Jeffrey LewisUNMOVIC Passes Into the Night

Friend of wonk Jackie Shire sends along this lament about the passing of the much maligned UNMOVIC:

With a whimper …

Jacqueline Shire

I should be in a good mood—it’s Friday and I have family coming this weekend for several birthdays and a cupcake taste test (long story involving my chef mother, and the relative merits of Magnolia Bakery vs. Cupcake Café’s buttercream icing).

But I’m not. Because the Security Council adopted a resolution today formally disbanding UNMOVIC, the United Nations Monitoring and Verification Inspection Commission.

Of course the hunt for Iraq’s WMD is over. Denied a role in the post-war WMD search, UNMOVIC inspectors have been working away at UN headquarters, in ever dwindling numbers, continuing to examine satellite imagery and issue quarterly reports to the Security Council. Not that their efforts should be laughably dismissed—they have warned persuasively, for example, of the risks posed by poorly secured chemical and biological weapons sites and the insurgents who one imagines would love to find a little forgotten but still potent mustard agent. The final word on UNMOVIC’s work is contained in a giant 1,000-page compendium, which Ewen Buchanan promises is “bold and honest” with no attempt to “shy away from the mistakes and difficulties encountered” by inspectors.

The loss of UNMOVIC is meaningful in a larger sense. Here is a collection of skilled experts with experience in WMD monitoring, inspections and verification, and whose pre-war assessments of Iraq’s WMD programs were, need anyone be reminded, untainted by dogma and gulp, accurate. There are the calls for establishing a permanent UN body to monitor WMD. Richard Butler’s op-ed in today’s NYT
mentions a report by the United Nations Association and Canada’s Trevor Findlay, whose Center for Treaty Compliance has called for a standing UN verification body. The problem, of course, is the U.S. allergy to multilateral institutions with the word verification anywhere in their mandate.

Perhaps the speed with which this resolution was tabled and brought to a vote (two months, or lightening speed in UN time), has caught the arms control and nonproliferation crowd off guard. Reportedly, Ambassador Khalilzad promised the Iraqi government that revoking the UNMOVIC mandate would be high on his agenda when he arrived at the UN. Iraq wants to close this chapter and retrieve its escrow money from the old oil-for-food accounts which were paying UNMOVIC’s bills. Sadly, there have been no accompanying efforts to forge a new identity for UNMOVIC.

So this weekend, in between birthday toasts, I will offer a quiet one to all the current and former UNSCOM and UNMOVIC inspectors, staff and supporters.

Sadly, our friends over at ThinkProgress chose to focus on the partisan aspect about the decision to shutter UNMOVIC, with commentators expressing a little too much glee over the final failure to find significant evidence of proscribed weapons activity in Iraq.

Our friend Michael Roston forwarded the ThinkProgress post to me, asking “Is this really a good thing?”

No, man, it sucks.

This blog has long supported a different approach—Hans Blix’s proposal
to keep UNMOVIC’s talent together as sort of an international verification team for biological weapons and missiles that would complement chemical and nuclear expertise maintained by the OPCW and IAEA.

Dismantling UNMOVIC just means that we get to reinvent the wheel with future ad hoc inspectorates, something we may regret in the event North Korea agrees to shutter its missile programs as the Clinton Administration had sought.

UNMOVIC had a good track record. Among other things, these are the guys who figured out “Curveball” was full of it.

This blog, of course, wasn’t alone in recognizing the value that UNMOVIC retained. Other proposals to keep around UNMOVIC included:

  • Frank Ronald Cleminson, Modelling a New International Regime for Monitoring and Verification of Compliance: Drawing from Experience in Iraq 1991-2004 (2004)
  • Trevor Findlay. “Preserving UNMOVIC: The Institutional Possibilities,” Disarmament Diplomacy 76 (March/April 2004).
  • Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, “Enforcing WMD treaties: consolidating a UN role,” Disarmament Diplomacy 75 (January/February 2004).
  • Terence Taylor, “Lessons from UNSCOM and UNMOVIC,” Disarmament Diplomacy 75 (January/February 2004).