My education and career path have brought me to the field of high-reliability organizations—organizations that achieve extraordinary levels of safety despite working in dangerous, fast-changing environments where failure is potentially catastrophic (Rochlin et al 1987). The study of high-reliability organizations was in its infancy when UNSCOM was established, so we did not have access to its findings. However, as you will see, UNSCOM evolved many of the approaches, principles, and practices that make high-reliability organizations successful.
The work of UNSCOM was envisaged to occur in three phases: Verify Iraq’s declarations of its holdings of weapons and production capabilities banned under the ceasefire agreement; destroy those banned holdings; and monitor, so that Iraq could not re-acquire banned capabilities. The expectation was that this would be a cooperative and relatively speedy effort—the faster it was completed, the sooner sanctions on Iraq in general, and the oil embargo in particular, could be lifted. But instead of full and honest declarations and open cooperation, UNSCOM received clearly misleading and incomplete declarations, amid persistent Iraqi efforts to retain and hide banned capabilities.
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