Russian Ambassador to United Nations Sergey Lavrov called Richard Butler a liar before the United Nations Security Council in 1998. Representatives of other governments and even a former inspector from Butler’s team accused him of being a puppet for the United States and staffing the U.N. inspectors with U.S. spies as he led the world effort to disarm Iraq in the late 1990s.
“International politics is the dirtiest business I’ve ever been involved in,” Butler said in a telephone interview from his home in Sydney, Australia. Those who accused Butler of lying would lie in front of him and the public when a room full of people knew they were lying, he said, and they knew that the people listening knew they were lying.
Some Americans criticize Butler for parting company with the Bush Administration on using military force in Iraq without U.N. backing. In Australia, Butler is criticized for supporting American policy.
“I am not some kind of peacenik,” he said. “Saddam Hussein is an outlaw, and this is an outlaw regime.”
Butler supports military enforcement but he insists that it must be done without endangering the authority of the United Nations and its Security Council, or the world faces uncertain, possibly dire, consequences.
From mid-1997 through mid-1999, the former Australian Ambassador to the United Nations was the executive director of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), the agency assigned to inspect and monitor Iraq’s compliance with disarmament terms after the Gulf War.
The Greatest Threat: Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the Crisis of Global Security, published in 2000, is Butler’s account of how the Iraqi regime undermined his authority, as expected. More surprisingly, however, nations on the U.N. Security Council and members of the U.N. staff undermined his authority without considering the implications for world security in the name of “peace at any cost.”
A crucial argument Butler makes in Fatal Choice Nuclear Weapons and the Illusion of Missile Defense, published in 2001, is that the only way to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction is for the United States to lead the way. Only if the United States is serious about disarming itself, its allies, and rogue nations – in concert with the free nations of the world – will humankind prevent unprecedented death and destruction.
“My greatest fear is that we will have to endure some kind of catastrophe,” Butler said, before the nations of the world decide nuclear weapons must be banned from the planet.
The world edges toward making the fatal choice. If Israel retaliates against an Iraqi attack with a nuke, for example?
“The world changes unrecognizably,” Butler said. The world faces a minimum of an arms race that accelerates and spreads among the rogue and third world nations, he says, and the likelihood that there will be further nuclear exchanges that will escalate in scale. This is why it is imperative that the United States work with a coalition of U.N.nations, Butler advises, and America must not undermine the authority of Security Council in any single case, including Iraq.
No starry eyes about Security Council
The Greatest Threat is the inside story of the United Nations’ failure to stop Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from building weapons of mass destruction. In this fascinating and frightening account, Butler makes clear that powerful Security Council members would rather ignore Hussein’s regime than enforce disarmament.
The same nations bolstering Iraq in the United Nations today — France, Russia and China — obstructed disarmament over the past 12 years. Nations oppose action in Iraq for reasons of political prestige, and more importantly, for national and even personal economics. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov had a personal stake in the Iraqi government.
“There is no question that Primakov was taking payoffs from the Iraqis,” Butler said.
“I don’t have starry eyes about the Security Council,” Butler said, but undermining its authority or dismissing it as irrelevant will have far-reaching security, economic and political implications. No one in the West should underestimate the danger of an ineffective United Nations, a disaffected Arab street, the possibility for wars in which weapons of mass destruction — including nuclear weapons — are exchanged, or incessant lower-death-toll terrorist attacks, Butler says.
All of this has enormous implications for first responders and the wireless communications industry. Unaware is unprepared. Are we heading down that same path again with inspections? Will military enforcement mean no resolution to the problem of rogue states possessing weapons of mass destruction and bring them to the streets of the United States? Butler’s experience with antiterrorism on the international stage qualifies him to speak to the possibility of terrorist groups attacking local, smaller targets. Butler will provide insights in his keynote speech at 9 a.m. Wednesday at IWCE.
Hussein’s survival strategy is likely to revolve around attempts to bring the Arab world to his side. “It would be foolish not to assume,” Butler said, that Iraq will unleash hit squads around the world as it did during the Gulf War, or aid terrorist attacks by other groups on Western nations.
While links between al Qaeda and the Hussein government are tenuous, the threat of Iraqi terrorism or providing aid to any number of terrorist groups is very real. Although Osama bin Laden has mentioned “an alliance of convenience” in a recent tape, bin Laden and Hussein despise each other. Bin Laden is a religious fanatic and Hussein is a secular, socialist dictator. They are unlikely to form a lasting alliance. But any connections could be dangerous, said Butler, who saw terrorist training camps firsthand in Iraq.
Cast as the villain
At the end of Butler’s tenure, Iraq was left armed and dangerous, yet UNSCOM and — in an Iraqi sleight-of-hand — Butler became as controversial on the world stage as Iraq’s weapons.
Butler completed his two-year tenure as executive chairman June 30, 1999. A successor was not appointed. Disarmament of Iraq slipped out of public consciousness until the Bush Administration revived the issue after the terrorist attacks on the United States. In the interim, UNSCOM was replaced by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), and Dr. Hans Blix of Switzerland became executive chairman March 1, 2000, amidst political wrangling by the Security Council states.
After Butler’s appointment in July 1997, the government of Iraq made a strategic decision to make UNSCOM and its executive chairman, Butler, the center of a propaganda campaign deflecting attention from its failure to comply with the disarmament agreements.
UNSCOM became the last battle of the Gulf War, Butler says. Iraq planned to cement what it claimed as victory — survival of the regime with its weapons programs operational — by defeating UNSCOM and branding Richard Butler as the highest hurdle between it and certification of compliance with the world’s disarmament demands.
Butler’s abrasive style did not jibe well with the prevailing attitudes of the United Nations. Most of the U.N. people — including Secretary-General Kofi Annan who hired Butler — appeared determined to find a peaceful, negotiated solution even if it was with little or no substance. Butler even heard the words “peace at any cost.”
The pressure was enormous to declare victory, lift economic sanctions meant to compel Iraq to comply, and dismiss the problem as solved without a full accounting of Hussein’s weapons.
Butler said that Kofi Annan’s trip to Baghdad in 1998 — in which he received promises from Iraq with his personal reputation on the line, only to later realize that he had been played for a fool — opened Annan’s eyes. “I think that made him a wiser man,” Butler said. “The price of peace might be too high.” Butler said that Annan seems to be more inclined to support forced disarmament.
If Iraq provides full information and destroys or proves that it destroyed all illegal weapons, the crisis is over, according to the Americans. That is unlikely, Butler says. His experience with Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s deputy prime minister, would indicate that the Iraqis will never comply but continue to cheat and lie as a matter of policy. The same maneuvers that opened Annan’s eyes will continue.
“There’s no daylight between Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz,” Butler said. Aziz wields power in the regime because of his mastery of English and his ruthlessness. Aziz is a safe henchman for Hussein because he is a Christian. A non-Muslim is unlikely to build a coalition to rule Iraq. Aziz has held a number of official titles in the Hussein regime. At the time of UNSCOM, he was the liaison between Butler and the United Nations inspectors and the Iraqi regime.
The most revolting human being
Aziz’s excuses and lies are so transparent in Butler’s accounts that they would seem childish and funny, if they did not have such deadly consequences. Every now and then, though, Aziz would drop his guard and his venal nature or the regime’s real policies would spill from his mouth. “The most important one, of course, was his admission that they made biological materials to get rid of the Jews,” Butler said.
“He is the most revolting human being I have ever met,” Butler said. Aziz would complain that U.N. sanctions starved Iraqi children, while puffing on a $50 Cuban cigar and sipping expensive whiskey, feigning insult when Butler turned down a cigar or a drink. When Aziz traveled to New York for the U.N. meetings, he rode in limos, stayed at the finest hotels and had hookers with low-cut necklines on his arm, Butler said. “He is a total sleaze.”
Aziz will need to go when Hussein goes. But how they will go is difficult to predict. Rather than comply, it is a bit more likely Hussein and his insiders will escape to a safe haven or be forced into exile, according to Butler, who has been a career diplomat for more than three decades.
The most likely outcome is still military action of some kind, however, Butler said. The critical question remains whether the United Nations will be behind it, neutral or against it.
Powell’s fabulous job
On Feb. 6, American Secretary of State Colin Powell made a case to the Security Council that parrots the case Butler makes in The Greatest Threat. The strategy of the Iraqis is cheat, retreat, cheat and retreat.
“Secretary Powell did a fabulous job,” Butler said, of laying out the case that Iraq was in noncompliance. In recent weeks, Powell may have gone too far in trying to draw a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda, Butler said. “That may have been a mistake.” It does not diminish the evidence, however, that Iraq is unwilling to comply.
It would be a mistake if the United States acts despite a veto in the Security Council by the French or the Russians, Butler said. The next time that the United States wanted to use its veto it would become apparent that the Security Council is broken, perhaps beyond repair.
In all his writing, Butler makes the point that the world needs to look beyond Saddam Hussein and to the global eradication of weapons of mass destruction. That initiative needs to be led by the United States but with a coalition of free nations acting in concert. Otherwise, Butler warns, the greatest threat will remain proliferation of weapons of mass destruction with no worldwide consensus to stop their distribution among the most corrupt dictators and the most viscous terrorists.