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Weapons of mass destruction investigator is awarded Sydney Peace Prize; discusses the Iraq war and nuclear disarmament.

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Wednesday, 7 October 2007



FRAN KELLY: It’s nearly five years since Doctor Hans Blix famously reported to the UN that his weapons inspection team had found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He was at the time the Chief UN Weapons Inspector; before that he’d spent 16 years at the top of the International Atomic Energy Agency. That advice cast doubt on US intelligence suggesting otherwise, and Hans Blix attracted plenty of criticism in Washington because of it.


Nonetheless, he maintains strong opposition to the war in Iraq. And it’s because of this, and his work as Chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, that Hans Blix is being awarded the Sydney Peace Prize. He’s in Australia to accept the award tomorrow night; he will also give the Peace Prize lecture later today.


And Hans Blix joins us now in our Sydney studio.


Hans Blix, congratulations and welcome to Breakfast .


HANS BLIX: Thank you very much, a great pleasure.


FRAN KELLY: Let’s start with the issue of Iraq. Do you believe that the removal of Saddam Hussein has helped or hindered the people of Iraq?


HANS BLIX: I think it has hindered the people of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a terrible dictator and bloody and murderous. But I think that we can now see that while dictatorship and tyranny is horrible, anarchy can be even worse. And I think most Iraqis today would feel that way.


FRAN KELLY: Do you think that most Iraqis today would nevertheless welcome and value the chance they have to elect their government?


HANS BLIX: Oh, sure they will, every people will. But they have landed in the situation where the occupation has released the structure which existed during Saddam Hussein. I think if Saddam Hussein had remained the chances are that it would have developed like a Gaddafi or like a Castro. A horror still to his own citizens, but not really a danger to the world.


FRAN KELLY: You argue then, as you argue now, that conflicts of the kind in Iraq must be solved multilaterally with UN involvement under a framework of international law. Even if the invasion of Iraq had UN approval before the coalition forces went in, would the result be any different now, the ongoing bloodshed and the chaos any less? Surely not?


HANS BLIX: No, probably not. Some people say that the absence of the Security Council authorisation—and they walked in anyway—that this showed the weaknesses of the UN, that the UN was bypassed, which is true. I think we ought to turn it around and say that, no, actually this was a victory for the UN because they refrained from giving authorisation that should not be given in the circumstances. They were the ones who showed the wisdom and I think them marching in was the lack of wisdom.


FRAN KELLY: You must concede, even with the wisdom of hindsight as we’ve seen what’s emerged there, that it was a difficult and dangerous decision to prevaricate on, to do nothing forward, when the threat and the fear of the weapons of mass destruction was there. You hadn’t found them; you weren’t absolutely saying they are not there, were you?


HANS BLIX: No, but the evidence was so flimsy and inspectors, even with very professional inspection, you can never say that there is zero. But as we had done 700 inspections on 500 different sites including dozens of sites given to us by intelligence and not found anything, they should have realised that it was very weak. And what we and the majority of the UN really asked for was not to write the whole thing off, it was to suggest that there should be more inspections. And had we been there a couple of months more and without any results of inspections of any WMD being found then I think it would be much harder to start the war. And in fact there was time, there was no urgency except that temperatures go up in the spring so maybe the US had a deadline in the middle of March, that would not surprise me, history will tell us that later on.


FRAN KELLY: Political temperatures were rising too, perhaps. I mean, do you believe it was just bad intelligence fuelling the political determination in Washington in particular, or wilful ignoring of advice?


HANS BLIX: I think there was a both ways. Certainly some of the blame is on the intelligence especially the case of the so-called ‘Niger contract’ alleging that Iraq had made a contract with Niger to import uranium oxide. But clearly the politicians exerted influence on the intelligence too. So I think they have a part of the guilt. When intelligence puts question marks on something I think there are politicians … had a tendency to exchange them and put exclamation marks instead.


FRAN KELLY: It was enormous pressure you were put under by some within the Bush administration at the time. You’ve also revealed now that your telephone was being bugged?


HANS BLIX: Well, that’s what we are being told and my comment usually is that if they did bug it I wish to heaven that they’d listened more carefully to what I had to say.


FRAN KELLY: What is the way forward for Iraq now? To reinstate another strong tyrant? I mean, what is the way out of this? Do you have a view on that?


HANS BLIX: I don’t think anyone has a good view on it and I can understand the hesitation everywhere. Personally, I think that there must be a timetable for the withdrawal and a withdrawal that includes all the troops. That does not suggest that some US troops will stay forever. I think until you have such a timetable you are not really giving it to the Iraqis to own their own problem.


FRAN KELLY: Another dilemma, though, to pull out the troops will result in bloodshed.


HANS BLIX: Yes, that’s true, the risk is there. But if you have a timetable saying that within a year all the troops will be gone or whatever specific time, well then they have a time to think it over and to try to get to agreements between (inaudible) because they know that the alternative may be a civil war.


FRAN KELLY: These are horrible decisions to try and work out which is the right way to go.


HANS BLIX: I agree.


FRAN KELLY: In your lecture today you’ll be speaking on the globalisation of peace. What do you mean by that?


HANS BLIX: Well, there’s an optimistic tone under that and that is that although we are absorbed by issues like Iraq and Iran and North Korea, when you look back into history and realise that in a country like my own, Sweden, we were pretty good at ringing each other’s necks and cutting each other’s throats in the past and now we have a peaceful society.


What has happened over the hundreds of years? Well it’s more of an interdependence and proximity that has increased very much and we have then, in fact, disarmed. Had some king or some price said, ‘Now I take charge, you disarm and I protect you and I setup my own court’.


So we had a pacification of our societies and what is typical of Sweden or Australia is that the individual citizen does not go around, walking around with a sword or with a pistol, so we are disarmed internally. But it also presupposes the growth of law and authorities. Of course that can settle differences.


FRAN KELLY: That growth of international law, those international courts, as you say, have settled differences. We don’t see the border disputes; we don’t see the old-style religious wars; colonial wars; wars of conquest; in the same way. But the world is not exactly a peaceful place, I mean, there is a lot of violence and there are a lot of threats and new types of threats.


HANS BLIX: That’s right, we are still in a primitive international community. But it’s still an international community in which we have a vast amount more of law then we did in the past. That law however is adopted in a different way. You will have elections in a few days and it will give you a legislature which represents the Australian people. We do not have an international legislature as a representative because in the General Assembly of the UN, China has one vote and the Marshall Islands has another vote. And so there’s no way in which anyone would want to give the General Assembly legislative power. That will take a long time before we get there.


FRAN KELLY: But isn’t the problem, too, that it’s hard to reinstate those dialogues in any meaningful way because the threats today are not state player and state player. That was the point back re the invasion of Iraq. People were worried about terrorists, non-state players.


HANS BLIX: Well, that’s what they alleged on the US side. They alleged that al-Qaeda was in Iraq. And that was erroneous, it was said in the public debate in the United States, that this was not so. But they went into Iraq to eliminate weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. They went in there to eliminate al-Qaeda which was not there but which got there. And they went there in order to set up a democracy and they landed in anarchy. You cannot say this was a very successful operation except getting rid of Saddam who was a murderer.


FRAN KELLY: What is the way forward though, in terms of international law and dialogue in dealing with the threat of non-state terrorism?


HANS BLIX: Well, in the first place, multilateralism in the Security Council. You have a Security Council that in which they cooperate nowadays. During the Cold War, a veto was almost automatic, that’s not so. Both the Russians and the Chinese also have an interest in stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction and stopping anarchists and stopping terrorists. So, there is a joint interest and I think they’ll have to have some accommodation between each other.


FRAN KELLY: Is that accommodation coming? Is there enough dialogue between, let’s say, the one recognised superpower, America, and the emerging ones, China and India—because there has been talk about a re-emerging arms race. I mean, is the other major players intent enough on working things out?


HANS BLIX: It’s a bit up and down. And I think that when the Cold War ended in the beginning of the ‘90s, what also happened was the US became the only military superpower, the unilateral one. And I think that they were not sufficiently willing to accommodate, certainly not in the beginning of this century, with the Bush administration. Maybe it’s changing a little, you see that in the case of North Korea, yes, they talk together, they cooperate in Beijing and we hope they will have results. In the case of Iran, the US would like to move ahead maybe, some of them would like to move ahead with use of force but at the moment, at any rate, the State Department are prevailing and have been working together and I think that is to the good.


FRAN KELLY: How dangerous is the point that we’re poised at right now? You talk of a second inconvenient truth, you mentioned Iran there, the tensions there. Iran has been building up its nuclear capacity. North Korea appears to be pulling back from the brink. You know, Pakistan—nuclear armed. What point are we poised at in terms of disarmament right now and have we gone backwards?


HANS BLIX: We are going backwards at the present time. I mean, in the ‘90s the number of nuclear weapons in the world shrunk from the peak during the Cold War, 55,000 weapons to the present, perhaps, 27,000. But what we see now are new arms races. We see the US putting in enormous number, billions, into the space for instance. The Chinese shot down a weather satellite of their own to demonstrate that they can do something, some nuisance there as well. And we have the fight about the missile link that the US wants set up the Czech Republic and in Poland.


What worries me is that I think they’re sliding back into the traditional power politics of balance of power. You see the US making a nuclear agreement with India, why? Well, most people interpret it as saying that, well, they want to have a sort of chain of states around China—containment—India, Australia, Japan, South Korea; and on the European side you see another chain set up also by NATO, with Poland, the Baltic states, and they’ve even talked about Ukraine and Georgia, perhaps Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. And that is, I think, catering for future conflicts. It will trigger the Russians and the Chinese into the Shanghai group, for instance, I would like to see a development that builds on the interdependence of states today. I mean, we are after all, we are agreed that we must stop the avian flu by cooperation or stop the HIV or we must agree to work on the world economy together. Why not also agree to stop shooting?


FRAN KELLY: Hans Blix, thank you very much for joining us, that sounds like a very good idea.


Doctor Hans Blix, the former head of the IAEA, former Chief UN Weapons Inspector and now about to be named the winner of the 2007 Sydney Peace Prize.