Interview with Hans Blix

Hans Blix, chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, former head of the IAEA and former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, commented on ways towards global disarmament, the controversy over the U.S. missile defence shield, and the distincti

Russia Today: Dr Blix, you are here to launch the Russian translation of the WMD final report, a series of guidelines for eradicating chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. In this report there are some 60 concrete proposals. How workable they are? Are they merely points of discussion for various governments around the world?

Hans Blix: They are workable for the most part. There are some that are very far-reaching, like the suggestion that we should have a convention against the production, stocking and use of nuclear weapons. The top proposal is that the world should work towards putting into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It was adopted in the 1990s, and it has not been ratified by the U.S. because the U.S. Senate refused ratification, hasn't been ratified by the Chinese, by the Indians. It has been ratified by the Russians, by the French and by the British though. So that's the top proposal. I'm very pleased that we have this report, and now that we see a little of the “spring wind” in the field of disarmament, I think this report, that we've called “The weapons of terror” in English – it's at the table at the right moment.

RT: You said in your report that the UN Security Council is the ultimate global authority on disarmament and non-proliferation. But as we saw clearly in the run-up to the Iraq war, governments do act on their own, like the U.S. and British governments did then. How can we continue to rely on the United Nations considering their limited powers?

H.B.: Some people say that the Iraq affair demonstrated the impotence of the Security Council. I think some of the conservative people in the United States would say that. I would turn that round and say that the Security Council did absolutely the right thing – they were the ones who didn't authorise the war that should not have taken place. And I think more and more Americans, probably the majority of Americans by now, think this was a war that should not have taken place. It also appears that it cost the United States and their allies quite a lot not to have the legitimacy of the United Nations.

What we say in the report is that, yes, we must have agreements between states, they must be concluded voluntarily, but once they are there, and if it comes to the question of enforcement of the implementation, then it's the Security Council, not individual states, that decide upon putting pressure and use of force to implement treaties.

RT: Let's now talk about the IAEA. How relevant do you feel the Non-Proliferation Treaty is in the world, where nations like Iran who ratified the Treaty are flaunted and other countries like Israel and North Korea just ignored altogether? Certainly the incentive to arm depends on who has the weapons as well?

H.B.: I think the NPT is under strain at the present time, there's no doubt about that. But at the same time it's an exaggeration to say that it's about to unravel. It has done a great deal of good – you think of Ukraine, Belorussia and Kazakhstan, who could have become nuclear states but gave their weapons to the Russians and joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty. South Africa had nuclear weapons and worked them back – the only country to abandon nuclear weapons.

Then you have the failures, of course – you have India, Pakistan and Israel, but they didn't join, so I can't say that they've breached the Treaty. It's lamentable, but they did so. And then you have Iraq and Libya and North Korea, which have breached the Treaty. Whether Iran has actually breached the Treaty or not – I don't know. They've certainly breached the safeguard requirements by the IAEA, that is certain, but what their intentions actually are is disputable.

So the Treaty, I think, remains, it has tremendous value, it will see a review conference in 2010. And what we now should do is to try to revive the bargain that was made at the time, namely that the non-nuclear states should stay non-nuclear, and that nuclear states should take initiative to move away from nuclear weapons.

RT: Let's talk about the dispute between Russia and the United States and European Union countries over the decision by the U.S. and NATO to go ahead with the missile defence shield in Central Europe. Your report does seem to address this issue. But before it got out in the public domain, was there something you knew and we didn't then?

H.B.: No, I didn't really, nothing like that. But the missile shield idea was already controversial at that time. This is a difficult problem because missiles can be anything from MANPADs and up to intercontinental missiles, and to have one rules for them all is not so easy. We are rather cautious in our judgement, suggesting that the countries that build it up should first hold negotiations for other countries that they are worried about it. So in this situation, I guess, the conclusion from our report would be that the Americans should talk to the Iranians – and they do not.

RT: So in your report you say that firstly there should be negotiations to remove the threat, and only if those fail, the deployment should be made? Do you think that there is a genuine threat from the so-called “rogue states”? And, secondly, have all negotiations been exhausted?

H.B.: It's a good question whether there is a real threat. The U.S. is saying that within 50-years-time Iran could become a threat. Well, anyone can. Who would have predicted 50 years ago, where Iran is today. Our recommendation is that there should be talks. We have several pages dealing with Iran and also with North Korea. Direct talks are essential.

What we are talking about is that for countries tempted to go for nuclear weapons it is almost always a question of perceived security interest. India got nuclear weapons because of China, Pakistan because of India, Israeli because of Arabs, etc. Therefore if we focus today on North Korea and Iran and we want them to stay where they are or in case of North Korea to work back, what we must try to address is the perceived security interest.

The North Koreans are offered by the Americans guaranties that they would not be attacked from the outside and nor there would be any subversion, and also that they would have good diplomatic relations with the U.S. and Japan – and that's very wise, I think. But in the case of Iran we haven't seen any of those two things. They cannot be offered that by the Europeans because the Iranians are not worried by the Europeans and they do have diplomatic relations. But that's the acute case, that's where the EU should move forward.

RT: How does this pressure for talks pan out for the United States and Russia, who is the one country to express strong discontent of this plan in Europe? Your report says that countries should work towards co-operation and confidence-building measures before any such missiles are deployed. Do you feel that those in favour of this missile defence shield are doing that?

H.B.: I think that they themselves feel that they've failed in that. And the latest moves from the U.S side to come to Moscow and to discuss the issue, to explain why they are doing this, to say that there is no threat to Russia, and that they are concerned about Iran – well, the U.S. is aware that they failed in this. Whether it actually can be made good – I don't know, because it is also an emotional issue. The Russians see that these elements of the missile shield go up just on their doorstep. I mean, psychologically it's no surprise that that they say “Hey, wait a moment! These counties were part of the Soviet empire as it were, and now you are moving up your post next door.” This is a psychological issue and it will take a lot of explanation, if it can be settled.

RT: You addressed in particular both United States and Russia by name. What do you feel are the most pressing and urgently needed commitments that Russia needs to push forward?

H.B.: We think that the nuclear weapon states should take the initiative to march away from nuclear weapons. U.S. and Russia are the countries that have the greatest number of nuclear weapons, so they should really take the initiative. There is within the United States an opinion that wants to go in the direction of de-militarising – at least de-nuclearising – the world. I think that should be linked up with the Russian side. So that they could say “Fine, let's all do this. We don't need nuclear weapons.”

RT: There also seems to be concern about Russia using its nuclear capabilities as a marketable commodity for the country to benefit. Just this week Russia announced that it would help build a nuclear research centre in Myanmar – a country with EU sanctions upon it. The government also indicated they want to sell a floating nuclear power plant to Zimbabwe – another country with EU sanctions. They are already building a nuclear plant in Bushehr in Iran. How is your report possibly going to make a difference, when the real pull in the world is about how much money people are making selling these commodities?

H.B.: Let me remind you first of all that the United States, Japan, South Korea and other countries were helping to set two power plants in North Korea of the same type that the Russia is helping the Iranians build in Bushehr. We have to distinguish clearly between peaceful nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Whether the Burmese have the right for a nuclear research centre or not – I don't know. Of course research reactors are also made to produce isotopes for medical uses or for agriculture and so forth. We should distinguish between nuclear weapons and peaceful nuclear energy.

RT: Well, the Iranian government doesn't seem to do so, and the public doesn't seem to do so regarding Iran.

H.B.: Oh, I think they do. Busheht is a peaceful nuclear power project. I don't see anything sinister in Bushehr. The Americans thought so in the 90s and they were working on the Russians to stay away form Bushehr. But now we see that the Western European states and the U.S. say “fine, if you suspend enrichment” – which is a more sensitive technology, because that's making material for a bomb – “then we will help you in Bushehr.” They are actually interested in selling more of that peaceful nuclear power to them. So this distinction is absolutely fundamental.

RT: So you do feel that Russia has the right to continue marketing nuclear energy capabilities to countries around the globe regardless of what political attitude the rest of the world has to those nations?

H.B.: I don't think that they'll market any re-processing capacities, because that's making plutonium, and no-one has any interest in plutonium for peaceful purposes today. Nor do I think that they would market any enrichment capabilities. On the contrary – they have offered to Iranians that they could build an enrichment capability in Russia for Iranian usage. And this is a wise precaution.