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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 13, February - March 1997

CWC Developments

US debate on ratification

With the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) due to enter into force on 29 April, the Clinton Administration has continued to expend every effort to encourage urgent Senate ratification. See Documents and Sources for recent comments by John Holum, the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA).

On 4 February, addressing a joint session of Congress, President Clinton beseeched:

"Together, we must make the Chemical Weapons Convention law, so that at last we can begin to outlaw poison gas from the earth. ... We have no more important obligations... If we do not act by 29 April...we will lose the chance to have Americans leading and enforcing this effort."

On 5 February, State Department spokesperson Nicholas Burns said failure to ratify the CWC before the entry into force date would be an action that "gets to our credibility and that affects negatively our leadership on a whole range of arms and proliferation issues."

Probably the most outspoken opponent of the treaty is Jesse Helms, Republican Senator for North Carolina and Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. In a 3 February letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (Republican - Missouri), Helms argued that, rather than time being of the essence, delay was advisable:

"I believe it inadvisable to begin the 105th Congress [by] considering one of the most contentious foreign policy issues among Republicans. ... as it now stands [the CWC] is fraught with deficiencies totally inimical to the national security interests of the United States."

However, another prominent Republican - Senator Richard Lugar (Indiana) - strongly urged ratification. Identifying a "press campaign" which "fosters a distorted overview" of the CWC, Lugar said (31 January) he "strongly urge[d] my colleagues...to support this important international treaty that would act to suppress the threat of chemical warfare and terrorism." Lugar added:

"With or without the Chemical Weapons Convention, the United States will get out of the chemical weapons business... The CWC would require other countries to destroy their chemical weapons, as the US is already doing."

Possibly even more encouraging for the Administration were these 2 February remarks by Majority Leader Lott:

"...we had a very positive meeting [on the CWC] last week. The Administration [specifically, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger] came...to Congress. They started answering legitimate questions about improper search and seizure, which you are protected against in the Constitution. They are acknowledging that there are rogue nations that have these chemical weapons, and there's got to be some way to address that... So I think we're beginning now at least to get on the same page, and talk about how we can come to an agreement on this subject..."

However, Lott's remarks a few days earlier (28 January) were certainly less encouraging:

"We're also saying, you know, Mr. President, this is a two-way street; you can't just send the stuff you like up here and say 'Oh, do this right away,' while you are systematically ignoring things that we care about and, in fact, the law as it applies to ABM and multilateralization and other issues that we have written into law, which he has signed... And so they have got to be a little bit more cooperative and forthcoming with us in other foreign policy, defense, and treaty-related issues than they have been."

Outside Congress, though addressing the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, retired Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander of the Gulf War coalition, stated (29 January) his strong support for ratification:

"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."

UN official anxious for Superpower action

UN impatience with the failure of both the US and Russia to ratify the Convention was expressed by Undersecretary-General Vladimir Petrovsky in Bern on 17 February: "It appears that in these two countries the CWC has become [the] hostage of a domestic political situation." If they do not ratify, he argued, both States would lose their "credibility" in arms control issues more generally, and "will miss the chance [to be involved] from the beginning in the implementation of the verification mechanism."

New Russian nerve gas?

On 6 February, the New York Times reported that Russia was continuing, despite US objections, to produce a nerve has known as A-232. According to an unnamed State Department official, responding to the report on 6 February, Russia was only researching production of the gas and was not "at this time producing anything." He or she added:

"Since we learned about the A-232, which happened in 1991 with a Russian whistleblower, we've been talking with the Soviet authorities and then with Russian authorities about our concerns about this programme..."

On 4 February, the Associated Press obtained a classified report from the US Department of Defense (dated 24 January) warning of a Russian capability to produce new chemical weapons agents at pesticide processing plants. The Military Intelligence Digest report is said to conclude:

"Covert production of these agents poses an onerous challenge...The Russians can produce sizeable quantities of their new chemical agents within weeks to meet military requirements."

Editor's note: On 17 February, Russian Television reported that Russia is proceeding on schedule with plans to construct a chemical weapons destruction facility at Schuche in the Kurgan region. The choice of site is apparently meeting with strong local public and political resistance.

Bosnia signs Convention

On 16 January, Bosnia-Herzegovina became the 161st State to sign the CWC.

Reports: Bosnia signs convention banning chemical weapons, Agence France-Presse International News, 21 January; Republicans want concessions from White House over chemical weapons, Agence France-Presse International News, 28 January; Schwarzkopf - no chemical weapons, AP Online Washington News Wire, 30 January; Clinton urges chemical arms ban, AP Online Washington News Wire, 31 January; Senate, White House edge closer together on chemical arms treaty - Lott, Agence France-Presse International News, 2 February; Helms sets conditions for action on chemical arms, Reuter News Reports, 3 February; Helms seeks to delay chemical weapons convention, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 4 February; Clinton calls for ratification of chemical weapons treaty, Agence France-Presse International News, 4 February; Arms pact first test of Clinton internationalist creed, Inter Press Service International News, 5 February; Pentagon warns of chemical arms, AP Online Washington News Wire, 5 February; Russia developed new chemical weapon, but is not producing it - officials, Agence France-Presse International News, 6 February; US wants Russia to quit making nerve gas - report, Agence France-Presse International News, 6 February, Plan to dispose of chemical weapons, OMRI Daily Digest, 18 February; UN urges US, Russia to ratify chemical arms treaty, Agence France-Presse International News, 18 February.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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