Hans Blix: «Generals Don’t Understand Psychology At All»
No. 4 2007 October/December
Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Research Professor;
Valdai Discussion Club
Research Director


SPIN RSCI: 4139-3941
ORCID: 0000-0003-1364-4094
ResearcherID: N-3527-2016
Scopus AuthorID: 24481505000


E-mail: [email protected]
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– You
have been dealing with disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation
issues for much of your career. Do you agree that the world today
is more dangerous than it was in the era of bipolar
– No, this is
an exaggeration. Don’t forget that during the Cold War we lived
under the threat of guaranteed mutual destruction, which could
happen even as a result of someone’s mistake. Today there is no
such danger; therefore, public opinion in support of nuclear
disarmament has waned. Yes, there are problems connected with Iran
or North Korea, but still this is not a threat of global war. The
world has become safer in this sense. Let us say that instead of
one huge threat we now have several smaller threats.

– Can we
therefore be threatened by many local arms races, including nuclear

– The United
States continues building a missile shield, although there may
arise problems with support from Congress, and the technologies
still do not work. There is a lot of money invested in this project
and in defense in general, but the war in Iraq has made the
financial situation in America worse than before. Now Washington
wants Europe to spend more money on defense: not two to three
percent, but three to four percent like in America. But I cannot
imagine that any marked increase in defense spending – which would
thus spark an arms race – is possible in Europe now.

– And in
the Middle East?

– Things are
different there, of course. The U.S. sells weapons to anyone
wishing to buy them, and the Gulf States actively purchase these
weapons. The Americans have pointed to the source of the threat,
namely Iran, and the more aggressive Teheran’s conduct, the more
actively the rich Arab countries arm themselves. In the Far East,
everything depends on the behavior of China. If China starts
modernizing its defense potential, that will be okay, because this
potential is rather outdated. However, today China is significantly
building up its military capabilities. Considering Washington’s
conduct, this is not very surprising, but Beijing’s policy will
determine the attitude to its military buildup.

Beijing and New
Delhi are interested in a trustful mutual relationship. The
Americans are making a great effort to bind India to themselves,
but India has no intention of getting involved in Washington’s
anti-Chinese schemes.

– Why do
countries want to possess nuclear weapons? Is this a matter of
status or security?

– Basically,
for these two reasons. For example, as regards Iraq, I do not think
that Saddam Hussein needed weapons of mass destruction for defense.
For him, they served as a means of blackmail and an instrument for
inducing concessions. Muammar Qaddafi of Libya is in the same
situation: he has no one to defend against with nuclear weapons.
But if we take the most serious cases – Iran and North Korea –
they, of course, give priority to security, while the matter of
status is of secondary importance to them.

By the way,
Pyongyang has not forgotten the year 1950, when at the height of
the Korean War General Douglas MacArthur received permission to use
nuclear weapons if need be. He never used them, of course, but he
was prepared to do so in principle. Because of the specificity of
their political regime, North Koreans are paranoid. They feel
totally isolated, because even their traditional allies, Russia and
China, are obviously annoyed with them, while the United States has
ominously warned that “all options are open,” including military
options. In a sense, this is a matter of status, as well, or
rather, a way to attract others’ attention and to make them speak
with you.

As for Iran, its
work on elements of a nuclear program began in the 1980s, when that
country was at war against Iraq. At that time, there were more than
sufficient grounds to suspect that Baghdad was developing nuclear
weapons as well. These suspicions caused Israel in 1981 to bomb and
destroy Iraq’s Osirak nuclear research facility near Baghdad. So
the Iranian nuclear program was aimed against a specific enemy. As
this enemy has now ceased to exist, Teheran has named the United
States its main threat.

Exactly. Many think that Hussein’s regime was destroyed because he
did not have nuclear weapons. If he had, America would have spoken
with him in a different manner.

– I am not sure
that the U.S. would have given up its war plans against Iraq even
if it had known for sure that Hussein had weapons of mass
destruction and that he could use them, for example, against
Israel. The basic difference between Iraq and, say, North Korea is
that with Iraq Washington was confident: in case of war against
Saddam Hussein, no one would take his side. With North Korea,
things are different: it is located too close to the spheres of
interests of China and Russia.

– On the
eve of the war in Iraq, there was an impression that George Bush
and Tony Blair really believed that Saddam had weapons of mass
destruction. Later, it began to seem that they had lied

– They wanted to
believe in that very much. It may be said that at first they misled
themselves and then the whole world. One must have grounds to
accuse someone of lying. I don’t have such grounds, so I have never
said that they lied. Yet Bush and Blair could be reproached – and
with good reason – for their reluctance to critically assess the
information they received. They did not ask questions and took the
position of witch-hunting inquisitors: “This woman is guilty, and
now let’s get evidence. She has a black cat – this is the
evidence!” It is difficult to say what is worse: when people lie
deliberately or when they take a biased approach to a

– Scott
Ritter, a chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq in the
1990s, accused you of not having done everything possible to
prevent the war.

– Ritter rebuked
us for not saying that there were no WMD in Iraq. But such
accusations attest to a lack of understanding about the code of
conduct for inspectors. We had no right to say that there was
nothing there, because a negative statement cannot be proved. Iraq
is a large country; theoretically there may be very many facilities
there. The only thing that we had the right to say was that, having
made 500 inspections in different places, we found nothing and
could assume, with a high degree of probability, that the American
statements about the presence of WMD in Iraq were based on invalid

If the
inspections had continued for two or three more months, we would
have visited all the facilities that American intelligence had
suspicions about. After such a search, all would have had to admit
that the information sources were not reliable. But even in that
case, we would not have been able to say unequivocally that Iraq
possessed no WMD. That would be a political conclusion, which
inspectors do not make. By virtue of their professional qualities,
inspectors can provide the most representative results of studies.
But there is always a level of uncertainty, and the decision to
believe or not to believe is made by the politicians. Previously,
it was decided to believe South Africa, and, as it has turned out,
that decision was not a mistake.

– But why
did Saddam bluff? Why did he behave as if he had something to hide?
He must have known for sure that he had no WMD. His suicidal
behavior cost him power and life.

– I did not meet
with him. He did not meet with the commission’s heads, neither
Ekéus, nor Butler or me, in principle. We met with Taha Yasin
Ramadan, the then-vice president of Iraq. Saddam’s behavior really
cannot be described as reasonable. I cannot rule out that his own
generals misled him. Perhaps they assured him that there were some
WMD left – in the hope of receiving some funds or to bolster their
own significance. This is only my guess, I cannot say for sure, of
course. In addition, Saddam played a double game, trying to
convince the United Nations that he had destroyed all WMD, and Iran
– that he had something left.


– Yes, Iran was
his main enemy. He behaved like a man who puts up a “Beware of the
Dog” sign on his front gate. One need not necessarily have a dog –
suffice it to pretend one has one.

There were also
other reasons, of course: for example, that Rambo style, practiced
by some inspectors. Iraqis are a proud people, and the behavior of
Scott Ritter and some others insulted them. Those inspectors
considered it possible to rudely enter any door, which aggravated
not only Hussein, but also many Iraqis, who could not understand
why they should be treated in such a manner.

– Earlier
you said more than once that the Iraqi tragedy was caused by
mistakes committed by the special services. Their psychology and
attitudes are increasingly becoming important elements of policy,
be it in the United States, Russia or some other countries. But
they view the world in black and white colors.

– Indeed. And
in order to calculate correct moves, one needs an adequate picture
of reality, in all of its many nuances. If one fails to make a
correct diagnosis, it will be impossible to prescribe an effective

– Special
services often say their picture is more accurate because they know
what others do not know.

– Sure they
have sources that we don’t have. For example, wiretapping, reports
from agents, operational information. But in the case of Iraq, the
problem could be summed up as follows. Intelligence officers are
civil servants, and they knew what conclusion their heads of state
were looking for. Instead of providing objective information, they
in fact were looking for proof of their government’s stance. This
is fundamentally wrong. The inspectors were international civil
servants, and we felt authorized by the UN Security Council – a
group not only made up by the United States, but many other
countries as well. Later, our commission received high acclaim
precisely because we had not yielded to pressure.

Speaking of the Security Council, many believe that the UN has
become obsolete and cannot be reformed, because UN members, above
all the Security Council members, are unable to agree on

– This is a
very simplistic and erroneous picture. Paradoxically, the Iraqi
affair proves the UN Security Council’s viability. The U.S. was
very annoyed by the UN’s refusal to sanction the war, but now
America itself has admitted that the war was a mistake. In other
words, the UN was right. It did not give the green light when there
should have been a red light. The same refers to the inspectors: we
did not approve what we considered to be wrong. In this sense, the
UN has proved that its position was more right than that of some
countries. As regards the scandal over the Oil-for-Food program,
this was more of an American slander campaign.

– A
slander campaign? But there were serious and proven charges of
corruption and misuse of funds there.

– The
Oil-for-Food program was a very difficult project to implement,
and, of course, there were problems with administration. But
allegations that it was completely corrupt are quite unfair. Yes,
part of the supplies was made under a collusive agreement. It was
proven that an Australian firm had paid hundreds of millions of
dollars in bribes to Hussein for the right to supply wheat. But
that was a corrupt deal between Iraqi officials and Australian
businessmen. What does it have to do with the UN program? The
misappropriated funds made up 10 percent of the total turnover at
most, but we avoided famine in Iraq.

As regards
peacemaking missions (there are 100,000 UN peacekeeping troops
around the world), or the solution of the Iranian problem, where
the Security Council permanent members demonstrate a high degree of
mutual understanding, the UN has proven to be rather

The problem
lies in the UN Security Council’s setup. Its 15 members, including
five permanent seats, comprise a structure that does not ensure the
right balance. The U.S., despite its relative weakening, is still
very strong. However, the UN Security Council does not always
provide a sufficient counterweight to U.S. power. For instance,
when Germany or influential countries of Latin America – for
example, Chile and Mexico – were elected to the Security Council,
this represented a particular type of situation. But if in place of
Mexico we had had the Dominican Republic, for example, which also
competed for a seat in the Council, it would certainly have voted
the same as the United States.

The question is,
what political balance is being formed in the Security Council?
Does it reflect the international situation? The present
combination is not representative enough. From the point of view of
economic clout, of course, it must include Japan and Germany, which
are far ahead of such permanent members as France or Britain. There
is, however, another problem. The permanent members of the Security
Council each pursue their own policies, whereas the Council, as a
matter of fact, is an executive committee of the General Assembly,
that is, the entire international community. However,
representatives of the permanent members only think of themselves
and their national interests.

– This
is inevitable.

– Perhaps, but in
this case, Germany and Japan will uphold their own interests, and
the process will become even more complicated. It is worth
considering that countries elected to the Security Council should
have consultations with the regional groups of states that have
chosen them. For instance, the voice of Angola, which was a
Security Council member during the Iraqi campaign, would have been
more effective if it had consulted with African countries and
therefore represented its continent to a greater degree.

As for the
General Assembly, of course its performance has been affected by
the inflow of mini-states. Given the majority rule used in
decision-making, this 192-state body cannot function as effectively
as it did when it comprised 51 states. Today, the UN General
Assembly is a “global village,” a replica of the international
community, which provides legitimacy to actions taken on behalf of
the entire organization. It has initiated many global discussions,
for example, on human rights, law of the sea, environmental law,
and counterterrorism. But it is not suited for hands-on
decision-making. Over time, the General Assembly will have to
introduce new voting rules, like those used in the World Bank,
where different countries have different voting power.

– And how
do things stand with the Nonproliferation Treaty? Is it

– Yes, rumors
of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Of course, there are
some health problems, but it’s alive. The NPT has seen victories
and defeats. The victories include the accession of South Africa,
Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan to the
document. There have been four failures: in the cases of Libya and
Iraq, solutions have been found, but in the two other cases, Iran
and North Korea, there has not been success. But we can still

– The
Iraqi solution is in no way related to the NPT.

– Well, yes,
the 1991 invasion was not provoked by a nuclear problem but by
Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. Nevertheless, the issue was

– And
what about further proliferation? Are there any doubts in the
ability of Japan, for example, to become a nuclear state within a
short period of time?

– This will
happen in case of a domino effect. If we settle the conflicts
involving Iran and North Korea, their neighbors will not need to
deter them. More important is the initial capabilities of a country
to obtain nuclear weapons. For example, the technological readiness
of Jordan or Saudi Arabia is at the embryonic stage. Theoretically,
Egypt is capable of achieving something. Of the Arab countries,
Algeria could make the biggest progress in nuclear research, but it
is absolutely uninterested in doing so. Generally speaking, I would
not exaggerate the danger that the desire of various countries to
obtain nuclear weapons will grow. Terrorist organizations pose a
greater threat, but in reality they can obtain only very primitive
weapons. Chemical weapons are much more “effective” and easier to
obtain for them but, as a matter of fact, chemical weapons are not
weapons of mass destruction.

– Why did
you not mention Israel as one of the NPT’s

– I would not
consider India, Pakistan and Israel among the setbacks. The NPT was
planned as a goal; it was a desire for a nuclear-free world. All
countries that did not possess a nuclear potential were invited to
join the NPT and give up plans to develop nuclear weapons. Those
who had these weapons were invited to gradually agree on their
destruction. Indeed, we failed to involve India, Israel and
Pakistan. But it did not go without saying that all countries
without exception would join automatically. Some countries were
convinced to join the treaty, while others were not. On the other
hand, when the United States signed a treaty on nuclear cooperation
with India in 2006, it thus gave up the idea that India would ever
join the NPT. The same refers to Pakistan. As for Israel, this
issue is not closed yet.

But there was one
more serious setback for the NPT – namely, the conduct of the
Nuclear Five: Britain, China, Russia, the United States, and
France. Since the signing of the NPT, the overall number of nuclear
devices has been reduced from 55,000 to 22,000. Under the 2002
Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions (SORT), this figure is to
be cut still further. But all these reductions only represent the
disposal of excess stocks, whereas real military capabilities have
not been reduced. Moreover, the United States and Britain are
developing new nuclear weapons, while military doctrines are
becoming more tolerant toward the possibility of their employment.
This is an obvious violation of the treaty by the Nuclear Five,
which, of course, is the cause of great disappointment among
non-nuclear countries. There is no direct link, however, between
their desire to obtain nuclear weapons and America’s development of
new types of such weapons. Rather, this desire is caused by threats
coming from neighboring countries. Egypt, for example, may develop
nuclear ambitions not because of the U.S. but because of Iran and
Israel. It would be much easier to convince Iran and North Korea if
the great powers themselves set an example of nuclear disarmament.
In Geneva, I heard the following idea: states officially united in
nuclear-free zones could withdraw from the NPT – not in order to
develop nuclear weapons (the nuclear-free zones would remain), but
to demonstrate to the Nuclear Five that the great powers do not
honor their commitments.

– Would
it be easier to negotiate with Iran, if simultaneously measures
were taken against Israel’s nuclear program?

– I’m not sure
that it was Israel that triggered Iran’s nuclear aspirations. The
main reason was, without doubt, Iraq; now it is rather the United
States. I’m not sure about Israel.

– You
mentioned the attack against Osirak, which took place when you
headed the IAEA. What do you think now? Was it the right move by
Israel? After all, it saved the world from a nuclear

– No, I thought
then and think now that it was wrong. If the reactor had not been
bombed, French engineers would have remained at the facility and
the IAEA would have conducted inspections there. All actions would
have been under control, and it would have been easier to detect if
Iraq began to move beyond peaceful intentions. The Iraqis would
have had to redesign the reactor to obtain permission for further
work. After the bombing, however, all work went

– That
is, Osirak cannot serve as a model for solving, for example, the
Iranian problem, right?

– No, it
cannot. First, I hope that the Americans understand that the
Bushehr nuclear power plant has nothing to do with nuclear threats.
If spent fuel is sent back to Russia, the Bushehr plant will be
absolutely safe from the point of view of its misuse. An attack
against it would be a horrible precedent.

We can mention
other facilities, for example, Natanz. Of course, the destruction
of these facilities would slow down Iran’s nuclear program,
whatever objectives it may have set for itself. But then we can
forget about any future interaction with Tehran; and if centrifuge
prototypes remain elsewhere in the country, then efforts to build
up nuclear capabilities would only intensify.

There are still
good prospects for negotiations, although I am not enthusiastic
about the way they are conducted. Now the matter is put in the
following way: you stop your enrichment program, and then we will
start negotiations. But this is unproductive – it is the
termination of enrichment that should be the subject of
negotiations at the first stage.

– Many
say that Pakistan is the most dangerous place in the world as
regards proliferation.

– There is a
risk that, in case of a coup there, nuclear weapons will fall into
the hands of conservative mullahs. But while the military is in
power, they will not let the bomb out of their hands.

– But the
scandal involving Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who opened a “nuclear
supermarket” of sorts, is something fantastic. And most
importantly, he has never been punished.

– Abdul Qadeer
Khan is a national hero of Pakistan, a man who created its nuclear
program and achieved parity with India. Of course, it is hard to
imagine that he was acting alone when trading nuclear technologies:
at the very least, someone from the country’s top leadership was in
the know. And the reasons were obviously economic, although
attempts were made to hide the profit considerations behind a noble

– What do
you think of the present atmosphere of international relations?
Military force is returning as a key factor on the global stage.
The U.S. and Russia now and then resort to the Cold War rhetoric.
Is this a rollback to the past or, on the contrary, the beginning
of a new era?

– The
Washington establishment is traditionally divided into two parts.
The military elite, led by the Pentagon, has always played an
important role. Today, however, under the George W. Bush
administration, it has increased its influence even more. Yet there
has always been the foreign-policy elite, the State Department,
which is less oriented to force. This latter trend strengthened
after Russia ceased to pose a threat. The relaxation of tensions
opened opportunities for building peace on the principles of
international cooperation and mutual struggle against

with the disappearance of the rivalry, the military had no more
need to make concessions and limit themselves. The U.S. military
stopped being shy, so to speak. It began under Bill Clinton. The
bombing of Afghanistan, strikes against Sudan after attacks on the
American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania… When it turned out that a
factory in Sudan was bombed by mistake, the U.S. simply expressed
regret. This is the psychology of the only military superpower. And
why are new types of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery
being developed today? This cannot be explained by the need to
combat terrorism; this is an offensive type of strategic

The idea to build
an anti-missile shield, which is now much talked about, is very
old. From the very beginning, it caused suspicions in Moscow and
Beijing that the United States wanted to ensure for itself an
ability to strike with impunity. Of course, this is also an element
of that strategic thinking, which does not provide for the
construction of a “common home.” Washington insists that its plans
are directed against Iran and North Korea, but hardly anyone
believes this. Most likely, the two specific facilities in Poland
and the Czech Republic really do not threaten Russia, but they will
become part of an entire system, which seriously worries both
Russia and China.

Another element
is the enlargement of NATO. It began with Poland, the Czech
Republic and Hungary – countries occupied by the Soviet Union, and
I understand very well why they and the Baltic States sought to
join the Alliance. On the other hand, I understand what Russia
feels as well: “We no sooner left those countries and NATO entered
them.” This is how the rivalry psychology is fed. Now candidate
countries already include Ukraine and Georgia, and last year
Senator Richard Lugar suggested that the doors should be open also
for Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

It is quite
understandable why Russia feels encircled, especially as this is
really so from the point of view of the struggle for oil and gas
sources. In a recent article, Henry Kissinger said that he had
supported the first wave of NATO’s enlargement, but was against the
continuation of the process. He, at least, understands psychology,
while generals do not understand psychology at all and do not want
to understand it.

As regards China,
the United States points to Beijing’s increased defense spending,
which stands at U.S. $45 billion a year. But Washington’s own
defense spending exceeds $600 billion! Simultaneously, the U.S.
signs agreements with New Delhi, which can hardly be interpreted
otherwise than a desire to incorporate India into an anti-Chinese
“barrier,” which already comprises Australia, Japan, the
Philippines, and Taiwan.

This approach is
based on outdated military-strategic thinking, which manifested
itself in all its glory during the Iraqi campaign of 2003. The
neoconservative idea for rebuilding the Middle East was
approximately as follows: “After removing Saddam, we will be able
to redeploy troops from Saudi Arabia to Iraq, where there is a more
favorable secular environment. Besides, it is close to Iran, which
will be under our watch.” However, in reality the war demonstrated
that problems couldn’t be solved by force alone.

The change of
power and the probable victory of Democrats will shift the balance
toward the State Department’s position. However, the American
public is consolidated around the idea of a strong America, and the
Democrats will have to refute the widespread stereotype that they
are weak. A major role in U.S. policy belongs to the
military-industrial complex, which must have continuous production
because this implies jobs. So, one should hardly expect any radical
changes. Yet I do hope that the situation will be influenced by
globalization, increased interdependence, and integration. These
factors make the use of military force in relations between great
powers less likely – not at the local level, not in intrastate
conflicts, but globally.

The most vivid
example of this today is Japan and China. There are high emotional
tensions between them. But both of their new leaders have made it
clear that they are interested in developing trade and economic
cooperation. China is a huge market for Japanese products, and vice
versa. So they are trying to achieve a positive development of

– With
regard to China and Japan, or China and the United States, this is
true. But the level of mutual dependence between, for example,
Russia and the United States is very low.

– But there is
very high mutual dependence between Russia and the European Union.
Of course, energy plays a major role in Russia-EU relations; this
is a sensitive issue. I think Europe reacted too much when Russia
had conflicts with Ukraine and Belarus. The problems there did not
lie in the policies of Presidents Yushchenko or Lukashenko – it was
a matter of money, wasn’t it?

– Yes,
money first.

– I thought the
same, so the reaction was exaggerated. But I, as a supporter of
nuclear power, only gain from this. I have always said that nuclear
power is the primary replacement for hydrocarbons, but the
Europeans should not have accused Russia of unreliability. What
they are right about is when they criticize violations of civil
liberties. If Russia really wants to move toward Greater Europe,
this cannot be achieved without ensuring a certain level of rights
and freedoms of the individual. It is time to depart from
traditions of a state dominated by the KGB or the FSB – depart
gradually, step by step. There should be no illusion that this can
be done quickly and easily, but this line should be