Eye witness

January 8, 1999

Tension is high in the Middle East in the aftermath of Operation Desert Fox.

The big question is how far United States and United Kingdom air strikes on Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological warfare (CBW) capability were effective.

In the absence of Unscom inspection, information is limited to the intelligence community while the US and UK have a vested interest in talking up the outcome to justify their action.

So it is left to detached organisations to make what they can of the sketchy evidence. Initiatives such as the Harvard Sussex Program monitor, sift and publish available information, principally in The CBW Conventions Bulletin. HSP is a collaboration between Sussex University's science policy research unit and the Belfer centre for science and international affairs in Harvard's J. F. Kennedy school of government.

Julian Perry Robinson, director of HSp at Sussex said: "All that the likes of us can do is to remain properly sceptical of any information purporting to come from the intelligence community, above all unattributed leaks to newspapers or tales from academics who hint that they have some kind of inside track."

Any country with a modest industrial and technological base is capable of making CBW weapons but most are deterred. Iraq's CBW programme is known because of Unscom activity after the Gulf war. Other confirmed CBW programmes include India, which declared its chemical weapons after signing up to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997.

No government admits to possession of biological weapons or their production.

"Most of today's possessors of militarily significant stocks are probably among the non-parties (to the conventions) in the Middle East and North Africa, plus countries such as North Korea," said Mr Robinson.

The US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency said Iraq will develop biological weapons if monitoring stops. Inspectors said Iraq had not cooperated enough for them to establish whether it had complied with UN resolutions - a necessary step before lifting sanctions and justification for military action.

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