Monday, April 25, 2005

Redux: Iraq's WMDs as of 2002

Lately, I’ve been waging battle in several liberal discussion forums about the legitimacy of the U.S. incursion into Iraq based upon the language of the failed UN resolutions. Many liberals like to contend that our war in Iraq is unfounded (no WMDs!), unprovoked (Iraqis were not linked to al-Qaeda!), and therefore unethical. Most cry out for our immediate withdrawal of troops since they “shouldn’t be there in the first place”.

I disagree with the narrow-minded argument that the U.S. waged war on Iraq because of a supposed link to 9/11, or the war-mongering of the Bush administration. I don’t believe that the UN Security Council’s inspection teams, as led by Hans Blix, were in any way effective in their mission. I also don’t believe that after 12 years of obstructions, obfuscations, and refusing to comply with 18 previous UN resolutions, Iraq was going to all of a sudden open its doors and relinquish its stockpiles – especially not to a toothless bureaucrat like Blix!

At the introduction and UNANIMOUS of the 19th UN resolution in November, 2002, Iraq was given its final chance. The UN Security Council approval of Resolution 1441 essentially meant that failure to comply meant authorization for military action. Just because some countries refused to enforce their own UNANIMOUS resolutions did not mean that those who chose to enforce it were wrong. Really, it was the other way around. The U.S., fresh from 9/11, was not prepared to patiently grant unlimited extensions to a recalcitrant Iraq. Iraq had had 12 years to comply, and had not. Given a “final” final chance, Saddam made the decision to bait the bear. He got what was promised: WAR.

So why go back and rehash the reasons we went to war? Because there is so much disinformation out there, and it does not help my case to argue with people who are completely ignorant as to the FACTS. Plus, I get tired of hearing the same, cliched argument from liberals about the WMDs - especially that the Bush administration LIED!

Maybe that's why I bother or maybe I just have to get in the last word. In any case, having a reasonably accurate perspective never hurt anyone - and so I offer it to you today. It's not glamorous or exciting, but it's fundamental and therefore worth knowing.

While researching another issue, I came across this Strategic Dossier from 2002, as released by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) - the world’s leading authority on political-military conflict. I thought it was incredibly interesting and informative about Iraq’s WMDs as of 2002. Since the IISS is international and independent, and is not governed by any nation or political entity (such as the UN), it is in a uniquely qualified position to analyze the reality without tainting the facts with political rhetoric. I thought it would be interesting to post those relevant facts and figures here.

First, I excerpted a summary of who and what IISS is. Then, I summarily excerpted from Dr. Chipman’s address the most relevant WMD facts, but left the conclusion complete (all bold and italics are original to the document, and not mine). [Click for the full Strategic Dossier]

About IISS:

The IISS, based in London, is both a limited company in UK law and a registered charity. It has offices in the US and in Singapore with charitable status in each jurisdiction.

The IISS was founded in 1958 in the UK by a number of individuals interested in how to maintain civilized international relations in the nuclear age. Much of the Institute’s early work focused on nuclear deterrence and arms control and was hugely influential in setting the intellectual structures for managing the Cold War.

The IISS is the primary source of accurate, objective information on international strategic issues for politicians and diplomats, foreign affairs analysts, international business, economists, the military, defense commentators, journalists, academics and the informed public. The Institute owes no allegiance to any government, or to any political or other organization.

The Institute’s high-profile publications are both timely and authoritative. They are universally regarded as providing the best independent, internationally sourced information and commentary on the main strategic events touching on national, regional and global security.

The Institute's conference activities are considered to be at the forefront of public policy development, especially given that its convening power is such that it can often bring government officials and others together in formats and circumstances that they could not easily manage for themselves.

The Institute’s staff and governing boards are international and its network of some 3,000 Individual Members and 500 Corporate and Institutional Members is drawn from more than 100 countries. The IISS, through its various activities, seeks to provide excellent information and analysis that can improve wider public understanding of international security problems and through its network, influence the development of sounder public policy.

Strategic Dossier - Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Net Assessment

Dr John Chipman CMG, IISS Director
Arundel House, London - Monday 9 September 2002

IISS has for over 40 years annually published The Military Balance. This is the only reliable, publicly available inventory of the world’s armed forces, rebel groups and organized non-state armed groups.

UN Resolutions and the History of Inspections

The objective was to assess, as accurately and dispassionately as possible, Iraq’s current WMD capacities.

Although UN inspections of Iraq produced a tremendous amount of technical information on the development, objectives and relative capabilities of Iraq’s WMD and missile programs, Iraq made every effort to obscure its past, obstruct dismantlement of its present assets, and retain capabilities for the future. Since Iraq forced inspections to end in December 1998, it became more difficult to learn about its activities and assess its capabilities.

UN Security Council Resolution 687 passed on 3 April 1991, established the formal ceasefire between Coalition forces and Iraq. Key amongst the ceasefire terms was the prohibition against Iraq’s retaining, acquiring or developing WMD and long range missiles. In addition there was a demand that Iraq unconditionally accept the destruction, removal or rendering harmless of its WMD under international supervision. Iraq was required to submit within 15 days a declaration of all WMD sites and items.

In the period that followed passage of the resolution Iraq did everything in its power to avoid these and other obligations placed upon it.

From the start of the inspections by UNSCOM in 1991 through to the demise of UNSCOM in 1998 Iraq practiced a series of measures designed to prevent the UN inspectors from finding the full range and extent of its proscribed WMD and missile programs. Indeed, this activity was so intense, that UNSCOM had to set up a special unit to counter Iraq’s efforts. While there were notable successes in defeating Iraqi concealment efforts, many others failed.

The UNSCOM experience demonstrates that no on-site inspections of Iraq’s WMD programmes can succeed unless inspectors develop an imaginative and carefully co-ordinated counter-concealment strategy.

Certainly, the strength of Baghdad’s commitment to possess WMD is measurable in part by its efforts to resist unfettered UN inspections.

Nuclear Weapons

On the eve of the Gulf War, Iraq was on the verge of producing significant amounts of HEU that would have allowed it within two to three years to produce its first nuclear weapon. Had the Gulf War not intervened, Iraq could have accumulated a nuclear stockpile of a dozen or so weapons by the end of the decade.

[After the Gulf War], Iraq’s nuclear potential was not completely eliminated. Most importantly, the scientific and technical expertise of Iraq’s nuclear program survived, and Baghdad has tried to keep its core nuclear teams in place working on various civilian projects.

Our net assessment of the current situation is that:

• Iraq does not possess facilities to produce fissile material in sufficient amounts for nuclear weapons.

• It would require several years and extensive foreign assistance to build such fissile material production facilities.

• It could, however, assemble nuclear weapons within months if fissile material from foreign sources were obtained.

• It could divert domestic civil-use radioisotopes or seek to obtain foreign material for a crude radiological device.

Biological Weapons

In the mid 1980s, Iraq’s BW programme had picked up speed and by 1989, Iraq began to produce BW agent in volume. After its invasion of Kuwait, Baghdad stepped up large scale BW agent production and assembled rudimentary BW munitions. These weapons were distributed to military units, who were delegated to use them if coalition forces advanced on Baghdad or used nuclear weapons. Most of Iraq’s key BW facilities, which had been successfully hidden from Western intelligence agencies, escaped attack during the Gulf War. After UN inspections began, Baghdad continued to conceal its BW programme until 1995. By the time UNSCOM’s work ended in 1998, it was only able to account for a portion of Iraq’s BW munitions, bulk agents, and growth media.

Again, Iraq retains the expertise and industrial capability to produce agents quickly and in volume if desired. Moreover, Iraq has had a decade of experience countering intelligence and developing effective concealment methods. Western intelligence agencies take seriously defector information to the effect that underground facilities have been built and a fleet of mobile biological production laboratories deployed, though these are hard to confirm.

Iraq can certainly produce new stocks of bulk BW agent, including botulinum toxin and anthrax with its existing facilities, equipment and materials. BW agent could be delivered by short range munitions including artillery shells and rockets.

Our net assessment of the current situation is that:

• Iraq has probably retained substantial growth media and BW agent (perhaps thousands of litres of anthrax) from pre 1991 stocks.

• The regime is capable of resuming BW Agent production on short notice (in weeks) from existing civilian facilities. It could have produced thousands of litres of anthrax, botulinum toxin and other agents since 1998. Actual stocks cannot be known.

• Iraqi production of viral agents is unknown as is the question of whether the regime possesses small pox.

Chemical Weapons

Compared to its efforts to acquire nuclear and biological weapons, Iraq’s chemical weapons (CW) programme was the first to reach full maturity.

Iraq used chemical weapons extensively against Iranian troops from 1982 onwards. Indeed Iraq emerged from the war with Iran with the largest and most advanced chemical weapons capability in the Middle East at that time.

The Gulf War however devastated Iraq’s primary CW production facilities and a large portion of its stockpile of CW munitions. Through to 1998, UNSCOM was able to dispose of large quantities of CW munitions, bulk agent, precursors and production equipment that were not destroyed in combat.

Here too, Iraq was almost certainly able to conceal and salvage key aspects of its CW programme, including CW munitions, agent and precursors. Iraq has retained the experienced personnel, know how and chemical industrial capability to reconstitute elements of its CW programme on an emergency basis.

Our net assessment of the current situation is that:

• Iraq has probably retained a few hundred tonnes of mustard and precursors for a few hundred tonnes of sarin/cyclosarin and perhaps similar amounts of VX from pre-1991 stocks.

• It is capable of resuming CW production on short notice (months) from existing civilian facilities. It could have produced hundreds of tonnes of agent (mustard and nerve agents) since 1998. In these circumstances, it is not possible accurately to estimate present stocks.

Ballistic Missiles

A great deal of attention needs also to be placed on Iraq’s ballistic missile capabilities. Iraq is proscribed by UN Resolutions from possessing ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150km.

During the inspections period Iraq continued to conduct small scale covert research and development on proscribed missiles. In addition, Iraq continued missile related procurement efforts. Despite international sanctions, Iraq covertly negotiated transactions with more than 500 companies.

UNSCOM attempted to account for all imported missiles and for indigenously produced missiles, but that accounting was incomplete and it must be presumed that Iraq has been able to retain some of its proscribed missiles. Also, it is likely that Iraqi engineers will have been able to increase the propellant tanks capacities in the al Samoud to reach ranges of some 200km with a few hundred kilogrammes payload suitable for CBW delivery.

Our net assessment of the current situation is that:

• Iraq has probably retained a small force of about a dozen 650km range al-Hussein missiles. These could strike Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Kuwait. Could be armed with CBW warheads.

• Iraq does not possess facilities to produce long range missiles and it would require several years and extensive foreign assistance to construct such facilities.

• Iraq may, in addition, have a small number of al Samoud missiles with ranges of up to 200km able to strike Kuwait but only if deployed within the southern no fly zone

• It is capable of manufacturing rudimentary CBW warheads; its development of more advanced designs is unknown

• Iraq can convert civilian vehicles to provide mobile launchers for its ballistic missiles


In conclusion, war, sanctions and inspections have reversed and retarded, but not eliminated Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and long range missile capacities, nor have they removed Baghdad’s enduring interest in developing these capacities. The retention of WMD capacities by Iraq is self-evidently the core objective of the regime, for it has sacrificed all other domestic and foreign policy goals to this singular aim. It has retained this single objective, and pursued it in breach of the ceasefire and UN Security Council Resolutions that brought a conditional end to the 1991 Gulf War. Over more than eleven years the Iraqi regime has sought to evade its obligations and undermine support for the sanctions and inspections regime meant to eliminate its WMD capacities and contain its ambitions. Iraq has fought a relatively successful diplomatic war of attrition. It is worth recalling that the international debate 18 months ago was centred on how sanctions against Iraq might be relaxed, and inspections concluded with some dispatch in light of the dwindling willingness to support the containment policy developed in 1991.

Today, after four years without inspections, there can be no certainty about the extent of Iraq’s current capacities. A reasonable net assessment is that Iraq has no nuclear weapons but could build one quickly if it acquired sufficient fissile material. It has extensive biological weapons capabilities and a smaller chemical weapons stockpile. It has a small force of ballistic missiles with a range of 650km, that are capable of delivering CBW warheads, and has prepared other delivery methods for CBW, including manned aircraft and UAVs. Sooner or later, it seems likely that the current Iraqi regime will eventually achieve its objectives.

In compiling this Strategic Dossier, the IISS has sought to put the best available facts on this difficult issue before the wider public. This Strategic Dossier does not attempt to make a case, either way, as to whether Saddam Hussein’s WMD arsenal is a casus belli per se. Wait and the threat will grow; strike and the threat may be used. Clearly, governments have a pressing duty to develop early a strategy to deal comprehensively with this unique international problem.