Chemical warfare: new ban needed

PRESIDENT Reagan's proposal to ban the production, possession, and use of chemical weapons worldwide should not be viewed as merely an election-year effort to convince American voters, and US allies, of the administration's efforts to achieve arms control. George Bush will head the effort.

The key to making an assessment of the proposal will be the genuineness of the American effort to reach an agreement with other nations, primarily the Soviet Union, and then to abide by an accord.

Still, one must note skepticism among some experts as to the degree of administration commitment to the control of chemical weapons and other armaments.

They note that the President recently voiced doubt about the prospects for an antisatellite ban, because of the difficulty of verification. They add that it would be even easier to hide stocks of chemical weapons. They say that whereas the Soviet Union in February expressed a willingness to permit on-site inspection of destruction of chemical weapons at ''declared'' stockpiles, the USSR has not agreed to inspection of sites suspected of being secret stockpiles.

A ban would be extremely worthwhile. For one thing, it would prevent the world from slipping back into the more frequent employment of a substance whose use was banned in 1925. Iraq has used chemical weapons in its current war with Iran, and the Soviet Union previously had apparently employed them in Afghanistan.

Such a ban might establish a momentum toward the control of other kinds of mass-destruction weapons.

It would aid the American military - and the European citizenry - by removing one major problem from the European theater. Both supporters and critics of the Reagan administration's military policy hold that the Soviet Union has considerably more chemical weapons than the US does; estimates are anywhere from a 4-to-1 to a 10-to-1 advantage. A considerable number of the Soviet shells and missiles that could be used against NATO forces are believed to contain gas.

Also, the Soviet Union is believed to have perhaps 10 times as many troops as the United States which specialize in chemical warfare - primarily defensive troops which would be expected to decontaminate areas attacked by gas.

Much of the $1.1 billion the Reagan administration is seeking now for chemical weaponry would go toward building up defensive capabilities for chemical warfare, including identifying and training more military specialists. If a ban could be obtained, it would preclude the need to build up defensive capabilities.

Further, the threat that chemical weapons might be used would force troops in battle to don cumbersome gas masks and rubber suits, which reduce their efficiency. Banning chemical weapons altogether would obviate the need for such equipment - and thus enormously increase the efficiency of American troops.

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