The Case Against the Chemical Weapons Convention

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) purports to be a 1) global, 2) effective and 3) verifiable ban on chemical weapons. In fact, it is none of these and many believe it should be rejected by the Senate.

First, many dangerous nations (for example, Iran, Syria, North Korea and Libya) have not agreed to join the treaty regime. Russia is among those who have signed the CWC, but is unlikely to ratify — especially without a commitment of billions in U.S. aid to pay for the destruction of Russia’s vast arsenal. Even then, given past exerience with the Kremlin’s treaty violations and its current refusal to implement the 1990 Bilateral Destruction Agreement on chemical weapons, future CWC violations must be expected.

Second, while the CWC prohibits possession of many dangerous chemicals, it does not prohibit others – including two that were employed with deadly effect in World War I — phosgeoe and hydrogen cyanide. The reason speaks volumes about this treaty’s impractical nature: They are too widely used for commercial purposes to be banned.

No less worrisome are published reports from a former Soviet chemical weapons scientist, Vil Mirzayanov, that the Kremlin deliberately negotiated loopholes in the Convention so that the list of controlled chemicals does not include several Russia has combined to make weapons vastly more lethal than known military toxins. And, as he noted in an op/ed published in the Wall Street Journal on May 25, 1994: “If a weapon is not listed, then it cannot legally be banned, to say nothing of being controlled. The [Russian] chemical generals are banking on this technicality.”

Third, U.S. intelligence cannot verify a world-wide ban on chemical weapons. Rogue states can be confident that their violations involving even militarily significant stockpiles (i.e., one agent ton) will be undetectable. Some argue that the treaty’s intrusive inspections regime will help us know more than we would otherwise. In fact, it probably will not work that way; rather than jeopardize a treaty regime, governments tend to look the other way at evidence of non-compliance.

Importantly, proponents of the CWC have increasingly acknowledged these shortcomings. Since they believe that the costs associated with treaty are modest, however, they conclude that even an admittedly flawed CWC is, on net, in the national interest. Unfortunately, a more accurate assessment of the CWC’s costs makes clear that this Convention is not, on balance, consistent with U. S. security and other vital interests.

Such unacceptably high costs include: The CWC will abandon the principle of verifiability for arms control accords. It will obligate the U.S. to transfer CW-relevant production and defensive technology to states like Iran and Cuba. It will grant a massive new, UN-style international inspection bureaucracy (whose support will contribute to an annual U.S. tab for this treaty of as much as $200 million per year) the right to inspect any site in the United States on demand. Those inspections will jeopardize U.S. citizens’ constitutional rights if Americans are obliged to submit to searches without either probable cause or judicial search warrants.

The inspections will, together with a host of ocw reporting and regulatory requirements, constitute a real burden on U.S. industry. As many as 8,000 companies across the country may be subjected to new reporting requirements entailing large, uncompensated annual costs to comply. Worse yet, these companies — and innumerable others that might be subjected to challenge inspections — stand to lose confidential business information if the experience with U. S. governinent-sponsored trial inspections is any guide. While several trade associations have registered their support for the treaty, most of the companies likely to be affected by this Convention remain ignorant of its potential implications for them, their trade secrets — and their bottom lines.

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