Hans Blix: Expert With a Cause

“The world can afford verified disarmament. It cannot afford war.”

Former Weapons Inspector Hans Blix in Vienna | Photo: Walter Henisch

On Friday, Feb. 14, 2003, a special session of the United Nations Security Council was called to hear the briefing by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) on its investigations in Iraq. The report was presented by Commission head, Dr. Hans Blix.

Nearly all member countries were represented at the session, including US Secretary of State Collin Powell, foreign ministers Jack Straw of Great Britain, Dominique de Villepin of France and Joschka Fischer of Germany. The hall was packed. Ignoring the cold, reporters, photographers and TV vans huddled in front of the UN building in New York standing ready to transmit the report across the world.

Such was the magnitude of the moment described by Hans Blix in his book Disarming Iraq: The Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction (published in German as Mission Irak: Wahrheit und Lügen).

“It seemed from our experience that Iraq had decided in principle to provide cooperation on process,” Blix had concluded, “most importantly, prompt access to all sites and assistance to UNMOVIC in the establishment of the necessary infrastructure.”

He had already shared this statement with the UN Security Council in January, and had repeated it in another meeting on Mar. 7, 2003. Nevertheless, ‘Mission Iraqi Freedom’ was launched by the United States and the coalition partners on Mar. 20, ignoring the UNMOVIC report and violating the UN Charter, according to a National Security Strategy whereby the US was unwilling to limit the use of armed forces to cases where armed attacks were ‘imminent.’

The willingness of nations to ignore Article 5.1 of the UN Charter and use military force instead of diplomatic dialogue was part of what brought Hans Blix to the University of Vienna on Nov. 28, for an address entitled, “More Security with Fewer Weapons: The Need for a Revival of Disarmament.”

Born in Uppsala, Sweden and foreign minister in 1978-1979, Hans Blix became Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1980 for 16 years. After he retired in 1997, he was asked by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to preside over the UNMOVIC inspections In Iraq.

Today, at the age of 78, Blix seems to have gathered all possible relevant experience to chair the Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction, an independent think-tank set up by the Swedish government addressing the slowdown and even stalemate of nuclear non-proliferation talks, arms control, and disarmament.

On that Tuesday evening, Blix was worried about the serious decline in institutional and public concern of the security risk imposed by nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, a period during which military spending and world rearmament have been steadily increasing. Last year, for example, $1 trillion were spent world wide on military affairs.

While “the US is developing a new standard nuclear weapon, the UK is getting ready for a decision on a new nuclear program,” he said, “and space is being rapidly militarized and might be weaponized.”

The threat of the nuclear weapons, Blix continued, can be eliminated in two ways: By state’s respecting the restrictions of the UN Charter, and by disarmament measures, under the principle “No Weapons – No Use.”

Speaking before an audience of some two hundred in the small Festsaal of the University, Blix outlined the background of the Commission’s report, Weapons of Terror. Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons. The work of 14 experts from all over the world, the 200-page report outlines sixty recommendations under which different actors can come together to free the world from dangerous weaponry. Recommendations include calls for global ratification of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, for a treaty which would prohibit the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons, and further steps in reducing strategic nuclear arsenal by US, Russia and the EU members.

The recommendations, though ambitious, point towards the new opportunity for a peace order missed after the Cold War. With some 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world, nuclear powers are today increasingly engaging in new armament projects, and are more than ever ready to ignore the UN Charter in the name of terrorism. What Blix and the report point out is that while the nuclear weapons might be particularly dangerous in some hands, they are by nature dangerous in any hand.

As the idea of achieving peace by using weapons has proven a failure, as the Iraqi mission of 2003 shows, the inevitable conclusion must be, he said, that global peace will not be achieved by the deployment, but the abolition of nuclear weapons. Ultimately, Blix has remained committed to the goals presented during the UN Security Council sessions of early 2003, and now, at the age of 78, continues to dedicate his work to making people aware of this global threat.

“[The] world can afford verified disarmament,” he concluded. “It cannot afford war.”

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