The Alternative Dossier 4: Interview with Ralf Ekeus

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'The inspectors and the directorate of the inspections were pressurised to undertake controversial inspections... and thereby cause a stalemate which could form the basis for direct military action.' Rolf Ekeus

This is an edited interview with Rolf Ekeus on Swedish radio, 29 July 2002. Ekeus was executive chairman of Unscom 1991-97. He was Sweden's ambassador to the US 1997-2000. He is also chairman of the governing board of the Stockholm Peace Conference and OSCE high commissioner on national minorities. We join the interview as Ekeus explains how the US influenced Unscom inspection tours...

The Americans wanted to influence the inspections to further certain fundamental US interests. I don't think this was the case during the first few years, as there was, at that time, a genuine concern about the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that Iraq could have. There were some, especially the US, who were interested in getting hold of [information about] other forms of capacity [than WMD]. For example, how were Iraq's security services organised, what was the conventional military capacity, etc. I was head of Unscom, from 1991 to 1997, and I was conscious of this ambition to gather information that did not have anything directly to do with proscribed weapons. For me, the task was to have such discipline and a structure in the organisation that there would be no attempts to exploit the system of inspections as a cover for other activities.

What kind of activities?

To attempt to gather information about other aspects [of Iraq], for example about the location of Saddam Hussein, which could be of interest if one were to target him personally...about areas that were not within the UN mandate. It is entirely wrong for the UN to be a cover for that type of activities.

Is it the case that the UN did become a cover at times?

Yes, there were attempts. I think it succeeded. During my time [as head of inspections] I don't think there were any such activities, but the pressure did increase with time. Another aspect of this was the attempts to create crises in relations with Iraq, which to some extent were linked to the overall political situation, internationally, but also nationally. This put pressure on the inspectors.

I think that we managed to ward off such attempts until 1997. But there were always different interests from all powers, from the US, but also from the Russians, with Russia taking action.

What do you mean by 'creating crises'?

That the inspectors and the directorate of the inspections were pressurised to undertake controversial inspections--at least inspections that the Iraqis thought were controversial--and thereby cause a stalemate which could form the basis for direct military action.

Creating a crisis--isn't that provocation?

There was an ambition to cause a crisis through pressure for, shall we say, blunt provocation, for example by inspection of the Department of Defence, the Ministry of Defence in Baghdad, which at least from an Iraqi point of view must have been very provocative. It is possible that the inspectors--this was after my time--believed that there was something of interest in those buildings. I did not believe this, as I was entirely convinced that there was no [WMD] material in that type of building. There could be situations where we prepared for such a hard round of inspections, and then were put under pressure from the US to halt them, as, all of sudden, a confrontation was no longer wanted, owing to wider political interests. It could have something to do with the wider situation in the Middle East, with US-Russian relations--something to do with other priorities which for the moment were more important.

If I understand you correctly, it could be the case that one week there was an interest in creating a conflict with Iraq, and the next week the American president was going to Moscow, and then you were supposed to take it easy?

Well, that is an abstract example, but there developed hard pressure primarily from the US, but also from other members of the Security Council, that the inspectors should take into account not only the work to find and destroy proscribed materials and equipment, but also strategic and tactical considerations, which corresponded to the interests of individual members of the Security Council. This was a dangerous development for the UN, as it ran the risk of overstepping its mandate.

And this also gave Iraq a reason to question the whole system of inspections?

They did question it all along anyway, but it is true that it lent more credibility to their accusations and complaints, and that other informed observers thought that there was some substance to their claims, namely that the inspections were adapted to suit the interests of great powers.

What does this mean for the new inspections organisation [Unmovic] under the leadership of Hans Blix, which is prepared, but which has not yet managed to leave the headquarters in New York?

It is almost entirely up to the US whether they are prepared to give inspections a chance.

But is there anything indicating that the US would not be interested in invading Iraq, and deposing Saddam Hussein?

Well, what we try, quite a few of us, is to convince the US that it is possible to carry out successful inspections, in the way we did before. It is a question of sticking to the rules of the game.

But my question was whether you see any signs that this will happen?

Yes, I see that the US, in the internal decision-making process about which I have information, does consider and analyse the system of inspections, to start the inspections again. But it could also be that there will be a mix of some sort.

What would that look like?

There is a thought to link inspections very closely to heavy military backing, without an outright war. This is the sort of thing that is being pondered.

An armed inspectorate?

Some sort of backing, that's right.

Could you explain that further?

No, I don't want to do that, as this is so topical. There are a number of people involved in this, thinking about this.

Are you involved?

I have no comments about that.


This article is part of the alternative dossier:

Intro - War, weapons and Iraq

1 - Arms and the Man

2 - Countdown to War

3 - An Inspector Calls

4 - Interview with Rolf Ekeus

5 - Chemical Reaction

6 - Sanctioning Murder

7 - With Friends Like These

A number of people helped in compiling this dossier. Thanks to Andrew Stone, David Shonfield, Lindsey German, Glen Rangwala and the Labour Against the War briefing paper, Sandy Nicoll, Colin Wilson and Martin Empson.