TCS Daily


The Man Who Spoiled the 'Peace'

By Joseph Tom Goeller - March 31, 2003 12:00 AM

The "window for diplomacy is closed," declared President Bush on the eve of war. This failure of diplomacy in the effort to disarm Iraq has a name: Hans Blix. Until recently he was largely an unknown quantity. But over the last four months this perpetually smiling Swede has proven himself to be naive and, in the end, dangerous for world peace.

When you put your 24th choice into an important job, you don't get the best and the brightest. But to run Unmovic, the five permanent members of the Security Council could only agree on the last candidate out of 24. Who is responsible for such a bad choice? Guess! Yes, right, the French!

After Richard Butler resigned as chief weapons inspector in 1997, President Clinton favored picking another Swede: the tough social-democrat Rolf Ekleus, a member of the inspection team since 1991. But France and also Russia stonewalled against the energetic and outspoken Ekleus and all other presented candidates. Finally Clinton gave up, annoyed by the constant "non" and "njet". Clinton finally agreed on the retired Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, whom the French tracked down in Patagonia, where he spent his vacations.

Although Blix had a record as an incompetent inspector, Clinton didn't care much because he knew that he would not have to deal with the problem - in other words, Blix is another Clinton inheritance President Bush has been confronted with in a time of crisis.

But why did Blix qualify for this position in the first place?

A professor in international law, he became a career diplomat in 1963 and was Sweden's foreign affairs minister in 1978 for one year. From 1961 until 1981 he was a member of Sweden's delegation to the United Nations in New York and in Geneva, where he mainly dealt with disarmament. Thus he became a well-known figure in UN circles. This was obviously an important qualification for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. Although Blix had no real atomic energy expertise, he eagerly accepted the position of director-general of this UN organization in 1981.

The task of the IAEA is to enforce compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But in Blix's case it turned out that he was a henhouse guarding the fox. During his time as head of IAEA the Iraqis managed to hide an advanced nuclear weapons development program that was discovered only after the Gulf War in 1991. To the big surprise of Blix. He had assured the world that nothing alarming was happening in Iraq. He whitewashed Saddam and gave him the report he had hoped for when he began hiding his nuclear ambitions and facilities. Same with North Korea, which managed at the same time to pursue undetected nuclear weapons programs.

Why was Blix duped twice so badly? Because he is a law expert who believes in "trust building" and diplomatic niceties.

A typical example of how Blix works and thinks comes from David Kay, a highly-skilled inspector who discovered after 1991 evidence that Iraq was only 12 to 18 months away from producing a nuclear device. Kay says that after explaining to Blix why he distrusts Saddam's henchmen, Blix chided him for not accepting "official information".

Even though he admitted recently to the British paper the Guardian that "it's correct to say that the IAEA was fooled by the Iraqis [in the late 1980s]", he had the guts to accept the French offer in 2000 to become chief weapons inspector and to decide in the end about peace or war. Everybody who made the decision about Blix, especially those who favored him, knew that in the past he had turned "a blind eye to some things that maybe he shouldn't have", as Richard Butler describes it.

While his predecessor in the job, the abrasive Australian Butler, was confrontational to the point his tactics more than once precipitated crises, Blix turned out to be the complete opposite. Time and again he stressed that he will not "humiliate, harass, or provoke" the Iraqi government. Before setting a foot on Iraqi soil, Blix ordered his inspection team to take "cultural sensitivity" courses to teach them how not to offend Iraqis. We all know by now what Baghdad thought about those kinds of signals.

And then there were his reports to the Security Council: He indirectly admitted that Iraq was in material breach of Resolution 1414 but - yes, there was always this "but". From the beginning, Blix played the innocent. "I just report. It is the Security Council who must decide." The French, however, insisted that whether Iraq is in violation of Resolution 1441 is a matter that should be decided by Blix, not by the Security Council.

In front of the TV cameras he appears always mild-mannered. But behind closed doors in the glass palace on the East River, diplomats say, he speaks out with authority. During the seven weeks of negotiations that led to the adoption of Resolution 1441 on November 8, he was called in several times to brief the Council and successfully opposed points advocated by the US and Great Britain. On his advice, diplomatic sources reveal, the draft text was watered down, was amended in a way that axed a US proposal that armed UN troops accompany his inspectors to Iraq. (This suggestion, by the way, was brought up again recently by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.)

So, Blix never has been the honest broker he was billed to have been. He was biased from the beginning. The world should keep in mind that he is a 74-year-old appointed bureaucrat who thought he wouldn't be fooled a third time.
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