Laying Down the Chemical-Arms Sword

PRESIDENT BUSH and President Gorbachev recently made a momentous decision on chemical arms control and disarmament. At the June 1 Washington summit, they signed an agreement not only to begin destruction of their chemical weapons but also immediately to stop the production of these indiscriminate weapons. This affirmation of long-standing bipartisan congressional efforts to stop chemical-weapons production and use eliminates the inconsistencies and contradictions that plagued the Reagan administration's policy on chemical weapons. For the first time, Congress has effectively stopped the production and deployment of a major weapons system.

Secretary of State James Baker has accurately described the US-Soviet chemical-weapons ban as ``a trailblazing agreement.'' It gives the superpowers a unified stance on this critical issue. By establishing an unambiguous leadership role for both the US and the Soviet Union at the multilateral chemical-weapons talks in Geneva, it significantly enhances the likelihood of convincing other states to support a worldwide ban on the production and usage of chemical weapons.

This is an unprecedented and unique arms control agreement. It is unprecedented because it provides for US-Soviet cooperation in destroying their respective chemical-weapons stocks. It is unique because both superpowers agree to immediately stopping chemical-weapons production, thereby providing the best hope for a negotiated global ban.

AS the superpowers lay down their chemical swords together, they are challenging all countries to do the same. No more carping and sniping at the superpowers. No more grumbling about past US hypocrisy of wanting to produce new binary chemical weapons while simultaneously expecting others to forswear these weapons. The moment of truth has come when all nations must exert the political will and courage necessary to ban these inhumane weapons once and for all.

It has been a long, hard eight-year struggle for the House of Representatives finally to convince the executive branch of the foreign policy logic, arms control rationale, and good common sense of its position opposing the production of new binary chemical weapons.

It was simply foolish to spend billions on new chemical weapons that were:

Technically flawed and consistently failed the Defense Department's own testing standards as documented by the General Accounting Office;

Rejected by our European allies;

Demonstrated to have no practical military value; and

Morally repugnant to civilized mankind.

Contrary to persistent Pentagon contentions that binary chemical weapons would somehow add to US security, the only thing they added to was the federal deficit! Consequently, congressional action effectively stopped a new generation of chemical weapons from being produced and deployed.

This congressional action combined with the summit signature of a US-Soviet agreement to halt chemical-weapons production and to begin destruction stakes out new credibility and leadership for the US on this issue.

When Presidents Bush and Gorbachev laid down the chemical-weapons sword at the Washington summit and signed a chemical arms control agreement, it was an historic arms control achievement. It signals the beginning of the end for chemical weapons.

This arms control achievement is a great confidence-building measure - both between the two superpowers and between the superpowers and the rest of the world. It represents a concrete example of superpower cooperation at its best. It represents a turning point because now other nations have no excuse for not joining the superpowers in ridding the world of all chemical weapons by the beginning of the 21st century.

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