Unite Against Chemical Weapons

THE Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the military stand-off in Saudi Arabia have again raised the specter of possible chemical-weapons use. But the solution lies in Geneva, where negotiators from 40 countries have been trying for several years to hammer out a worldwide convention to ban chemical weapons. If almost all countries join, there will be a good chance that, in the future, military aggressors will be punished by effective worldwide sanctions, opposition, and condemnation if they choose the chemical-weapons option. Soviet and American legislators met recently in Geneva to discuss their two nations' summit agreement to limit chemical weapons. The visit also assessed the progress in the 40-nation negotiation for a worldwide ban on chemical weapons.

The bilateral US-USSR agreement on chemical weapons is healthy, and it awaits approval and funding by the Supreme Soviet and the United States Congress. Soviet legislators were optimistic about fulfilling the terms of the chemical-weapons destruction agreement. But they realize how difficult it will be to fund their chemical-weapons destruction plans considering their other economic priorities. The Soviet legislators desire to enlist US technical support.

On the other hand, the multilateral chemical-weapons negotiations seem to be in trouble. Doubt and jealousy accompany most complimentary remarks from other countries about the US-Soviet bilateral achievement. Why did the US and Soviet Union need a bilateral agreement before the multilateral? How can a multilateral agreement be achieved if both the US and the Soviet Union are absorbed in the bilateral arms control process?

The US and the Soviet Union are committed to the multilateral process, but it may take some new initiative and leadership to get commitment from the other nations to accomplish a worldwide chemical-weapons ban.

Some of the remaining problems result from recent American positions on inspections, retaliatory use of chemical weapons, a 2 percent security stockpile, and an eight-year review conference. Many developing, non-aligned countries are concerned about protecting their young chemical industries under a worldwide ban that restricts trade in chemicals. They want assurance that they will receive assistance and protection in case of a chemical-weapons attack. They also want economic and technical assistance for the development of legitimate chemical industries.

The negotiators should strike a compromise to resolve these issues as quickly as possible. Such a final political compromise would probably need a ministerial meeting to bring it into being. A ministerial meeting would give the agreement a high political profile worldwide while pressuring all participating countries to be there for the photo opportunity.

From my discussions with the US and USSR delegations and 14 other ambassadors, I would envision the following compromise package. A review conference after six or eight years should assess progress toward universal adherence to the agreement. The current US position now insists on maintenance of a 2 percent security stockpile of chemical weapons that could be kept after the review conference if the US is unhappy with other nations' adherence to the agreement. A multilateral agreement would have to be drafted to allow all other nations to do the same. Any other course would create two classes of countries, something seen as discriminatory by the neutral countries.

The US will be destroying its stocks over the 10-year period agreed on with the Soviets, so it would have usable stocks up until the end. Perhaps the negotiators could eliminate the 2 percent stock retention, recognizing the reality of the continued stocks during the destruction period.

Retaliatory use of chemical weapons is guaranteed under the 1925 Geneva Protocol and would not necessarily be overridden by the non-use provision in the current draft agreement. If the US insists on a more explicit reiteration of the 1925 reservation, other nations will follow and the agreement will be weakened. The US should remain silent on the possibility of retaliatory use in the convention. Why raise a red flag that threatens the negotiations?

George Bush, as vice president, presented a draft chemical-weapons treaty in 1985 and proposed challenge inspections anytime, anywhere as the centerpiece of verification. The US has now backed away from that position, stating that challenge inspections should not be allowed near certain installations for security reasons. The British position of challenge inspections with ``managed access'' offers a compromise solution. Inspectors can be satisfied that no chemical-weapons production is taking place while sensitive areas of certain facilities can be ``shrouded.'' The US should not go back on the Bush proposal without first conducting trial challenge inspections using the perimeter inspection idea to see if it is viable.

The chemical-weapons negotiations in Geneva need new life and new leadership to achieve the goal of a worldwide ban on chemical weapons. Diplomats of the 40 nations in the Conference on Disarmament, led by the US and the Soviet Union, must step forward with skillfully reached compromises to present a final agreement to the world that will attract universal adherence and enthusiastic implementation.

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