Jul 6, 2007

UNMOVIC Now Historical Footnote

Scott Ritter on the elimination of the United Nations Monitoring and Verification Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC):

While it is difficult to predict the future, what can be said with absolute certainty is that the passing of UNMOVIC represents far more than a political stain on those who claim to embrace global nonproliferation but in reality smother it. The political aspects of the aggregate of failure which combined to sink UNMOVIC have been underscored above. The true tragedy of UNMOVIC’s demise rests not with bad policy, but rather with the loss of irreplaceable technical expertise. I do not refer to the library of inspection data derived from the 16-year disarmament saga in Iraq; this data is tainted by the political corruption of the inspection process. What I lament is the passing of potential, both realized and future, represented by the proactive work of some of the world’s greatest nonproliferation minds.

For the past seven years, UNMOVIC, led by the intrepid Russian weapons inspector Nikita Smidovich, has built an unprecedented program of training of international weapons inspectors. The qualification standards certified through this comprehensive training process has led to the creation of a cadre of international experts in the field of nonproliferation. Smidovich created a network of training opportunities in facilities in Canada, Argentina, Switzerland, Germany, Russia and Britain, to name a few. The hundreds of inspectors who have completed this training stood ready to go anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice to investigate whether a given manufacturing process was legitimately utilized or instead covertly diverted for illegitimate use. This inspection capability far exceeded anything the world would ever need in Iraq, and had great potential for pre-emptive application in any number of proliferation trouble spots, from Iran to North Korea and beyond. For an annual cost of a few million dollars, the inspection potential created by Smidovich and others, operating under the umbrella of UNMOVIC, had the potential to prevent conflicts costing untold billions.

This capability is now forever lost with the demise of UNMOVIC, proof positive that the real problems confronting the world’s collective peace and security continue to be undermined by an American administration willing to exact any price in order to win cheap political points. Americans rightly measure the cost of the Iraq war in terms of dead and wounded American service members. Some even spare a thought for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties. But scant few will reflect on the potential harm done to future generations of Americans, and others around the world, as we bid a silent farewell to meaningful arms control.

Ritter exaggerates a bit, the IAEA remains a potentially useful cudgel against uninvited aspirants seeking to join the international nuclear clique. And -- as was the case with UNMOVIC -- if offending nations refuse to allow access, there are limits as to what an inspection regime can accomplish.

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