If you thought that the end of the Cold War meant the end of the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons (WMDs), well, actually, it’s not that easy.  This was among the points underscored by Dr. Hans Blix, former chief U.N. weapons inspector and present chair of the independent Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (WMDC), during the Italian leg of his E.U. tour.

Blix has been heading the WMDC since its formation in 2003, and the purpose of his tour has been, in part, to promote the WMDC’s new Weapons of Terror report, which all 14 members of the commission have endorsed.  He came to Italy to present Pope Benedict and the Italian authorities with copies of the document.  Speaking on Vatican Radio, Blix called the Vatican an ally in disarmament efforts, after having pointed out in a previous press briefing how inspired he was by the Pope’s speech “In Truth, Peace,” delivered on the World Day of Peace last January.

The report, representing two years’ work by the commission, analyzes global threats and offers 60 recommendations to revitalize global cooperation on disarmament.  For example, all governments are urged to accept the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty drafted ten years ago, requiring states that currently have nuclear weapons to reduce their arsenals and stop producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium for more nuclear weapons.  The commission’s ultimate goal is to see a ban on the possession and use of nuclear weapons resembling current bans on biological and chemical weapons.  To that end, the report proposes a U.N. world summit on disarmament, nonproliferation, and curbing the use of weapons of mass destruction.  The summit would also discuss the implementation of reforms to the United Nations’ current disarmament apparatus.

Blix stresses that, while working through existing international treaties has some weaknesses, a policy based on unilateralism and military actions has failed and has been costly in terms of lives and resources.

Dr. Blix kindly agreed to the following brief interview.

You were at the Wednesday public audience with Benedict XVI: How was your encounter with him?  What did he tell you?

I was very happy to meet the Holy Father and to hand him a copy of the report on how to tackle the question of weapons of mass destruction, which was recently finalized by myself and 13 other international experts.  We are very anxious for it to be received and read not only by the governments or by their defense or disarmament departments but also by religious groups, non-governmental groups, think tanks, and media.  The Pope is a great authority who stands for disarmament and told me that he supported its aim.  I reminded the Pope of his early January message about peace through truth and that it was important to find out the truth.  He said that the Catholic Church would like to help in promoting disarmament, just as we do.  So one may say that we are their allies in this fight.  After all, what is verification and inspection but an attempt to find the truth?  As a matter of fact, international inspection is one means of searching for the truth, and we, as U.N. inspectors, came very close to the truth in Iraq, whereas national intelligence did not do so.  And, indeed, if they had listened in 2003 to what we inspectors had to say, they would have come much closer to the truth than the intelligence agencies did, and maybe the war would have been prevented.  So I think that, in the Church, the churches, and religious organizations, we have allies who are looking for peace, and I hope they will help to disseminate and study the report.  Maybe they won’t like everything in it, but they’ll study it and give constructive ideas and constructive criticism.

The plain truth being that no WMDs were found in Iraq?

Exactly.  After 700 inspections, we did not find any WMDs there, because there weren’t any.  Others believe they saw weapons where there were none.  We know that the inspectors that I commanded gave a description of the reality that was much nearer the truth than the descriptions the CIA and British intelligence gave us.  The result was a war, which meant tens of thousands of people killed and a wave of terrorism.  The only positive result was that Saddam, a cruel dictator and butcher, disappeared, but, apart from that, the result was truly bad.  And what was given as a main reason for the war—the elimination of the weapons of mass destruction—could politely be called a misunderstanding, although many believe that it was an outright lie.

Why do you think the support of the Church and religious groups is important to advance the cause of disarmament and the total banning of WMDs?

I was encouraged that the Catholic Church, its organizations, and especially its many peace organizations have pledged to examine the proposals and ideas we have come up with.  Let’s set the record straight: Without the mobilization of the grassroots and, therefore, favorable public opinion, it will never be possible for a total ban on WMDs to be enforced in earnest.  The Pope, as head of the Catholic Church, is a leading moral authority who, together with the leaders and emissaries of other religious denominations, can do a lot to promote awareness and ultimately secure the victory of our cause.

How have your stint as director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna for 16 years and your time serving as head of UNMOVIC helped to shape your views on the WMD issue?

At the IAEA, I had a good deal of experience in the operation of safeguards control.  Those standards were drafted in the 70’s and gave very modest powers to the inspectors, which is why, in the 80’s, we did not see what the Iraqis were up to.  When we discovered in 1991 that they had been cheating, we worked out new types of verification schemes and rights for the inspectors, which were adopted by a great many countries, and the powers of the agency for conducting inspections are much greater today, so I am happy that this change has come about.

The just-war theory was also used by some to justify the war on Iraq.  How does the WMD issue fit into this picture?

I think there were probably many reasons on the U.S. side for the war, but the only one for which they would get the authorization from the U.S. Congress was the WMDs—particularly the allegation that there was a nuclear program.  (They could not say that Saddam had nuclear weapons.)  I think there were other motives—to try to install democracy there was probably one of them, but they were also about to move their troops from Saudi Arabia, where they were not so welcome.  The United States also felt the need to ensure that the oil sources and the transportation of oil from the Gulf would not be disturbed.  Securing that was one reason behind the war.  Then there was the feeling that Saddam, a little dictator in the corner, was defying the United States, the strongest military power in the world.  So there were many reasons, and the alleged presence of WMDs was only one.

In your press briefing, you spoke about stagnation in the negotiating process for WMDs to be phased out once and for all.  What are the major factors hindering this process?

Since the end of the Cold War, there had been a gradual stagnation in the efforts of global disarmament, and the situation today is miserable.  We still have 27,000 nuclear warheads in the world, and nuclear-weapons states are not taking serious steps to exit the nuclear-weapons age.  We think that, now that the Cold War is over, it should be easier.  It will not happen overnight, but we should take the chance, since we don’t see the will to do that.  We see a dissatisfaction among non-nuclear-weapons states who say that, since we have disarmed, since we have promised we’ll respect this without any time limit, we would like to see the nuclear-weapons states do the same.

Your report tends to downplay the possibility that terrorists may resort to so-called dirty bombs, because of the risk of being killed while accomplishing their action.  What about Islamic suicide bombers?

Our view in the commission is that all nuclear weapons are dangerous, regardless of whose hands they are in.  They’d be more deadly in reckless hands, but they are dangerous everywhere.  You can imagine that, in Pakistan, for instance, if you had a different regime, if President Musharraf somehow were thrown out and replaced by a more fundamentalist regime, I think that the world, the United States and others, would be much more worried about this.  All such weapons per se are dangerous.

You also spoke about space militarization, and the fact that there is almost no debate on such a similarly dangerous issue.  What are the problems here?

We have armies of engineers who are working to improve our communications systems and mobile phones, and another army of engineers is working to see how we can destroy the satellites of other countries.  And if it were to happen, if we were to have a lot of war in space, with a lot of debris, then the internet and all the things that we are accustomed to today, which have become fundamentally and vitally important in the world, might be destroyed.  And people are not aware of it.  Kofi Annan recently said that the world is “sleepwalking” into a very much more armed world and that we need to wake up and come to global agreements.  In other words, although outer space has not yet been specifically weaponized, it is already militarized, and we must absolutely keep any WMDs from being stationed up there.  We must never forget that the risk is also there for a missile to be launched by mistake.

What is your brief assessment of the situation in Iraq?

It is really bad, miserable.  I can only hope that the Iraqi government will gradually be able to have more control.  I think that, for the Iraqi government to have more control, they must show they are not so dependent on the United States, because public opinion there is very much against a continued U.S. presence.  I think the United States could help by saying that we will only be here to try to help you stabilize, but we are determined that we will leave, and we do not want to have any bases in Iraq.

And what about Iran?

I think that there is, above all, time.  There is no rush in the case of Iran, no reason to say that you must answer within two weeks.  The CIA has estimated that Iran could have nuclear weapons maybe in five or ten years, so there is no reason to issue ultimatums; they should talk.

Your final appeal?

We hope now that governments, think tanks, media, and NGOs will study the proposals we have spent several years putting together.  These are experts from around the world who have come forward with concrete proposals, and I think it provides very important information for those who would like to see greater disarmament.