Expected Council Action
Following the quarterly report of the United Nations Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) due 1 June, the commission’s acting Executive Chairman, Demetrius Perricos, will brief the Council. The Council will also likely discuss UNMOVIC at its retreat with the Secretary-General in early June. The debate about the possibility of winding up UNMOVIC will continue but no action is expected at this point.
UNMOVIC was established on 17 December 1999 to replace the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), which had operated since 1991. UNMOVIC’s mandate is to verify Iraq’s compliance with its obligation to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction (chemical and biological weapons) and missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometres, to operate a system of ongoing monitoring and verification to ascertain that Iraq does not reacquire these weapons, and to assist the Director General of the IAEA to undertake similar activities with respect to nuclear weapons. UNMOVIC has an open-ended duration and is financed through Iraq’s escrow account.
UNMOVIC inspectors entered Iraq in November 2002 and were withdrawn in March 2003, shortly before the US-led coalition invaded the country. The inspectors have not been on the ground since, but they have continued low-key work at UN Headquarters in New York. UNMOVIC is currently preparing a comprehensive compendium of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programmes (WMDs) since the 1970s. The summary of the compendium is expected to be submitted to the Council shortly. Other current activities include an internal review of UNMOVIC’s substantive records and archive to identify issues that will need to be addressed should those records eventually be transferred to the UN archives.
After the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the US, UK and Australia established the Iraqi Survey Group (ISG) as a fact-finding mission to continue the search for stockpiles of WMDs and WMD programmes. The ISG, which had consisted of a 1,400 member international team, on 30 September 2004 issued a 1,000 page final report (commonly referred to as the Duelfer report) on the investigations into Iraqi WMDs.
The Council, through resolutions 1483 and 1546, has expressed its intention to revisit the mandate of UNMOVIC. Following his last briefing on the issue before the Council on 7 March, UNMOVIC acting Executive Chairman Perricos told the press there was a growing consensus among Council members “to wrap things up.” Similarly, the Secretary-General suggested in his mandate review report that the Council might wish to review UNMOVIC’s mandate. Nevertheless, a review has proved difficult and involves a number of issues that have been problematic for the Council to solve.
Most of the debate centers on UNMOVIC’s future role. Some Council members have argued for a rapid conclusion of its mandate while others have claimed that important work still remains to be done ranging from presenting a final report taking into account the findings of the Duelfer report, to initiating a fresh round of UNMOVIC inspections on the ground in Iraq to monitor and secure previously identified WMD related sites and dual-use capabilities (although this last option seems increasingly unlikely).
UNMOVIC was created to monitor and enforce Iraq’s disarmament obligations determined by resolutions which are still in force. Ending UNMOVIC’s mandate would entail agreeing on whether Iraq has met these disarmament obligations. One issue, therefore, is whether to retain some international mechanism to monitor the Iraqi weapons programme and Iraqi sites known to have been involved in WMD production.
A further issue is unsecured Iraqi weapons materials. Satellite imagery analysed by the IAEA and UNMOVIC disclose that many WMD sites in Iraq subject to their monitoring have been looted or razed. UNMOVIC has investigated the fate of looted equipment out of concern that it could be used in clandestine WMD production, and has found material from Iraqi sites in Jordan and the Netherlands. A question before the Council is whether UNMOVIC should continue to monitor Iraqi dual-use capabilities or related items and material with a view to prevent their transfer to other countries or terrorist groups.
Finally, a major institutional issue arises from the fact that, through years of investigations, UNMOVIC has gained considerable and unique expertise in conducting weapons inspections and disarmament verification. An issue, as pointed out by the Secretary-General in his mandate review report, is “whether and how the United Nations could utilise certain areas of the Commission’s expertise,” separate from UNMOVIC’s future relationship to Iraq. Alternatives range from retaining its roster of trained technical experts to creating a standing UN monitoring, verification and inspection body to address WMD issues. Such a body could, according to former Chairmen of UNMOVIC Hans Blix, provide the Council with “a capability for ad hoc inspections and monitoring, whenever this might be needed in the efforts to prevent proliferation”. According to Blix, this would address the current lack of specialized intergovernmental organizations that could provide inspection in the fields of missiles and biological weapons in the way that the IAEA and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons do in the nuclear and chemical fields (Blix is currently heading the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, which will deliver its report to the Secretary General on 1 June. The report is expected to comment upon a the future role of UNMOVIC). Related to this is whether and how UNMOVIC’s records should be transferred to the UN archives since much of UNMOVIC’s material is proliferation sensitive. Some members are concerned that transferring UNMOVIC’s records to the UN archives could increase the risk of leaking sensitive information.
Iraq has expressed support for a rapid conclusion of UNMOVIC’s mandate, pointing out that the approximately $1 million taken from Iraq’s escrow account to cover UNMOVIC’s budget each month are resources much needed for the reconstruction of the country. Iraq further emphasises its clear commitment to comply with international weapons treaties, as evidenced by article 9, paragraph 1(e) of Iraq’s constitution, which provides that “the Iraqi Government shall respect and implement Iraq’s international obligations regarding the non-proliferation, non-development, non-production, and non-use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and associated equipment, materiel, technologies and delivery systems for use in the development, manufacture, production and use of such weapons.” Rather than retaining an international monitoring mechanism, Iraq wants to develop national monitoring capabilities.
Most members have expressed a desire to bring UNMOVIC’s mandate to an end as soon as possible. Some members seem reluctant to foreclose on the option of international surveillance of Iraq’s military installations and weapon programmes. However, this debate will be significantly affected by the recent political developments in Iraq. Most Council members now prefer to revise the UNMOVIC mandate in consultation with a new Iraqi government. This would, among other things, allow the Council to evaluate the future Iraqi government’s adherence to existing international arms and non-proliferation treaties before deciding upon the future for UNMOVIC.
Russia has previously expressed concern over the validity of the Duelfer report. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko said in an interview that the Council cannot make a decision on its future involvement in disarmament of Iraq based on a report he said was prepared by a country strongly involved in Iraqi affairs at the time. UNMOVIC has not had access to the background material for the Duelfer report it says is needed to determine whether its findings match UNMOVIC’s existing knowledge or represent new findings. Pointing out that the Duelfer report and UNMOVIC’s findings diverge significantly, Russia has called for UNMOVIC and the IAEA to analyse the US background materials for the Duelfer report and submit its independent conclusions to the Council.
On the other hand, the US does not believe there is a need for UNMOVIC to produce a final report and rejects any calls for access to US intelligence data concerning WMDs in Iraq. The Council, in resolution 1483, encouraged the UK and US to keep the Council informed of disarmament activities in Iraq, normally done as part of the quarterly briefing by the US to the Council on the multinational force in Iraq. However, these countries consider they are under no obligation to do so.
The EU and the Secretary-General have expressed interest in retaining the verification and inspection experience of UNMOVIC, for example by setting up a roster of experts. The EU has previously discussed the possibility of an international inspection and verification capability to be established within the UN, but the proposal has met resistance among some of the other permanent members and is no longer discussed in the Council.
The most likely scenario is that the Council resumes its discussion concerning the mandate of UNMOVIC without taking action at this point.
Further options include:
starting discussion on whether and how to retain areas of UNMOVIC’s expertise;
requesting a final report, incorporating and analysing the findings of the Duelfer report;
deciding to terminate UNMOVIC’s mandate; and/or
examining whether and how UNMOVIC’s records and archives should be transferred to the UN archive.
Members are likely to be reluctant to get into a discussion that might reignite tensions from the debate over the Iraq war and the alleged existence of Iraqi WMDs. Continuation of the status quo may therefore be the path of least resistance. Up till now the Council has not considered the question important enough for the sustained attention that would be needed to resolve UNMOVIC’s future. However, with the formation of the new Iraqi government further deferral may not be so easy.
An additional underlying issue is the possibility that UNMOVIC’s records may contain details previously undisclosed about the role various Council members had in supplying Iraq with WMD-related materials. Although it is already widely known that several UN members helped Iraq to develop WMD capabilities, some members might be reluctant to transfer UNMOVIC’s records to UN archives.
|Selected Security Council Resolutions|
|Selected Quarterly Reports|
|Other UN Documents|
|1 July 2003||The Secretary-General appointed Dr. Demetrius Perricos as acting Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC.|
|30 June 2003||Dr. Hans Blix concluded his appointment as Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC.|
|20 March 2003||The US-led coalition invaded Iraq.|
|18 March 2003||UNMOVIC inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq.|
|5 February 2003||US Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the Council claiming that Iraq possessed WMDs.|
|27 January 2003||Blix provided the Council with an update, as required by resolution 1441, sixty days after the resumption of inspections in Iraq.|
|7 December 2002||Iraq provided UNMOVIC and the IAEA in Baghdad with a declaration of its weapons programmes, required by Council resolution 1441.|
|27 November 2002||Inspections resumed in Iraq.|
|8 November 2002||The Council adopted resolution 1441, which gave Iraq a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations and established an enhanced inspections regime.|
|16 September 2002||Iraq allowed the return of weapons inspectors without conditions.|
|23 – 24 May 2000||UNMOVIC’s College of Commissioners held its first session.|
|27 January 2000||After rejecting the Secretary-General’s nomination of Rolf Ekeus to be the Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC, the Council approved Blix’s appointment.|
|17 December 1999||The Council adopted resolution 1284 with four abstentions (China, France, Malaysia and Russia) establishing UNMOVIC to replace UNSCOM and verify Iraq’s compliance with its obligation to eliminate its WMDs.|
For related information please refer to our February and March 2006 Monthly Forecast.
Useful Additional Sources
Trevor Findlay A Standing United Nations Verification Body: Necessary and Feasible (commissioned by the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission)