It's No Time to Let Up on Arms Control

RECENT news reports from Iran, Bosnia, and Georgia have been troubling reminders of the cliched truth that the "new world order" is still dangerously shaky, particularly because the world is rife with weapons of mass destruction.

The Iranians supposedly are developing chemical and biological weapons programs with help from China and North Korea; the Bosnians are threatening to use poison gas against the Serbs; and there reportedly was an incident between Abkhazian forces and Georgian troops involving a biological weapons laboratory.

While these reports are troubling, they are not surprising. The threat of chemical and biological weapons has undergone significant change in the post-Soviet world. The threat is now truly global (rather than bi-polar) proliferation. Technological developments have broadened the spectrum of potential chemical and biological weapons; and the volatility of the world political environment has probably lowered the threshold for use of these weapons.

As chairman of a congressional special inquiry into the chemical and biological threat, I have recently completed two weeks of meetings with military and arms-control officials in Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany.

Prior to those visits, we were briefed extensively by an array of United States government agencies and defense specialists.

While our panel's recommendations for consideration by the full House Armed Services Committee are not yet finalized, it is clear that the US must pursue a three-pronged response to the changing threat of chemical and biological weapons.

First, we should push hard for approval and implementation of the proposed Chemical Weapons Convention and appropriate revision of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. There are problems with these kinds of regimes, but the regimes are necessary and urgent.

Second, we must maintain a strong chemical-biological defense program in the Department of Defense. This is our insurance program for the immediate future and perhaps even after the adoption of arms-control conventions.

Finally, the US must continue an intimidating conventional force (and nuclear arsenal) to deter enemies who might not be convinced by international treaties or effective defenses.

In his first Capitol Hill press conference, President-elect Clinton said that he expects weapons of mass destruction to be a challenge every month for the president for the next four years, "and I'm going to do my best to meet the challenge."

The bottom line for our new commander-in-chief and each American soldier is that the threat of chemical and biological weapons has not gone away with the end of the cold war. Proliferation, technology, and volatility make today's threat different, in some ways, but still very real. Countering this threat will require international arms control, a robust chemical and biological defense, and the deterrence of conventional strength.

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