Several non-military steps might work to ease Iraqi threat

October 21, 1990|By Michael T. Klare | Michael T. Klare,Pacific News ServiceMichael T. Klare, author of several books on the global arms trade, is associate professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.

The real sticking point to any negotiated resolution of the Persian Gulf crisis is the U.S. goal of getting rid of Iraq's budding military-industrial complex -- especially its missile factories, chemical weapons facilities and nuclear arms laboratories.

From the start of the crisis, many U.S. policy-makers have argued that regional stability cannot be secured so long as Iraq retains a significant capability to engage in future military adventures.

"If we walk away from the present crisis leaving intact [Saddam Hussein's] ambitions and Iraq's offensive capability," Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., warned in August, "then Iraq will surely strive to acquire the nuclear capability to destroy all of Israel and dominate the entire Arab world." Hence, he said, we cannot resolve the present crisis "without destroying Iraq's capacity for future aggression."

While President Bush has yet to openly endorse the concept of a pre-emptive strike against such facilities, senior administration officials have indicated strikes against them are being contemplated as part of any future military clash with Iraq.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III further noted last month that preventing the proliferation of suchtechnologies is now a central objective of U.S. foreign policy.

But how can the United States demobilize such capabilities without a war? While other key U.S. goals in the gulf crisis -- the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait and the restoration of Kuwait's original leadership -- can conceivably be achieved through diplomatic means, it is hard to imagine any diplomatic settlement that would entail the voluntary dismantling of Iraqi military facilities.

CAny effort to address this question must first distinguish existing military capabilities from programs that are still in the research stage.

Iraq has a significant chemical weapons arsenal and a limited supply of short-range ballistic missiles, but it is far from mastering the myriad technologies needed to produce nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Nor can Iraq develop these technologies on its own: To produce functional ICBMs and nuclear weapons, Iraq must acquire specialized materials and technical assistance from foreign sources, either in the West, the Soviet Union or China. If these imports of parts and services are cut off, as now appears to be the case, Iraq will not be able to acquire an operational atom bomb or ICBM.

That leaves Iraq's existing capabilities, especially its chemical weapons and short-range missiles. Here, too, the growth and long-term viability of this capability can be constrained through a continued embargo by the world's major powers on military parts and services from abroad.

To prevent Baghdad from employing the weapons it now possesses, however, other measures will be needed. The first priority is for Washington to rule out attacks on Iraqi chemical and missile facilities so long as these weapons are not used against the United States or against any of its allies. The more Mr. Hussein fears an attack on these capabilities, the higher the probability he will employ them pre-emptively in what the military calls a "use 'em or lose 'em" scenario.

At the same time, the United States can reinforce its warning that any aggressive use of such weapons by Iraq would be met with devastating retribution.

The second step would be to force Iraq to abide by the proposed Chemical Weapons Convention as a precondition for the lifting of United Nations sanctions on non-food items. (The convention, a treaty that is nearly ready for signing, would ban the production and use of all lethal chemical agents.)

However defiant Mr. Hussein may now appear, Iraq has no alternative but eventually to seek to rejoin the world community and begin the reconstruction of its war-ravaged economy. It is not unreasonable to expect that Baghdad would be willing to exchange its chemical weapons capabilities for needed economic assistance, especially if other countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union, also sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, as is expected. As Iraqi chemical weapons stocks are destroyed under U.N. supervision, the trade embargo could be progressively relaxed.

Iraq's missile forces could be constrained in a similar manner. Assuming that Iraq is permitted (through a negotiated settlement) to retain sufficient conventional forces to protect its territory against future attack by Iran or Syria, it could be made to forgo its missile capabilities in exchange for the relaxation of U.N. sanctions.

Such an agreement would be abetted, of course, by the negotiation of regional constraints on missile deployments modeled on the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Would these measures work? No one can say in advance that they would be 100 percent effective -- but then neither is there any guarantee that pre-emptive strikes would be 100 percent effective. Either approach entails some degree of risk. But military action would almost certainly precipitate retaliation by Iraq with whatever weapons survive an initial attack, while a non-military approach, as suggested here, provides a lot more room to maneuver.

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