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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

14 February 2003

Text: Senator McCain Says Containment of Iraq Is Unsustainable

(Only regime change will bring about Iraqi disarmament, he says)
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona says that a policy of
containing Iraq to blunt its weapons of mass destruction program is
"unsustainable, ineffective, unworkable and dangerous."
"I believe Iraq is a threat of the first order, and only a change of
regime will make Iraq a state that does not threaten us and others,
and where liberated people assume the rights and responsibilities of
freedom," McCain said during a speech at the Center for Strategic &
International Studies in Washington February 13.
"Containment failed yesterday in Iraq. Containment fails today. And
containment will fail tomorrow," according to McCain, an influential
member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain said the world
cannot compare containment of the Soviet Union during the Cold War
period with the current situation with Iraq.
"For a policy of containment to work, as it did in the Cold War, four
components are necessary: reliable allies; a clear goal with a
consistent doctrine; the economic and military capability to enforce
the doctrine; and the political will to support the demands of the
policy," McCain said. "We had each of these assets -- allies,
doctrine, capabilities, and political will -- during the Cold War,
when a policy conceived in the 1940s endured over four dangerous and
tumultuous decades until our adversary collapsed. We enjoy none of
these assets today with regard to Iraq."
Accepting an unsustainable policy of containment with Iraq "would be
placing hope before experience ... We will have bequeathed to our
children a much more dangerous world," he added.
The threat posed by the regime of Saddam Hussein will not diminish
until he is removed from power, McCain said. "[D]isarmament by regime
change must be our goal."
Following is the text of McCain's remarks:
(begin text)
U.S. Senator John McCain
Center for Strategic & International Studies
Washington, D.C.
February 13, 2003
McCain: Containing Saddam Has Failed; Regime Change Only Path to
The United States' containment of Soviet power was arguably the most
successful exercise of grand strategy in history. It preserved peace
between the superpowers in an age when war between them would have had
unthinkable consequences, and held the Soviets in check until inherent
political and economic faults and the just demands of its subject
populations forced an empire to collapse. Today, new threats to
civilization again defy our imagination in scale and potency. I
believe Iraq is a threat of the first order, and only a change of
regime will make Iraq a state that does not threaten us and others,
and where a liberated people assume the rights and responsibilities of
But there can be no moral defense of war that does not comprehensively
explore and reject, because they fall short, every other means of
achieving our objective. Articulate critics of war against Iraq argue
that containment has worked, that it serves our interests in
preventing the spread and use of weapons of mass destruction [WMD],
and that a regime with a history of aggression, development and use of
such weapons can somehow be isolated and sanctioned into a benign
state where it does not threaten its neighbors or the wider
international community.
Proponents of containment claim that Iraq is in a "box." But it is a
box with no lid, no bottom, and whose sides are falling out. Within
this box are definitive footprints of germ, chemical and nuclear
programs, and from it has come blood money for Palestinian terrorists,
and support for the international terrorism of al-Qaeda and Ansar
al-Islam. And as he has done before, at a time of his choosing, Saddam
Hussein will spring, like a jack-in-the-box, to reign devastation on
his people and his neighbors, a devastation against which the daily
curse of living in the shadow of his terror will pale.
A strategy of containment that tolerates Saddam Hussein's threat by
allowing him the means to achieve his ends is a triad of failure: a
failure of policy that risks devastating consequences based on hope
without cause; an intellectual failure to come to grips with a grave
and growing danger; and a moral failure to understand evil and our
obligation to confront it.
For a policy of containment to work, as it did in the Cold War, four
components are necessary: reliable allies; a clear goal with a
consistent doctrine; the economic and military capability to enforce
the doctrine; and the political will to support the demands of the
policy. We had each of these assets -- allies, doctrine, capabilities,
and political will -- during the Cold War, when a policy conceived in
the 1940s endured over four dangerous and tumultuous decades until our
adversary collapsed. We enjoy none of these assets today with regard
to Iraq. Today, Iraq is growing stronger, not weaker, under a policy
of containment. We are also dealing with a regime driven more by the
unstable character of a risk-taking mass murderer than by the caution
that mutually assured destruction encouraged in an enemy with a more
intelligent appreciation of its vulnerability. A policy of containing
Iraq is unsustainable, ineffective, unworkable and dangerous.
The United States does not have reliable allies to implement a policy
to contain Iraq. West Germany was a front-line state in the Cold War,
as Saudi Arabia is today a front-line state and key "ally" in the
confrontation with Iraq. During the Cold War, West Germany welcomed
the deployment of hundreds of thousands of Americans and hundreds of
military installations on its soil; placed few restrictions on
American forces stationed there; worked hand-in-glove with us to
conduct military training and exercises; and permitted us to station
tactical and theater nuclear missiles on its soil sufficient to defend
Western Europe.
Compare this cooperation with that of Saudi Arabia in the
"containment" of Iraq. Saudi elites have provided material and
political support to Islamic extremists; assailed democratic Israel's
resistance to terror while they accommodate the threatening tyrant
next door; greatly complicated our efforts to enforce sanctions;
placed severe restrictions on our troops that not only impair our
military preparedness but offend our values; condoned Iraq's defiance
of every norm of international law; and seem more concerned with the
possibility of instability in a post-Saddam Iraq and the influence
that a democratizing Iraq might have on their restive population than
they are with the grave threat posed by Saddam's growing arsenal of
the world's most dangerous weapons, and his never far-out-of mind
territorial ambitions.
Containment requires cooperation from front-line states committed to
the policy's success. There has been some recent improvement in
cooperation. But consider the past practices of our front-line
partners against Iraq beyond Saudi Arabia: Syria, which constructed
and operates a 200,000-barrel-per-day oil pipeline into Iraq in open
contravention of U.N. sanctions, and profits enormously from resale of
illicit Iraqi oil; Iran, with the longest border with Iraq, remains a
hostile terrorist state with which we have no diplomatic relations;
and Jordan and Turkey, where a lucrative commerce in smuggling with
Iraq -- in open violation of U.N. sanctions -- may be tolerated for
understandable economic and political reasons, but is hardly
reassuring when looking at containment options.
Successful containment also requires cooperation from our great power
allies. Our Cold War alliances with Japan and South Korea in the East,
and a unified NATO in the West, underscored allied resolve and unity
in the daily shadow of Soviet power. Compare our great power allies in
the Cold War with those with whom we act today in dealing with Iraq.
France has unashamedly pursued a concerted policy to dismantle the
U.N. sanctions regime, placing its commercial interests above
international law, world peace and the political ideals of Western
civilization. Remember them? Liberte, egalite, fraternite. It withdrew
from enforcing the "no-fly zones" and did not participate in Operation
Desert Fox to punish Iraq for expelling UNSCOM (United Nations Special
Commission). France abstained from Security Council Resolution 1284,
which created a weakened UNMOVIC (United Nations Monitoring,
Verification and Inspection Commission) successor to UNSCOM, because
it knew that Saddam Hussein would otherwise refuse to steer lucrative
Iraqi contracts under the oil-for-food program to Paris. France was
among the first countries to violate the U.N. ban on air travel into
Iraq after Saddam signaled that future oil-for-food contracts were
contingent on making sanctions-busting commercial flights. Today, the
French foreign minister, who voted for Resolution 1441 and warned of
the serious consequences Iraqi defiance would entail, says that
"Nothing justifies military action" against Iraq. And President
Chirac, who once approved the sale to Iraq of a nuclear reactor
knowing that in a country floating on a sea of oil it could have only
one real purpose, today says he sees no irrefutable proof of Iraq's
WMD program.
Like France, Russia opposed Operation Desert Fox, abstained on
Resolution 1284, and was the first to take advantage of Saddam's
invitation to break the U. N. ban on air travel into Iraq. Russia has
sold Baghdad gyroscopes for its advanced missile programs. Today,
Russia opposes enforcing the terms of Resolution 1441 in the face of
Iraq's defiance. Just as Soviet envoy, Yevgeny Primakov, tried to come
to Saddam's rescue on the eve of the (Persian) Gulf War, today Russia
joins a coalition of the willing to find "peace at any price" for
Gerhard Schroeder's Germany looks little like the ally that anchored
our presence in Europe throughout the Cold War. A German Rip Van
Winkle from the 1960s would not understand the lack of political
courage and cooperation with its allies on the question of Iraq
exhibited in Berlin today. Does the Schroeder government demonstrate
anything approaching the kind of resolve that helped Germany and the
United States successfully contain Soviet power?
Besides requiring resolute allies, a successful containment policy
also requires a clear strategic goal, backed by the will and
capability to achieve it.
Over the course of several decades, the containment of the Soviet
Union looked remarkably similar to the policy enunciated by George
Kennan in the 1947. There was a constancy of purpose to America's
approach to containment, matched by U.S. power and leadership of our
allies. The U.S. stationed troops throughout the world, spent billions
on conventional and nuclear forces, and supported armed resistance
groups in the Third World and political opposition movements behind
the Iron Curtain. And, lest we forget, containment of the USSR
envisioned as its eventual accomplishment a change in the Soviet
regime, based on the premise that confronting Soviet power would lead
to internal pressures that could not be sustained.
Constancy of purpose and the dedication of necessary capabilities to
achieve it have not characterized American policy towards Iraq. It
should be no surprise that containment collapsed. It was never
expected to be an enduring policy. Senior officials in the
administration of President George H.W. Bush did not expect Saddam
Hussein to survive in office following his humiliating defeat in the
Persian Gulf War. In 1991, Security Council Resolution 687 gave Iraq
15 days to declare and disarm its weapons of mass destruction.
Officials of the first Bush administration assumed, after constructing
a broad alliance and winning decisively in combat, that the
international community would cooperate in compelling Iraq's full
disarmament and in keeping tough sanctions in place. Twelve years
later, Saddam survives in power; his weapons of mass destruction
programs are intact and growing; sanctions are in tatters; and the
international coalition to contain him has disintegrated.
Nearly every Iraqi act of defiance is met with accommodation. The
worst offenders have been members of the U.N. Security Council, who
have the responsibility for enforcing its mandate. It bears reminding
that the Security Council declared Iraq in material breach of its Gulf
War cease-fire obligations as early as January 1993. Yet throughout
the 1990s, whenever U.N. inspectors did find evidence of a smoking gun
exposing Iraqi cheating -- the biological weapons program revealed by
defector Hussein Kemal, the Russian missile gyroscopes illegally
imported by Iraq, proof that the VX nerve agent had been weaponized in
Scud warheads, the "Air Force" document that demonstrated massive
deception on chemical weapons -- the Security Council took no action
to enforce compliance. In 1998, when Iraq denied UNSCOM access to
so-called sensitive sites, the UN Secretary General went to Baghdad to
negotiate a weaker inspections regime. With every failure to hold
Saddam accountable, the logic of containment withered away and exposed
the great powers' unwillingness to enforce it.
Unlike during the Cold War, when containment became more robust with
the passage of time and with the allied defeat of Soviet adventurism
around the world, containment of Iraq did less to constrain Saddam
than to constrain the United States and the international community
from meeting Iraqi defiance with an effective response. In the Cold
War, the rigors of containment actually drew our allies together
despite sustained Soviet efforts to divide us -- through diplomacy,
through funding so-called "peace" movements, through economic
incentives, and through nuclear and conventional military
intimidation. Today, Iraq has succeeded in dividing the Security
Council, in driving a wedge between certain U.S. allies.
During the 1990s, Saddam Hussein, with international support,
methodically eviscerated the sanctions regime by sequentially limiting
UNSCOM's powers and access, rendering its work impossible, booting
inspectors out of the country, agreeing to a new and far weaker
inspections regime that protected Iraq's "sovereignty," and ultimately
making it impossible for UNSCOM to function -- even as many nations,
at Baghdad's urging, rushed to throw off the shackles containment
imposed on them by restoring diplomatic relations, abandoning the ban
on commercial air travel, neglecting border controls on lucrative
smuggling routes, and pursuing Iraqi commercial contracts under the
oil-for-food program. Open sanctions-busting and craven pandering to
Baghdad defined a new order of accommodation disturbed only by the
self-defense of U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones.
Finally, American leaders lacked the political will to uphold the
demands of containment at home. In its first use of military force,
the Clinton administration launched 23 cruise missiles against an
Iraqi intelligence facility in the middle of the night in response to
Saddam Hussein's attempt to assassinate former President Bush. What
President Clinton termed "a devastating blow to Iraq's ability to plan
and carry out [terrorist] operations in the future" in fact sent
Saddam the message that in response to his attempts to kill an
American president, the United States would kill a few janitors. A
similar fecklessness characterized the administration's dealings with
the Iraqi democratic opposition, which it had pledged to support but
abandoned when Saddam struck back.
The 1998 Desert Fox air campaign against Iraq was limited to four days
of bombing, and the force used was insufficient to destroy Saddam's
weapons program. While it degraded a little of Saddam's WMD
capability, no follow-on military action was taken to prevent its
restoration. Nor did the administration pursue aggressive diplomacy to
re-invigorate containment. And it allowed Saddam to crush the
stirrings of Iraqi resistance to his rule. The principal effect of
Desert Fox was to merely confirm the collapse of the inspection
When Hans Blix proposed sending inspectors back into Iraq in 2000, his
plan was quietly squashed by the White House for fear of complicating
the administration's efforts to secure an Arab-Israeli peace. Neither
weapons inspections nor military action impeded Iraq's military
research and production programs in the last two years of Clinton's
term. By its end, Iraq had emerged as the world's second-largest oil
exporter, with air and commercial traffic thriving, diplomatic
missions flourishing, weapons production lines up and running, and the
Security Council quiescent. Baghdad had regained a degree of
international legitimacy that bequeathed the Bush administration a
containment policy in complete disarray, and set the stage for the
crisis in which we find ourselves today.
Containment in Iraq failed largely because we lost the support of both
the front-line states and our great power allies for the rigorous
demands of enforcing it, because we had no clear and understandable
goal, and because we could not muster the political will to make it
work. It may have been fatally flawed from the very beginning, when
much of the world believed we left Saddam Hussein in power for a
reason in 1991. Containment during the Cold War could also have
failed, if we had heeded the voices calling for a nuclear freeze, if
we had canceled SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative), the MX missile and
the rebuilding of our conventional military, if we had not deployed
Persing II's to Germany. It could have failed had we heeded those who
criticized President Reagan for calling the Soviet Union the "evil
empire" it was; for expressing a desire to leave communism on the "ash
heap of history;" for calling on Gorbachev to "tear down" the Berlin
During the Cold War, American leaders demonstrated the will to
confront the danger of Soviet ambitions and provided the necessary
resources and commitment to do so. But the policy became increasingly
difficult to sustain, and it was only President Reagan's victory that
ensured containment would follow its original logic. The post-war
bipartisan unity in favor of containment died in the jungles of
Vietnam, and, most regrettably, has yet to be completely recovered.
Perhaps most fundamentally, the very character of Saddam Hussein's
regime explains why containment cannot work. The Soviet Union never
directly attacked front-line states or American allies. But the logic
of mutually assured destruction that provided strategic stability in
the Cold War has been replaced by false hope in the reasonableness of
a pathological risk-taker. Saddam's will to power has so affected his
judgment that he has started two major wars and lost them, despite the
obvious risk to his own hold on power. Given this record, containment,
deterrence and international inspections will work no better than did
the Maginot Line, when it was overrun by another gambler 63 years ago.
Some say we can deter Saddam -- even though deterrence has failed
utterly in the past. Human history is filled with examples where
deterrence failed. Deterrence requires a credible threat to work. It
also requires an adversary who makes realistic cost-benefit
calculations. Even now, with the armed might of a superpower gathering
at his doorstep, with an international community that at least -- for
the moment -- is no longer discussing an end to the sanctions regime,
Saddam continues to defy U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding
his disarmament. Does anyone believe Saddam would see the
implementation of the Franco-German plan, aptly named "Project
Mirage," as a credible threat? Does anyone believe a Saddam armed with
nuclear weapons will be more readily deterred or better contained than
he is today?
I fail to see how waiting for some unspecified period of time,
allowing Saddam's nuclear ambitions to grow unchecked, could ever
result in a stable deterrence regime. The proponents of containment
claim it is unlikely that Saddam would share his chemical, biological
and nuclear weapons with terrorist movements because he would fear the
consequences should he be detected. But would there be a smoking gun?
Unlike missile launches, terrorist attacks don't always leave a return
address. We still aren't certain which individuals, movements or
states were behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Khobar
Towers attack, or the anthrax attacks. The links between Iraq and
al-Qaeda are hotly debated today. Terrorist trails are designed to be
obscure. Saddam knows that. And he's a gambler, a gambler whose
courage will only increase should he survive his current dilemma.
Not only would deterrence condemn the Iraqi people to more unspeakable
tyranny, it would condemn Saddam's neighbors to perpetual instability.
It would send the world a signal to continue the deal-making with
Saddam because there is no other option. As Vice President Cheney has
said of those who argue that containment and deterrence are working:
The argument comes down to this: yes, Saddam is as dangerous as we say
he is. We just need to let him get stronger before we do anything
about it.
The threat posed by Saddam Hussein will not diminish until he is
removed from power. Disarmament by regime change must be our goal.
After one war, 12 years, 17 Security Council resolutions, various
bombing campaigns, the threat of a new war, and the continuing
expansion of Saddam's stockpile of devastating weaponry, placing hope
in containment as a means to diminish Iraq's threat to its neighbors
and the world flies in the face of history and ignores the obvious
consequences of abdicating to his allies now. Rather than keeping
Saddam in a box, an anachronistic attachment to a once effective
doctrine actually constrains the United States.
We cannot keep our forces indefinitely staged in the region. Were we
to attempt again to contain Saddam, we would eventually have to
withdraw them. The world is full of dangers and, more likely than not,
we will need some of those brave men and women to face them down. Does
anyone really believe that the world's will to contain Saddam won't
eventually collapse as utterly as it did in the 1990s? Does anyone
really believe that a sanctions regime won't erode again? Does anyone
really believe that Saddam, having faced down an imminent threat of
war with the greatest military power in history, will call it a day,
abandon his weapons programs and his grandiose dreams of leading the
Arab world, armed with the weapons most sought after by the other
ambitious tyrants of the Middle East, and whose death defying
resistance to the world's will would likely inspire several imitators?
Containment failed yesterday in Iraq. Containment fails today. And
containment will fail tomorrow. We would be placing hope before
experience to think otherwise, and we will have bequeathed to our
children a much more dangerous world. For if you embrace containment,
you must accept proliferation, and proliferation -- not just unchecked
but accelerated -- will make the violent century just passed seem an
era of remarkable tranquility in comparison.
It is in the nature of democracies to be patient. But as history as
shown, they can delay to their peril. Placing faith in containment
today recalls Churchill's admonition in the 1930s about placing faith
in a collective defense that lacked the teeth or the will to confront
a common enemy. As Churchill said of the League of Nation's failure to
respond to Italian aggression in Abyssinia, there is not much
collective security in a flock of sheep on the way to the butcher. We
must keep our nerve, have the courage to understand what our
experiences have taught us, have faith in the necessity and rightness
of our cause, and do what must be done to make this a safer, freer,
better world. We must settle, once and for all, the problem of Saddam.
(end text)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site:

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