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from issue no. 09 - 2006

HANS BLIX. Freedom from nuclear arms

Enrich the poor, not uranium

He said that there were no arms of mass destruction in Iraq. Now he wants «the West to address Iran as a country that has its own dignity». And for non-proliferation to be accompanied by help to the developing countries. Meeting with Hans Blix

Interview with Hans Blix by Giovanni Cubeddu

Hans Blix

Hans Blix

There were days when the whole world that didn’t want the last war in Iraq waited for the official declarations of a former Swedish Foreign Minister, member of a noble family, to whom, with the enthusiastic endorsements of Russia and France, Kofi Annan had assigned the task of chief of the UN inspectors in Iraq, in the search for the still elusive weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein. And he, Hans Blix, was determined not to let a war based on a lie happen. Because, then as now, the truth according to Blix demands verification, an inspection and not emanations from various circles in Washington. Since 2003, having left the mandate at the United Nations, Blix leads The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, an independent body financed by the Swedish government, with which Blix, along with another 13 experts from all over the world, is trying to persuade people of the advantages and the indeed vital necessity of nuclear non-proliferation. In June his Commission published an exhaustive report, Weapons of terror. Freeing the world from biological, chemical and nuclear weapons (which was also delivered to the Pope).
30Days met Hans Blix. Magnetic smile, great vitality, simple language interwoven with veiled irony: a man full of realism. He is an unquestionable authority. Here he is.

Mr. Blix, the question of Iran has been put at the top of the world agenda, but it is probably the wrong way to face the problem of non-proliferation. Which points in your last report deal with this crisis concretely and, more in general, with the relaunching of non-proliferation?
HANS BLIX: In a more general way, we give importance to the fact that the community of States must return to a wider use of global conventions and tools, such as the United Nations or the Geneva Disarmament Conference. Starting out from this option, we must strengthen the Non-proliferation Treaty, and it is necessary that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty comes into force that would prohibit nuclear tests throughout the world: it has been completed but has not been yet been ratified by a certain number of States, including the United States. Additionally, a reduction in the production of enriched uranium and of plutonium for military purposes has been recently proposed by the United States, without however the possibility of verification being included... If the United States were to add this verification, it would certainly be a very worthwhile initiative.
The report also proposes that Russia and the United States reduce the number of their nuclear warheads and that nuclear weapons should be withdrawn from Europe; the Russians, then, should withdraw them to their stockpiles in Russia, while the American atomic bombs should be withdrawn from Western Europe.
There are therefore a certain number of proposals, in our report there are sixty, of which around half concern nuclear weapons.
The other half?
BLIX: They concern biological and chemical weapons, space and missiles. Space is of no less importance. There is today an army of engineers working to improve our communications, that is the possibility of phoning each other or of using internet… But we have another army of engineers that each year spends billions of dollars to see how we can knock down our satellites and were that to happen by mistake catastrophes could occur. We are afraid that humanity, after the end of the Cold War, may have gone to sleep on the problem of disarmament – “the danger has passed” it is said, “it will not be possible to destroy human civilization any more” – and it is preferable to speak only of the other important subject of the global warming of the planet, but meanwhile the atomic bombs remain there... We are still faced with the problem of the 27,000 nuclear warheads in our possession.
President George W. Bush, 
during his speech to the Military Officers Association of America,  5 September  2006

President George W. Bush, during his speech to the Military Officers Association of America, 5 September 2006

But of the sixty proposals of the report, which could be easily achieved immediately?
BLIX: The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear tests is already ready. It only needs ratification, and the principal lines for a treaty on the cutting of uranium enrichment are already set out.
What do you think of a “nuclear” Iran?
BLIX: The Commission retains that it would be desirable to induce Iran to stay away from uranium enrichment, because if they continue to enrich it also at the level of only four per cent, on a large scale, this would greatly increase the tension in the Middle East. Things are going in a mistaken way today, we should rather obtain on the part of all a commitment to stay away from nuclear arms. An idea that we encourage is that all the States, including Israel, could adopt the obligation of not producing more enriched uranium or plutonium. The Israelis want to keep their nuclear weapons, and I don’t believe that they will ever arrive at giving them up, but they could at least make the commitment of not producing more plutonium. The Iranians could avoid uranium enrichment and we must address the same proposal to Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. That could spare the Middle East the tensions that trouble it today and be a step ahead in the solution of its problems.
Do you understand what the real intentions of the Iranians are? They are disposed to negotiate, but they continue to enrich uranium...
BLIX: There are different groups in Iran. Iran is not Iraq. Iraq was subject to the will of a single man, in Iran there are plural wills and I don’t believe that, from the point of view of security, it needs nuclear weapons; the Iranians are not threatened by the Pakistanis, they are not threatened by the Turks and are no longer threatened by the Iraqis. Maybe in Iran they are worried about the Americans, who have 130,000 soldiers in Iraq and bases in Pakistan, Afghanistan and central Asia … The American army is taking aim at targets in Iran and maybe this worries the Iranians. Therefore I retain that they need some guarantee about their own safety, just like North Korea, that seems to have been able to obtain guarantees about this from the Americans. Therefore, security should be an important aspect of this agreement. I believe then that it is important that the Western world addresses Iran as a country that has its own dignity: you don’t tell 57 million Iranians that they must behave themselves... I judge it to be counterproductive. And I believe that there must be reasons for which Iran could abstain from enriching uranium. The Iranians in fact have only two plants, two nuclear reactors, and it is not economically advantageous to set up a procedure of enrichment for only two reactors. My own country, Sweden, has ten reactors and the enriched uranium we need we import. I think therefore it will be possible on the Iranian side to renounce enrichment. They affirm they have the right to enrich uranium, and this is true, because the Non-proliferation Treaty doesn’t ban it, but you’re not forced to exercise each right that you have in this world if it’s not to your advantage.
Foreign politics is by now influencing the relations between President Bush and the American Congress; according to you would Congress approve the strategic bombing of Iran that American sources sometimes seem to air?
BLIX: Yes, there is talk of strategic bombing, but I am not sure that the Americans know all the targets, I believe that they know some. I have my doubts that Congress would approve them, because there is much discussion and resentment concerning the authorization granted in the autumn of 2002, that was permission to use force, with the fundamental intent of strengthening the hands of the president during the negotiations – it was not a green light for the war. And many of the representatives in Congress who would never have wanted to authorize the war wanted instead to strengthen the power of the president. Also we, the inspectors of the UN, were happy about the pressure of the United States on Iraq, because had that not been used I believe that Iraq would never have admitted the inspectors. Today I maintain that in the American Congress there is a little reluctance, also on the part of many Republicans, to authorize any use of force in Iran, because by now they have had the experience of what has happened in Iraq. The administration lets it be known that in this regard it doesn’t have plans on the agenda, but this is not exactly the same as saying: «We won’t do it». It is not a planned thing, it is not in their intentions, but it would make us very happy to hear it said that they won’t do it.
Looking at the recent nuclear agreement between the United States and India, it seems that with regard to non-proliferation two yardsticks exist. For example, Brazil some months ago also affirmed its right to uranium enrichment. And the Ukraine, after the recent gas crisis with Moscow, claimed it too.
BLIX: That’s true. There is a difference between Israel, Pakistan, India on the one side and Iran on the other. Iran has ratified the Non-proliferation Treaty, and has committed itself to not having atomic weapons. Israel, Pakistan and India have never tied themselves to such ratification, and they possess nuclear weapons, all three, but they are not violating a commitment. Now, theoretically Iran could withdraw from the Treaty, like North Korea tried to do, and then say: «We feel threatened, we need atomic weapons». But they are not saying that, and I believe however that it would not be wise. I consider it better to move in a different direction. However, I agree on the fact that, from an ordinary point of view, one might see in this matter the double yardstick factor. Israel can have two hundred nuclear weapons, but if Iran produces a quantity of uranium in the order of milligrams or also of kilograms at the level of 4% enrichment, then it is said that this is a different question …
The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the inaugural ceremony of the production plant 
for heavy water at the nuclear reactor in Arak, 180 km southeast of Teheran, 26 August  2006

The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the inaugural ceremony of the production plant for heavy water at the nuclear reactor in Arak, 180 km southeast of Teheran, 26 August 2006

Many developing countries today claim that Iran has every right to have advanced nuclear technology, in respect of the Non-proliferation Treaty, and, more in general, they believe that the Western governments don’t have the right to use nuclear power to resolve their energy problems while they deny the same right to other countries, accusing them, when they approach nuclear research, of wanting the atomic bomb.
BLIX: It’s being said around that the Non-proliferation Treaty is by now invalid: it was damaged by Iraqi deceit, by the North Koreans, by the Libyans and, finally, the Iranians reneged on their obligations, taken on the basis of the Safeguard Agreement [an additional agreement that commits the member countries of the Non- proliferation Treaty to authorize the International Agency for Atomic Energy, the IAAE, for more in-depth inspections, aimed at avoiding illegal nuclear proliferation, ed]. But there have also been successes. We have had the Ukraine, Belarus, Khazakistan, that have signed the Non-proliferation Treaty and then Argentina, Brazil, Algeria, Vietnam and so on. So, I would not indeed say that this Treaty is about to collapse, I believe instead that it has had a large measure of success.
When the peaceful uses of nuclear energy are spoken about, well: the world has need of limiting its use of oil and gas, also for reasons of security. If we look at this problem from the point of view of global warming, the reasoning remains valid, we must restrict the emissions of CO2 and limit our thirst for oil in the world because of the competition for oil and gas that there is in the Middle East and central Asia. This is what is stirring up people. Had it not been for the oil, I don’t believe that there would have been the first war in Iraq, the Gulf war and probably not even the second Gulf war. We must have alternatives to oil. Nowadays, as a rule, I don’t find anyone who is contrary to wind or solar energy, or that produced from tidal motion, from biomasses, from ethanol and so on. But all these alternative sources don’t generate those enormous quantities of energy which we need. The need for electricity in Calcutta is not satisfied by using tidal or solar energy. It is nuclear energy that gives you an enormous quantity of electricity, and can be supplied with all security. We have had only one disaster – in Chernobyl – but the level of security with which nuclear energy can be used today has increased decidedly, in Russia also, from 1986 on. So, my personal opinion is very favorable obviously to nuclear energy. Because it progresses, it is simpler, easier to manage, and also easier to produce. In respect then of how to take care of nuclear waste, the means exist and will also be much more developed in the near future. Given that we all speak about alternative energy, we should also discuss alternative waste. And what would be the alternative waste to nuclear waste? Well, it’s all the carbon dioxide, all the emissions that we receive from all the various combustible fossils… However, I know that the subject is controversial, but this is my personal point of view.
What feelings have remained with you after your recent visit to the Pope? And why did you present your report on the weapons of mass destruction to Benedict XVI, seeing that he is not a “normal” head of State?
BLIX: We are all anxious that this report, written by fourteen experts coming from all the continents, be read not only by governments and by their Defense or Disarmament ministers, but also by leaders and by religious groups, by non-government organizations, by think-tanks and by the media. The Pope is a great authority and in favor of disarmament. In his message for the World Day of Peace this year he spoke about peace in truth, and what is an act of verification, or an inspection, if not an attempt to find the truth? And still, if the United States, and others also, had listened in 2003 to what we UN inspectors had to say, they would have got much closer to the truth than their intelligence agencies did. And maybe the war could have been avoided. So, I believe that in the Churches and in the religious organizations we again find allies, who are looking for peace, and hope that they will help us circulate and have this report studied. Maybe not all that is written there will please them, but they will examine it and can furnish us with proposals as well as constructive criticisms.
What, in short, is the message that you presented to Pope Benedict?
BLIX: That it is time for us all to wake up to the awful reality of what is happening, that is that many of the old threats continue to weigh on the world and that many new threats have already emerged. The efforts to eradicate poverty and to protect the global ambience must be accompanied by the dismantling of the greatest destructive capacities in the world. In the last analysis, there is need of what the report calls the “project for security without nuclear weapons”.
Mr. Blix, even after Saddam Hussein was overthrown in Iraq, no weapon of mass destruction has been found in that country. So, up to now, you have been right. Are you happy about that?
BLIX: Well, I don’t believe that in Iraq, after the change of regime, we have ever seen a happy day.

With the collaboration of Giorgio Alba

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