Treaty Concerns

Now that the treaty banning poison weapons has been ratified, the concerns of Americans who feared joining it should be addressed. They deserve more than the first battle-dress reactions to the Senate vote: The president won an "enormous victory." Conservative "foes" lost. Reluctant warrior Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader, got generalship points for ushering through a treaty he finally endorsed along with former majority leader Bob Dole.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to give the treaty its formal name, goes into effect this week. It pledges ratifying nations to destroy the chemical weapons they possess, as the US decided to do long ago, together with the equipment to produce them. And the ratifiers promise to never "develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone."

One concern of opponents has been nonratification by major signatories, notably Russia. Russia's legislators have in fact postponed action on the treaty, pleading the expense of destroying their country's huge stockpile of chemical weaponry. This is a practical hurdle that requires international and US assistance.

Another concern is the possibility that, like criminals flouting gun laws, Libya, Iran, and other "rogue" states would ignore an international ban on chemical weapons. Some wanted the US to ratify only after outlaw states joined. But laws are passed, not withheld, because there are potential lawbreakers. And more than two-thirds of the Senate saw that America's decisions should not be hostage to what other nations do or do not.

Another concern was that treaty provisions could in effect compel the US to help rogue states develop the technology to defend against chemical weapons. But the White House is clear on not permitting deviation from the proper interpretation: that assistance can be requested only by countries that have joined the CWC, renounced chemical weapons, and destroyed their stockpiles - and then only if they are threatened or under chemical attack. No country adhering to the treaty could help a rogue state or any other with equipment, supplies, or know-how for chemical weaponry.

As for concerns about verifying compliance with the treaty, experience in post-Gulf-war Iraq has shown how difficult - and intrusive - inspection of chemical weapons can be. Yet, with a treaty in place (with or without the US), the US is better off to be in it and thus to have Americans included among international inspectors. With ratification, legal sanctions against the possession of chemical weapons will be strengthened. Ratification will also enshrine, for the US, a commitment to require search warrants for any involuntary inspections of US businesses.

The bipartisan cooperation hailed by Mr. Clinton after the vote must be continued now to ensure that the treaty works as hoped for by proponents going back to Presidents Reagan and Bush - and is watchdogged to minimize the worries of others.

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