Destruction of mass weapons


Former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, the Swedish diplomat who oversaw 700 searches across Iraq—and uncovered no weapons of mass destruction—before the March 2003 invasion, stepped up to a podium at Ida Noyes last Thursday afternoon. Invited by the Harris School, he had come not to say I told you so, although he couldn't resist a jab at the Bush Administration's "faith-based evidence" for war, but to urge worldwide nuclear disarmament. "Another arms race is taking place, despite the end of the Cold War," he warned, noting not only Iran's nuclear aspirations but also nuclear tests by North Korea, India, and Pakistan; new nuclear arsenals in the U.S. and U.K.; and Russia's potential countermeasures to the American missile shield. Moreover, Blix said, the Iraq war and last summer's Israel-Lebanon conflict constitute "arguments for greater restraint."

Now chair of the Stockholm-based Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, a group founded and mostly funded by the Swedish government, Blix traced 50 years of international efforts—some more successful than others—to halt the build-up of nuclear, chemical, and biological arms. The common perception that the world has become less safe, he said, is wrong. During the 1990s, the UN counted 50 armed conflicts worldwide, Blix said; today it counts half that many. And although new arms races are emerging, the U.S. and Russia have scrapped 28,000 of their 55,000 collective nukes. Widening globalization makes war among World War II foes or the U.S. and Mexico "unthinkable," he said. "And China and Russia do not really expect to be attacked by the United States." Meanwhile, the risks of global pandemics and environmental collapse intensify the need for international cooperation. Fighting terrorism requires shared police and intelligence resources, "maybe helicopters or even ground troops, but not aircraft carriers," Blix insisted. "Have you ever tried to shoot a mosquito with a cannon?"

Quoting from a report the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission released last summer, Blix urged obedience to existing test-ban and disarmament treaties and "multilateral guarantees of security" for countries like North Korea and Iran. He also argued for eliminating double standards that condemn countries such as India for behaving the same way as the U.S. and the U.K.

During the Q&A that followed Blix's talk, one student raised the theory that today's "peaceful world is built on a balance of nuclear weapons" and asked whether disarmament might reopen the possibility of bloody conventional war. Blix responded by advocating a corresponding reduction in conventional arms and by saying that "more nukes in more countries means more fingers on more triggers." At the same time, as nations continue to rely on each other, economically and otherwise, "the more absurd a military solution will be."


Photo: Introduced by Harris School professor and deputy dean Charles L. Glaser (at right), Hans Blix called for renewed nuclear disarmament.

Photo by Beth Rooney.

March 12, 2007