How Do You Become a Weapons Inspector?

The U.N. Security Council has approved a resolution calling for renewed weapons inspections in Iraq, possibly beginning as early as this month. How do you become a U.N. weapons inspector?

An extensive background in chemical engineering, missile design, or bacteriology is a good start. Inspectors are expected to recognize the telltale signs of covert weapons production, such as machine tools that have multiple uses or trace elements of lethal chemicals. Missile inspectors typically have worked for defense contractors, and thus can inspect metallurgical debris to determine whether it’s left over from a hastily disassembled factory. Nuclear arms specialists may have spent time in uranium enrichment plants, which gives them a leg up on identifying the widgets necessary to build an A-bomb. Molecular pharmacologists and microbiologists are brought on board to figure out whether a seemingly innocuous pill mill has the capacity to churn out the bubonic plague. Advanced degrees aren’t always required, but they don’t hurt.

There are also a few slots available for database experts, who must match up old sales records with current Iraqi inventories; missing high-tech parts might have been used for nefarious purposes. Translators fluent in Arabic are always welcome, too. And there’s room for one or two intelligence experts, whose job it is to sift through the conflicting tales of Iraqi scientists and parse out the truth.

Potential inspectors are encouraged to e-mail their résumés to the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, which organizes the inspections. Headquartered in New York City, UNMOVIC conducts periodic training sessions for new inspectors, most recently last month in Vienna, Austria. The commission already has 220 experts from 44 nations on call for service in Iraq. The largest contingent comes from France.

Inspection work is largely tedious, but being a UNMOVIC employee carries some nice perks. The pay is quite decent (the average U.N. worker’s salary is more than $100,000); there’s tons of travel and—per the U.N. custom—lots of holidays. Many UNMOVIC applicants are government employees in their homelands, where their posts aren’t nearly as rewarding. Or, one suspects, as potentially dangerous.

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Explainer thanks Jon Wolfsthal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Jonathan Tucker of the Monterey Institute.