Stay the Course on Chemical Weapons Ban
As implementation begins, the United States must resist the temptation to water own the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Leave it to Washington to toil for more than two decades to create a new arms control regime that abolishes poison gas and then, once it takes off, to begin foolishly undercutting its own achievement by trying to water down the treaty's verification provisions. But that is exactly what Congress is trying to do and it must be dissuaded.
On April 29, 1997, a revolution unlike any other in arms control history began. Teams of inspectors began criss-crossing the globe to monitor compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which bans the development, production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of poison gas. Participating countries are obligated to destroy their chemical arsenals and weapons production facilities under international supervision. In addition, inspectors will routinely check the activities of the chemical industry to ensure that chemicals used in commercial products are not being diverted to produce lethal chemical agents.
Perhaps the most notable achievement of the CWC's early days is that so many governments embraced a treaty that unambiguously mandates the acceptance of short-notice challenge inspections of any site on their territory suspected of engaging in prohibited activity. To date, more than 100 countries have joined this accord, and more than 60 others have signed but not yet ratified it. The possessors of the world's two largest chemical weapons stockpiles, Russia and the United States, are CWC members, and the roster of participants includes countries from every corner of the earth-South Africa, Cuba, Brazil, Japan, France, Jordan, and Belarus, to name a few.
Of the roughly two dozen countries considered likely to possess a chemical weapons capability, only North Korea, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Libya remain outside the CWC. In May 2000, the CWC's automatic economic penalties will cut off aspiring proliferators from the marketplace of commercial chemicals that can also have military utility. Whether by making it more difficult for countries to stockpile poison gas or by compelling countries to relinquish their chemical weapons programs, the CWC endeavors to reverse the proliferation trend.
Congress undercuts U.S. interests
The CWC undoubtedly would have been seriously undermined without U.S. participation. At the eleventh hour and after a rancorous debate, the U.S. Senate voted to ratify the CWC on April 24, just five days before it was activated. Even before ratification, the United States had already begun to destroy its stockpile of more than 29,000 metric tons of poison gas. CWC inspectors have initiated continuous monitoring operations at the destruction plants at Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean and at Tooele, Utah. Destruction facilities will be constructed at seven other locations where U.S. chemical weapons are stored. In addition, inspections have been conducted at former U.S. chemical weapons facilities and at the sites involved in the U.S. chemical weapons defense program. The treaty permits research to develop and test protective gear, vaccines, and antidotes, but will closely watch defense programs. Thus, CWC inspectors are monitoring all aspects of the United States' former chemical weapons program.
Nonetheless, the United States is not in full compliance with the CWC because it has not yet approved its implementing legislation. As a result, the U.S. chemical industry, which supported the CWC's ratification and has accepted the treaty's data reporting and inspection burdens, does not have the guidelines to fulfill these obligations. The legislation directs the chemical industry to provide data about certain chemicals that the CWC's inspectors would then check during routine inspections. Both houses of Congress passed the implementing legislation, but the Senate did not vote on a rider that the House attached just before Congress recessed. Thus, the legislation died.
Perhaps equally disturbing, Congress has tried to tinker with the CWC's verification provisions to give U.S. facilities a break on the treaty's stringent monitoring provisions. In the implementing legislation, both the House and the Senate passed language that would allow the president to refuse a challenge inspection on the grounds that it could threaten U.S. security. This language directly contradicts the obligation that the United States undertook when it joined the treaty to accept challenge inspections at any time, at any place on U.S. territory. The Senate also stipulated when ratifying the CWC that no samples collected during a routine or challenge inspection may be taken out of the country for additional analysis. Since the inspectors will carry analytical equipment with them, they will rarely invoke the right to conduct off-site analysis. When they do, however, detailed analysis at laboratories certified by the CWC's inspectorate in the Hague may be crucial to clarifying whether a country has cheated.
The Pentagon, the intelligence community, and the chemical industry have all agreed to the CWC's verification measures, but some members of Congress continue to object based on false concerns that the very inspection measures needed to verify compliance abroad will compromise national security or confidential business information at home. What these members fail to appreciate is that the CWC contains ample protections to safeguard such information, which is why the chemical industry, the Pentagon, and the intelligence community gave the CWC their seal of approval. When Congress reconvenes, it may continue trying to create exemptions in the CWC's verification regime. If Congress does so, then other countries will surely exploit these loopholes. In short, U.S.-made exclusions to the CWC's verification regime will ultimately backfire on U.S. security interests when other countries deny a U.S. challenge inspection request or thwart inspectors' efforts to have a sample analyzed off-site. Such an outcome would gut the treaty's verification protocol.
Evidence of the CWC's clout
Poison gas has long been so universally abhorred that governments have been loath to admit having stockpiled weapons or built facilities to make chemical agents. Before the CWC went into effect, Russia and the United States were the only two countries to admit possessing chemical weapons, even though intelligence agencies had concluded that about two dozen countries had chemical weapons programs.
Russia, which has declared that it possesses some 40,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, ratified the CWC in November 1997. Strapped for funds to destroy its arsenal, Moscow is banking on the willingness of other countries to help pay for its destruction program. Likely donor countries, however, may withhold significant contributions until the CWC's inspections settle concerns that in the late 1980s and early 1990s the Soviet, now Russian, chemical weapons complex developed, tested, and produced small quantities of an entirely new generation of deadly nerve agents. Moscow has denied that this activity occurred. Further, Russia wants to exempt from inspection former chemical weapons production facilities that have already been converted to peaceful enterprises. Other countries that are in full compliance with the treaty will insist that Russia divulge all required data and allow unimpeded access to treaty-relevant sites. Only full cooperation with the CWC's inspectorate will garner continued Western aid for Russia's chemical weapons destruction program.
Now that the CWC has strengthened the behavioral norm against chemical weapons, more countries are terminating their chemical weapons programs. China declared having former chemical weapons production facilities, which CWC inspectors have already visited and mothballed. India said that it possessed production facilities, along with an arsenal of as-yet-unknown size. Pakistan and Iran, both suspected of harboring chemical weapons programs, joined the treaty in November 1997 and are scheduled to declare what they possess early in 1998. France acknowledged that it had production facilities. In addition, one more nation has reported to the CWC inspectorate that it has a chemical weapons stockpile, but that country has not announced this to the public.
By the end of October, the CWC's inspectors had completed more than 85 inspections in 20 member states. Among the sites inspected were 34 chemical weapons production facilities, 19 chemical weapons storage facilities, and 23 facilities that produce small quantities of highly toxic chemicals for permitted purposes, such as defensive or medical research. Five chemical weapons destruction facilities are being continuously monitored. When the numbers are tallied, the CWC's potential to reduce the chemical weapons threat becomes apparent: Within six months of the CWC's activation, more than 80 facilities involved in chemical weapons-related activities had already received the scrutiny of international inspectors. Although there were high hopes for the CWC, few thought so much would be accomplished so quickly.
As might be expected with the startup of a system of international legal requirements and a new inspection agency, all of the news is not so encouraging. For example, countries have dallied in providing their assessed contributions to the inspectorate. The funding shortfall was so severe during the summer of 1997, when the United States and Japan were withholding funds, that the inspectorate's director, Jose Bustani of Brazil, notified participating states that he would soon have to halt inspections. The financial situation has improved somewhat but is still a major concern.
Another problem frustrating the inspectorate has been the failure of participating countries to file declarations. Roughly 30 of the more than 100 member countries have not met the CWC's initial paperwork requirements, and some of the declarations received were incomplete. To a certain extent, this problem was predictable. Unlike the United States and Russia, the lion's share of the CWC's members lack extensive experience in handling declarations or inspections. With time, the responsible authorities in the CWC member states will become more accustomed to the treaty's requirements, and the track record in this area will improve.
A different type of tug-of-war brewing in the Hague pertains to the CWC's secrecy rules. Under the treaty, a government can require the inspectorate to protect the confidentiality of all information in its declarations and inspections. Although some details should be held in the tightest secrecy, a certain level of transparency is needed to promote awareness of and confidence in the CWC. Some CWC members are extremely reluctant to release information about treaty-related activities that have reversed long-standing denials about the existence of chemical weapons programs. Bustani has managed to persuade some countries to allow him to divulge broad characterizations about CWC implementation activities. However, more information needs to be publicly presented. Sensitivities about the release of treaty-related data should ease as governments gain confidence that monitoring activities confirm their compliance with the CWC and allow them to be members in good standing of the international community.
If governments can overcome the initial discomfort caused by the managed transparency of the CWC's intrusive verification provisions, they will grow to appreciate how the treaty can enhance their security. No longer will decisionmakers in one capital question whether a neighboring country is mounting a clandestine chemical weapons program; inspectors will routinely visit high-risk facilities in all participating states, and challenge inspection rights can be exercised to confirm or allay suspicions. This type of cooperative security arrangement is far preferable to the uncertainties that lead to the expense and instability of arms races.
Should the CWC continue on its current successful course and participating states resolve the shortcomings that have hindered the treaty's implementation thus far, the CWC may well become a strong model for future cooperative security and disarmament arrangements. Diplomats negotiating a verification protocol to strengthen the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, which lacks any monitoring provisions, are already considering patterning verification measures for this accord after those contained in the CWC.
Consequently, the United States needs to provide leadership to ensure the full and effective implementation of the CWC, at home as well as abroad. It must not create loopholes in the treaty it labored so long to achieve. The CWC's model of managed cooperative security is one that clearly serves long-term U.S. security interests and deserves unwavering support from Washington.
Amy E. Smithson is senior associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, D.C.