The first session of an international commission chaired by Hans Blix, who became known throughout the world as the UN chief weapons inspector in Iraq, was held in Stockholm between January 28 and 30. The body was set up by the Swedish government on the initiative of the late Foreign Minister Anna Lindh and features the most respected and authoritative military experts from twelve countries. Apart from Blix, who represents Sweden, the commission includes specialists from Russia, the United States, Britain, France, Australia, Brazil, India, China, Japan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and even the UNIDIR (the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research), which is based in Geneva.
Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Dr Alexei Arbatov represents Russia on the commission. He is also head of Centre of International Security at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow.
The Blix commission, or the WMD commission as it is otherwise known, does not include any representatives appointed by defence or foreign ministries, governmental organisations or parliaments, Alexei Arbatov told this RIA Novosti analyst. The commission's organisers, including Hans Blix in person, invited the members after holding consultations with research institutes and the international academic community. The commission's authority largely derives from Hans Blix himself, whose name only gained more weight in the world following his opposition to the war in Iraq.
The commission will deal with problems related to weapons of mass destruction and will act as an arbiter, an unbiased and neutral expert. It will go, for example, to Iran, North Korea, Libya or Syria only if the governments of the countries agree to these visits, which may begin in the near future. Arbatov is confident that the commission's authority and its entirely independent status may lend it great influence on international politics, and this position will make dialogue more accessible than with other state figures, the IAEA or representatives of the US Senate or Congress. Indeed, talks may be more open and honest. The independent experts will collect materials and consult the most authoritative specialists on a country, American and Russian research institutes, as well as international organisations, such as the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the well-known Non-Proliferation Centre at the International Relations Institute in Monterey, USA. A report will be prepared and sent to the UN Secretary General in late 2005. It will also be sent to the heads of the relevant departments in the leading countries: the foreign and defence ministers, nuclear energy ministers and their counterparts. International organisations such as the IAEA, Geneva Disarmament Committee, the United Nations Security Council will naturally receive copies.
Why was the commission set up? Alexei Arbatov sees three main reasons. Firstly, scientific and technical progress, which means that increasingly new kinds of weapons of mass destruction can be produced. Established approaches and international mechanisms that rely on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, chemical and bacteriological weapons conventions and others are working poorly, if at all, in today's conditions. This means that action has to be taken.
Secondly, an entirely new phenomenon has emerged: international terrorism. If terrorists were to gain access to weapons of mass destruction, above all nuclear materials, the entire civilised world would be threatened. International terrorism knows no borders, fears no armed forces, and follows no moral or ethic principles. It does not control any territory, population or army that be counteracted or fought by traditional means. It is an entirely new threat, Arbatov says. This is all the more true, when it is linked to ethnic and religious conflicts, arms and drug trafficking, and huge flows of laundered money that can be moved via electronic networks. It is only a matter of time before international terrorism gains access to weapons of mass destruction, Arbatov believes. The only way it can be counteracted today is to adopt a new approach to the problem of weapons of mass destruction.
The third, and equally important point, is that international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are being increasingly used as a pretext by some states in an attempt to disguise their expansionist actions, which run roughshod over international law. The Iraq war is a classical example. The abuse of the great and just idea to fight international terrorism leads to the self-interests of some states discrediting the very idea of combating this evil, Arbatov says. The failure of the coalition, coupled with the lack of co-operation and public support, has led to a situation when terrorism, after suffering a crushing defeat in Afghanistan, is taking the upper hand in Iraq and other countries. In light of the current Iraqi situation, Washington is now trying to re-build bridges.
All this means that the Hans Blix Commission will have to look at the problems surrounding the weapons of mass destruction in a new light. The commission will try to make its contribution to halting their proliferation, relying on the support of all the interested countries and organisations in this matter.