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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 13, February - March 1997

ACDA Director Remarks on CWC

Remarks by John D. Holum, Director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, at a meeting of National Council of Editorial Writers, State Department, Washington, 14 February 1997


"To date 161 countries have signed, [the Chemical Weapons Convention] and 68 have ratified, including all our major allies. It also includes a number of countries with clandestine programs. China has ratified but says it won't deposit until the United States does. Russia also probably won't join until we do.

We have entered the fourth year of the Chemical Weapons Convention's review in the Senate. Last year, after a cumulative total of 13 hearings and hundreds of answers for the record, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee favorably reported the treaty to the Senate floor. Then it had to be pulled before a floor vote in September because September was too close to November and, as Senator Lugar said at the time, 'the whole process was politicized in a way that would be harmful to our foreign policy.'

So our ratification drive has begun anew in the 105th Congress. Now, however, postponement is no longer an option. In late October the 65th ratification set in motion an irrevocable six-month timetable for entry into force - with or without the United States. To be an original party - and thus guide rigorous implementation of the treaty - we must ratify within the next 43 days.

It's a challenge to move anything through the Senate quickly. And in this case there are persistent efforts to hold up the CWC until other, unrelated issues - like State Department reorganization, UN reform, or the handling of distinct agreements - are resolved. We are trying to work with Majority Leader Lott and others to address specific concerns about the CWC, perhaps through adjustments to the resolution of ratification. At the same time we cannot accept the premise that the CWC should be treated as a favor to President Clinton - to be traded for - when it is, in fact, a security instrument for the American people.

My own strong conviction is that the vulnerability of this treaty will continue to decline as public awareness of the issue rises. ...

Consider some of the arguments for ratification.

* This treaty is about other peoples' weapons, not our own. The United States decided unilaterally more than a decade ago to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal. So our only question today is whether to require other nations to do the same.

* Our military is urging ratification - knowing that, as retired Admiral Elmo Zumwalt wrote recently, 'our failure to ratify will substantially increase the risk of a chemical attack against American service personnel.' Or, as General Norman Schwarzkopf said a few weeks ago, 'We don't need chemical weapons... And frankly, by not ratifying that treaty, we align ourselves with nations like Libya and North Korea, and I'd just as soon not be associated with those thugs in this particular matter. So I am very, very much in favor of that particular treaty.'

* Our chemical industry strongly supports the CWC, knowing we stand to lose many jobs and up to $600 million in exports if the treaty's trade restrictions take effect against us as a non-Party.

* The Convention with its implementing legislation is a useful tool in the fight against terrorism. The only country to experience chemical weapons terror against civilians - Japan - ratified the Convention within weeks of the deadly 1995 Sarin attack in the Tokyo subway. Without the Convention implemented in our own country, we have no domestic federal law against cooking up poison gas here. We want those laws everywhere. They are required by the CWC.

* The treaty will give us tools to deal with at least twenty countries - many hostile to us - that have or seek chemical weapons. Some opponents point to the challenges of verifying such a treaty. But at a minimum, the CWC will give us more information about those twenty countries' CW efforts - information we need with or without the treaty - and it will make that information actionable, through sanctions, because possessing chemical weapons will be illegal, which is not the case now. Without the CWC, countries like Iran, Libya and North Korea can legally maintain CW stockpiles. Libya can build the largest underground chemical weapons complex in the world, and we can know about it, and point to it, but there is no law against it.

* It takes our ratification to make this Convention viable. Although three-fourths of the countries of concern have signed, some of the worst rogues may not join right away. If they do not, the treaty ensures they will suffer, politically and economically. And we know this for sure: They will never join if we remain outside - thus keeping them company, and giving them cover.

* The CWC is our best leverage against Russian CW activities. Once the US is in, Russia cannot afford to stay out and cut itself off from significant chemical trade. Under the CWC, many other countries will back us up in pressing Russia to demonstrate destruction of its CW capabilities and stockpiles.

* Finally, as a Republican negotiating achievement, the CWC is the best possible vehicle for renewed bipartisanship in foreign affairs. President Reagan began serious negotiations; President Bush completed and signed it; Republican leaders from James Baker to Brent Scowcroft to Senator Lugar support it.

I would also point out that President Clinton has taken the initiative to keep the treaty bipartisan. He could have pressed the CWC to a vote in 1996, creating a political club for campaign challengers to wield against those voting 'no.' Given the climate of these times, one can envision TV commercials tagging them as 'friends of poison gas.' Instead the President withdrew the treaty, removing it entirely from the political context, and giving us all a chance to come back and do better. I hope the same spirit will prevail on Capitol Hill. The CWC is among President Clinton's top priorities, not only for its own considerable merits, but because failure to ratify would be a grave, self-inflicted wound for this country.

Just consider that the United States is the leader - the indispensable country - in enforcing strong export controls, in building global coalitions, in fashioning international regimes against weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the United States led in negotiating the CWC. We led in the test ban. We're leading now in strengthening safeguards against nuclear weapons, taking into account what we learned from Saddam Hussein's clandestine program. We're leading an effort to strengthen the global ban on biological weapons. With the end of the Cold War, all those dangers have grown. No one disputes that. Technology is more widely available. The Cold War disciplines are gone.

There could not be a worse time to weaken America's hand. I can't imagine a worse time to tell the world, we're less interested in fighting proliferation than in fighting among ourselves.

I say this on behalf of people who deal with these problems routinely - not as an intellectual exercise, not as an ideological or political outing, but in the trenches, where shipments are made or stopped, where other countries listen or turn a deaf ear, where negotiations succeed or fail. When we make our case for another country to stop a dangerous export, I don't want to hear, 'Why should we listen to you? You pushed the world to negotiate the CWC and then turned your backs on it.'

From that practical perspective, I say, we need this treaty. It is a simple reality that if you want results on proliferation, you'll get less if this treaty fails - both because we won't have the tools in the CWC, and because our leadership and effectiveness will be depleted across the board. ..."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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