Hamid Serri of Florida International University writes in a guest column for Informed Comment:
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency under Yukiya Amano is adopting toward Iran the same approach as the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and Hans Blix chose with regard to Iraq. The methods and arguments are very similar and the result will be similar too: No matter what Iran does there will be no end to inspections, questions and gaps of knowledge. Iran needs to adapt accordingly.
The United Nations was an undeniable engine behind the Iraq war in 2003. For 12 years the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) and UNMOVIC fueled tensions by producing reports riddled with accusations that later on were proved baseless. They kept complaining about the ‘knowledge-gaps’ in Iraq story and requested more and more access to Iraq.
The inspectors’ requests were limitless. They inspected “industrial sites, ammunition depots, research centers, universities, presidential sites, mobile laboratories, private houses, missile production facilities, military camps and agricultural sites” but the problems were not solved. So they said they needed aerial surveillance. They used U-2 and Mirage IV medium- altitude surveillance planes along with eight helicopters but their alleged knowledge gaps remained! ( Twelfth Quarterly Report February 28, 2003.)
They also based their reports on unsourced or poorly sourced foreign intelligence reports and asked Iraq for explanations. Consider two of the most infamous accusations based on foreign intelligence reports. Both of these ‘detailed’ foreign intelligence reports were proved baseless after occupation: First,
“Several governments have provided UNMOVIC with information relating to truck- mounted BW agent production facilities. The reports, which are reasonably consistent, refer to a series of usually three large articulated trucks that together comprise a complete, but small, biological factory. The reports indicate that one truck would carry fermenters, another the mixing and preparation tanks and the third, equipment to process and store the product.”
“UNMOVIC has also received many reports of underground facilities involved in a range of proscribed activities from research to the production of CW and BW agents. Such facilities have been reported to be at locations throughout Iraq, from the mountains in the north, to buildings in Baghdad, including a Baghdad hospital.” (Draft Work Program March 17 2003)
Despite the fact that those extensive inspections turned up no real evidence and those intelligence reports turned out to be false, the UN reports became harsher and harsher. On March 17 2003 (3 days before the war) UNMOVIC published a report with a 12 page annex detailing the actions that Iraq had to take to come clean, i.e. the “Draft Work Program March 17 2003.”
The 12 pages that were not necessary at all. Iraq didn’t have a “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) program in 2003. The question is that why did UNMOVIC fail? Why did their inspections move them away from the reality on the ground? Why didn’t they reach the conclusion that in 2003 Iraq didn’t have WMD program? What else did they need? Did they need more inspections, more intelligence or more time? The answer is: None of them!
The problem was not the information, it was the premises of the inspectors. In Robert Jervis’ words the problem was the inspectors were wedded to a theory of Iraq WMD that could never be disproved and so was not ‘disconfirmable’ (see: Robert Jervis, Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War, NY:Cornell University Press, 2010.) Premises such as: we cannot trust Iraq. Inspections with such premises are doomed to fail. Not only will the seemingly dispositive evidence be cherry-picked but the ‘absent evidence’ will be ignored, since you cannot prove a negative.
Hans Blix and crew were never neutral towards Iraq. They had already made their minds, the rest was formality. It seems that people like Amano and Olli Heinonen are insisting in making the same analytic mistake again. In his last article for the pro-Israel “Washington Institute for Near East Policy,” Heinonen bases his article on the judgment that Iran is deceptive and its nuclear program has military dimensions. (See Olli Heinonen. Building on the Opportunity of the IAEA Report on Iran).
He says that Iran’s “shift to higher-enriched uranium that would shorten the time to reach weapons-grade level” is a matter of serious concern. Ordinary nuclear reactors for electricity generation require that the uranium be enriched to about 3.5 percent. But Iran was given a medical reactor that produces isotopes for treating cancer that requires enrichment to 19.75 percent. (Weapons grade enrichment is something like 95 percent). Heinonen does not mention that Iran was forced to try to enrich to 19.75 percent (which is still considered low enriched uranium) because its source of fuel for the medical reactor, Argentina, ceased providing it. From 2009 Iran repeatedly offered to swap its stock Low Enriched Uranium (at 3.5 percent) for fuel for the medical reactor. The offer has been repeatedly rejected. If Iran were so bent on pursuing the construction of a nuclear warhead, it would never show itself willing to send its stock of LEU out of the country. But Heinonen cannot see any of this explanatory context.
Just as UNMOVIC had done in Iraq, Heinonen accuses Iran of having “Undisclosed Production” facilities, a charge that cannot be disproved. His only evidence is that “Concealment and denial have been hallmarks of Iran’s nuclear activities”. If Amano and Heinonen want to take the same road that once Hans Blix took, then we already know what the end result will be: No matter what Iran does there will be no end to inspections, questions and alleged “gaps in knowledge.” Iran needs to adapt accordingly.
Florida International University