The UN Disarmament Process: French and American Lessons from Iraq

A lot has changed in Iraq since March 2003: the United States and its allies have occupied the country, the Ba’athist regime is gone, and Saddam has been captured. Yet at least one thing remains the same: the UN inspectors still search for Saddam’s weapons programs. Although no longer allowed to enter Iraq, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), the United Nations inspectorate for Iraq, released its quarterly report to the Security Council–the fifteenth of its kind—on December 3, 2003.

This report did not get much attention, particularly in contrast to the vast media scrutiny the UNMOVIC reports received in the lead-up to the war. This is because the real inspection work in Iraq is now carried out by a U.S.-led group, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), that has no relationship to the United Nations. The U.S. government sees in the findings of the ISG, reported to Congress in October, proof that UN inspections failed to uncover or impede Iraq’s WMD programs. In sharp contrast, the French see the UN disarmament mission to Iraq as a reason and as a the starting point for a more institutionalized system of weapons inspections. They have suggested the creation of a permanent body of international inspectors under the supervision of the United Nations.