The Proper Focus: Weapons, Not Regimes

Recently, In the National Interest's Nikolas K.

Recently, In the National Interest's Nikolas K. Gvosdev sat with General Charles Boyd, USAF (ret.), the president and chief executive officer of Business Executives for National Security, to discuss the options for coping with Saddam Hussein. A former deputy commander of U.S. forces in Europe, General Boyd served as an advisor to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on national security, as executive director of the Hart-Rudman National Security Commission (which presciently warned about the growing terrorist threat to the American homeland), and as senior vice president and Washington program director of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is currently a member of The Nixon Center's Board of Directors.

Q: Is an invasion of Iraq the only realistic option for coping with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein? What about simply continuing to "contain" him?

A: I am extremely uncomfortable with the notion that Saddam is being contained. I don't think the fact that he hasn't invaded anybody recently constitutes containment. What is worrisome about Saddam Hussein, however, is not Saddam Hussein himself. It is Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction. With his history, and his track record, we most certainly have to believe that he is continuing to invest in those technologies as rapidly as he can. So what do we do about it? Do we invade Iraq and overthrow the regime--and then take responsibility for whatever is to follow? And do we do so unilaterally--or largely unilaterally--because I think it is unlikely that virtually anyone else will support that approach.

Make no mistake--we can do it alone. However, stationing and access to bases in the region become serious problems if we try to do it alone. The cost of unilateral action is so high, moreover, that I would make it only my very last choice. An invasion would have costs, not least in terms of solidifying the powerful resentment that already exists against the United States throughout much of the region. A unilateral attack would also degrade the efficacy and utility of the UN Security Council, an important instrument that is in our interest to strengthen, not weaken. All of these reasons just seem to me to add up to making invasion a very undesirable choice. When, the problem, as I said before, is Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein without weapons of mass destruction is simply a vicious thug, a problem for Iraq, and the Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is a problem for the world, and a huge one. So it seems to me that the issue is to separate Saddam Hussein from his weapons of mass destruction.

Q: Some have suggested that the alternative to an outright invasion is an improved, robust weapons-inspections regime. Some have proposed "armed inspections"--that is, a regime where inspectors who can go anywhere, at any time, and have the requisite force needed at their disposal to gain entry to any location should there be resistance. Is this the option you have in mind?

A: Yes, it's actually an option that I have been thinking about and advocating privately for the last five years, even before the cessation of UN inspections in 1998. The only basis for taking action against Iraq that is grounded in international law is the weapons-inspection program. If weapons of mass destruction are what make Saddam Hussein a problem, then, as I said before, the goal is to separate him from such weapons, to disable him, rather than removing him. However, you can't do that--you can't inspect, find, and destroy his weapons of mass destruction or his manufacturing or storage capabilities--without the use of force, at least without a credible threat of force. So it seems to me that what was missing from the weapons inspection program in the past is simply this element of forceful entry, if necessary, in support of an inspection regime that goes where it wants, inspects what it wants, whenever it wants, for as long as it wants, and to continue until there is satisfaction on the part of the inspectors--and the international community--that there is virtually nothing left in the way of a WMD capability in Iraq.

Q: Is this an option that is more likely to gain broad support within the international community?

A: I don't think it has ever been proposed in those terms -- but I think it has to be viewed by the international community as the alternative to a unilateral invasion by the United States. If the United States were to say: We would prefer a multilateral approach, we would prefer reconstitution of the weapons inspection program--but it has to be under terms that can lead to success--and no inspection regime can lead to success if it isn't seen by Saddam Hussein as a clear alternative--as the only alternative--to his removal and destruction--then I think it would have more appeal to at least the other four permanent members of the Security Council. It certainly has more appeal than the alternative--being left out, ignored, bypassed. In other words, it gives the other major powers -- Russia, France, China -- a stake in what follows, whether it is the removal of the weapons of mass destruction from Iraq, or the removal of Saddam Hussein. If the United States acts unilaterally, those nations will have no stake in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. So, if this is the alternative, I should think it should have a great deal of appeal to the other powers.

Q: Those who argue that the principal problem is Saddam Hussein himself hold, almost as an article of faith, that the situation could only improve once he is removed from power. Is this a view that you share?