Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



Mr David Chidgey

  60. To carry on from the questions put by Sir John Stanley on deterrence and WMD in Iraq, anecdotally it has been said that Saddam Hussein believes the only mistake he made in the Gulf War was not to wait until he had nuclear weapons. That seems to support the comments he was making. To take it a stage further in regard to the news that North Korea has in the last ten days announced that they are rapidly advancing with their nuclear weapons capability, what linkage do you see with Iraq, assuming that Iraq would be a willing buyer of nuclear weapons from North Korea and that North Korea was a willing seller? We know the record of the North Koreans on civil liberties. What scenario would you predict in the event that there was a serious belief that Iraq was negotiating to buy nuclear weapons from North Korea?
  (Dr Samore) North Korea certainly has been willing to sell its missiles; that is one of its main sources of hard currency. It has shown no reservation about selling missiles. As far as I know, there is no indication of the North being willing to sell or export nuclear technology or nuclear materials. At least for the time being I think the nuclear material available to North Korea will be so scarce and valuable that it is unlikely to be willing to share it, for practical reasons alone. I would be concerned over time if the North Koreans can accumulate larger amounts of nuclear material—and we may see that happening if the agreed framework falls apart, which I fear is very likely. At that point, I would become much more worried about North Korea possibly being willing to sell nuclear material to other countries, although the problem may by then be resolved—talking about a couple of years from now.

  61. The worst-case scenario given to us was that in a willing seller/willing buyer situation, Iraq would have nuclear warheads within six months. In that scenario, what do you believe America's chosen strategy and policy might be?
  (Dr Samore) If Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons within six months, I do not think we would be talking about invasion. If Iraq had nuclear weapons, I think it would make the invasion option extremely costly and very difficult to contemplate.

Mr John Maples

  62. I want to explore with you how far Iraq has got with its nuclear technology. My understanding is that it is pursuing a weapons-grade uranium bomb and has given up on plutonium since the Osiraq reactor was destroyed, and that there are several elements to this. One is the technology of actually making the bomb, which a lot of people have found extraordinarily difficult. My understanding is that Iraq can do that, or is thought to be able to do it. To acquire the weapons-grade uranium, it either has to manufacture it itself in centrifuges, which it appears to be trying to acquire, and that is what would take the six to ten years or seven to eight years; but to do it quicker you have to acquire weapons-grade uranium fissile material from somewhere else. Can you take us through the physics and the weapons-grade uranium and what sources it might acquire that from, and then what technological barriers would stand in its way for putting that into a bomb?
  (Dr Chipman) First of all, your assertions are correct, but Gary Samore used to work for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, so he is better placed to give a technical answer to some of your questions.
  (Dr Samore) I agree with everything you have said. The key choke point for the Iraqi nuclear weapons programme is access to fissile material. We know that they were working on a design in 1991 that would have required about 20 kg or so of highly enriched uranium, which is a fairly small amount, but quite difficult to produce. All of the assessments that have been made assert that it would most likely take them several years to be able to build a facility that could produce that amount of highly enriched uranium; and only if they can get access to foreign equipment and materials. In terms of getting access to foreign supplies of fissile material, all of the dossiers mention this as a wild-card, as a possibility. As far as we know, no group or country has been able to obtain any large amount of weapons-grade material from the black market from foreign sources; but it is important to mention it as a possibility, and in particular people have been concerned about the security of stockpiles in Russia and some of the former states of the Soviet Union, where it is known that there are fairly large amounts of weapons-grade material, and where the accounting and security of that material is in some cases lower than Western standards.

  63. If he could get his hands on some, he would need 20 kg for each nuclear weapon that he wanted to make.
  (Dr Samore) That is correct.

  64. Would we know, or would we have a good chance of knowing, if he had acquired that?
  (Dr Samore) I think it is very unlikely we would know.

  65. So he might have it, conceivably.
  (Dr Samore) Yes. I assume that if Iraq did have a nuclear weapon, it would make that known in a way to try and deter an attack when the time came.

  66. At some point before an attack came.
  (Dr Samore) Presumably.

  67. So if it were able to acquire enough weapons-grade uranium, that is the only thing that is missing from its ability to construct nuclear weapons.
  (Dr Samore) Yes. In 1991 they were very close to being able to design a device. It would have been far too large and heavy to deliver on the missiles that were available to them, but they were close enough to having something that would produce a nuclear yield, so we assume that if they continued to do that kind of work over the last decade, which they could probably do without high risk of discovery—by now, ten years later, we assume they have been able to finish the last bits and pieces, and they would be able to construct something that would be deliverable at least by an aeroplane.

  68. I was going to ask you about delivery by missile because I understand that Iraq does not have much of an air force left, and anyway there would presumably be complete air supremacy over the battlefield. Can Iraq make something that is small enough to deliver on a missile, and what is the technology gap there? Do we think they have the technological ability to do that?
  (Dr Samore) This is very speculative, but I would say with the basic kind of design that they were working on, it is unlikely that they could make it small enough and light enough to be deliverable by the existing missile we know they have, which is the al-Hussein missile, a modified scud, 650 km. That requires quite a small size, which would be difficult for them to achieve with the basic design they are working on.

  69. That is more difficult than making the bomb. Once they have acquired the material, the making of the bomb would be relatively easier, but they would have to find some other method of delivery.
  (Dr Samore) It depends on how big the bomb is. Making a bomb deliverable by aircraft is much easier than a bomb deliverable by a missile of the type they have, because it has a rather small diameter and it would be difficult for them to squeeze the design into that.

  70. You said in answer to Mr Chidgey—and we can all see the scenario—that if Iraq had a nuclear weapon, certainly one of the things it would do would be to deter Western allies of Gulf countries from intervening in conflicts there because it would have raised the stakes against them enormously. What we are looking at, if they were able to acquire material, is somewhere up to a year from acquiring it to being able to turn it into a weapon. We do not know if they have got it, though we suspect they have not, and we would not know if they were to acquire it, or we might not know if they were to acquire it. We could find ourselves faced with that scenario at relatively short notice.
  (Dr Samore) Sure, it is conceivable. Presumably, Iraq would want to demonstrate its capabilities through some kind of test, and that would be the most convincing way of demonstrating to the world that they have nuclear weapons.


  71. In terms of the amount of material needed, say, for a dirty bomb, what are the fears about that?
  (Dr Samore) The dirty bomb is a very different sort of proposition because there is a much wider range of materials that can be used, with varying degrees of radioactivity, and Iraq has some radiological materials in-country that are used for civilian purposes—for medical purposes or food irradiation and so forth. In principle, I do not think you can stop Iraq from having a crude radiological weapon, but I also think that the kind of damage such a weapon can do is very, very limited. It depends a great deal on the type of material, how much there is of it and how effective the dispersal is, but in general it is many magnitudes of order less than a nuclear explosive.

  72. On biological weapons, given the means of hiding these weapons and the mobility of transport that the Iraqis now have, the fact that the scientists are there in any event, problems of dual use and small packets, what prospects are there available to counter the threat of such weapons, and the fact that the cookery books are there?
  (Dr Chipman) I agree that this falls into the "how long is a piece of string?" category. As all of our dossiers state, Iraq has now mobile biological weapons production facilities that move around the country, which are very difficult to detect. Any one of dozens of civilian industrial bases could be used for the production of biological agents, and accounting down to the last litre of biological agent would be extremely difficult.
  (Dr Samore) I agree with that. It is extremely unlikely that any inspection system, no matter how rigorous, can give you high confidence of accounting for small quantities of biological weapons.

  73. Given those difficulties, how do you counter the concealment strategies which are presumably now very sophisticated?
  (Dr Samore) As I say, I think you have to understand what inspections can do for you and what inspections cannot do for you. Inspections can give you a high confidence in some areas, but if you expect them to account for every drop of biological and chemical weapons in Iraq, I do not think they can succeed.

  74. Not every drop, but can a substantial amount of such weapons, given the speed of production possibility—
  (Dr Samore) The problem in the biological area is that a substantial amount could be a thousand litres of anthrax, and I do not think inspections can reliably detect production of a thousand litres of anthrax.

  75. For biological weapons, I guess the major fear is that these will be passed clandestinely through to terrorist networks. Is there any evidence of that happening?
  (Mr Simon) Not that I know of.

Sir John Stanley

  76. On biological weapons, I think you would agree that massive, massive mortality could be created by quantities of anthrax—absolutely fractional compared to the thousand litres that you have just referred to. Given the fact that it is in open sources well known that Saddam Hussein has engaged in a systematic programme of concealment of his BW programme, do you think it is a real possibility that if the UN weapons inspectors could go back it is conceivable that they could produce a clean bill of health for Saddam Hussein, almost a clean bill of health on biological weapons, in terms of what they have been able to uncover; when in reality he has a substantial, concealed BW programme that would have vast mortality implications?
  (Dr Chipman) It is worthwhile going back to what the premise of inspections was in April 1991 and what the premise of inspections should again be. The inspections were never originally conceived as a detective operation; the inspectors were forced to become detectives because of the denial and concealment strategy used by the Iraqis. Indeed, on April 3, 1991, the Security Council called on the Iraqis to give within 15 days a full account of their WMD, and presumed that within 120 days after that UNSCOM would have verified simply those declarations and then moved the Security Council towards a lifting of sanctions and the bringing of Iraq back into the international community. This time around, the United States will be ever more vigilant to any sign of non-compliance. Indeed, there is talk now about their potential declaration being used as a kind of perjury clause, whereby if they declare an amount that is clearly not true, that that already would be an act of non-compliance with the new Security Council resolution. The issue is, who judges that act of non-compliance. I know that that is a question this Committee has often asked, amongst others to the Foreign Secretary. The debate now is whether the United States alone, on the basis of its own national technical means, could assert that this declaration is not true, then find Iraq in non-compliance and pursue the serious consequences that the current resolution contemplates.

Mr Bill Olner

  77. How would a US attack on Iraq affect al-Qaeda's membership, its organisation and its objectives?
  (Mr Simon) I think that an American attack against Iraq would confirm the belief of many in al-Qaeda, and many potential recruits, that the US and its friends were engaged in a systematic war against Islam, with the aim of conquering the Muslim world. To the extent that that is true, recruitment will probably see an upsurge. The answer is that the war against terrorism will be complicated to some degree by military operations against Iraq.

  78. What if those actions against Iraq are multilateral, if there was complete UN support, not for regime change but for disarming Saddam?
  (Mr Simon) The texts that are very influential among al-Qaeda types and recruits to the organisation, texts that can be found on the Internet or in broadsheets or in bookstores in the Middle East, already postulate a world-wide infidel conspiracy against Islam. The United States may bear the brunt of responsibility, but it is seen as part of a larger challenge, consisting of, depending on what you read, the UN, the EU, NATO and the Freemasons for that matter. As odd as that sounds, they have a prominent role in much of this conspiracy thinking. I do not think that the United States would be the sole target of the additional resentment that might be felt in the Muslim world.
  (Dr Chipman) While there is no question that likely al-Qaeda recruits are not interested in the niceties of multilateral diplomacy, the moderate Muslim community in some important countries would feel more capable of explaining the reason why the United States might be engaged in this and gain more credibility within their own societies if any action against Iraq was seen to have a multilateral colouration to it.
  (Mr Simon) It must be said, though, that these very governments have no credibility with the people we are worried about.

  79. How does that fit in with Osama bin Laden's view that the Saudi Government must be overthrown?
  (Mr Simon) They do believe that.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 19 December 2002