A Bad Chemical Arms Pact

Proponents urge the US to take high moral ground, but we've already done that to no avail

You know that proponents of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) are reaching when they resort to arguments like: "If the United States does not support a treaty banning chemical weapons ... our diplomats, government, and companies will find themselves on the side of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi ..." This from my distinguished colleagues Sen. Richard Lugar and Sen. Joseph Biden in their recent article in the Monitor.

Wow! Applying the same logic, opponents of the CWC could say: "If the US does ratify the treaty, our government will find itself on the side of China, Iran, and Cuba." You see, those sterling members of the international community have signed the CWC.

Obviously, this kind of argument leads nowhere. Here's why opponents strongly believe that the CWC is not a good treaty.

First, the treaty will bind those countries about which we have no concerns. We are not worried that Belgium or Japan will use chemical weapons. But it fails to bind countries that pose security threats. Iraq, Libya, Syria, and North Korea have no intention of submitting to the CWC. And signatories like Iran, Cuba, China, and Russia - if they ever ratify - know they can violate the treaty with impunity. So what's the point?

Proponents say we have to take the moral high ground. That's true, but we've already done that. The US is legally and publicly committed to getting rid of its entire inventory of chemical weapons, with or without the CWC. That hasn't seemed to influence nations still possessing chemical weapons.

Follow Iran or lack repute?

The US will look bad if we don't ratify after 70 other nations have done so, proponents argue. This is the opposite of the moral leadership argument. Now we must follow the lead of countries like Iran, Cuba, and China or we will lack standing in the international community. I don't think so.

Some proponents acknowledge the ineffectiveness of the treaty, but they argue we can at least pick up useful intelligence information. How's that? From data voluntarily exchanged by CWC members? From routine or challenge inspections of CWC members? Remember, we're not getting information from most of the countries that cause us the greatest concern.

Ever hopeful, proponents say: But, if we sign up, so will Russia, and we could get information on their admittedly large program. Those same optimists said Russia would ratify START II if we did. Well, we did and they didn't. In fact, according to recent news reports, Russia has apparently decided to bag the one agreement we do have with them - the six-year old Bilateral Destruction Agreement - under which Russia agreed to destroy 90 percent of its chemical weapons stockpile.

No way to woo Russia

And finally, we don't appear any closer to Russian CWC ratification either. According to Michael Waller, in a recent Washington Times op-ed, Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin told Vice President Al Gore that "candidly speaking, I shall say that the convention's entry into force without Russia would hamper its ratification with us." The Clinton administration's position urging quick ratification will make it less likely the treaty will ever cover Russia.

Finally, there is real harm in ratifying this treaty:

Cost to the US. The administration is budgeting more than $50 million for this year, though we're not a party to the treaty. Annual costs to the US - including funds for the UN-like bureaucracy that will oversee the CWC - could be $250 million to $300 million per year.

Costs to US business. If the treaty is ratified, thousands of US companies - including many, such as breweries and soap factories, that have nothing to do with chemical production - will incur substantial costs for paperwork and in anticipation of international inspections. Costs for large companies could run as high as $600,000 per year, while smaller companies (whose owners make as little as $40,000 per year) would be forced to expend $10,000 to $20,000. Worse, international inspections could jeopardize trade secrets and US constitutional bars to unwarranted searches and seizures.

Costs to US defenses. The treaty does nothing to reduce dangers to our troops posed by such countries as North Korea and Libya. And President Clinton has reversed Bush administration policy and said the treaty prohibits us from using nonlethal tear gas to rescue downed US pilots or deal with situations where civilians are used as shields by enemy troops.

If history is any guide, this treaty will lead to reduced expenditures on chemical defenses, just as the Biological Weapons Convention led to a 50 percent decrease in biological defense spending in the 1970s (notwithstanding growing biological weapons threats). Last spring the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - who says he supports robust chemical defenses - proposed slashing more than $1.5 billion from our chemical and biological defense program.

Poisons for peace. The treaty would worsen the chemical weapons problem, because it obligates members to lift tougher existing trade restrictions on precursor chemicals and to facilitate trade in items that can be used to make chemical weapons and improve chemical defenses. We should learn from our mistakes with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, where nations that eschewed nuclear weapons were given access to "peaceful" nuclear technology but then diverted it to military purposes. The administration says the treaty does not require such actions (though China says the opposite), but has not sought commitments from others to agree. Only one country would have to stick with the treaty wording to create a problem.

The opponent roster

The administration had to pull the CWC from the Senate last September and hasn't gotten the support to ensure ratification. It is opposed by such former national security officials as Caspar Weinberger, Donald Rumsfeld, James Schlesinger, Dick Cheney, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Fred Ikle, and Richard Perle; columnists like George Will and Charles Krauthammer; and newspapers like The Washington Times and The Wall Street Journal.

The Senate has a solemn obligation to give its advice and consent to treaties only when certain they are in the best interests of the US. The US has much more to lose in embracing this treaty than in rejecting it.

* Jon Kyl is a Republican senator from Arizona.

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