Israel, the man who worked at the Dimona power plant and revealed to the world that Israel had nuclear weapons?
HANS BLIX: Well, I think it’s very unfair. This man was sent — he was kidnapped in Rome and brought to Israel, and he was sentenced for a long, long jail sentence, and he served that sentence. And after that, he is kept in the country and is not allowed to leave the country. I can’t see that he has any secrets any longer, and I can’t see why he shouldn’t be able to leave the country. So I think he has served the sentence under the law that he had broken, and that should be enough.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you sympathize with what he did?
HANS BLIX: Yeah, I sympathize with him, because I think that he’s being unfairly treated now. He has received the punishment that was due under the Israeli law, although he was kidnapped abroad in a manner that I do not think was compatible with international law. But he has served that sentence, and that should have been it.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about President Bush pledging enriched uranium to Saudi Arabia, but we have to break first, and we’ll come back to Hans Blix, who is currently the chair of the Swedish government’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, his latest book, Why Nuclear Disarmament Matters. Stay with us.
Our guest is Hans Blix, head of the Swedish government’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, latest book, Why Nuclear Disarmament Matters. President Bush visited the Saudi king. He pledged US support for a Saudi nuclear program as part of a deal for Saudi Arabia to pump more oil. Bush has promised to help Saudi Arabia receive enriched uranium. Your response, Hans Blix?
Well, it’s clear that the oil resources are limited and that we must look for other solutions to a big part of our energy problem. The oil — burning of oil contributes to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and nuclear is a major alternative to oil consumption, though it will take years before it really matters very much. It takes perhaps eight or ten years to build a nuclear power plant, so it will not have any immediate relief. But it will have to come. We can welcome also the solar power and wind power and many other alternative sources, but the fact is that nuclear power gives the world something like 16 percent, 17 percent of its electricity today, so it’s very, very significant. Therefore, I can see that the oil countries, which see the end of the oil period, that they also want to find an energy source that will be more lasting. And provided that one goes also into the reprocessing, the uranium resources of the world will be adequate for a very, very long period to come. So I think it is understandable that not only Saudi Arabia, but other Arab countries and oil countries, will go for nuclear power.
But, of course, it is important that in that context we seek good guarantees that there will be no diversion of fissionable material and no enrichment of uranium. My impression is that the countries in the region are ready to give guarantees that they will not go for any enrichment of uranium.
Do you think it lessens security in the world for the US to be involved with giving enriched uranium to Saudi Arabia?
There is no lack of enrichment capability around the world at the present time. The problem for Iran is that Iran plans and is developing an enrichment capability of its own, and if you enrich to four percent, you can enrich to 94 percent, and then you have the weapons-grade material. So an expansion of nuclear power should not be combined with an expansion of enrichment capability, and I do not hear that Saudi Arabia or other countries — certainly not the countries in the Gulf — are planning any enrichment capability, but they will import the fuel that they will need, and if that is the case, I do not think one needs to worry so much about proliferation.
Can you talk about what it is that you head in Sweden, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission?
Yes. This was not — this was a commission financed by the Swedish government, but it was not a Swedish commission. We were fourteen members in that commission, and all of them good experts on nuclear matters. And we came out with a report after two years of work, in which we deal not only with nuclear weapons, but also biological weapons and chemical weapons and missiles, and in which we conclude that the political attempt, the political effort to do away with nuclear weapons are the most important ones. We need détente in the world. We do not need an increase in tension. And after the end of the Cold War, it should be possible to achieve such detente.
And there are quite a number of matters that have not been taken that should be taken. The reason why we had a nuclear age was basically that the battle and the power — the struggle between the communist countries — Soviet Union, in those days, in the 1980s — and the Western world. But after the end of the Soviet Union, there was not the same reason for it. We had détente, or supposedly had détente, since the beginning of the 1990s, and nuclear disarmament should be possible. And up to the middle of the ’90s, things went rather well. But since the middle of the ’90s, we have not had the disarmament. The negotiations have been standing still. And it was one of the main purposes and aims of our commission that we should give ideas how to resume disarmament talks.
And I think today, perhaps the situation is better than it was two years ago when our report came out. Notably, the question of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has improved. That was rejected by the US Senate, you may remember, but I hear that both Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton are favoring a reconsideration of the comprehensive test ban that would eventually get all the world’s countries to accept that there will be no further nuclear weapons testing in the world.
Can you talk about the rise of military spending around the world? What are the estimates right now, topping more than $1 trillion?
The arms expenses?
Yeah, well, they are more than — they are perhaps about $1,300,000 — $1,300,000,000 a year, which is a tremendous sum, and about half of it falls on the United States. And it’s very hard to see that this is justified at a time of detente in the world. There’s really no fear of a conflagration involving the five big nuclear weapons states. The concern is more about terrorists and rogue states. And one doesn’t need these enormous amounts of weapons, but could look for disarmament, which would save an enormous amount of money and also to reduce the tensions. However, the disarmament talks have not gone very well at all, and we can only hope that they will resume in the next year or so. They had been standing still for ten years in Geneva, and this is in a situation where there’s no major tensions between the permanent five members of the Security Council.
A third of the money that we’re talking about is spent by the United States. What about the United States’s role in fueling the arms race?
Well, the US has continued to prepare for a new nuclear weapons program. It has not been accepted by the Congress yet, but there are proposals for this. And so long as these are on the table and there’s no agreement on nuclear disarmament, I think one can assume that also others are contemplating moving on with an arms program. It is absurd to have such levels of rearmament going on in the world at a time of detente, when the communist threat is no longer there. We are worried about rogue states, and we are worried about terrorist movements, but for that purpose you do not need such vast, vast programs of nuclear weapons.
You have referred to a “cold peace,” that that’s what we’re involved with now. Can you explain what you mean?
Yes. I think that after the end of the early — in the early ’90s, we were moving into a detente that was very hopeful, and there were lots of problems that were solved. You remember we had problems in Central America, we had a problem in Angola and Mozambique, and that was dissolved — these problems were dissolved. And yet, we did not manage to get to any substantial disarmament, and the tone between the US and its allies, on the one hand, and on the Russians on the other hand, has been a very cold one.
And what we would need now is that all sides would reduce their armaments. Whilst in practice we hear a lot of discussion about new types of nuclear weapons in the United States, and we also hear that the Russians are beginning to say that if we do not have more of a movement in a peaceful direction, they, too, may strengthen their military capability. So the world has been going in the wrong direction for a number of years, and we would need to change that course.
You’ve talked about strengthening legal barriers against the use of armed force, but saying that the US has renounced legal restrictions that it itself actually helped formulate after World War II in 1945. Can you explain?
Yes. The UN Charter that was drafted in San Francisco, and with strong US influence, states that you can only use force in self-defense against an armed attack, and armed force can also be used when authorized by the Security Council. But in the up-run to the war in Iraq, these restrictions were renounced by the US, and it was declared that this was far too limited, rules, and that the US felt free to — even to intervene against what they saw as a danger. If a country were developing nuclear weapons, then, it said, it’s too late to intervene. So the US took the view that they could, as a preventive matter, attack a country that was developing a nuclear program. The UK did not really sign onto that theory, or that position, but said that, no, they would like to stick to a right to intervene against countries that were launching an armed attack or were in an imminent position to do so. So here is something where we will need, I think, to come back to the UN and Charter, because, otherwise, it would enable countries to go to action against anything that they saw as a threat.
Right now in Dublin, a conference is taking place around cluster bombs, a treaty for anti-cluster munitions around the world. The US is not there.
No. The cluster bombs were used extensively, and they were used also in Lebanon. And they have a very severe effect on civilian populations, because they do spread. If they are used on the battlefield, it is one thing, but if they are used in areas which are — where there are also civilians, it really — they act as an indiscriminate weapon. And that is the background why it’s urged that there should be a restriction or a ban on their use.
What is the significance of a country like the United States, the largest manufacturer of cluster bombs, not participating in this treaty?
Well, of course, that is a serious weakening of the negotiating situation. However, I think that those who are pushing for negotiations and want to have a ban, that they hope that, nevertheless, in the longer run the United States or others who do not participate, that they will join such a treaty if it were concluded. We have seen examples of that before, where states have refused to join a ban that was concluded, but joined it much, much later. So I think that’s the calculation of those who urge a ban.
You, Hans Blix, are turning eighty years old in June. You served as the Swedish foreign affairs minister, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the chief UN inspector in Iraq, and now the chief of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission in Sweden. Do you have any plans to retire?
Well, I have a — usually say that I have retired three times, and I’m not going to do it again. No, I think that so long as I feel I have something to say and I know something, then I will continue to do so. And I have lots of invitations from all around the world to come and to speak. And I think that we need a tremendous effort to get to disarmament. We have discovered that global warming is something very serious, and I think that the world — and thanks to many, many people, the world is beginning to wake up to that. But global warming is certainly a huge danger, and I agree with all those who wish the world to take action and, in particular, reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. We must not forget that we still have an enormous amount of money spent on weapons and that it is risky and that we see threats about — on the use of these weapons. We have not come to a disarmament. The Cold War is over, but we have not got into a stage of disarmament. It’s high time that we do that.
The role of the media in all of this? The role of the media, for example, in the lead-up to the invasion in the United States, in particular, the constant repetition of the allegations of weapons of mass destruction?
Well, there has been a focus by the US and other nuclear weapons states upon those who do not have nuclear weapons and say this is the great danger in the world, that they may acquire them. However, I think that one must also look at those who have the nuclear weapons and get a reduction on them. At the peak of the Cold War, there were something like 55,000 nuclear weapons in the world. And today perhaps there are 27,000. And that is far too much. There is no reason why we should have so many nuclear weapons.
And you have in the United States itself, you have a very powerful and important group that is urging nuclear disarmament, led by a former secretary of state and by Bill Perry and by Kissinger and others. And then I think that’s a discussion that is extremely important and has a lot of echoes around the world. The Cold War is over, and the Russians are not seeking to expand their power or their empire any longer. And we ought to draw the conclusions from that and come to a disarmament.
The US is the number one superpower on earth. You have called the Western powers hypocritical in their approach to Iran and the nuclear issue. What is the single most important thing you think the US can do right now?
I think that the most — the issue on the top of the agenda should be the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. That was negotiated for a good number of years, and it was agreed in the middle of the ’90s, and then it was rejected by the US Senate. And I see now that both Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton are favoring that this be concluded. I think if the US moved ahead under a new president — I don’t think that McCain has really ruled it out, either — if the US moved ahead and said that we will ratify it, then I think it’s very likely that the Chinese, who have not ratified, will follow. If India — if China does it, maybe India does. If India does, Pakistan does, etc. And the treaty would enter into force. It would be a great thing if we outlawed any nuclear weapons tests in the future.
But there are also a number of other measures that would be high on the agenda: an agreement to stop the production of fissible material for weapons, for one thing, and quite a number — a whole catalog of items, really, that we could embark upon. But the sad fact is that the conference on disarmament that was set up by the United Nations years ago, that this has not been acting for over ten years now. And we need to [inaudible].
We’re going to leave it there, Hans Blix. I want to thank you for being with us, former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq.