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February 2003 (Volume 54, Number 9)

Notes from the Editors

On December 19, 2002 U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that the 12,000 page document that Iraq delivered to the United Nations on December 7, listing its secret weapons programs together with any dual use agents that could be used in proscribed weapons systems, contained significant omissions. It thus constituted, in the view of the Bush administration, a further “material breach” in Iraq’s obligations under current U.N. resolutions. All of this was meant to add to Washington’s case for waging a war on Iraq, ostensibly in order to “disarm” it.

There are three kinds of weapons of mass destruction that have been proscribed for Iraq: chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. With respect to chemical weapons, the U.S. State Department claims that Iraq has not provided credible evidence that 550 mustard gas-filled artillery shells have been destroyed (New York Times, December 20, 2002). Although there is no actual evidence at present that Iraq still has mustard gas-filled artillery shells in this quantity—or that it has any at all—it is useful to compare the number of alleged Iraqi chemical weapons to the quantity of the same weapons possessed by the United States. The United States has at present more than a million munitions armed with mustard agents alone, mostly artillery shells stockpiled in eight states (Maryland, Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Oregon) and Johnston Atoll. Taking into account all chemical weapons agents, the United States has more than 31,000 tons of chemical weapons material encased in millions of munitions at these nine sites. In addition, the United States has vast, not fully accounted for, quantities of what is termed “non-stockpile chemical material,” which encompasses a wide variety of chemical warfare material not included in the “unitary stockpile” as declared in 1986. This material, according to the Federation of American Scientists, has been identified, or is believed to exist, at ninety-nine locations in thirty-eight states and U.S. territories.

With respect to biological weapons, the Bush administration claims that Iraq has not verifiably accounted for substantial quantities of biological growth media that could be used for the production of biological weapons. Here it is significant that much of the growth media with biological weapons potential that Iraq formerly possessed (and which, Washington alleges, it still possesses in part) was delivered to Iraq by the United States itself. In the 1980s, U.S. corporations with the approval of the Reagan and Bush administrations sent over seventy shipments of clones, germs, and chemicals with potential biological and chemical warfare significance, including various strains of anthrax, to an Iraq ruled by Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, with which it was allied (see Review of the Month, December 2002). The United States is the world leader in research into biological warfare technologies.

As for nuclear weapons, it would take until the second half of the decade at the very least, according to the CIA, before Iraq could produce enough fissile material to develop a single nuclear bomb. The United States meanwhile has the world’s most massive nuclear arsenal. It is the only country to have used them and the only one that continues to threaten their use throughout the world.

Even within the Middle East and South Asia, Iraq is far from being the only country to develop weapons of mass destruction (nor is it the only country to use them). According to Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East, a 2002 report by Anthony H. Cordesman, Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Middle Eastern and South Asian countries with weapons of mass destruction, other than Iraq, include: Egypt (chemical), Iran (chemical, biological, developing nuclear), Israel (chemical, biological, nuclear), Libya (chemical), Syria (chemical, biological), Pakistan (chemical, biological, nuclear) and India (chemical, biological, nuclear). In addition to Iraq, Egypt, Iran, and Libya have all reportedly used chemical weapons against neighboring countries.

The United States and Iraq are the two countries that have made major, extended use of weapons of mass destruction since the Second World War, according to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies Chemical weapons were employed in massive quantities by the United States in Indochina in 1962–1970 (where four types of defoliants, including Agent Orange, were used) and by Iraq in 1983–1988 during the Iran-Iraq War (when mustard gas and other toxins were used). However, Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities were effectively destroyed (with 90–95 percent of the estimated weapons materials actually accounted for) in 1991–1998 as a result of the UN inspection process following the Gulf War.

The truth is that the closer one looks at the question of suspected Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, in the context of the existence of such weapons in other countries, the more the Iraqi threat to world peace diminishes by comparison, while the threat represented by the United States looms ever larger. Under these circumstances a war by the greater perpetrator to “disarm” the lesser perpetrator seems hardly the answer.

Of course, the current U.S. drive toward war with Iraq has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, but is about the expansion of American empire. From Washington’s standpoint, if a threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction did not (allegedly) exist, it would have to be invented.

Angus Cameron, a longtime friend, colleague, and comrade of editors Leo Huberman, Paul Sweezy, and Harry Magdoff, as well as many others in the Monthly Review family, died last November 18, aged ninety-three. Between two distinguished careers as one of this country’s most illustrious book editors, Cameron, blacklisted during the 1950s, ran a small radical publishing company, Cameron Associates, as well as the Liberty Book Club. The club distributed many MR Press books, including titles by the editors, Paul Baran, and others. Cameron was a charter subscriber and an avid reader of MR for many years, often writing to the editors with incisive criticism and imaginative suggestions. A memorial meeting will be held at The New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th Street, on Saturday February 1 at 2 p.m.

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2003, Volume 54, Issue 09 (February)
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