There comes a time when the prevarications and faulty logic of official policy become so extreme that only satire can shed light on the truth. We have reached such a point with respect to the warmongering of the United States and Britain in relation to Iraq’s alleged possession of a threatening stockpile of chemical and biological weapons.

George Bush and Tony Blair are trying to impose a deadline of March 17th, just days away, for Saddam Hussein to prove that he does not have weapons of mass destruction. If Bush and Blair succeed in getting the support of the UN Security Council for this, they are prepared to proceed to war. From their pronouncements, they seem determined to proceed to war even without Security Council approval.

But how can Hussein prove that he doesn’t have something? What would the proof be that something doesn’t exist? If he were asked to prove that he has something, he could simply provide it and that would be the proof. To prove that he doesn’t have something, however, is far more problematic. You can’t just say, “Here is what I don’t have.”

Perhaps it is reasonable within the context of the continuing UN inspections to seek a fuller accounting of the stocks of chemical and biological weapons that Iraq claims to have destroyed in the early 1990s. Iraq may be in a position to give a more complete accounting or an explanation of whatever gaps exist in its record-keeping. Once this has been done, then to continue pressing Iraq to prove a negative is a deliberate ploy to make the inspection alternative to war fail.

So what is Hussein to do? He has let the UN inspectors into his country. He has opened his palaces to the inspectors. He has been destroying missiles that are just marginally over the permitted range. He has allowed U-2 overflights of Iraq. He has permitted Iraqi scientists to be interrogated by inspectors in circumstances that protect the confidentiality of the communications. Each time that Iraq does more to cooperate with the inspectors, it is dismissed by Bush and Blair as insufficient, as some sort of insidious trick.

It seems an utter impossibility under these circumstances that Hussein could prove his case to the satisfaction of Bush and Blair in a few days time, or ever, for that matter. It seems increasingly clear that the last thing that Bush and Blair seek is for Hussein to prove his case convincingly.

Given the mindset of Bush and Blair and the impossible task they have given to Hussein to prove a negative, it seems apparent that they are simply setting a deadline to get on with the war they seek for a series of undisclosed reasons. If the Security Council supports such a deadline, they will be giving the UN stamp of approval to this criminal form of lunacy. Setting a deadline to go to war when the weapons inspections are succeeding, as Chief UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix and IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei agree they are, amounts to setting a timebomb under the United Nations itself.

We would like to offer our own modest proposal. Why not set a deadline for Bush and Blair to demonstrate conclusively that Iraq does have weapons of mass destruction? Surely if such weaponry exists and could be found by means of war, it can be demonstrated to exist by peaceful means. Surely, the vast intelligence efforts devoted to Iraq over the course of the past decade, bolstered by defectors and by interviews with Iraqi scientists and engineers, would have established the existence of such weaponry if it exists.

This proposal does not contain the logical fallacy of demanding the proof of a negative. If the US and Britain cannot prove that Saddam is hiding weapons of mass destruction, then the United Nations should immediately remove its sanctions on Iraq, sanctions that have caused terrible suffering and death to the Iraqi people for more than ten years. The US and Britain should also drop their intrusions of Iraqi sovereignty that have included almost daily bombings. Such a course would make far more sense than accepting the Bush/Blair proposal. To be fair we propose to give Washington and London until the end of March to prove this positive!

The burden of proof should be on those who propose the use of force, not on those who oppose it. Most members of the Security Council understand this. If Bush and Blair do not meet this burden of proof within a reasonable time period, their calls and planning for war should cease.

The UN inspections in Iraq can and should continue, and in fact they should be used as a model for inspecting all countries that have or are suspected of having weapons of mass destruction, including the five permanent members of the Security Council. This would be an important step in moving the world toward transparency and recognition that weapons of mass destruction are not suitable instruments in the hands of the leaders of any country, including those presided over by Bush and Blair. If we want to remove the menace of weapons of mass destruction, we need to establish a reliable regime of prohibition that applies to all countries and does not single out a few non-western states.
* Richard Falk is chairman and David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. They are co-editors of The Iraq Crisis and International Law.