Some military weapons have been considered so reprehensible and horrifying that the international community has imposed stringent limitations on their use or, better yet, sought to ban them entirely. Thus, the United States in 1974 became a party to an international treaty prohibiting the production and stockpiling of biological weapons. The US has also adhered to the earlier Geneva Protocol of 1925 that forbids the use (first use, as interpreted by the US) -- but not the possession -- of chemical weapons. In 1969 President Nixon inched the US a further step away from chemical weapons by ordering a total halt on their production. Since then, however, the US has continued research into such weapons, particularly binary weapons, where the two primary ingredients of, for instance, nerve gas are manufactured, shipped, and stored separately.
Because of America's historical record of a broad turning away from not only use but manufacturing of chemical weapons, it is dismaying to learn that Washington is now considering going ahead with the production of nerve gas for the first time since the late 1960s. In fairness, it should be noted that during the past decade many congressmen, as well as the Pentagon, have repeatedly called for the manufacture of chemical weapons. Congress has also provided funding for a new factory for such weapons. But no administration since the Nixon administration has given a green light to actually making them.
For that very reason, Congress and the Reagan administration would seem to be well-served by a careful reconsideration of any plans for production.
Given the already awesome array of conventional and strategic weapons possessed by the US, what would be the purpose of acquiring new nerve gas in the first place? Would such possession mean that the US was considering eventual use of it, notwithstanding the Geneva Protocol? And in what sense would mere possession constitute a ''deterrent'' to a battlefield use of such weapons by the Soviet Union, as argued by some officials within the Pentagon? Surely America's existing forces, not to mention weapons systems now planned by the administration, are more than a sufficient deterrent.
There would also seem to be another reason for the US declining to press ahead with production at this time. That is the continuing international inquiry into allegations of use of toxic weapons in Laos, Kampuchea, and Afghanistan. Although the US has still not specifically linked reports of the use of ''yellow rain'' in these areas to the Russians, Washington has inferred that it is the Soviet Union that has supplied these weapons.
In December the UN General Assembly voted to continue an inquiry into the ''yellow rain'' question, an investigation that has seemed to many observers to be somewhat tardy and bogged down in red tape. In a related matter, questions have also been raised about whether the Russians have set up a bacteriological weapons factory at the Urals town of Sverdlovsk. For the US to go ahead with the manufacture of chemical weapons at a time when questions are being posed in international forums about possible Soviet violations of existing treaties regarding toxins would be counterproductive since it would give Moscow justification for any such actions.
It would also antagonize many of America's European allies, since European public opinion is strongly critical of such weapons.
For the US, the ultimate aim should still be an international convention banning not just the use but the manufacturing and storage of chemical weapons.