April 19, 1999
Volume 51, No. 28
UNSCOM chief Butler explains 'serious' Iraqi situation
Saddam Hussein's flouting of international will and the schism that post-Gulf War Iraqi disarmament has created in the United Nations Security Council have resulted in a "serious problem in global security management," said Richard Butler, executive chair of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) on that disarmament, to a select group gathered for a special luncheon in his honor April 14 in Cox Hall.
Butler, who prior to his UNSCOM appointment served as Australian ambassador and representative to the U.N., informed the crowd of roughly 40 students and professors in political science, business, law and history that the luncheon, sponsored by the Halle Institute for Global Learning, was a welcome respite in his schedule before having to fly to New York later in the afternoon. On April 15, he said, he would once again go to the Security Council and see if Russia and China would "throw him out." The two permanent Security Council member nations called for Butler's resignation in February after a report he released in December detailing Baghdad's failure to comply with U.N. demands was followed by airstrikes against Iraq.
"Many of you are wondering why such a damn fool thing as Russia throwing me out of the Security Council could happen," Butler said. "Especially since UNSCOM is an arm of the Security Council."
The reason, Butler said, lies in a chain of events begun last June when he took to Iraq a "short list" of chemical, biological and nuclear arms materials not yet accounted for in weapons inspections. It was a set of conditions that would result in the lifting of sanctions against Iraq, and the list itself was an indication that conditions at the U.N. had changed since the Gulf War.
"This was an exit route from sanctions for Saddam Hussein," Butler said. "When I started with UNSCOM, a very senior representative from a Western permanent member of the Security Council made it very clear that I was not to give any finite list of expectations to Iraq."
But the world had grown weary of images of the Iraqi people suffering under U.N. sanctions, even though Hussein has demonstrated he is much more concerned with retaining his military strength than with the welfare of his own citizens, Butler said.
"Diplomats would say, 'I know these terrible things are happening in Iraq, but can't we take this item off the agenda? Can't this all just go away?'" he said. "It's a distinction between the problem as it is and the insolubility of the problem."
People need to keep in mind, Butler continued, that following the Gulf War the U.N. set a one-year timetable for Iraqi disarmament. As unbelievable as it may seem eight years after the war, Baghdad was initially given a 15-day deadline for providing an inventory of all its weaponry. "All that has happened since, has happened because Iraq made it so--they never made those declarations in 15, 50 or 150 days," Butler said.
Instead, Hussein's strategy has been one of concealment and deception. Butler said that when evidence came out that Iraq did indeed have a arsenal of biological weapons, "I said to [Foreign Minister] Tariq Aziz, 'You lied to us. You said on international television that you had no such weapons.' He said, 'That was a mistake,' and he meant not what he said, but that he got caught."
When Butler presented Aziz with the short list in June, the Iraqi minister told him to come back in August. When Butler returned, Iraq provided "not one new piece of information on biological weapons. Aziz said, 'We're disarmed, we're pure as the driven snow. Your one job is to go back to New York and tell them this.' I said I would not, and Aziz told me to leave."
Butler speculated the reason for Iraq's continued defiance was twofold: first, that the short list he presented them was "right on the mark, that complying with that list would have taken away more of Saddam Hussein's adult toys"; and second, that compliance would have revealed the true extent of Iraq's deception and conception over the previous seven years.
As far as how the Iraqi crisis will resolve itself, Butler had no answers. UNSCOM knows Hussein is hiding evidence of biological weapons, and about 50 long-range warheads are missing from UNSCOM's inventory of Iraqi weapons. He acknowledged that continued bombing is neither politically sustainable nor guaranteed to produce results, since Hussein prefers his weapons over his people.
This last point, Butler said, is what turns his stomach most. "How the sanctions are affecting the Iraqi people is one of the most wicked things I've ever seen," he said. "We've found U.N. medicines stored in warehouses and bound for the Iraqi army that were supposed to go to the people."
But Hussein is getting away with it all because of divisions in the Security Council, which are being exacerbated by the current situation in the former Yugoslavia. There is little chance of Hussein stepping down or being removed from power because of his "homicidal" tactics. "The threat of and/or delivery of death is the political currency of his regime," Butler said. More likely is Hussein's assassination-- "sending him to that great presidential palace in the sky," Butler grimly joked--but even that possibility is remote.