Deutsche Welle, Press Release

Ex-UN arms inspector: Get rid of Assad’s arsenal

Former UN arms inspector Rolf Ekéus tells DW why it’s unlikely that the expected UN report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria will include a smoking gun and why the world must act to eliminate Assad’s stockpiles.

DW: You were head of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) with the mission to inspect and destroy Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Do you see parallels between your Iraq experience and the current situation in Syria?

Rolf Ekéus: There are clear parallels. In this case Syria has accepted to go along I guess with the Russian initiative that the weapons should be identified and eliminated in one way or the other. Either taken out of the country or destroyed in Syria.

It is not surprising because there are certain parallels between Iraq and Syria, even if the religious balance is different. But the majority of Sunni in Syria and the majority of Shia in Iraq are or were oppressed by dictators using a secular approach to balance the religions with the help of the Socialist Baath party system. So there are clear parallels in the structures. Syria is of course different because there we have a rebellion.

A core issue in the haggling over the UN resolution is the threat of military force in case Syria does not fulfill its obligations. Are you in favor or against including the phrase “by all means necessary” which is UN talk for military measures in the resolution?

As the former UN chief of disarming Iraq I can’t formally be that, because this operation of disarming Iraq was under the guidance of the Security Council, it was directly under the Security Council’s control. If Iraq refused entry to certain facilities the Security Council could threaten serious consequences in order to give the Council flexibility. They didn’t say we will kill you, but they said you will be subject to serious consequences if you block the inspectors. I think that is a formula which is rational.

But this case is different. Saddam didn’t ask to get rid of his chemical weapons. He was forced because of the cease-fire resolution which was implemented after Kuwait was liberated. In this case, Syrian authorities together with the Russians said ‘We would like to get rid of the weapons,’ so I don’t think one should threaten, but the phrase ‘serious consequences,’ I think the Security Council should accept this.

It should adopt a resolution that is a binding resolution, Chapter 7, not presidential statements which the Russians have proposed. It should say: Syria’s chemical weapons should be eliminated, removed and destroyed. And if Syria suddenly starts to go back on its own proposal that would have serious consequences.

What is your best hope and worst fear for the Syrian conflict?

My best hope is a step-by-step approach with the idea to get rid of the chemical weapons. It would create a political sense of momentum to get the parties to negotiations in Geneva as soon as possible. It is good that [John] Kerry and [Sergey] Lavrov are meeting now and are taking steps in that direction. I think that is what every one in the region wishes, even Israel supports such a peaceful solution and that would obviously also be in the interest of the US and Europe.

My worst fear is what the American conservative strategist Edward Luttwak said: Let them continue to kill each other. If one side is winning it would be a tragedy for the other side. If Assad wins the Sunni would be suffering, if the Sunni win, the Alewites, Christians and Druze will suffer. It’s much better that they continue to kill each other, so that will be the balance until they are exhausted.

I think that is what is awaiting us. There are only two alternatives. One is the Geneva talks and the other the continuation of the awful and terrible suffering.

Rolf Ekéus was executive chairman of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) from 1991 and 1997 where he was responsible for work to eliminate the Iraqi infrastructure for nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. From 1997 to 2000 he served as Sweden’s ambassador to the United States. Ekéus is also chairman emeritus of the board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)