After Sept. 11, the risk of a further spread of weapons of mass destruction is seen in a new light. There is a fear that terrorist groups or reckless states might launch attacks with such weapons. The United States and its allies have now shown their readiness to deal with the risk through armed action in the case of Iraq. A horribly brutal regime has been eliminated and can no longer reactivate a weapons program — if there still was one. How are other suspicious cases to be tackled?

First, which are the suspicious cases, and which weapons are we talking about? Listening to the debate one might sometimes get the impression that the world is full of terrorist organizations and rogue states bent on proliferation. The matter is serious enough without such exaggerations. Chemical and biological weapons might be within the reach of terrorists — whether these are groups or individuals. That risk is taken seriously and there seems to be relatively little problem achieving cooperation between police and financial institutions.

However, the greatest concerns relate to states. The spread of long-range missiles seems to be only somewhat impeded by export controls. As for nuclear weapons, we know that the U.S. and Russia, the UK, France, China, Israel, India and Pakistan have them. We know further that Iraq was developing them and that its capability was eliminated under International Atomic Energy Agency, or IDEA, supervision after the Gulf War. North Korea currently claims it has developed nuclear weapons, while Iran denies it has any ambitions to do so.

If North Korea is not induced to abandon its present course of action, it may create incentives for a further nuclear buildup in East Asia. If Iran were to move toward a nuclear-weapon capability the Middle East situation may be further aggravated.

Clearly, we are no longer where we were only a few years ago, namely, in an almost universally shared effort to write the final chapters of the nuclear nonproliferation book. The U.S. is developing a missile defense, has rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and may be interested in constructing new types of nuclear weapons.

What can be done to resume the remarkably successful efforts that were under way only a few years ago? Nuclear-weapon-free zones had come to extend from Latin America across the whole of Africa to Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. These developments were brought about not through armed actions but through regional and global détente, patient negotiation and the good example of the great powers participating in real disarmament.

The crucial point was always that the foreign and security policies of individual states in the regions, and of the great powers, helped to reduce the incentives to acquire nuclear weapons and to pave the way for a renunciation of them. Security guarantees, including alliances, are among the means of reducing incentives.

It is not hard to see even now that peaceful solutions of the political and security problems in the Middle East, on the Indian subcontinent, and the Korean peninsula probably are the most important elements both to prevent armed conflicts and to tackle the problem of proliferation in these areas. Multilateral assurances to North Korea that it will not be attacked must be a central part of the effort to lead that country away from the possession and export of nuclear materials and missiles. Security Council resolution 687 on Iraq states that disarmament in Iraq constitutes steps toward the goal of establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. That thought should not be missed at the present time, when disarmament is being secured in Iraq and the road map for peace is on the table. Steady movement along the map is clearly fundamental not only for peace but also to the eventual freedom from weapons of mass destruction in the whole region, including Iraq, Iran, Israel and Syria.

It has not been questioned that export controls remain important. Effective long-term international on-site inspection similarly remains a vital instrument in the efforts to counter proliferation. Inspection is designed to create confidence among neighbors and in the world by verifying the absence of weapons programs and by deterring such programs through the risk of detection. In open societies, like Japan’s and South Korea’s, the task is relatively straightforward. The transparency of the societies combined with the international inspection process gives a high degree of confidence. In closed totalitarian societies, like Iraq and North Korea, the task is more difficult.

Inspections in Iraq brought a high degree of confidence that there remained no nuclear-weapon capability and few, if any, SCUD-type missiles. However, despite very far-reaching rights of immediate access to sites, authorities and persons, and despite access to national intelligence and overhead imagery, many years of inspection did not bring confidence that chemical and biological weapons had been eliminated in Iraq. In March, the U.S. gave up on the possibility of attaining adequate and durable assurance on the elimination of proscribed weapons in Iraq through U.N. inspections and instead moved to seek it through armed action.

Does this suggest that international inspection is meaningless in closed societies? No, it can be relied on to verify the absence of the large installations that are likely to be indispensable for nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Full guarantees against research and development are hardly attainable and possible hidden stores of biological and chemical weapons may also be very hard to discover. Armed action and occupation can obviously deal with these risks, but these approaches have great costs and problems and the assurance obtained from them is not likely to last forever.

Inspection and long-term monitoring requires patience and persistence, scarce commodities in national and international politics. While it requires support by individual states it is clearly more easily accepted — and more credible — if managed by authorities which are independent of the states which assist them, for instance, by providing intelligence. Used in this manner, inspection and long-term monitoring through international organizations could provide an important element in the prevention of the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, on the Korean peninsula and elsewhere.

In the fields of missiles and biological weapons, there are presently no specialized intergovernmental organizations that could provide inspection in the manner that the IAEA and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons do in the nuclear and chemical fields. Over the years, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission — Unmoved — has acquired much experience in the verification and inspection of biological weapons and missiles as well as chemical weapons — but only in Iraq. It has scientific cadres who are trained and could be mobilized for cases other than Iraq. If the Security Council gave it a broader mandate, it could provide the Council with a capability for ad hoc inspections and monitoring, whenever this might be needed in the efforts to prevent proliferation.
* Hans Blix is executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.