June 1st, 2008
William Scott Ritter is noted for his role as a chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998
William Scott Ritter, Jr. (born July 15, 1961) is noted for his role as a chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, and later for his criticism of United States foreign policy in the Middle East. Prior to the US invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, Ritter publicly argued that Iraq possessed no significant weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). He became a popular anti-war figure and talk show commentator as a result of his stance.
Ritter was born into a military family in 1961. He graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Arts in the history of the Soviet Union and departmental honors. He was first in the U.S. Army serving as a Private in 1980. He was commissioned as an intelligence officer in the United States Marine Corps in May 1984. He served in this capacity for twelve years. He initially served as the lead analyst for the Marine Corps Rapid Deployment Force concerning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran-Iraq War. During Desert Storm, he served as a ballistic missile advisor to General Norman Schwarzkopf. Ritter later worked as a security and military consultant for the Fox News network.
Ritter served from 1991 to 1998 as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq in the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), which was charged with finding and destroying all weapons of mass destruction and WMD-related manufacturing capabilities in Iraq. He was chief inspector in fourteen of the more than thirty inspection missions in which he participated.
In January of 1998, his inspection team into Iraq was blocked from some weapons sites by Iraqi officials making claims that information obtained from these sites would be used for future planning of attacks. UN Inspectors were then ordered out of Iraq by the United States Government, shortly before Operation Desert Fox attacks began in December 1998, using information which had been gathered for the purpose of disarmament to identify targets which would reduce Iraq’s ability to wage both conventional and possibly unconventional warfare. This action undermined the position of the UN Weapons Inspectors, who were thereafter denied access to Iraq. Shortly thereafter, he spoke on the Public Broadcasting Service show, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer: I think the danger right now is that without effective inspections, without effective monitoring, Iraq can in a very short period of time measured in months, reconstitute chemical and biological weapons, long-range ballistic missiles to deliver these weapons, and even certain aspects of their nuclear weaponization program.
When the United States and the UN Security Council failed to take action against Iraq for their ongoing failure to cooperate fully with inspectors (a breach of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1154), Ritter resigned from the United Nations Special Commission on August 26, 1998.
In his letter of resignation, Ritter said the Security Council’s reaction to Iraq’s decision earlier that month to suspend co-operation with the inspection team made a mockery of the disarmament work. Ritter later said, in an interview, that he resigned from his role as a United Nations weapons inspector over inconsistencies between United Nations Security Council Resolution 1154 and how it was implemented. The investigations had come to a standstill, were making no effective progress, and in order to make effective progress, we really needed the Security Council to step in a meaningful fashion and seek to enforce its resolutions that we’re not complying with.
On September 3, 1998, several days after his resignation, Ritter testified before the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services and the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and said that he resigned his position “out of frustration that the United Nations Security Council, and the United States as its most significant supporter, was failing to enforce the post-Gulf War resolutions designed to disarm Iraq.”
During Ritter’s Senate testimony about the inspection process, Senator Joseph Biden stated “The decision of whether or not the country should go to war is slightly above your pay grade.” Senator John McCain later rebutted by stating that he “wished that the administration had consulted with somebody of Ritter’s pay grade during the Vietnam War.”