Lessons from Iraq

October 01, 1991

Hardly a week has gone by that has not brought new evidence of Saddam Hussein's continued defiance of the U.N. cease-fire agreement. Last week's standoff in a Baghdad parking lot between Iraqi soldiers and a U.N. inspection team began when the inspectors uncovered documents showing Iraq was well on the way toward building a detonating device for nuclear bombs.

Earlier, U.N. inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Commission in Vienna found that Iraq had secretly produced enough weapons grade uranium to make several nuclear bombs. Iraq had repeatedly insisted that its nuclear research program was purely for peaceful purposes. Given its record of mendacity and obfuscation on nuclear matters, it is likely Saddam Hussein never intended to comply with the U.N. order to dismantle Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and that he probably is still trying to get his hands on a nuclear bomb.

Even if he is prevented from achieving that goal, the experience of U.N. inspection teams in Iraq does not bode well for the idea that nuclear proliferation can be halted in other Third World countries. Iraq has shown that the mere fact a country signs the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and allows periodic visits by international inspectors is no guarantee a determined leader won't bend all the resources of his nation to making atomic bombs.

Fortunately, Iraq's program was disrupted by the gulf war, at least temporarily. But at least a half dozen other nations either have or are on the threshold of developing nuclear weapons, including India, Pakistan, Argentina, South Africa, Israel and North Korea. Devising incentives for nuclear disarmament among these new members of the nuclear club will be the greatest challenge to maintaining a stable world order over the coming decade.

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