The most successful international team ever assembled to probe suspected WMD activities is shutting down this week—thanks to U.S. and British insistence. The team (the U.N. commission initially acronymed UNSCOM and then UNMOVIC) spent 16 years uncovering and destroying Saddam Hussein's chemical, biological and missile weapons programs. The U.S. invasion of Iraq proved that the U.N.'s intel—overruled by the Bush administration—had indeed been correct: Saddam no longer had WMD. But late last month, the U.S. and British governments pushed through the U.N. Security Council a vote to halt funding for UNMOVIC.
The decision dismayed WMD experts. The action foreclosed discussions that were going on behind the scenes at the U.N. on whether UNMOVIC—or parts of it, such as its roster of close to 400 trained inspectors—should be retained to monitor biological and missile proliferation threats. "UNMOVIC is a unique resource," says Hans Blix, who led the Iraq inspections. "Once dispersed, that expertise will not easily be reassembled. But as ever, one has to understand the politics here." The Bush administration has never concealed its distrust of the U.N. and its agencies. "The administration didn't want an international agency able to challenge the U.S. government," says Joseph Cirincione, head of nuclear-policy research at the Center for American Progress in Washington, who has advocated keeping the unit. "But who are they going to call on [to help monitor] if we ever get deals with Iran and North Korea?"
State Department spokesperson Erin Rupprecht says UNMOVIC was set up for "a unique situation" in Iraq. "We would want any creation of a standing body to be really looked at on its merits and not as a rollover of UNMOVIC."