'Just in time' WMD

Posted: Oct 10, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Rolf Ekeus, living proof that not all Swedish arms inspectors are fools, may have been right.

Ekeus headed the U.N. inspection team that from 1991 to 1997 uncovered not just tons of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, but a massive secret nuclear weapons program as well. This, after the other Swede, Hans Blix, then director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had given Saddam a perfectly clean bill of health on being non-nuclear. Indeed, Iraq was sitting on the IAEA Board of Governors.

Ekeus theorizes that Saddam decided years ago that keeping mustard gas and other poisons in barrels was unstable and corrosive, and also hard to conceal. Therefore, rather than store large stocks of weapons of mass destruction, he would adapt the program to retain an infrastructure (laboratories, equipment, trained scientists, detailed plans) that could ``break out'' and ramp up production when needed. The model is Japanese ``just in time'' manufacturing, where you save on inventory by making and delivering stuff in immediate response to orders. Except that Saddam's business was toxins, not Toyotas.

The interim report of chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay seems to support the Ekeus hypothesis. He found infrastructure, but as yet no finished product.

As yet, mind you. ``We are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapons stocks do not exist or that they existed before the war and our only task is to find where they have gone,'' Kay testified last week.

This is fact, not fudging. How do we know? Because Saddam's practice was to store his chemical weapons unmarked amid his conventional munitions, and we have just begun to understand the staggering scale of Saddam's stocks of conventional munitions. Saddam left behind 130 known ammunition caches, many of which are more than twice the size of Manhattan. Imagine looking through ``600,000 tons of artillery shells, rockets, aviation bombs and other ordnance'' -- rows and rows stretched over an area the size of even one Manhattan -- looking for a few barrels of unmarked chemical weapons.

And there are 130 of these depots. Kay's team has up to now inspected only 10. The question of whether Saddam actually retained finished product is still open.

But the question of whether Saddam was still in the WMD business is no longer open. ``We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities,'' Kay testified, ``and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002'' -- concealed, that is, from the hapless Hans Blix.

Kay's list is chilling. It includes a secret network of labs and safe houses within the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence service; bioorganisms kept in scientists' homes, including a vial of live botulinum; and my favorite, ``new research on BW-applicable agents, Brucella and Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever, and continuing work on ricin and aflatoxin'' -- all ``not declared to the U.N.''

I have been to medical school, and I have never heard of Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever. I don't know one doctor in 100 who has. It is an extremely rare disease, and you can be sure that Saddam was not seeking a cure.

He was not after the Nobel in physiology (Yasser Arafat having already won the peace prize). He was looking for a way to turn these agents into killers. The fact that he was not stockpiling is relevant only to the question of why some prewar intelligence was wrong about Iraq's WMD program. But it is not relevant to the question of whether a war to pre-empt his development of WMDs was justified.

The fact that Saddam may have decided to go from building up stocks to maintaining clandestine production facilities (may have: remember, Kay still has 120 depots to go through)

does not mean that he got out of the WMD business. Otherwise, by that logic, one would have to say that until the very moment at which the plutonium from its 8,000 processed fuel rods are wedded to waiting nuclear devices, North Korea does not have a nuclear program.

Saddam was simply making his WMD program more efficient and concealable. His intent and capacity were unchanged.

Moreover, for those who care about the U.N. (I do not, but many administration critics have a weakness for legal niceties), Resolution 1441, unanimously passed by the Security Council, ordered Saddam to make full accounting of his WMD program and to cooperate with inspectors, and warned that there would be no more tolerance for concealment or obstruction. Kay's finding of ``dozens of WMD-related program activities,'' concealed from U.N. inspectors, constitutes an irrefutable material breach of 1441 -- and open-and-shut vindication of the U.S. decision to disarm Saddam by force. Q.E.D.