Sen. Jesse Helms says that he intends to hold the long-awaited chemical weapons treaty hostage to his own agenda as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Americans should demand that he put the nation’s interests first. Failing to ratify the treaty would tarnish America’s image as a global leader, damage our national security interests and hurt American business. And stalling--failing to ratify by April 29--would preclude U.S. participation in crucial aspects of the verification and implementation regime.
* The damage to U.S. leadership: The treaty was designed to isolate pariah states from nations willing to adhere to international norms. Presidents Reagan and Bush concluded the negotiation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and President Bush signed it.
The Senate’s failure to ratify would have profound symbolic significance. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. troops during the Gulf War, supports the convention. By not ratifying, he has said, “We align ourselves with nations like Libya and North Korea, and I would just as soon not be associated with those thugs in this particular matter.”
The United States has renounced chemical warfare, with or without the international convention. But failure to ratify the ban would curtail our ability to bring diplomatic or economic pressure to bear against future adversaries equipped with poison gas.
* The threat to Americans’ security: On March 20, 1995, the Japanese cult Aum Supreme Truth released sarin, a nerve gas, on the Tokyo subway, killing 12 and injuring more than 5,000, many of them seriously. Since then, terrorists have acquired or threatened to use poisonous agents in the United States. Such threats are likely to increase as the millennium draws near. The smaller the world’s arsenal of chemical agents, the harder it will be for terrorists and their state supporters to acquire them. And domestic legislation required under the ban will make prosecution easier.
The treaty also reduces the likelihood that American troops will face a chemically armed adversary. It requires all parties to renounce possessing, developing, producing or acquiring chemical agents. All parties must implement export controls on the ingredients of chemical weapons. Rogue states will have a much harder time acquiring these ingredients. They also are likely to suffer serious economic consequences, since some of these ingredients have important commercial uses.
* The damage to U.S. industry: Major chemical manufacturers strongly support the convention. The Chemical Manufacturers’ Assn. helped to design the inspection regime, which maximizes the probability of catching cheaters while still protecting the commercial secrets of parties to the ban. Unless the United States is among those parties, American chemical companies will be subject to trade restrictions. The industry estimates a loss of as much as $600 million a year in export earnings. This is no way to repay an industry that participated--to an unprecedented extent--in developing an international agreement that is important to America’s security.
* The forfeiture of a U.S. role in monitoring and enforcement: The treaty will enter into force on April 29, with or without U.S. participation. If the Senate allows that date to slip by, the United States will forfeit its right to participate in overseeing the treaty’s administration and enforcement. And Americans would be precluded from serving on international inspection teams responsible for monitoring compliance.
Critics of the treaty claim that it is unverifiable. Catching sophisticated, determined cheaters will be difficult, indeed. But catching them will be even more difficult without the access afforded by the convention. If parties to the convention suspect cheating, they can demand an on-site challenge inspection on very short notice. Nonparties have no such privileges.
We need to be working overtime ferreting out terrorists and rogue-state proliferators, whether we ratify or not. If we fail to ratify, we will have denied ourselves access to valuable additional intelligence.
While poisonous weapons have been used on battlefields since the Peloponnesian War, history shows that they are better designed for terrorizing and killing innocents. These are the weapons that we hope to ban forever.