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Iraq and the Global Challenge of Proliferation

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State
National Defense University
Fort McNair, Washington, DC
April 30, 2003

(9:30 a.m. EDT)

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, thank you very much for the kind and elegant and eloquent words. There are many who accuse me of spending too much time in the weight room -- I should be spending more time on the duties, but I will let you all judge if that's the case when I've finished my remarks.

Paul was right. We were at the boat school together. Neither of us had the opportunity to have a college education. (Laughter.) And again, about 23 years ago, found ourselves in the Pentagon -- both of us as junior bureaucrats working in the Reagan administration. Of course Paul was a serving military officer, and we've intersected from time to time ever since.

And I really appreciate you allowing me back home, as my two-time service as the Chairman of the Board of Visitors is one of the things that I point to in almost 28 years of government service, as something that really mattered. It mattered a lot to me, and I think it mattered a lot to many of you in the room because it was during that time the Middle States' Accreditation Board came and visited and we gained accreditation for this fine university. It was long overdue. And if I do nothing else in a government career, having been part of that, along with the excellent faculty here, then I will have considered my life to have been a great success. So thanks for allowing me back.

And I can't imagine a better audience for what I want to talk about today than this National Defense University. This is the incubator, as far as I'm concerned, for some of this nation's finest strategic thinking. And the events unfolding today in Iraq will require your best work if we are to learn valuable lessons -- in particular, if we are to learn lessons about how to approach the challenge that weapons of mass destruction pose for the security of this nation and, indeed, for all nations.

Forty years ago, John F. Kennedy predicted that within a decade his successor could face a world bristling with nuclear weapons. He said, "I ask you to stop and think for a moment what it would mean to have nuclear weapons in so many hands; in the hands of countries large and small, stable and unstable, responsible and irresponsible, scattered throughout the world."

Well, today, this is not the world President Bush faces, so we are fortunate in that regard., Though of course, JFK did not have to reckon with weapons of mass destruction intersecting with non-state actors. So today, instead of the 25 or so countries that President Kennedy once predicted, only a handful of nations possess nuclear weapons. Of course we suspect many more countries have chemical and biological weapons, but still short of the scores that have been predicted in the past.

Well, we've reached this state of affairs in no small part through a concerted effort of many nations. Agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention, organizations such as the IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group -- these constitute a global security architecture that has served us satisfactorily and kept us safe.

But as we have seen so dramatically in recent days, that architecture is showing some signs of age. Just look at the headlines. You will see India and Pakistan with a thousand-mile shared border and a 50-year history of enmity and war -- a situation that is truly frightening when you add into the mix nuclear weapons outside of the system of international restraints. Of course you'll see North Korea in the headlines -- a blighted nation led by a dictator who defies his international commitments and fiddles with nuclear threats. And you'll see Iran where an entire generation is ready for change, while elements of a violent and backward past look to buy and to build weapons of mass destruction despite their solemn obligations to the contrary.

Now all of this goes on while terrorists are shopping the globe for enriched uranium, lethal chemicals and technical expertise. And September 11th brought home to Americans the awful truth that no one is safe from such individuals -- not Tanzanians and Kenyans attending to their daily shopping or ordinary Americans, from stockbrokers to waiters, guilty of nothing more than going to the office.

And of course, in the headlines you will certainly see Iraq.

These are among the most pressing global security concerns of our time. And yet, the system we have in place for dealing with such proliferation challenges does not really offer solutions for these problems. This is a system that works to dampen the demand for such capabilities and to deny the means to develop them, and with some success. But it is not a system that has a clear and a consistent way of dealing with nations who pass certain milestones.

It's time for the world community to reinvigorate our shared commitment to stopping the spread of these weapons. And perhaps it is time to refashion the tools we already have for doing so -- to develop new tools to deal with these challenges as well as to commit to vigorous bilateral and multilateral negotiations whenever necessary.

Now I will try to tell you all the truth. I certainly don't have all the answers on this. I can't, today, tell you exactly how to fix what is broken or how to build the new structures we need to be safe. But what I can tell you is that Iraq offers proof that the community of nations needs to come together to ask the right questions and to work out a way to deal with the tough proliferation challenges of today and tomorrow.

In Iraq, the possession of the weapons and the means to make them, even the demonstrated willingness to use them -- that, alone, was not the problem. The problem was a dictator who by force and by fear created a political culture defined by the desire to possess and keep such capabilities at all cost.

War was never the preferred option for our nation. It generally is not the preferred option for countries with representative governments. But Saddam Hussein was able to exploit that reluctance and exploit it for far too long. He agreed to a ceasefire he never intended to keep, and for 12 years he led the international community on -- all while he continued to do exactly as he pleased; whether that meant torturing his people, suborning terrorism or looting his nation; stashing proscribed items in private homes and schools and hospitals as well as secret hiding places.

We simply reached the point where there was no other option, where the will of the world community, so clearly expressed in resolution after resolution from the United Nations Security Council, had to be enforced. It was unpleasant, but unavoidable -- an unpleasant and unavoidable prospect for any nation with the courage of its convictions.

And so a group of nations has come together to force and to forge a change in the political culture of Iraq. And this required that we destroy the old regime, which the US military has done and done brilliantly, and we owe much to the assistance of our British, Australian and Polish allies inside Iraq and many other partners outside the country.

A little more than a month after military operations began, some of our warriors are already returning home to a hero's welcome, while some will stay in place for some time to continue clean-up activities. But without question, the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein is gone.

Changing the political culture, however, also requires that we create the conditions for something to grow in place of that regime. And I want to talk to you today about some of the ways in which the United States is working with other nations to do so.

From the moment that we began to consider military operations, we all knew that the aftermath would be a significant challenge, but we never for a moment thought it would be an insurmountable challenge. We hold the lives of our men and women in uniform far too dear to send them on an impossible mission. And while you've all seen the images of looting in post-war Iraq, the news is actually much better than we had anticipated and than we had planned for.

Our forces were able to achieve military objectives while sparing the country from a humanitarian emergency, in large part, because we could achieve those objectives without significantly damaging civilian infrastructure. But of course, much of that infrastructure had already been damaged or allowed to become decrepit because of a deliberate policy of Saddam Hussein to pressure, particularly the Shia, in the south.

So at this point, the most formidable challenge we face is reconstruction. This will be formidable for physical as well as psychological reasons. Indeed, I would say this is not so much reconstruction as it is redevelopment of human beings and a national infrastructure that have suffered from decades of abuse and decades of neglect. This is going to require patience and persistence and above all, obviously, hard work.

Our goal is an Iraq that is moving toward democracy; an Iraq that is whole; an Iraq that is free of weapons of mass destruction; an Iraq which is at peace with its neighbors and within itself; an Iraq for Iraqis -- for all Iraqis.

And for those who doubt that the United States has good intentions toward the Muslim world, I can offer a thought, and that is a thought about our great respect for Islam, and more particularly, the Shia of Iraq. For the first time in so many years, they were able to participate in the religious observance of the Arbayeen recently. And it was a great demonstration of their faith and their desire to be free that so many people took the pilgrimage to demonstrate their devotion for the first time in 23 years; only possible by the activities of a U.S.-led coalition.

President Bush has requested and Congress has provided some $2.4 billion to assist the people of Iraq in redeveloping that nation. The first priorities will continue to be the restoration of basic services, but we're also looking at key sectors where we can help make immediate improvements in the life of all Iraqis, such as: educational opportunities for Iraqi children, the schools will shortly open, as well as some of the universities; roads and bridges and ports that are functional and safe; agricultural fields which are both productive and safe.

And we are finding as we get these -- what we are finding as we get these efforts underway is something that we had hoped, prior to the conflict, would be the case: the technical expertise to do almost all of this already resides in Iraq. People know what to do to make their country prosper and they would have done it long ago if Saddam Hussein had simply let them.

The key now, obviously, is for Iraqis to develop a political system that will not hold them back. And so the coalition and the United States, particularly, are helping Iraqis to form an interim authority, or an IIA. This authority will be chosen by Iraqis and it is meant to be temporary, hence the word "interim." It operates only until free and fair elections bring a legitimate government to power. Nonetheless, it's absolutely imperative that this IIA be broadly representative, drawing from all of Iraq's ethnic groups and regions, including liberated Iraqis from inside as well as outside the country -- those free Iraqis who are now returning home from all around the world.

The IIA will give Iraqis a way to participate in the economic and political reconstruction of a country from the very beginning. And as it is able, this authority will assume responsibilities ever more daily for the functioning of the government.

The U.S. and coalition countries have helped convene two meetings, the most recently held Monday, in Baghdad, which have helped create a national dialogue about governance. These sessions have been successful, successful enough that the participants believe they can form an IIA within the next few weeks.

And the role of the United States and our allies is limited in this regard. We are helping to create a level playing field for this energized Iraqi political process, but we will step in to stop any attempts to seize power and return the people of Iraq to servitude. That is part of the ongoing responsibility we accept for security in Iraq. President Bush has said that "we are committed to helping Iraq build a future of freedom, of dignity, and of peace." The United States does not see this in any sense as an occupation, but rather, we see it as an obligation -- an obligation that we will stay long enough to see this through. And as the President has made very, very clear, not one day longer. In the meantime, we will continue to root out remaining elements of the regime. We will continue to hunt down the terrorists who have used Iraq as a safe-haven for far too many years and of course, we will continue to seek out Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

I want to be clear here today that I am extraordinarily confident that Iraq had those capabilities. Rarely have the intelligence agencies of this country and our allies been so unified on any subject. Now, I know there are those, probably in this audience, that think because we have found little so far, that there's nothing to find. But I'd like to suggest to you a more frightening reality, and that is that it is far too easy to hide and to move these capabilities, and far too difficult to find them, especially in the face of a determined and practiced effort to conceal them.
And the regime of Saddam Hussein was nothing if not practiced. They had years of close scrutiny in which to learn how to deceive inspectors. And then they had four unfettered years to do as they pleased.

What emerged was a well-developed and sophisticated strategy of dispersal. For example, Secretary Powell told the United Nations Security Council on February 5th, "We know that Iraq has embedded key portions of its illicit chemical weapons infrastructure within its legitimate civilian industry." And as for Iraq's biological weapons program, Secretary Powell pointed out that multiple sources have told us of mobile facilities built while UNSCOM inspectors were actually in Iraq and designed especially and only to avoid detection.

Now, whether it is the mobile labs or weapons disguised as industry, we are finding now that the capabilities were even more dispersed and disguised than we had thought. The evidence of Saddam Hussein's programs is likely to be spread across many hundreds and even possibly thousands of sites in Iraq. It is going to take us months to find this material, but find it we will.

Don't forget that it was information provided by defectors, including members of Saddam Hussein's immediate family and scientists from within the program, that was critical and at times, essential, to revealing what UN inspectors were able to figure out and find out in the past. That is one reason why an inspection regime based on anything other than genuine disarmament by the now-defunct regime was doomed to fail in Iraq.

Indeed, my optimism that we will find evidence of Iraq's weapons soon is largely a function of the cooperation that we are beginning to get from Iraqi scientists and former Iraqi officials.
We're interviewing these people and continuing to seek others based on the intelligence we have about who was instrumental in each of these programs.

And the people we have found are already leading us to other people, as well as to computer files and documents. And with these sources of information, we can say with a high degree of confidence that we will find Iraq's unconventional weapons.

Many of these individuals are proving most helpful, but it may take some time to persuade others to cooperate with us because again, we are talking about a cultural change. People have to be certain that the climate of fear and the climate of intimidation is truly gone for good before they will be willing to truly talk about the past. And indeed, there is one sad sign that Iraqis are beginning to believe. Hundreds of people are coming forward showing reporters and soldiers and marines the scars on their bodies, the cigarette burns, the electric shocks, the mutilated hands, feet and ears.

They are starting to share their stories of pain, of execution and of extortion, of loved ones who disappeared. They are beginning to show us mass graves and obscene torture chambers. The more we learn about just how bad it was, the more we know that this is going to be a long recovery and a hard reckoning for Iraqis. But that is what it will take: a firm decision to reconcile with the past and to move on from the past, as well as the firm determination to undo the legacy of brutality they inherited from Saddam Hussein.

Back in 1962, President Kennedy said that in a world where the possession of nuclear weapons was commonplace, "There would be no rest, no stability, no security, and no chance of effective disarmament. There would only be the increased chance of accidental war - and an increased necessity for the great powers to involve themselves in what otherwise would be local conflicts."

Well, I believe the world of 2003 is a safer one than that predicted. We are coming ever closer, however, to realizing in one way, that terrible vision. September 11th taught us the risks of complacency, of knowing that we are not facing up to the threats and the challenges of the day and simply allowing the difficulties of doing so to defeat us.

Iraq is an object lesson in what can happen if we leave the problems of proliferation to a solution of the past. The use of military force to destroy a perverse political culture was a point of no return we don't want to keep coming back to. But if we are to avoid doing so, we must have effective and peaceful means of achieving and enforcing that change. And yet, while Iraq illustrates the gaps we have in our global architecture for dealing with weapons of mass destruction, it is not the template. This is not a one-size-fits-all policy. In fact, our President has stated that the threat we face from North Korea's nuclear problem is something that can be dealt with through patient, deliberate and multilateral diplomacy. And indeed, we're working now, well, with the governments of China, Japan, the Republic of Korea toward that end. And there are certainly other success stories we can point to.

The United States, the Russian Federation and other Soviet states have worked together for years in the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which has led to the elimination of substantial Cold War capabilities.

For that matter, the United Nations responded swiftly to the attacks on our nation on September 11th and helped direct international reaction into concrete action to combat terrorists and to close down the financial networks that support them. This fact will be rather graphically demonstrated in about an hour or so when Secretary Powell unveils the Global Patterns of Terrorism, and we will see a rather significant, more than 40 percent, decline because of international activities to combat the problem of terrorism.

But far too often when we talk about proliferation challenges, the international community has a tendency to put off difficult decisions, as if these difficult decisions will go away on their own. I believe our President has shown the courage to make these difficult decisions, to do what is necessary to protect the interests of this nation and the lives of our citizens.

Now, however, it is time for the community of nations to work together, to start asking the right questions and start doing what is necessary to reshape, to reinvigorate that architecture of our common security. And certainly, this government of yours is prepared to do what it takes. We are prepared to work with all those who are willing to find effective ways to address the most pressing challenges of our time -- the challenges not just for the security of this nation, but for all nations.

And that's why I asked Admiral Gaffney to have the opportunity to come to this university today. Because I want to challenge you to discuss this in your classrooms, and in your seminars and in your fora. And I want you to use the time the government and our various bureaucracies have given you to advance your education to attack this problem. That's why I asked to come here today. I'm going to leave you with that challenge and with my enormous gratitude for doing me the honor of listening to me this morning.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

Released on April 30, 2003

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