Ed Note: Below is an edited chapter from The Search for Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction by Graham S. Pearson, published by Palgrave Macmillan in August 2005. © Graham S. Pearson, 2005.
Why Saddam had no WMD stockpiles
by Graham Pearson
In the run up to the start in March 2003 of the war in Iraq, there appeared to be little doubt in the US and the UK that Iraq possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. It was made equally clear in both countries after the war that a search was being mounted for these stockpiles. Now, over two and a half years later, there are no signs of any stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons and it is increasingly unlikely that any will be found. Why were there no stockpiles?
In my earlier book The UNSCOM Saga in 1999 I pointed out that although large quantities of mustard gas, sarin and other nerve agents had been produced during the war against Iran, these had been produced for immediate use in the war as long-term storage was not a requirement. This approach was significantly different from past Western chemical weapons programmes which had required a retaliatory capability that could be stored until needed. Consequently, Iraq might well have adopted a different concept in regard to chemical and biological weapons. Because there was no suggestion that Iraq was seeking chemical or biological weapons as a means of retaliation in kind or as a deterrent capability, but rather that in the Iraq/Iran war of the 1980s Iraq had simply produced its chemical agents to immediately fill into weapons and use them hence avoiding stability and storage problems, it followed that there would be no requirement to have stockpiles of filled weapons but instead to have a production capability that could be used whenever required i.e. a mobilization capability. Although there was some stockpile of chemical weapons after the 1991 Gulf War, it is possible that this was simply a stockpile that had been left over from the Iran/Iraq war as there had been no certainty when that war ended in 1988 that it might not restart.
Such a mobilization capacity approach would have particular advantages for a country such as Iraq that was being subject to ongoing monitoring and verification. There would be little sense in trying to produce covert stockpiles of agent — first, because Iraq had not followed the approach of building large stockpiles, and second, because there would always be the risk that such a stockpile would be found by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM)/ United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) with ensuing Security Council action — and far more sense in simply trying to maintain a capability that could produce agent at a later date when the UNSCOM/UNMOVIC ongoing monitoring and verification regime had been discontinued and chemical weapons were needed for some future Iraqi military action. It would be much easier for Iraq to successfully conceal such a capability within the dual purpose technology industry associated with so many chemical and biological materials.
This explanation is consistent with observations from two areas. First, it has gradually become known following the US/UK/Russian trilateral agreement and the subsequent trilateral process, that the approach adopted by the former Soviet Union in regard to its biological weapons was to have a large mobilization capability hidden by embedding it in a civilian dual purpose capability ‘Biopreparat’ that could produce biological agent when required rather than to maintain stockpiles of biological agents and filled weapons This mobilization capability would be exercised from time to time so as to maintain the capability and prevent it from atrophying. In one example it has been stated that 10 to 14 days would be enough to produce sufficient anthrax to arm ten Soviet SS-18 missile warheads. It is known that the Soviet Union and subsequently Russia had links with Iraq and consequently Iraq could have been aware of the Soviet Union/Russian approach to mobilization rather than stockpiles of filled weapons.
Secondly, Rolf Ekeus, Executive Chairman of UNSCOM from 1991 to 1997, when interviewed on 24 February 2000 said that ‘in my view, there are no large quantities of weapons. I don't think that Iraq is especially eager in the biological and chemical area to produce such weapons for storage. Iraq views those weapons as tactical assets instead of strategic assets, which would require long-term storage of those elements, which is difficult. Rather, Iraq has been aiming to keep the capability to start up production immediately should it need to.’[Emphasis added] After the war in Iraq in June 2003, he made the point clearly that ‘the rather bizarre political focus on the search for rusting drums and pieces of munitions containing low-quality chemicals has tended to distort the important question of WMD in Iraq and exposed the American and British administrations to unjustified criticism.‘ and that this ‘criticism is a distortion and trivialization of a major threat to international peace and security.’ Three months later, when asked why no WMD had been found since the end of the war, Rolf Ekeus said that his feeling ‘is very clearly that the Iraqi policy long before the war was to build capability to develop its capabilities to produce weapons for the situation, for the conflict situation, not to produce for storage and create a problem of storage management.’ Furthermore he considered that Saddam ‘decided years ago that it was unwise to store mustard gas and other unstable and corrosive poisons in barrels, and also difficult to conceal them. Therefore, rather than store large stocks of weapons of mass destruction, he would adapt the program to retain an infrastructure (laboratories, equipment, trained scientists, detailed plans) that could “break-out” and ramp up production when required. The model is Japanese “just in time” manufacturing, where you save on inventory by making and delivering stuff in immediate response to orders.’
A Key Finding in the Comprehensive Report issued in September 2004 by the Iraq Survey Group was that Saddam Hussein wanted to end sanctions while “preserving the capability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when sanctions were lifted.” It was evident that Saddam’s intention was to preserve Iraq’s intellectual capital for WMD with a minimum of foreign intrusiveness and loss of face. Furthermore, the way Iraq organized its chemical industry in the late 1990s provided an infrastructure from which it could restart a chemical weapons (CW) programme. The domestic chemical industrial base would also allow concealment of CW-related elements or indeed a CW production capacity amidst a tangle of legitimate civilian production. Site visits and debriefs by the ISG revealed that Iraq maintained its ability for reconfiguring and “making-do” with available equipment as substitutes for sanctioned items. The ISG judged, based on available chemicals, infrastructure, and scientist debriefings, that Iraq probably could produce large quantities of mustard gas within months of a decision to produce. In regard to biological weapons, the ISG judged that Iraq had a biological weapons (BW) capability ready to function and Iraq could have reinstituted a rudimentary BW program within a few weeks or months of a decision to do so.
It is consequently clear that the widespread focus, both politically and in the media, on whether there are stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons to be found in Iraq is misplaced. Such a focus fails to recognize that in an aggressor state, there is no requirement to have such stockpiles as the national strategy is not one of having an ability to retaliate in kind but rather one that is able to deploy and use chemical and biological weapons at a time of its choosing. Such an approach avoids problems associated with the stability and storage of chemical and biological agents and, furthermore, means that there is no stockpile to unequivocally demonstrate non-compliance with the international prohibition regimes of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). In addition, because storage and stability are no longer as important, it means that different chemical and biological materials may be utilized rather than those materials traditionally regarded as agents by states whose primary interest was in a retaliatory or deterrent capability. Such an extension to different chemical and biological materials underlines the importance of the general purpose criterion in the prohibitions of both the BTWC and the CWC as it is this that ensures the prohibition of all past, present and future agents. The general purpose criterion in the BTWC is highlighted below in the basic prohibition in Article I which states that:
Similarly in the CWC, the general purpose criterion is highlighted below in the definition in Article II of chemical weapons as being:
The general purpose criteria ensure that all biological agents and toxins and all chemicals are prohibited unless of types and quantities consistent with peaceful purposes.
The real danger and threat is thus of a mobilization capability that may utilize different chemical or biological materials and that is concealed within legitimate civil industrial capabilities for chemical and biological materials.
This conclusion about the real danger and threat has important consequences for the global prohibition regimes for biological and chemical weapons. The focus needs increasingly to be upon all states to improve transparency of their activities and thereby to build international confidence that their activities are indeed in compliance with the BTWC, CWC and other multilateral regimes. Whilst the adage that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’ has been said on several occasions in the context of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, it needs to be recognized internationally that the more evidence that is provided that a country’s activities are in compliance with the prohibition regimes, the greater the confidence that other states gain that a state is indeed in compliance especially when the evidence provided by a country is found to be both internally consistent with other information provided by the country and externally consistent with information available to or provided by other countries or by intergovernmental organizations.
There is a real need to ensure that politicians and the media are better informed about the nature of the real threat from chemical and biological materials. Namely that whilst traditional chemical or biological agents may be chosen by a state wishing to use such weapons, they may increasingly choose to use some alternative chemical or biological materials although such a choice will increase uncertainty as to the effectiveness of the attack. Secondly, that an aggressor state has no need to have a stockpile of chemical or biological weapons but rather that such a state will seek to have a capability to produce the chemical and biological agents when it wishes to use them thereby reducing the risk that the international community will detect its possession of such prohibited materials. Furthermore, the capability to produce such chemical or biological materials is increasingly likely to be concealed within the dual purpose capability of the civil industry.
For the Professional in Government and Industry with an interest in Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defense, Disarmament and Verification; Emergency and Disaster Medical Planning; Industrial Health and Safety; and Environmental Protection
copyright©2005, ASA Inc. All rights reserved.