Ritter to discuss Iraq, weapons at College

Scott Ritter, former chief weapons inspector for the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), will speak about his views concerning the current situation in Iraq. His talk, entitled “War, Iraq, Terror?” will take place tomorrow at 8 p.m. in Chapin Hall

Formerly an intelligence officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, Ritter served as an arms control inspector in the former Soviet Union. He was a ballistic missile technology expert on General Schwarzkopf’s staff during the Gulf War before his appointment to the Concealment Investigations Team for UNSCOM in 1991. He became Chief of this operation in 1995.

Serving in this capacity until his resignation in 1998, Ritter oversaw efforts to discover Iraq’s true weapons of mass destruction capability, taking part in more than 30 inspection missions, 14 as the team leader. An inspection by his team in early 1998 led to one of the most serious confrontations between Baghdad and the United Nations since the Gulf War, and eventually led to the withdrawal of the United Nations from Iraq.

In a speech at Middlebury last year, Ritter argued against war in Iraq. Seeking to “inject a shadow of doubt over the urgency of the [Iraqi] threat,” Ritter insisted that the United States exhaust all diplomatic options before confronting Iraq militarily. Further, he claimed that the Bush administration has not presented the American people with an accurate assessment of the actual threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

President Bush claims that Iraq’s assumed possession of weapons of mass destruction poses a threat to U.S. security, and has outlined a new foreign policy of “pre-emptive” military action, which he plans to inaugurate by removing Saddam Hussein from power.

At Middlebury, Ritter questioned the Bush administration’s claims about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons and has condemned these assertions, arguing that the administration has produced insufficient evidence to claim military action against Iraq is unavoidable.

Ritter argues that Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction are largely disarmed, and said his inspections team was satisfied that Iraq had destroyed 98 percent of its weapons by 1995. He disagrees with current arguments that Iraq still possesses an active nuclear development program.

Drawing on his eight years experience as a marine, Ritter emphasized the grim realities of war and criticized the Bush administration for downplaying the destruction that a war would cause. “War. . . should not be taken lightly,” he said. “It is about burning and sucking the life out of human beings.”

The United States, Ritter argues, must act in concert with the United Nations before taking military action by invoking United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which says that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction must represent a clear and present danger to the U.S. and the world community. This requires the production of evidence.

Speaking at Middlebury, Ritter debunked the idea that the President cannot reveal intelligence information to prove that Iraq is rearming. He pointed to the precedent set when President John F. Kennedy revealed spy-plane pictures of Soviet missile sites in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Conversely, historical examples such as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution demonstrate that the possibility of a president skewing facts to draw the nation into war “is a prospect that does exist,” Ritter said.

Ritter’s current support of United Nations inspections to provide evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction capability seems at odds with the stance he took when he resigned from UNSCOM in 1998.

At that time, he condemned the weapons inspections program as a sham and reasoned that it was better to not have a program than to confer approval on Iraq when it was entirely undeserved. In 1998, Ritter claimed that Saddam had been playing a game of “cat and mouse,” continually lying about the extent of Iraq’s weapons program and moving incriminating documents to so-called “presidential sites,” to which the inspectors were not allowed access.

Saddam’s pattern of blocking inspectors from entering targeted facilities, before finally complying, also undermined UNSCOM’s efforts, since by the time it was allowed to proceed with its inspections, these suspicious facilities would be empty. Thus, Saddam prevented inspectors from gathering any real evidence against him, while at the same time appearing to give them unfettered access to sensitive sites.

Ritter also questioned U.S. and United Nations resolve to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. He contended that the Clinton administration only wanted UNSCOM to verify Iraqi compliance with Security Council resolutions up to a certain point. Its real priority, Ritter claimed, was not the disarmament of Iraq, but rather containment through the maintenance of international sanctions. According to Ritter, complete Iraqi compliance would undermine international support for these sanctions, so the inspections regime was reduced to merely carrying out the illusion of arms control.

Ritter set out his ideas on the shortcomings of U.S. foreign policy and alternative approaches to the Iraq crisis in his book “Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem – Once and For All,” published in 1999. At this time, Ritter advocated a robust inspection regime and total Iraqi compliance, calling on the U.S. and United Nations to back up UNSCOM with military force if necessary. Such military force, with the purpose of allowing a vigorous UNSCOM to carry out its mandate, was entirely justifiable, he argued.

Ritter received his B.A. in Soviet History from Franklin and Marshall College.