1998 Congressional Hearings
Special Weapons
Nuclear, Chemical, Biological and Missile


Testimony Delivered by David A. Kay

before the

Senate Armed Services Committee

on

March 25, 1998

While the Kofi Annan brokered agreement of February removed, at least temporarily, Iraq from the headlines and talk shows, there is no reason to believe that defusing a crisis over the inspection rights of UNSCOM equates to a long term solution to an Iraq led by Saddam and armed with WMD. Indeed the start of any sensible long-term approach to Iraq is to realize that the UNSCOM arms inspections are essentially only a side show – and one of declining importance – in coping with the puzzle of an enduring Saddam.

  UNSCOM’s efforts to eliminate Saddam’s WMD capacity were based on four assumptions, all of which have turned out to be false. These were (i) Saddam’s rule would not survive the disasters suffered by Iraq as a result of its invasion of Kuwait; (ii) Iraq’s WMD capabilities were not extensive nor significantly indigenous; (iii) a post-Saddam Iraq would declare to UNSCOM all of Iraq’s WMD capabilities; (iv) UNSCOM would be able to "destroy, remove or render harmless" Iraq’s WMD capabilities leaving an Iraq that would not have WMD capability as an enduring legacy.

  While the reasoning of Bush Administration officials that no regime could survive a disaster as compelling as Iraq’s defeat in the Gulf War was no doubt true for a democratic system, Saddam’s endurance stands as yet another stark reminder of the dangers of attempting to understand the world on the basis of one’s own values anns and inspections still have considerable value, the Annan agreement makes clear that they no longer can define US policy and, in fact concentrating on them has masked a series of challenges that the US must now face. The major problems that now must be confronted include:

 The security structure that Secretary Baker crafted to respond to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait is no longer viable. Major states in the region, certainly including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are no longer willing to let an automatic anti-Saddam reflex define their policy in the Gulf. Even states, such as Kuwait and Bahrain, which are much more dependent upon the US for their security are resisting US leadership when it threatens military confrontation. Equally important, Iran is no longer the marginalized state that it was in 1990-91 and has learned to skillfully play each crisis to benefit its long-term goal of removing US influence from the Gulf. We are left with "allies’ that lack sufficient military power to even interfere in their own internal affairs much less stand up to a rearmed Iraq, but that are unwilling to provide the US with the political support and operational bases that would allow the US to deal with Iraq in its present weakened state. This same splintering of alliance ties can be seen in the non-regional allies that were a key part of Gulf coalition structure. The French are no longer willing partners, and the Russians can no longer be coerced or bribed into silent cooperation.

 The US has failed to convince its allies of the dangers to themselves of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the tinderbox Middle East or to equip our own military forces to be able to fight such a threat at costs and risks that appear tolerable to our own citizens and political leaders. If there were ever a psychological campaign that was either not fought or misfired, it has been the US effort to make the states of the Gulf and our European and Asian allies understand how much more dangerous the future is about to become as Iraq rebuilds its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, the Iranians further accelerate their own efforts and the rest of the region scrambles for political and military protection. The US military build up in the Gulf between October 1997 and February 1998 should send shockwaves through both policy makers and Congressional leaders who though that some important lessons had been learned as a result of the Gulf War. First, the build up took almost five months to reach a force level that military commanders seem to think was adequate to achieve an admittedly shifting set of political objectives. This was almost as long as it took the US to deploy a much larger force to meet the invasion of Kuwait. True to the warnings of many who said we should never again give an opponent that much time to counter our force deployment, Saddam used the time to hammer our forces – not with Scuds and chemical weapons but with a political campaign that was probably even more effective. Second, the US forces that came to do battle brought smarter weapons, but none that their commanders seemed to be confident could find or kill chemical and biological weapons without risking unacceptable damage to civilians in the region. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the much touted US counterproliferation forces are not yet ready to meet the standards that they must if they are to be a real threat to proliferators.

  If these are the major problems, what choices are we left with. Few and mostly bad in the short run is the simple answer. The easy nostrums – support the opposition, containment as we did with the Soviets, or even Annan’s "I can do business with Saddam" – seem expensive, risky and, at best, only partial answers.

  The best hope of the opposition was in the chaos at the end of the Gulf War when the US decided to stand aside and let Saddam freely slaughter many brave Iraqis. In the seven intervening years US policy toward the opposition has grown to resemble nothing so much as the mating ritual of the female Back Widow – promising but quickly lethal to the male. I do not believe that it is true that supporting forces of democratic change is something that Americans are genetically unable to do, but it is clear that we are so inept at it that it is likely to deplete the gene pool of promising opponents to tyrants before we are successful. It is certainly a policy worth another try, if you can find any of Saddam’s opponents willing to run the risk of having us support them, but it is not a poli we found in Desert Storm. Diplomacy is not likely to be strengthened by a military force and deployment structure that gives the opponent time to raise questions about your own adequacy, even more so when those questions start to resonate at home.

  Iraq is of a class of problems where all the easy answers seem to have been in the past and all the near terms options are not answers. But that is the future in the Middle East. If it is of any comfort, we should all acknowledge there were never any easy answers in the past.

While the Kofi Annan brokered agreement of February removed, at least temporarily, Iraq from the headlines and talk shows, there is no reason to believe that defusing a crisis over the inspection rights of UNSCOM equates to a long term solution to an Iraq led by Saddam and armed with WMD. Indeed the start of any sensible long-term approach to Iraq is to realize that the UNSCOM arms inspections are essentially only a side show – and one of declining importance – in coping with the puzzle of an enduring Saddam.

  UNSCOM’s efforts to eliminate Saddam’s WMD capacity were based on four assumptions, all of which have turned out to be false. These were (i) Saddam’s rule would not survive the disasters suffered by Iraq as a result of its invasion of Kuwait; (ii) Iraq’s WMD capabilities were not extensive nor significantly indigenous; (iii) a post-Saddam Iraq would declare to UNSCOM all of Iraq’s WMD capabilities; (iv) UNSCOM would be able to "destroy, remove or render harmless" Iraq’s WMD capabilities leaving an Iraq that would not have WMD capability as an enduring legacy.

  While the reasoning of Bush Administration officials that no regime could survive a disaster as compelling as Iraq’s defeat in the Gulf War was no doubt true for a democratic system, Saddam’s endurance stands as yet another stark reminder of the dangers of attempting to understand the world on the basis of one’s own values and experience. Saddam’s Iraq was and is a fierce, totalitarian dictatorship that can survive as long as it maintains coercive power over its citizens. Once Saddam’s survival became a fact then all hope of his voluntarily yielding up the very weapons that allow him to hope to dominate the region was lost.

  What is much less well understood is the impact that the discovery of the gigantic scope and indigenous nature of Saddam’s weapons program had on the prospects of being able to eliminate this program by inspection alone. We now know that the Iraqi efforts to build an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction spanned a decade, cost more than $20 Billion, involved more than 40,000 Iraqis and succeed in mastering all the technical and most of the productions steps necessary to acquire a devil’s armory of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as the missiles necessary to deliver them over vast distances. Iraq’s weapons programs benefited greatly from access to Western technology and material, however, by the time of the invasion of Kuwait this program had become thoroughly indigenous and for reasons of both deception and efficiency was often embedded in civilian, dual-use industries. This capability to produce weapons of mass destruction cannot be eliminated by simply destroying "weapons" facilities. The weapons secrets are now Iraqi secrets well understood by a large stratum of Iraq’s technical elite, and the production capabilities necessary to turn these "secrets’ into weapons are part and parcel of the domestic infrastructure of Iraq which will survive even the most draconian of sanctions regimes. Simply put, Iraq is not Libya, but very much like post-Versailles Germany in terms of its ability to maintain a weapons capability in the teeth of international inspections.

  For seven years, US Iraqi policy has focused essentially on only two related issues, maintaining sanctions and keeping UNSCOM’s inspections going. The hope was that inspections and sanctions would keep Saddam’s WMD program in check until somehow Saddam would disappear. While sanctions and inspections still have considerable value, the Annan agreement makes clear that they no longer can define US policy and, in fact concentrating on them has masked a series of challenges that the US must now face. The major problems that now must be confronted include:

 The security structure that Secretary Baker crafted to respond to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait is no longer viable. Major states in the region, certainly including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are no longer willing to let an automatic anti-Saddam reflex define their policy in the Gulf. Even states, such as Kuwait and Bahrain, which are much more dependent upon the US for their security are resisting US leadership when it threatens military confrontation. Equally important, Iran is no longer the marginalized state that it was in 1990-91 and has learned to skillfully play each crisis to benefit its long-term goal of removing US influence from the Gulf. We are left with "allies’ that lack sufficient military power to even interfere in their own internal affairs much less stand up to a rearmed Iraq, but that are unwilling to provide the US with the political support and operational bases that would allow the US to deal with Iraq in its present weakened state. This same splintering of alliance ties can be seen in the non-regional allies that were a key part of Gulf coalition structure. The French are no longer willing partners, and the Russians can no longer be coerced or bribed into silent cooperation.

 The US has failed to convince its allies of the dangers to themselves of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the tinderbox Middle East or to equip our own military forces to be able to fight such a threat at costs and risks that appear tolerable to our own citizens and political leaders. If there were ever a psychological campaign that was either not fought or misfired, it has been the US effort to make the states of the Gulf and our European and Asian allies understand how much more dangerous the future is about to become as Iraq rebuilds its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, the Iranians further accelerate their own efforts and the rest of the region scrambles for political and military protection. The US military build up in the Gulf between October 1997 and February 1998 should send shockwaves through both policy makers and Congressional leaders who though that some important lessons had been learned as a result of the Gulf War. First, the build up took almost five months to reach a force level that military commanders seem to think was adequate to achieve an admittedly shifting set of political objectives. This was almost as long as it took the US to deploy a much larger force to meet the invasion of Kuwait. True to the warnings of many who said we should never again give an opponent that much time to counter our force deployment, Saddam used the time to hammer our forces – not with Scuds and chemical weapons but with a political campaign that was probably even more effective. Second, the US forces that came to do battle brought smarter weapons, but none that their commanders seemed to be confident could find or kill chemical and biological weapons without risking unacceptable damage to civilians in the region. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the much touted US counterproliferation forces are not yet ready to meet the standards that they must if they are to be a real threat to proliferators.

  If these are the major problems, what choices are we left with. Few and mostly bad in the short run is the simple answer. The easy nostrums – support the opposition, containment as we did with the Soviets, or even Annan’s "I can do business with Saddam" – seem expensive, risky and, at best, only partial answers.

  The best hope of the opposition was in the chaos at the end of the Gulf War when the US decided to stand aside and let Saddam freely slaughter many brave Iraqis. In the seven intervening years US policy toward the opposition has grown to resemble nothing so much as the mating ritual of the female Back Widow – promising but quickly lethal to the male. I do not believe that it is true that supporting forces of democratic change is something that Americans are genetically unable to do, but it is clear that we are so inept at it that it is likely to deplete the gene pool of promising opponents to tyrants before we are successful. It is certainly a policy worth another try, if you can find any of Saddam’s opponents willing to run the risk of having us support them, but it is not a policy that will offer short term successes.

  Containment has a nice ring and the virtue of a clear success in the fall of the Soviets. On the other hand, one can only despair that those who urge containment of Saddam as an appropriate policy have not examined the preconditions of the Cold War case to see if they exist in the Gulf. The US maintained for 40 years more than a million troops in Europe as part of its effort to contain the Soviets and invested vast resources in the social, political and economic reconstruction of Europe into a bastion of democratic values. In the Gulf there is no simple overriding fear of Saddam that will dominate all politics the way the Soviet threat did. For example, the Iranians who have every reason to fear the Iraqis will not see a US presence that contains Saddam as serving their interest. Many holders of traditional tribal societal and fundamentalist religious values will worry more about the threat of democratic and modern influences that flow from US presence than they will the threat from Iraq. Most of our allies in the region are more fearful of a rapid democratic modernization of their societies than they are of Saddam.

  Political change in Iraq holds the only hope for eliminating Iraq’s capacity for producing weapons of mass destruction and the equally dangerous arms race that is about to ignite across the Gulf. Clearly Saddam needs to be held in check, that is contained, while the forces of political change are given a chance to work. But a policy that is solely one of containment is more likely to ignite the fires of anti-Americanism, undermine our allies and embolden Iraq, Iran and Russia than it is to accelerate political change. The various opposition groups inside and outside Iraq clearly have a role in accelerating political change, although I doubt that this will be greatly hastened by covert assistance programs.

  Political change seems most likely to be accelerated by four factors.

  • First, the external world must make it clear that Saddam will not be part of the solution. Annan is wrong. We must clearly insist that we cannot "do business" with Saddam. There should be no "ifs, ands, buts" or escape clauses of deathbed conversions to this policy. If we are less than committed to the removal of Saddam as a precondition for the reintegration of Iraq into the global system we will have Saddam and destroy all opposition groups.

  • Second, we need a better definition of what post-Saddam Iraq can expect in terms of reconstruction and reintegration into the world. Iraq has become a land of sorrow and little hope. Saddam bears the ultimate responsibility for this fate, but we all share a failure to hold up a compelling vision of what the future can be for the Iraqi people.

  • Third, the US must abandon the myth that it helped create that there can be a stable Gulf policy apart from a stable Middle East. This myth served US interests well during the Cold War, but we forget that it was never more than a useful myth. Unless and until the security needs of Israel and its neighbors can be reconciled and jointly shared, long-term stability in the Gulf will be an unattainable dream. This is not to say that the Gulf does not have many problems of its own that require resolution, but as long as Arab-Israeli politics remains characterized by daily violence and deep distrust, stability in the Gulf will never be possible.

  • Fourth, the US military needs to drive to rapid completion the restructuring of its forces and doctrine to be able to credibly and quickly bring to bear decisive military force in a situation that looks like neither the Cold War of Central Europe nor the idealized situation we found in Desert Storm. Diplomacy is not likely to be strengthened by a military force and deployment structure that gives the opponent time to raise questions about your own adequacy, even more so when those questions start to resonate at home.

  Iraq is of a class of problems where all the easy answers seem to have been in the past and all the near terms options are not answers. But that is the future in the Midcy that will offer short term successes.

  Containment has a nice ring and the virtue of a clear success in the fall of the Soviets. On the other hand, one can only despair that those who urge containment of Saddam as an appropriate policy have not examined the preconditions of the Cold War case to see if they exist in the Gulf. The US maintained for 40 years more than a million troops in Europe as part of its effort to contain the Soviets and invested vast resources in the social, political and economic reconstruction of Europe into a bastion of democratic values. In the Gulf there is no simple overriding fear of Saddam that will dominate all politics the way the Soviet threat did. For example, the Iranians who have every reason to fear the Iraqis will not see a US presence that contains Saddam as serving their interest. Many holders of traditional tribal societal and fundamentalist religious values will worry more about the threat of democratic and modern influences that flow from US presence than they will the threat from Iraq. Most of our allies in the region are more fearful of a rapid democratic modernization of their societies than they are of Saddam.

  Political change in Iraq holds the only hope for eliminating Iraq’s capacity for producing weapons of mass destruction and the equally dangerous arms race that is about to ignite across the Gulf. Clearly Saddam needs to be held in check, that is contained, while the forces of political change are given a chance to work. But a policy that is solely one of containment is more likely to ignite the fires of anti-Americanism, undermine our allies and embolden Iraq, Iran and Russia than it is to accelerate political change. The various opposition groups inside and outside Iraq clearly have a role in accelerating political change, although I doubt that this will be greatly hastened by covert assistance programs.

  Political change seems most likely to be accelerated by four factors.

  • First, the external world must make it clear that Saddam will not be part of the solution. Annan is wrong. We must clearly insist that we cannot "do business" with Saddam. There should be no "ifs, ands, buts" or escape clauses of deathbed conversions to this policy. If we are less than committed to the removal of Saddam as a precondition for the reintegration of Iraq into the global system we will have Saddam and destroy all opposition groups.

  • Second, we need a better definition of what post-Saddam Iraq can expect in terms of reconstruction and reintegration into the world. Iraq has become a land of sorrow and little hope. Saddam bears the ultimate responsibility for this fate, but we all share a failure to hold up a compelling vision of what the future can be for the Iraqi people.

  • Third, the US must abandon the myth that it helped create that there can be a stable Gulf policy apart from a stable Middle East. This myth served US interests well during the Cold War, but we forget that it was never more than a useful myth. Unless and until the security needs of Israel and its neighbors can be reconciled and jointly shared, long-term stability in the Gulf will be an unattainable dream. This is not to say that the Gulf does not have many problems of its own that require resolution, but as long as Arab-Israeli politics remains characterized by daily violence and deep distrust, stability in the Gulf will never be possible.

  • Fourth, the US military needs to drive to rapid completion the restructuring of its forces and doctrine to be able to credibly and quickly bring to bear decisive military force in a situation that looks like neither the Cold War of Central Europe nor the idealized situationdle East. If it is of any comfort, we should all acknowledge there were never any easy answers in the past.