Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 46-59)




  46. Dr Chipman, we welcome you and your colleagues to this afternoon's study, which is a continuing study by the Foreign Affairs Committee on the war against terrorism. You will be followed by two experts on international law, and then two former ambassadors relating to the regional problems. Perhaps you could introduce your two colleagues before we proceed.
  (Dr Chipman) On my right is Dr Gary Samore, who is Senior Fellow for Non-Proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He is an American national and was formerly, for some six years, a senior director for non-proliferation in the US National Security Council, and President Clinton's principal advisor on issues of proliferation. It is worth noting that in addition to his many general responsibilities in that position, he was one of the chief negotiators of the agreed framework between the United States and North Korea. To my left is Mr Steven Simon, Assistant Director at the IISS. He was also in the US National Security Council, as Senior Director for Global Issues, and took charge of much of the inter-agency discussions at that time on counter-terrorism questions.

  47. The IISS produced this valuable document, Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: Net Assessment on 9 September, well prior to the government's dossier of 24 September. There was also a document by the CIA, with their own assessment of the current state of their weapons of mass destruction. Can you say to what extent your assessment differs from that of the other two, the British Government and the CIA? Is it essentially that you carried the position largely up until the departure of the weapons inspectors and relied on public sources, since their own assessment obviously draws on intelligence sources? What are the key differences in the background, but more particularly in terms of the conclusions?
  (Dr Chipman) I will begin answering that question, and then hand over for a little bit more detail to my colleague to the right, who was the editor of the dossier. We certainly relied on every available source to us to relate the story from the early 1970s, through to 1998, but we did not stop at 1998. We took the view that in 1998 the UN inspectors left Iraq and stopped working, but that there was a safe presumption that since Saddam Hussein was staying in Iraq, he himself would continue working. What we therefore did in our piece from 1998 to 2002 was first rely on some of the publicly-available information that did exist for the period after the inspectors left—and there are reports from the Pentagon, the CIA and other agencies that do relate to assessments that were current in 1999-2000-2001, and we draw on those open sources. We equally drew on sources available to us from interviews that we conducted with people who had access to current information, but there was inevitably a degree of speculation in some of our assessments, and I would dare say there was a degree of speculation also in the information provided by the governments.

  48. Where are the key differences in the assessments?
  (Dr Chipman) The net assessment of us and the government and the CIA are pretty close, in fact. Where there are differences, I think they are within the normal bounds of areas of judgment. The first difference is that we make a bolder prediction about how soon Iraq might be able to construct a nuclear device if it had access to fissile material: we say within a matter of months; the government says between one and two years, and others say within a year. I think we are pretty much in the same ballpark on chemical and biological weapons. On ballistic missiles, in the body of our report we say the worst case analysis is that the Iraqis might have retained several dozen al-Husseins with a range of 650 km, but our sense is that they probably have a small force of about a dozen. The government report says there may be up to 20 al-Husseins, but perhaps not all are operational. To my mind, that sounds like about a dozen potentially, so I do not think there is a big difference there. However, the government report confirms what we speculated on, that the Iraqis will have extended the range of their al-Samoud missiles beyond 150 km to 200 km. They also talk about more ambitious ballistic missile production facilities that may be being created in order to develop ballistic missiles with a range of up to 900 km. Perhaps Gary might want to add a few words on that.

  49. Will you add on UAVs as well and the extent to which you believe they have developed that capacity?
  (Dr Samore) We certainly mention the UAVs as a possible delivery vehicle for chemical and biological weapons, and that is carried forward in both the British Government and the CIA dossier, in terms of mentioning that as a possibility. I do not think anyone knows for sure what the capabilities are and, if so, what the numbers are. The main thing I would point out is that the Institute's dossier speculates that since 1998, since the end of the inspections, Iraq has probably moved to reconstitute its capabilities, and both the British Government dossier and the CIA dossier provide some details to confirm that assessment on our part. Both the British and the CIA dossiers assert that Iraq has begun fresh production of chemical and biological weapons agents, and both provide information, obviously based on classified information, to indicate that Iraq has put in place plans to revive their nuclear weapons programme, to produce fissile material through the gas centrifuge method, and to ultimately try to achieve a longer-range missile delivery capability, with ranges up to 900 km.

  50. Essentially, you agree with Dr Chipman that there were no fundamental differences.
  (Dr Samore) Yes, I agree with that.

Mr Bill Olner

  51. Dr Chipman, given that most of the previous sites were found by information given by defectors, how successful do you think the United Nations inspectors will be in being able to locate these sites?
  (Dr Chipman) UNSCOM always benefited partly from information provided to it by intelligence sources and partly, as you say, from defector information. As they always remind people, it was only when they received crucial defector information in 1995 that they were able to discover the extent of the biological weapons programme that up until that date the Iraqis had denied existed. For UNMOVIC, if it were to re-enter Iraq, it would depend essentially on the same two primary potential sources of information. The degree to which the United States and others might be willing to provide information to UNMOVIC to assist it in its work, and the degree to which there might still be available relevant and reliable defector information on which they could act, are two important points that would no doubt guide the inspectors.
  (Dr Samore) I think that is exactly right. I think one of the key provisions in the draft resolution that is currently being discussed in New York would allow the inspection organisations the option of giving Iraqi scientists a safe opportunity to talk about information without fear of retaliation by the Iraqi authorities. How that is exercised in practice will require a lot of detailed work that will have to be handled by the inspection agencies, but the concept, the principle of making it possible for the UN inspection agencies to interview Iraqi scientists in a way that will allow them to give free and accurate information is very important if we are going to ensure the best possible chances for the inspection organisations to be successful.

  52. We are all struggling to come to terms with how quickly UNMOVIC will be able to assess the Iraqi compliance with the Security Council resolutions. Is thirty days to find everything a realistic option?
  (Dr Samore) It depends fundamentally on how prepared the Iraqis are to co-operate. I am assuming—

  53. Given the track record, that co-operation has not been forthcoming in the past.
  (Dr Samore) I am assuming that they will not in fact be prepared to fully co-operate. I think it will be unlikely, or the inspectors will find it very difficult to discover small amounts of chemical and biological weapons, or small numbers of missile and missile components that have been hidden in Iraq. What the inspectors can do within thirty days is begin to establish a strong baseline for known facilities, to make sure that those known facilities are not used for producing weapons of mass destruction. But in terms of getting to the bottom of whatever amounts of chemical or biological weapons or missiles the Iraqi regime is hiding, I think that is very likely to take longer than thirty days.

  54. How competent do you think the new inspection teams will be compared to the expertise that was within the previous inspection teams?
  (Dr Samore) In my judgment, their greatest weakness right now is lack of expertise. That is something that they will have to develop, both in terms of drawing fresh recruits who have that expertise, from member governments that are prepared to make those people available, but also just time on the ground. With any inspection organisation—and this was true with UNSCOM at the beginning—it takes a while to learn the trade-craft necessary to carry out successful inspections against the Iraqi regime, which has a lot of practice fooling inspectors and hiding things. I think that over time they will gain that experience, but in the beginning it is likely to take them some time to learn how to handle it.

  55. It makes thirty days seem even more of a figment of somebody's imagination.
  (Dr Samore) My understanding is that the way the resolution is structured now is that the Iraqis have to make a declaration within thirty days of passage; then the inspections start within 45 days of passage, and then Hans Blix, Head of UNMOVIC, Mohamed El Baradei, the head of IAEA, will give a status report to the Security Council within 60 days of starting the inspections. It is not my understanding they have to declare that they have been finished in those sixty days; they just have to tell the Security Council what the status is of their efforts.

Sir John Stanley

  56. Will you take us inside the mind of Saddam Hussein as best you can, and give us your view as to what are the factors which drive and have driven Saddam Hussein over many years to acquire weapons of mass destruction?
  (Dr Chipman) The mind of Saddam Hussein is a very crowded place, but I will do my best. Saddam Hussein's programme for weapons of mass destruction, like that of other leaders, has been motivated by a desire for prestige that is thought to be conferred on states that hold weapons of mass destruction, and particularly the greatest prize of all, the nuclear weapon. Secondly, I believe that he feels that in holding WMD he would be able more effectively to secure his regional ambitions, and at least to re-vivify some of his intentions with regard to his regional ambitions, behind the cover of a secure WMD capacity that might make it more difficult for friends and allies of those in the region who he might attack to come to their defence, if they could credibly be deterred by weapons of mass destruction and particularly a nuclear weapon. I think those are the two core motivations.

  57. Do you seriously contemplate that Saddam Hussein might use weapons of mass destruction offensively, knowing that if he does he would almost certainly obliterate his regime as a result of almost certain American retaliation?
  (Dr Chipman) There are two points there. The first is that if there were hostilities in the Gulf and if the United States with some allies were intent on overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime, it would really be imprudent to rule out the possible use of some weapons of mass destruction. Forces operating in theatre would need to operate on the presumption that some biological or chemical weapons might be used. and that, equally, neighbouring states would need to be prepared for the possible launch of a ballistic missile on their territory. I think it would be absolutely necessary to plan for that contingency, and it would be imprudent not to do so. Secondly, while I think one conventional wisdom is that Saddam Hussein would certainly use weapons of mass destruction if the purpose of a military operation was regime overthrow, it is not necessarily the case that an order given by Saddam Hussein to launch chemical or biological weapons would be followed by commanders in the field if those same commanders felt that there would be reprisals personally against them by the inevitably victorious power once the military operation is ended. One can imagine a dialogue whereby Saddam Hussein instructs a field commander to use weapons of mass destruction and the field commander radios back after thirty minutes, saying, "I fear I am having some technical difficulties". I would not be absolutely certain that all commanders would necessarily follow that order, but I would find it strange if all risk of using WMD could be eliminated.

Mr Eric Illsley

  58. Is it not the case that perhaps Saddam Hussein would not need to launch a weapon of mass destruction against the West but simply to hold one of his neighbours to ransom to prevent an attack upon him, saying, "you attack me, and I am going to fire this missile at Israel, Iran or anybody else"?
  (Dr Chipman) That has also been one of the reasons why, in the eyes of the Bush administration there is a need to take a robust approach now to Saddam Hussein's regime. It is not that the Bush administration does not think that deterrence is today a credible policy; it is that they do not want to be deterred by Saddam Hussein. They would worry that a mature WMD capacity might make it more difficult for the United States to defend its friends and allies in the region if they were threatened. Certainly today, in the event of a possible attack against Iraq, there are obviously contingency preparations for a possible use of a ballistic missile conventionally armed, or perhaps tipped with chemical or biological weapons, against the US's major ally in the region, Israel.

  59. In some discussions with your successors in the State Department and around Washington last week, we were discussing the idea of a trip-wire resolution; the idea that Iraq has to comply within a short space of time with some declaration on weapons or whatever, basically in order to met the timescale of any military action, which would need to be between January and March 2003 if it was to take place. Given what you have said, that the inspectors may not be as competent as the inspectors in the past, and given Iraq's prevarications of the past, and given the fact that we were told last week that inspections could take months, is it likely that America's patience is likely to give in before we get some sort of real examination of the weapons that Saddam Hussein has, if we get the resolution and the inspections back in?
  (Dr Samore) Saddam's game is clearly to delay, at least past the current fighting season. In order to do that he is going to have to demonstrate sufficient co-operation with the inspectors so that he does not provide a clear case of non-compliance, which would be a clear casus belli for the United States and its allies. So whether or not he is capable of doing that remains to be seen. I think that Blix and El Baradei will be prepared to report to the Security Council that they are not getting co-operation or compliance if in fact they feel that their efforts to gain access to facilities or access to individuals for interviews are not being met. Therefore, they have a very strong bargaining position with the Iraqis in terms of demanding co-operation, or else they will report to the Security Council, which the current resolution allows them to do. It remains to be seen whether or not both Blix and El Baradei are given the kind of information necessary for them to take a very aggressive approach. I would hope that Western governments would provide them with the kind of intelligence information that would allow them to seek access to undeclared facilities, to individuals and to documents, which would put the Iraqis on the spot to either demonstrate co-operation or to fail to co-operate and therefore provide a clear casus belli for military action. For the United States, the Bush administration has put itself in a position where, whatever its preferences are, it is difficult for it not to allow the UN inspection process to be given some decent opportunity to succeed or fail.

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