Courtesy Reuters

A Farewell to Arms Inspections


The return of U.N. arms inspectors to Iraq would do more harm than good. Although politicians and pundits alike call for renewed inspections, the inspectors' return not only would not remove Iraq's remaining weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities, but -- more ominously -- might actually help develop Iraq's WMD programs over the long term and make a mockery of arms control in general. Surprising as it sounds, an impasse over inspections is actually the best realistic outcome for the United States. A continued standoff will better position the United States to hamper Saddam Hussein's quest for WMD -- and avoid being party to the deliberate flouting of U.N. resolutions and arms control agreements.

The champions of inspections make three assumptions: that the return of inspectors will lead to the end of Iraq's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs; that some inspections are better than no inspections; and that an impasse over inspections is unsustainable. All three assumptions are false.

A new round of inspections would probably not unearth much of Saddam's remaining WMD programs. Unless the international community is willing to significantly ratchet up the pressure on Iraq through tighter sanctions and military strikes, Iraq is not likely to be any more compliant with a new inspection mission. Unfortunately, current international sentiment seeks to ease pressure rather than increase it. Thus inspectors would not have access to sensitive sites in Iraq, and Iraqi officials would resume their deception campaign. Inspectors would probably discover only what Saddam wanted them to, or at best marginally improve the West's knowledge of Iraq's WMD programs, leaving Iraq's existing WMD capabilities untouched.

If Baghdad defied the inspectors, Washington would soon find itself in a nasty dilemma comparable to what it faced in December 1998 when it launched the Desert Fox bombing campaign: either ignore Iraq's noncompliance and deception and pave the way for declaring Iraq free of WMD, or use force to demand access. Past shows of

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