Scott Ritter on Israel’s nuclear policy, disarmament, Iraq and citizenship


Miller: I’m Sunny Miller, director of Traprock Peace Center in Deerfield, Massachusetts. We’re privileged to have on the line with us, Scott Ritter in up-state New York. Scott Ritter was a weapons inspector for the United Nations in Iraq for seven years. He was on the ground, inspecting and destroying Iraqi weapons systems and weapons manufacturing facilities, and has been outspoken in explaining that disarmament was difficult and tedious, but was working until inspectors were ordered out of Iraq by the U.S. Thank you so much for your time, Scott.

 

Ritter (by telephone): It’s a pleasure.

 

Miller: We’d like to begin today by asking a general question about the threat of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Recently, Mordechai Vanunu granted interviews with international media in violation of restrictions imposed by the Israeli government. (Vanunu was the whistle-blower who exposed Israeli nuclear weapons production to the Sunday Times of London, and spent 18 years in an Israeli prison for speaking the truth, as you know.) I wonder if you could comment on the position Israel has taken, that secrecy and nuclear weapons add to Israel‘s security. For example, the British Broadcasting Company, the BBC, noted in 2003 that former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Perez, considered to be the architect of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, said after Vanunu’s trial that, quote, ” … the suspicion and fog surrounding this question are constructive because they strengthen our deterrent.” On the other side of the argument, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei has said that disarmament and dialogue would bring more security to Israel. ElBaradei said, quote, ” … my fear is that without such a dialogue between Israel and the other states, there will be continued incentive for the region’s countries to develop weapons of mass destruction to match the Israeli arsenal.” Scott, would you give us your broad view on the question of nuclear weapons in the Middle East?

 

Ritter: Well. I think we have to look at it from a couple perspectives. First of all, we need to understand that, as long as Israel has nuclear weapons, it has chosen to take a path that is inherently confrontational, and that’s a very dangerous path. It’s a path that says, ‘We will confront you, and, if the situation warrants, we will use our ultimate weapon.’ Now the Arab countries, the Muslim world, is not about to sit back and let this happen, so they will seek their own deterrent. We saw this in Iraq, not only with a nuclear deterrent but also with a biological weapons deterrent, the poor man’s nuclear bomb that the Iraqis were developing to offset the Israeli nuclear superiority. So it doesn’t make Israel safer. It makes Israel much less secure. Now we bring into the fold an additional element, that Israel has developed its nuclear weapons in violation of international agreements and standards and refuses to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, its nuclear weapons production capacity. And, again, this is another signal that Israel is sending out that it’s okay for Israel to turn its back on the rest of the world and to go it alone and create a nuclear weapon for its own security, but it’s not okay for anybody else. It sets a double standard, which, again, only adds to the sense of frustration in the Arab world, and increases rather than decreases the likelihood that they will seek to acquire a nuclear capability that counterbalances the Israeli capability. Remember, Israel needs lots of nuclear weapons because they have lots of potential targets. Israel is such a small country that any potential nuclear enemy only needs a handful of nuclear weapons, and you can destroy Israel, so Israel has put itself at great risk with this nuclear weapons capability. Maybe the nuclear weapons were something Israel needed during the time of the Cold War, but we’re in a post-Cold War environment. This is definitely a new era, and, if the United States, and we’re in the midst of a Presidential election in which both candidates, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry have spoken about the dangers of nuclear proliferation, the dangers of proliferating weapons of mass destruction and the importance for the US to have a very broad spectrum, viable, counter-proliferation/nonproliferation strategy. I don’t care what your strategy is; it will not succeed so long as Israel maintains a nuclear weapons capability. Israel‘s nuclear capability is the Achilles’ heel of any attempt to bring weapons of mass destruction under control. Until which time Israel agrees to open itself up to full international inspections and to embark on a disarmament program to eliminate its nuclear weapons capability, all other Muslim nations will be seeking to acquire either directly or assisting other nations to acquire this capability.

 

Miller: Thank you for speaking for equality among all states regarding following the protocols. My belief is that Israel did not sign the nonproliferation treaty, and so perhaps you’re speaking that this is a moral standard that the world holds for nonproliferation.

 

Ritter: Right, Israel did not sign it because Israel claims it is above that. Israel‘s national security precludes it entering into any such agreements. This is ludicrous. We have a situation where North Korea is withdrawing legally from its obligations under the nonproliferation treaty, and yet that sends everybody into a conundrum. Israel refuses even to acknowledge the legitimacy of that agreement as it applies to Israel — and yet, on the other hand, Israel is the first to point an accusatory finger at nations that violate the nonproliferation treaty or don’t want to be signatories to it. So it’s a double standard, and, again, this is not good for Israeli security, and I’m someone who speaks from the standpoint of somebody who wants a secure Israel, who wants a safe Israel, who wants an Israeli state that can live in peace with its neighbors, so it’s not as though I am an anti-Israeli bent. I’m a friend of Israel saying to my friends in Israel, ‘your nuclear policy is not doing you good.’

 

Miller: Thank you. I wonder if you could speak on the question of Syria and Iran and pre-war Iraq. At one time, I understand that Iraq, according to your commentaries, was interested in developing nuclear weapons. What double-standard is the U.S. showing in our policies in this regard?

 

Ritter: Again, we’re at a situation where we rightly say that there should be no proliferation of nuclear weapons, and we come down hard on nation-states like Iraq, North Korea, and Iran. We turn a blind eye to our allies, Israel and Pakistan. Remember, Pakistan developed its nuclear capabilities in violation of the nonproliferation treaty, and we have not done anything to hold Pakistan to account in anything that’s meaningful, so we have a double standard vis a vis our relations with other nations where we say it’s bad for certain nations to pursue this capability, and it’s okay for other nations to do it. Then we have our own standard. I’m somebody who got into arms control in the 1980′s at the height of the Cold War, and I thought that the idea of arms control and disarmament was to walk ourselves away from the edge of the cliff, (so that) to move the nuclear clock backwards. And we actually succeeded in doing this for a period of time, moving the clock backwards and making the world safer by getting rid of the horrific weapons. And, yet, we now live in a world where we don’t face a Soviet threat, we don’t face a viable nuclear threat, and yet we are building new families of “usable nuclear weapons.” Now what is a “usable nuclear weapon?” It’s a nuclear weapon designed to be used, unlike the massive city killers of the Cold War which were weapons of deterrence. We had an acronym, “MAD,” mutually assured destruction. Everyone understood that it was insane to even think about using these weapons. And yet that is not the path we’re taking today. It’s no longer considered by some in the circles of power in Washington, D. C. to be insanity to speak of using nuclear weapons. We are developing scenarios in which we can employ these weapons preemptively, and this sets the wrong standard because it sends the wrong signal. Again, our policy should be focused on disarmament coupled with meaningful nonproliferation and counter-proliferation policies, but if we say we will develop a family of usable nuclear weapons and we will integrate these weapons into our war planning, what does that tell nation states like North Korea, Iran, and others who, looking at the Iraq scenario. Understand that, if Iraq had a nuclear weapon, it would have been very difficult for the Bush administration to pull off this invasion, and that perhaps the only key to their future safety, the safety of North Korea and Iran from the standpoint of their leadership, is to develop a nuclear capability. But this again starts spinning that cycle of confrontation that, if it gets out of control, will lead to a nuclear holocaust in certain areas of the world, and once you start employing nuclear weapons, it’s like the genie coming out of the bottle. There’s no way you can guarantee where it’s going to end.

 

Miller: Thank you. I can’t use that term “usable” applied to nuclear weapons myself. It seems just too impossible to put those two words together. I wonder, would you say that our path, this path of planning for nuclear war is, in fact, walking away from our obligations under the nonproliferation treaty, and does our administration have a legal right to do that since a treaty has the force of law? Congress is responsible for approving treaties, not the administration. The administration is to undertake the will of the people as expressed by Congress. Is that walking away from our disarmament agreement a legal process?

 

Ritter: There is a legal process involved. It’s the same process we used when we withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, the ABM treaty. You make a declaration, and you move away. I’m not an international lawyer, and, frankly speaking, I haven’t gone through the applicable treaties and agreements with a fine-tooth comb to determine whether or not this is legal. But what I do know is this clearly sends the wrong signal because I understand that disarmament and nonproliferation and counterproliferation requires legal agreement, binding agreements between nations, requires treaties to be negotiated and signed and implemented. And this is a foundation of international law that, if it’s going to work, then it requires all parties involved to be respectful of international law and to undertake the applicability of these laws for themselves, that it’s not a two-way street, a double-standard where you say that laws apply to everybody else but not me. We have an administration in place right now, the Bush administration, that views international treaties as a hindrance. They view this as contract law, and they don’t want these contracts to be binding. They think these contracts are flawed, and they have a different perception of law, a natural law, per se, in which the United States has an inherent right to defend itself, and, again, they are speaking as America first. Now I’m an American, a loyal American who loves my country, and I put my country first and foremost up there, but I also understand that we live in a global community that requires equality. It requires nations to co-exist as equals. It is simply the calculus of peaceful coexistence simply doesn’t work if one nation holds itself above all others, and the Bush administration has an America first policy that holds the United States above all others, above the law. It’s basically a dictatorial position where we dictate solutions to the world whether they view the solutions as being part of a problem they agree on, or viable solutions, or whatever. We dictate, and the world has to take it or leave it. This is not the way to do business. There is a role for international law. It is binding. Once we walk away from international law and we view treaties as a contract that can be breached any time we want, remember, these are the same people who viewed the Constitution of the United States of America as a contract, and they speak in terms of the contract no longer being viable, no longer being applicable, especially in the post-9/11 world, and if they’re willing to walk away from our undertakings in accordance of international law, what are they willing to do in accordance to constitutional law. So I don’t buy the Bush administration’s posturing. It’s, I think, illegal from an international law standpoint and illegal from a constitutional law standpoint, and it’s bad for America. There are those who say they don’t care if we violate the law, etc. Remember what we are. We’re a nation of laws. We believe in due process, and once you cave in to the notion that we can do business . .????. as being in the best interest of our country even if it requires us to violate legal undertakings, we’re no longer America. We’re no longer the country worthy of the title of the United States of America. We’re no longer a nation that deserves the sacrifice of those who have gone before us, who have given their lives to defend this country. We’re no longer in a country worth defending. If we’re not about the Constitution, if we’re not about the rule of law, if we’re not about the standards that our founding fathers set when they formed this country, if we’re willing to push that away in the name of security, then we might as well erase the title the United States of America and cease to exist as the greatest nation on the face of the Earth. We can call ourselves Americans, but if we don’t live as Americans, we’re not Americans.

 

Miller: You’re listening to Scott Ritter, former U.N. weapons inspector working in Iraq formerly and also a former U.S. Marine. Scott, you’ve spoken up loud and clear that the preemptive strikes against Iraq falls in this category of illegal action, as quite inappropriate. I wonder if you’d like to comment on where this preemptive war has taken us and what you see as our way out of the quagmire in Iraq.

 

Ritter: That’s one of those questions that always gets thrown my way by people who say, “Well, you know, okay, you’re against the war, you said there were no weapons, but we’re there now. How do we get out?” I don’t know. I argued vociferously not to get in it, saying that this was going to be a nightmare, that we couldn’t win, that we were not going to prevail. So now I’ve watched people jump into the quicksand, they’re up to their neck, and they’re saying, “Oops — How are you going to save me?” Well, I was trying to save you by not getting you to jump in the quicksand. Now that you’re in it, there’s not going to be an elegant solution. People are going to get hurt. Reputations are going to suffer. National treasury is going to be lost. There’s no solution that’s going to be elegant. We can’t do something that is good for the Iraqi people and good for the American people. That isn’t going to happen. We have lost this war. We have not only lost the war in Iraq but we’re in danger of losing the war on terror, and we’re really in danger of losing our status around the world. Now some people say we’ve lost it. I still believe that there are places in the world that hold us in high esteem. Even the people that hate us respect us. But we’re on the verge of even losing that respect. When people stop respecting us and only fear us, that can only portend bad things for us as a nation. We need to realize that the Iraqi people are the only ones who are going to solve this problem in Iraq. You got that old saying, “We broke it. We need to fix it.” No, we broke it. We can’t fix it. It’s time we hand the pieces over to the Iraqi people and get out of there. That’s the only solution that will work. It’s ultimately the option we’re going to take, whether it takes us five years or ten years. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of Iraq is to leave Iraq. We’re not going to be able to sustain our presence there. We’re going to leave Iraq the way the Israelis left Lebanon, the way we left Vietnam. It’s not going to be elegant. It’s going to be embarrassing, and it’s only going to happen when enough political pressure is brought to bear. And, tragically, the price we’re going to have to pay in terms of dead Americans, dead Iraqis, dead coalition forces, and the horrific price we pay in terms of wounded, maimed people, psychologically scarred people. And, of course, there’s the money issue. The entire economy is being sapped for this war. Our politicians are going to sit there and be cowardly about this and pretend that we can move forward, because they don’t want to put their political careers on the line to say the right thing. Notice the only people speaking out and saying the right things are those who are getting out of politics. You have a Republican now on the Armed Forces Committee, on the Intelligence Committee who is retiring, and he’s saying, “We got it all wrong in Iraq. This is a nightmare.” He wouldn’t be saying that if he was staying on. So we have politicians allowing the brave men and women in the United States armed services to make sacrifice after sacrifice in Iraq to preserve their political reputation. Not to preserve the security of the United States. The longer we’re in Iraq, the less secure we are. So we have people dying for the reputations of politicians, and this is one of the greatest travesties of all.

 

Miller: For the sake of the ordinary Americans that are losing the treasury and the Iraqis that are losing so much more, I wonder if you would endorse the payment of reparations directly to Iraqi labor organizations, city and town organizations, aid organizations rather than to corporations like Brown and Root, or Halliburton, or Dyne-Corps, whose price tags are so high and include such high CEO salaries?

 

Ritter: First of all, there are no viable Iraqi organizations that I would give any money to right now. There’s not a viable government, and there are no labor organizations worthy of a name right now in Iraq. They’re so broke that you’d just be throwing that money away. I’m in favor of funding the United Nations to get involved in bringing stability to Iraq. That way, we have a measure of control over how that money is spent. We’re not giving it to some third party that has free strings. I think what we’ve done in terms of bringing American corporations into Iraq to oversee the so-called reconstruction has been, again, a travesty, a horrific waste of money, totally ineffective. But I don’t think we should be talking about reparations, because where do you draw the line? We can sit here and say we invaded Iraq, etc. You know, Saddam Hussein built weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Saddam Hussein did a lot of bad things. So where do you draw the line? If you start talking about our sins and the money that’s going to be necessary to buy people off, like the Catholic Church has bought off communities that were confronted with the child molestation issues. That’s not what we’re about. We need to forget the issue of reparations and just say ‘fix it, and we’ll help you fix it through the United Nations.’ The United Nations is geared up to do this. They have organizations that can handle it. And, when the Iraqi people are ready for it, when they’ve sorted out their problems, when they get a viable government in place that says, ‘UN come in, and we’ll respect you.’ The UN can’t come into Iraq right now. They’d get blown up, and they’d get shot, and one of the main reasons is because we’re there. We need to leave Iraq. We need to let the Iraqis sort this out. it’s not going to be pretty. There will be civil war. There will be death. There will be destruction. It will be ugly. But it’s the only way to sort this thing out. And, once the Iraqis can identify a central figure of authority that can say, ‘we invite you in, and we will guarantee their security,’ then the UN can do its job.

 

Miller: I just want to respectfully disagree that I do feel personally that reparations are due and that payment even to individuals at a small rate would be preferable to the payments we’re making to corporations.

 

Ritter: Does Iraq pay off Kuwait?

 

Miller: Perhaps.

 

Ritter: Does Iraq pay off Iran? For the money we send to Iraq, which one has a larger legal legitimacy? Do we give Iraq money and they turn around and pass it off to the Kuwaitis and the Iranians? I think at some point in time you’ve got to draw a line in the sand and do what’s realistic, not right but what’s realistic, and, in this case, reparations just are not a realistic option.

 

Miller: On that question of realistic, I want to ask what ordinary citizens, people in the street, high school teachers and principals, students and nurses who are watching our programs suffer tremendously, while the treasury is being drained — what can we be doing to make a difference in our national security policies?

 

Ritter: Well, I’d say that the solution’s actually pretty simple. Be good citizens. That identifies it right there. A good citizen empowers him/herself with the knowledge to comment on a situation. How many people know exactly what’s going on in Iraq right now? Not too many. We’re at war. We have Americans dying. But can people identify all of the major players, all of the major groups? Until you have that foundation of knowledge, you really can’t make good judgment calls, and so you’re left prisoner to those who claim to have that foundation of knowledge: the decision-makers, the elected officials who are carrying out policy in your name. You can’t begin to be a good, democratic citizen of a representative democracy if you can’t hold your elected representatives accountable for what they do in your name, (and how can you hold them accountable for what they do if you don’t understand what they do to begin with?) . . . You’ve got to learn. You’ve got to study. You’ve got to empower yourself with knowledge, and then you’ve got to start holding people accountable, . . . You still have a congress which abrogated its basic constitutional responsibilities in the lead-up to this war by voting for war powers authority without just cause for war, . . . We’re going to have to hold every member of Congress who voted in favor of this war and voted in favor of keeping the payments supporting this war going, hold them accountable. Force them to come to grips with their vote and explain why they voted the way they did. And, if we’re not happy with their answers, we vote them out of power. That is citizenship. That is the power of citizenship, and that is what is needed, and, right now, sadly, not too many Americans are good citizens. Even those who vote aren’t good citizens, because if all you’re doing is going into a polling booth and pulling a lever without really having the foundation of knowledge to understand and comprehend why you’re pulling that lever, you’re not doing anybody any favors.*

 

Miller: What’s your position on the upcoming demonstration planned for New York City this August, Sunday, August 29? And we hear that the city is not granting permission for people to be exercising their freedom of assembly in Central Park.

 

Ritter: If I felt that the people who wanted to demonstrate were going to demonstrate in good faith, I’m a big believer in freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc. Unfortunately, there are those, I think the vast majority of the people who do want to demonstrate will have peaceful assembly and will exercise responsible freedom of speech. Unfortunately, there’s a track record, especially with people who oppose the policies of George W. Bush, of a violent minority coming in and disrupting. I am not in favor of violent disruption. I’m dead set against it. And if the organizers of the demonstration cannot guarantee that there won’t be violent disruption, I think the city has every right to protect and secure the citizens of New York City from violent disruption. I think this is an awful situation where both sides are wrong. (But I do believe that both sides are wrong. ) I do believe that there is an element that wants violent disruption in New York City, and I believe New York City and the federal government have the responsibility to prevent that. On the other hand, I think there are those who take advantage of this necessity of security to stifle the legitimate assembly and speech of people who want to exercise their constitutional responsibilities and their obligations as a citizen to speak out. Remember, I was against the cage in Boston. I thought that was wrong. And I’m against any effort to cage up protesters in New York City. But Boston was never under the threat of violent disruption that New York City is, and we always have to keep that in mind, that we as a society cannot allow that kind of violent disruption to take place. And, unfortunately, violence begets violence. If there is disruption taking place by protesters, and the police will come in heavy-handed, and it’s just going to be a very ugly scene, so I would just advise everybody who goes down to New York to be peaceful, to seek freedom of assembly, to seek freedom of speech, but this isn’t a war against police. This isn’t a war against the authorities. It’s supposed to be a demonstration against the policies of George W. Bush.

 

Miller: Thank you for your time, Scott Ritter, former U.N. weapons inspector and now living in up-state New York. I applaud your encouragement for us to all express our rights as citizens, and thank you for having this dialogue. If we don’t agree on everything, but we certainly hope for human rights for all peoples of the world.

 

Ritter: Absolutely. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak.

 

Miller: Thank you, Scott

 

 

*This interview is an unedited transcript of a phone interview from August 18, 2004, except where a candidate for President was endorsed. As a 501 c 3 charitable educational organization, Traprock does not engage in partisan political activity or endorse candidates.

 

 

Ritter, an UNSCOM weapons inspector in Iraq for 7 years, headed many of the inspections between 1991 and 1998. Previously, he was an intelligence officer of the US Marines and is a veteran of the Gulf War.

During the US build-up to the current war, Ritter toured the US bringing the message that weapons inspection had succeeded in disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. For more on Traprock’s work with Ritter, see http://www.traprockpeace.org/scott_ritter.html

He is the author of End Game — Solving the Iraq Crisis, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1999 (2002 2nd edition); and Frontier Justice, Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America, Conatext Books, New York, 2003.

 

Sunny Miller is the Executive Director, Traprock Peace Center.

 

We thank Mike Gorse, who transcribed the interview.

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