Hans Blix - Disarming Iraq: The Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction

Blix, a senior Swedish diplomat with great experience in disarmament work, came out of retirement in January 2000 to head a new organization to scour Iraq for illegal weapons, the UN monitoring, verification and inspection commission for Iraq (Unmovic).

Blix completed this book in early 2004 when it was clear that Iraq had no "stockpiles" of weapons of mass destruction ("WMD"). That fact reinforced his predilection to avoid force and influenced his main thesis that the war to disarm Iraq of such supposed weapons could have been avoided if only the inspection process had been allowed to continue for a few more months.

The war against Iraq divided opinion throughout the world and generated a maelstrom of spin and counterspin. The man at the eye of the storm, and arguably the only key player to emerge from it with his integrity intact, was Hans Blix, head of the UN weapons inspection team.

This is Dr. Blix’s account of what really happened during the months leading up to the declaration of war in March 2003. In riveting descriptions of his meetings with Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Kofi Annan, he conveys the frustrations, the tensions, the pressure and the drama as the clock ticked toward the fateful hour.

                             Disarming Iraq by Hans Blix

He writes: "Without a military build up by the U.S. in the summer of 2002, Iraq would probably not have accepted a resumption of inspections. However, if we assume this build up and the return of the inspectors, it is conceivable that a moderate continued build up, continued inspections with no denial of access, and a guarantee of large-scale interviews with technical people in Iraq could have shown that there were no weapons of mass destruction. It would surely have been difficult to persuade both inspectors and the world, let alone the U.S., but if there had not been hopeful results by, say July 2003, it seems likely that a majority of the Security Council might have been ready to authorize armed action, which could have started with UN legitimacy after the summer heat and revealed that there were no weapons."

In the process, he asks the vital questions about the war: Was it inevitable? How did the United States and Britain come to invade Iraq in search of stockpiles of lethal germs and gases that have so far proved to be mere phantoms? Why couldn’t the U.S. and UK get the backing of the other member states of the UN Security Council? Did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction? And why did the institutions of world diplomacy, notably the United Nations, fail to prevent a war that, on its own terms, was quite futile? What does the situation in Iraq teach us about the propriety and efficacy of policies of preemptive attack and unilateral action? 

These are the questions asked by Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, in the first of what is sure to be a flood of mémoires justificatifs by the main protagonists. Free of the agendas of politicians and ideologues, Blix is the plainspoken, measured voice of reason in the cacaphony of debate about Iraq. His assessment of what happened is invaluable in trying to understand both what brought us to the present state of affairs and what we can learn as we try to move toward peace and security in the world after Iraq.

For all that, Disarming Iraq is a fascinating tale of folly, pride, arrogance, intrigue and deceit. Nobody comes out of the story unscathed and Blix honourably admits that he himself suspected Iraq was guilty as charged.

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