Chemical weapons and arms control

THE only hope for reducing the likelihood of war, other than adopting such approaches as St. Matthew's ``mote and beam,'' is somehow to control the arms race between ourselves and the Soviets. Our President is not about to embrace the first; he professes the second. We are given great theatrics, great rhetoric, but in his five years till now he has in actuality done nothing, nor does he intend to do anything, as can be seen from the attitudes of those conducting his so-called arms control negotiations.

A case in point is the recent opinion piece in The Christian Science Monitor by Kenneth L. Adelman, director of the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Mr. Adelman rationalizes administration pressures on the Congress for funds to resume production of nerve-gas munitions as an arms control measure.

According to Adelman, poison gas is now accepted as a weapon of war, because of ``the employment of the deadly agent `yellow rain' '' in Laos and Cambodia and Afghanistan by the Soviets or with Soviet covert support. Yellow rain is fusarium mold, common throughout the world, and not a ``deadly agent'' at all by military standards. Extremely large quantities of munitions would be required to produce casualties -- some 3,000 tons against a typical hamlet of 12 houses.

The hundreds of attacks allegedly conducted with Soviet support would be equivalent to a Battle of Britain, and yet there is no evidence in all the cited evidence of even one bomber. What we are being given is propaganda based on programmed answers to leading questions to refugees, described in a House of Representatives report of Dec. 12, 1979.

Despite all this, the President and his arms controllers continually use these yellow-rain allegations to demonstrate Soviet duplicity and the impossibility of any treaty with them.

We are told poison gas was not used in World War II because the threat of retaliation in kind guaranteed its prohibition. In fact, the only reason we and the British did not use our vast stores of such munitions is that reports to Roosevelt and Churchill said unilateral use would reduce the effectiveness of our firepower. I took part in these findings. I was in Germany shortly after Berlin fell and found that the Germans, too, had decided not to use their chemical stores for the same reason. (They seemed, however, not to be afraid of retaliation.) Strangely, the administration seems unaware of any of this.

It is, to say the least, far from certain that the Soviets increased their production of chemical weapons in 1969, as charged, even to the extent of building new storage space for their increased stores, at a time when the US had stopped production of chemical weapons.

When President Nixon stopped our production in 1969 he sent a clear signal to the Soviets that our response to their first use would be an effective one, not one in kind. This would not mean escalating to nuclear war; conventional antipersonnel munitions today are far more effective than those of World War II.

Certainly the Soviets have done the same studies as we and the Germans did then, with the same conclusions, and well understand the significance of Mr. Nixon's implied threat. I doubt very much there is any evidence the Soviets have increased their gas capabilities, and our General Accounting Office in two recent studies of all classified sources has found exactly the same.

Again, the administration attempts to convince us that Soviet chemical warfare capabilities have grown, by citing their 80,000 specially trained personnel assigned to chemical warfare functions.

The principal job of these so-called CBR units is to remove radioactive debris after a nuclear attack and secondarily to neutralize chemical contaminants. They are essentially army janitors; they wash down the cannon or tank, but they do not fire it or operate it.

We have the identical kind of personnel and about the same number as the Soviets. Certainly ours are no indication of a growing chemical capability, nor are the Soviets'. All this is spelled out in many publications; one, Department of the Army IAG-13-U-78, Soviet Army Operations, must certainly be on the bookshelf of an arms controller.

The thrust of the administration's case is that we must resume producing gas munitions as an incentive for the Kremlin to accept our versions of an arms agreement.

In a poison-gas war between us and the Soviets there would be very few Soviet casualties, a significant number of American ones; but millions of Western Europe friendly civilians and a larger percentage of their children would die. Infants are fragile creatures; an entire generation of West Europe babies could be exterminated.

These estimates, based on calculations not just by me but by others as well, were the basis for an extended House debate as reported in the Congressional Record of July 22, 1982. The administration has never rebutted or even acknowledged these predictions. Silence here must be assent; the predictions must be all too true. And the peoples of Europe are aware of this.

Our abrogation of the Nixon position and our open planning for a poison-gas war are very much to the Soviets' political as well as military advantage, hardly an incentive for accepting our versions of a treaty.

Those of us who press for peace for ourselves and our successors would be better served obeying Matthew's behest as expressed in today's terms in the writings of our Harrimans and Kennans and Fulbrights and Muskies, than in the protestations of our Reagans and Adelmans.

Saul Hormats, now retired, was employed at Edgewood Arsenal, Md., for 37 years. He directed the development of the current chemical munitions and protective equipment of the US Army and was closely associated with various aspects of US biological warfare and nuclear activities, and with the intelligence community. He is a retired reserve officer and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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