If the United States does not support a treaty banning chemical weapons whose deadline is quickly approaching, our diplomats, government, and companies will find themselves on the side of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi fighting imminent sanctions. And in this surreal scenario, we might be forced to join countries such as North Korea, Libya, and Iraq in subverting the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
In his State of the Union message, President Clinton called on the Senate to "rise to a new test of leadership, and consent to the Chemical Weapons Convention."
Is the Senate up to this challenge?
If the Senate fails to act promptly, the US will be excluded from the councils of the CWC's governing bodies; important decisions about implementing the treaty will be made without us. Consequently, the US chemical industry - our largest export industry - will suffer. Without ratification, our chemical industry will feel the brunt of the treaty's sanctions.
Originally, American negotiators foresaw these sanctions as powerful instruments of pressure on rogue states who refused to end chemical-weapons production and stockpiling. What a turn of events if these sanctions were targeted not only on the chemical industries of Iraq, Libya, and North Korea, but the US as well. Industry estimates show that as much as $600 million in American overseas trade could be lost - and that translates into a loss of American jobs.
Joining the CWC will give us important tools to prevent terrorists and rogue states from developing and acquiring chemical weapons - and to catch them if they do. We believe that international norms count in today's world. They provide standards of acceptable behavior against which the actions of states can be judged. Moreover, they provide a basis for consensus on international action when rogue states violate the norm. Indeed, the CWC will provide a strong moral, if not legal, basis for taking military action against dangerous regimes (such as Libya) that proceed with chemical-weapons development.
The CWC will also give us access to data we now lack - data that our intelligence analysts can use to detect potential proliferators. Finally, by eliminating stockpiles and controlling the trade in chemicals, the CWC will make it harder for terrorists to obtain chemical weapons that can threaten our civilian population and our troops on the battlefield.
Opponents of the CWC have mustered an 11th-hour effort to defeat this important treaty. Last fall, the bipartisan support for the treaty - negotiated by Presidents Reagan and Bush, and submitted to the Senate by Mr. Clinton - eroded amid partisan crossfire and presidential politics. Reaching across the aisle, we have pledged a joint effort to rebuild that support.
No military disadvantage
Time is of the essence. On April 29, the treaty takes effect - with or without American participation. If we don't join the treaty, we will be left standing with the likes of Libya, Iraq, and North Korea - states the treaty will punish. As Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, a strong supporter of the CWC, stated bluntly: "I would just as soon not be associated with those thugs in this particular matter." More important than the company we keep, however, is that our national security interests will be severely harmed if we stay outside the treaty.
General Schwarzkopf's remarks provide us with a practical perspective as to how the CWC is important to defense strategy. As one who commanded US troops during Desert Storm, Schwarzkopf dealt with the reality of chemical warfare and the responsibility of protecting our troops from this threat. His endorsement of the treaty speaks volumes on this issue, and he appropriately noted that "we don't need chemical weapons to fight our future warfares."
The US does not put itself at a military disadvantage by joining the CWC because our military strategy no longer calls for the use of chemical weapons. Mr. Bush announced in 1991 that the US would forswear the use of chemical weapons. The Pentagon is already destroying all US stocks of poison gas. The CWC will ensure that other nations, including potential adversaries, do so as well. That's why such distinguished military leaders as Schwarzkopf, Gen. John Shalikashvili, Gen. Colin Powell, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, and Adm. Elmo Zumwalt all support the CWC.
Gaining Senate approval will require strong presidential leadership to overcome misconceptions produced by a campaign against the treaty. Clinton, in his State of the Union address, said the CWC "will make our troops safer from chemical attack. It will help us to fight terrorism." The president must continue to make this case.
When our troops go into battle or our citizens go to work each day, will we be able to say that we have done everything possible to lessen the threat of chemical weapons or a chemical terrorist attack?
If the answer is no, we will have failed in our duty to protect the public trust. And that the American people will not forgive.
* Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, and Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware is the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.