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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 76, Cover design by Paul Aston

Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 76, March/April 2004

Preserving UNMOVIC:
The Institutional Possibilities

Trevor Findlay

The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) is currently in limbo. Withdrawn from Iraq in March 2003, it has now spent a year gazing at its navel (refining its ongoing monitoring and verification plan for Iraq and drawing up a compendium of Iraq's past proscribed weapons and programmes) training would-be inspectors, trying to observe its verification target from afar (and vicariously, via the Iraq Survey Group) and contemplating its future. This is all very useful but hardly a long-term occupation given the reluctance of the Bush administration to allow UNMOVIC to set foot in the country the US now controls, and the likely wariness of any new Iraqi government about letting it do so after June 2004 when the Americans hand over power. As noted by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and Terence Taylor in the last issue, the time is ripe for considering the future of UNMOVIC for broader verification purposes beyond Iraq.1

In a situation of continuing deadlock or neglect, UNMOVIC may be forced to linger on, atrophying as its key personnel seek more useful employment elsewhere and as the current funding, under the Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme, dries up. This possibility adds to the urgency of considering the future of an international verification tool that has proved itself capable of producing results in the most difficult of verification circumstances, namely enforced, contested disarmament.2

As a subsidiary body of the UN Security Council, a decision about UNMOVIC's future requires a new Security Council resolution. This implies that no permanent member uses its veto power. Since the US is the most likely to have difficulties, the US needs to be brought along with whatever is proposed. On the other hand, the permanent members that wish to preserve elements of UNMOVIC's capabilities - of whom France and the United Kingdom are the most enthusiastic - are unlikely to countenance a resolution that would abolish the organisation outright.

While the mandate for a future UNMOVIC-type body is a paramount consideration, the question of what type of institutional home would be most appropriate also looms large. There would appear to be three alternatives: assigning various extant elements of those capabilities to the UN Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA); adapting and re-mandating UNMOVIC itself, or creating a completely new international organisation that would absorb UNMOVIC's capabilities. Each option gives rise to different political, organisational and practical considerations.

Vesting UNMOVIC's capabilities in the UN Secretariat?

Vesting UNMOVIC's capabilities, however they might ultimately be determined, in the UN Secretariat in New York, presumably as part of DDA, has several obvious advantages. It would give a Department that has long had a Cinderella existence3 a substantive role for the first time. Currently the smallest and worst funded UN department, DDA has never been given operational responsibilities comparable with those of other parts of the UN Secretariat, notably the Department of Peace-Keeping Operations (DPKO). Its role has largely been confined to information dissemination and conference services, ranging from the Conference on Disarmament to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC).4 DDA also promotes the multilateral disarmament agenda and follows, to the best of its abilities, global developments in the field.

Giving it the capacities that UNMOVIC has developed, especially in regard to biological weapons (BW) and missiles, for which there are currently no multilateral verification bodies, would add real teeth to a part of the UN that has long been denied a substantive role. DDA's standing and authority would be greatly enhanced if it were directly engaged in the operational experience involved in preparing for field activities such as: on-site inspections; training and maintaining preparedness of inspection and other critical staff; keeping a watch on export/import activities relating to weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Although it keeps abreast of disarmament, arms control and nonproliferation developments, DDA would benefit from a role that included providing up-to-the minute briefings to the Security Council and Secretary-General. Moreover, one little-known activity of the DDA could be merged with and enhanced by the acquisition of UNMOVIC's BW verification capabilities, namely the maintenance of a list of experts available for fact-finding missions in case of alleged chemical and biological weapons use in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol. Since 1982, the Secretary-General has been mandated to conduct such missions by the UN General Assembly and UN Security Council.5 The Secretariat accordingly maintains lists of experts nominated by states for quick dispatch. A study has also been prepared on what is necessary in terms of the modalities for conducting such missions.6 The Secretary-General thus already has some standing in the BW verification area in relation to alleged use. This would fit nicely with UNMOVIC's BW verification capabilities, which focused on illicit research, manufacture and deployment.7

What to do about UNMOVIC's capabilities in respect of missile verification are more problematic than BW, since there is no multilateral agreement that limits the ballistic missile capabilities of UN member states. The limitation placed on Iraq to restrict the range of its missiles to 150 kilometres was imposed unilaterally by the Security Council, not on the basis of an international norm but in order to protect Israel from Iraqi missiles above that range. There is currently no international legal basis for conducting a verification exercise in respect of missile ranges or other aspects of missile capability.

The only international regime affecting missiles is based on the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a collective attempt by a group of like-minded states to prevent exports of missile technology to those states it considers unworthy of having such capabilities. The ballistic missile International (Hague) Code of Conduct (HCoC), launched in November 2002, is also voluntary, and is too recent and poorly subscribed to be considered customary international law enforceable by the Security Council. As a consequence, some member states might oppose the UN Secretariat acquiring verification capabilities in this respect.

Another aspect of UNMOVIC's work, conducting inspections related to chemical weapons (CW), was inherited from its predecessor, the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM). A new UNMOVIC would no longer need to retain a major CW verification capability now that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), has those capabilities.8 Established in 1997, the OPCW has since proved itself highly capable of conducting effective verification, including verification of CW destruction efforts. Currently it is becoming involved in identifying and arranging for the destruction of Libya's recently declared CW stockpile, even though Libya is not yet a CWC state party. If an Iraq-type situation occurred today there would be little point in replicating this capacity in the UN Secretariat.

With regard to nuclear inspections, the close working relationship between UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in relation to nuclear inspections in Iraq might be difficult to replicate with the UN Secretariat. The IAEA does have a cooperation agreement with the UN that may in theory permit close interaction with the Secretariat, but in practice it may be wary of working too closely with a department that, however carefully it attempted to absorb UNMOVIC's ethos and professionalism, is unlikely to be viewed as an equal collaborator. One difficulty, for example, would be the handling of confidential and weapons-sensitive information. Imposing the necessary controls on DDA would require a cultural and organisational overhaul.

Another drawback in having the UN Secretariat absorb UNMOVIC is that, unlike UNMOVIC itself, it is not regarded as the most efficient and effective of international bodies. This is despite the quite far-reaching management reforms initiated in recent years throughout the Secretariat, including more effective staff recruitment, management, training and counselling. While the UN Secretariat has some incredibly dedicated and highly competent personnel who would add lustre to any organisation, it also has some who deserve to be shown the door. While DDA is probably no better or worse than any other part of the UN Secretariat, the functions that it would have to assume in taking on UNMOVIC's role are so important that it would be necessary to shield them from UN inefficiencies as much as possible.

More fundamental is the question of organisational independence. Although UNMOVIC staff, unlike those of UNSCOM, are recruited, contracted and managed according to UN Secretariat procedures and processes, and UNMOVIC's New York offices are housed on the same floor as DDA in the UN Secretariat building, UNMOVIC has maintained a degree of independence that a UN department cannot. As a subsidiary body of the Security Council funded by Iraqi oil sales rather than the assessed contributions of member states, it is answerable to the Security Council through its College of Commissioners rather than being under the authority of the UN Secretary-General, the UN Secretariat or the General Assembly.

Folding UNMOVIC into the Secretariat proper would forfeit this independence. In particular it would mean exposing its funding and staff levels to the General Assembly's finance bodies - the Fifth Committee and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), which jealously preserve their right to determine spending priorities in the organisation. There would then be a risk that the developing countries would attempt to cut back on expenditure on verification activities that they either fear will be turned on them or which they regard as a luxury when their perceived development needs are so pressing.

Also requiring careful consideration would be the possible effect on the UN Secretary-General, who is the head of the Secretariat and whose impartiality must be jealously guarded. While it is true that the Secretary-General already risks political jeopardy by being mandated to decide whether or not to investigate CBW use allegations on his own cognisance, conferring even greater investigative powers in respect of a wider menu of WMD issues vastly increases the possibility that his office will lose the confidence of one or other groups of member states. As Dag Hammarskjöld experienced as a result of his somewhat free-wheeling command of the UN peace operation in the Congo in the 1960s, the alienation of one or more great powers and their allies (in that case France, Portugal, the UK and the Soviet Union) can bring the UN to the brink of disaster.

Adapting UNMOVIC or developing a new verification agency

Adapting UNMOVIC as it stands, as a permanent subsidiary body of the Security Council would appear an attractive option, although it still has its complexities. While the Bush Administration may have had its difficulties with the organisation's performance, the rest of the international community, as well as expert observers, have regarded it as an impressive international verification endeavour. Far from being discredited by what has transpired, UNMOVIC's reputation has grown, particularly in light of the costly and ultimately fruitless efforts of the Iraq Survey Group and as the more outlandish of allegations about Iraq's WMD have proved groundless.

Hence the case could be made for leaving UNMOVIC in place and just modifying those aspects that do not suit an enhanced, less Iraq-centric verification organisation. Creating a new organisation but giving it UNMOVIC's capabilities would involve many of the same considerations as adjusting UNMOVIC itself.

One of the more sensible decisions of the Security Council in establishing UNMOVIC was to give it a name that was not Iraq-specific. In practice then UNMOVIC's name could sensibly be retained, especially as it nicely encapsulates all of the roles that would be expected of it.9

The structure of UNMOVIC also appears to be sound. A 16-member College of Commissioners appointed by the Secretary-General has overseen and provided policy guidance, which seems to have functioned well (by contrast to UNSCOM's experience). UNMOVIC has been headed by an Executive Chair, who has reported periodically and on request to the UN Security Council. This arrangement would likely work well for a future, more broadly mandated, UNMOVIC.

The body's organisational structure, set out below, might also be appropriate for a future role. It has the necessary divisional structure and supporting offices to permit it to carry out broader verification tasks without significant amendment. A future UNMOVIC would naturally need the capability to rapidly deploy to the field when a new verification operation was to be undertaken. If necessary a supporting field office, such as the Bahrain office in the case of Iraq, close to the country being inspected, could be established.10 In addition offices would need to be established in the inspected country itself, along the lines of those established by UNMOVIC in Baghdad and Mosul. Clearly, models for these types of undertakings now exist as a result of UNMOVIC's experience.

In respect of CW, cooperation with the OPCW could follow the model of UNMOVIC's close and successful collaboration with the IAEA. In Iraq the IAEA provided its own inspectors, the Iraq Action Team, who were housed with UNMOVIC, worked closely with it and conducted joint inspections when necessary. The IAEA cooperated closely in the conduct of multidisciplinary inspections and provided its nuclear expertise to the overall mix of UNMOVIC's capabilities. A similar relationship could be envisaged with both the OPCW and with the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) when the Treaty enters into force.

It would still be necessary, however, to leave UNMOVIC itself with some capability in the nuclear and chemical verification fields, if only to permit it to collaborate successfully with its partner organisations. Such capability would also be helpful to UNMOVIC in organising and evaluating the results of multidisciplinary inspections. These were an innovation of UNMOVIC in Iraq, based on the experience of UNSCOM and the recommendations of the March 1999 Amorim report to the Security Council.11

While in future verification exercises it may be that the country being inspected is not a state party to the NPT and/or CWC, and therefore not subject to inspections that would flow automatically from obligations under these treaties, this is essentially a political issue that could be overcome either through the cooperation agreements between the UN and the relevant treaty organisations or by a future UNMOVIC 'contracting' the services of the multilateral verification agencies. Moreover, the UN Security Council, under its Chapter VII authority, can impose inspections on a non-compliant state as it did in the case of Iraq.

The size of a future UNMOVIC

There is a clear need, as suggested by the Carnegie Endowment in its January 2004 Report, for a comprehensive study of the organisational requirements of any UNMOVIC-type verification organisation that might be envisaged.12 The size of the establishment necessary would be a key consideration.

Currently UNMOVIC has a core establishment at UN headquarters of 51 weapons experts and support staff, as well as a small number in Cyprus and Baghdad.13 In November 2003 its roster of inspectors on call to conduct inspections in Iraq numbered 350 (from 55 member states).14 While the number of permanent staff has declined by about 10 percent since inspections in Iraq ceased, the number of rostered inspectors has not declined, indicating that states parties continue to be willing to provide personnel for inspections (even in a situation where they may never occur). Since this 'virtual' stand-by inspectorate is precisely what would be necessary for a permanent UNMOVIC, this augurs well. It is also notable that an estimated 3,000 inspectors provided by member states rotated through UNSCOM during its eight year existence,15 indicating that there is a vast pool of talent and experience available for a standing UNMOVIC.

Estimates of the future staffing needs of a permanent UNMOVIC vary widely. Canadian verification expert and UNMOVIC Commissioner Ron Cleminson proposes a core staff of 276.16 Barbara Hatch Rosenberg has provided a rough estimate of around 30-35 weapons experts and fewer than 20 support staff, which is about the size of UNMOVIC at present.17 Presumably a future UNMOVIC will not need as many CW experts as in the past if the OPCW is to contribute more to its work. On the other hand, if it is to cover all types of WMD it clearly needs to maintain a core of experts of the relevant types.

In any event it is unlikely that a permanent organisation of UNMOVIC's size would be required, or, indeed, that funding for a large organisation would be secured in the long term. It would be preferable to aim for a small core staff supported by: a network of experts and advisors; a roster of trained inspectors on call (in much the same way as the CTBTO PrepCom envisages the future CTBTO inspectorate); a certified number of laboratories and scientific research organisations to provide assistance; an outsourced research programme to help keep abreast of advances in verification technologies and modalities; and a well maintained and regularly modernised equipment set.


Maintaining funding for a permanent verification organisation along the lines outlined above will be expensive. While it can be reasonably argued that such a body will be a security bargain, this is unlikely to impress governments with myriad competing priorities. Although it is unclear when the escrow account containing Iraq's oil revenues will be empty or will be closed down, this source of funding will sooner or later disappear. The standard alternative would be to apply the usual UN assessed contributions formula to funding the new organisation.

However, as previously noted, this would subject the funding and staffing levels to the UN General Assembly's finance committees, which may lead to a decimation of the real requirements. A preferable route would be to mimic the current UNMOVIC funding arrangement whereby an independent income stream is provided. This could be in the form of an endowment that is kickstarted with voluntary donations from wealthier UN member states (admittedly the usual suspects), plus money from philanthropic foundations such as the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Turner Foundation which do not just fund research and educational-campaigning activities, but have engaged directly in operations to make the world safer.


The merits of attempting to preserve the hard-won experience and capabilities of UNMOVIC seem unassailable. The need for a permanent UN verification body is self-evident, as cases like Libya make plain. The most obvious step seems to be to preserve UNMOVIC in name and structure, while amending its mandate to cover whichever WMD noncompliance cases the Security Council directs it to deal with, and to regularise its relationships with the standing multilateral verification organisations.

The greatest political task is to convince the United States that it stands to gain much by supporting its fellow Security Council members in such a move. The greatest practical challenge will be an old perennial: ensuring sufficient and continuing funding.


1. See Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, 'Enforcing WMD treaties: consolidating a UN role'; and Terence Taylor, 'Lessons from UNSCOM and UNMOVIC', Disarmament Diplomacy 75, January/February 2004.

2. For an account of UNMOVIC' performance see Trevor Findlay and Ben Mines, 'UNMOVIC in Iraq: an opportunity lost', Verification Yearbook 2003, Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC), London, 2003.

3. At one stage DDA was not even an independent department, but a mere 'centre' of the Department for Political Affairs.

4. Even in regard to treaties for which the UN Secretary-General is the depositary, such as the 1997 Ottawa Convention, which bans anti-personnel landmines, DDA has little more than a post-office function, receiving declarations from states parties and compiling and distributing them. Similarly, in regard to the BWC, its role is restricted to compiling and distributing the annual declarations that constitute the treaty's confidence-building measures (CBMs).

5. General Assembly resolution A/Res/37/98D, 13 December 1982; General Assembly resolution A/Res/42/37C, November 30, 1987 and Security Council resolution S/Res/620, August 26, 1988.

6. Chemical and Biological Weapons: Report of the Secretary-General, UN document A/44/561, October 4, 1989.

7. There would have to be some reconciliation of the Secretary-General's powers and the current authority of UNMOVIC in this respect. While UNMOVIC derives its authority to conduct inspections in Iraq from the UN Security Council, the Secretary-General is authorised to conduct investigations of alleged CBW use on this own authority when requested by a member state.

8. When UNSCOM was founded in 1991, the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was still being negotiated and there was no OPCW: hence the need for UNSCOM to have its own CW verification capabilities. Although the OPCW, established in 1997, had been going for two years by the time UNMOVIC was set up in 1999, it may have been considered too pre-occupied with its treaty mandate and too untested to be involved in Iraq. UNMOVIC was expected to carry on the work of UNSCOM, and in any case, Iraq was not at that time party to the CWC.

9. If the current name proved to be a sticking point for some states, it could of course be changed. The United Nations Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction has a nice ring to it (although an unpronounceable acronym).

10. While UNMOVIC's Bahrain Field Office has now closed, it maintains one in Larnaca, Cyprus, where much of the equipment removed from Baghdad is now stored. If required, this could no doubt be maintained in the same way that the UN keeps a supply of peacekeeping equipment at the UN Logistics Base in Brindisi, Italy.

11. The Amorim Report, March 27, 1999, http://www.unmovic.org.

12. Jessica T. Mathews, George Perkovich and Joseph Cirincione, WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications, Report of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC, January 2004.

13. Sixteenth quarterly report on the activities of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in accordance with paragraph 12 of Security Council resolution 1284 (1999), S/2004/160, February 27, 2004, p. 7.

14. Fifteenth quarterly report on the activities of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in accordance with paragraph 12 of Security Council resolution 1284 (1999), S/2003/1135, November 26, 2003, p. 5.

15. Frank Ronald Cleminson, 'Modelling a New International Regime for Monitoring and Verification of Compliance: Drawing from Experience(s) in Iraq 1991-2004', Rundle Virtual Research Group (RVRG-Ottawa), Ottawa, January 19, 2004, p. 10.

16. Ibid. p. 45.

17. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, 'Enforcing WMD treaties: consolidating a UN role', Disarmament Diplomacy 75, January/February 2004, p. 13.

Dr. Trevor Findlay is Executive Director of the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC) in London.

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