Ratify the Convention Now!

An Expose of the Chemical Weapons Convention

This week, the Senate will begin full-session deliberations on the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), an international treaty which will go into effect on April 29. The CWC, which would ban the development, possession and transfer of chemical weapons and would call for their destruction--given the wide-spread support it has already garnered--will enter into force with or without American ratification. Yet, the United States has so far balked at ratifying the CWC, a treaty that President Bush helped construct in 1991 and that all living presidents and secretaries of state stand behind.

The source of dissent stems from opposition in Congress, primarily from Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Jesse Helms (R-NC), the powerful chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. If the United States does not ratify the treaty before it goes into effect, it will forfeit the opportunity to become an original party to the CWC and to determine much of its implementation. To waste this opportunity would be a grave mistake and an example of misplaced idealism on the part of uninformed officials. The Senate must seize this opportunity and ratify the treaty in the next few weeks; the reasons are manifold:

First, the major opposition to the treaty has come from politicians and special interest groups claiming that the CWC would strangle the chemical industry with regulatory measures. According to Department of Commerce estimates, 3,000-8,000 companies will be affected by the treaty, which would allow international inspectors to search and even seize their property.

Despite these predictions, the chemical industry itself has come out strongly in favor of the treaty. The Chemical Manufacturers Association--a consortia of the largest American chemical-making firms--has backed the CWC and has argued that if the U.S. does not ratify it, the industry could stand to lose up to $600 million in annual revenues. This immense loss of revenue would result from new trade barriers from the more than 70 nations that have already ratified the treaty--since the treaty explicitly forbids its member-nations from trading in certain chemicals with non-member countries.

Moreover, American chemical makers--the largest net exporting industry in the country at an astounding $62 billion per year--are also interested in detaching the stigma of chemical weapons from their business. In the words of Owen Kean of the CMA's communications department, the chemical industry "does not make weapons. Companies are very interested in cutting the link to weapons-making." Industry executives further worry that member-nations will hide behind their provisions in order to erect other trade barriers with the United States; this problem would clearly not crop up were we to ratify.

Opponents of the treaty, however, argue that behemoths like the CMA do not represent the mom-and-pop chemical makers which would be affected even more heavily by treaty-imposed regulations. Contrary to these claims, however, small consortia such as the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses have expressed support for the treaty. It seems that no one in the know--and no one who would be personally affected--is opposed to ratifying the treaty.

Furthermore, much of the American public does not realize that we have been destroying our chemical weapons stockpile over the past 13 years. Current U.S. statutes call for the completion of this process by 2004-5, the same year that the CWC would demand destruction of all weapons. The military, Congress and the executive branch recognize the destructiveness and immorality inherent in chemical weapons and have already ordered their elimination. Therefore, the treaty would impose no undue burdens on the United States; instead, the treaty only affirms decisions our country has already made.

The United States has also maintained its ability to respond to chemical attack even without resorting to chemical weapons. The treaty explicitly provides for the development of weapons defense programs, and wide military consensus has acknowledged that chemical weapons are not needed to deter other chemical weapons. According to Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), a prominent supporter of the treaty, the intelligence community firmly believes that the CWC would enhance our ability to monitor the chemical weapons programs of non-member-nations and, thus, only adds to our defense system.

At the very least, we have nothing to lose by lending our sizable support to the treaty. Without ratification by the United States and Russia, the CWC would become "a wedding without the bride and groom," in the words of Amy Smithson of the Stimson Center, a non-profit Washington, D.C. think-tank. Countries such as China, Pakistan, Indonesia and Iran have all expressed willingness to ratify only once the U.S. and Russia have done so.

If we do not enter into the treaty by April 29, we will lose a major opportunity to determine the early phases of its implementation. After the treaty goes into effect, ratifying nations will have to wait 30 days before they can become member nations. But the first Conference of States Parties (CSP), scheduled for May 7 in The Hague, Holland, will witness the formation of the 41-nation Executive Council governing the treaty as well as the selection of the chair of the CSP. If we wait until April 30 to ratify, we would lose the opportunity to have a say in these crucial first stages.

The CWC was written carefully in order to improve on the successes of its predecessors. Unlike the moderately successful Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under which five major nations are allowed to possess nuclear weapons but no other member-nations can do so, the CWC creates an even playing field where all countries must destroy their weapons. Unlike the NPT, the CWC has already gained India's ratification.

The treaty was also crafted, in the words of Treasa Dunworth of the treaty's governing body, to reflect a "clever balance between security concerns and support of industry." The detailed and thorough confidentiality sections of the treaty were designed to eliminate the risk of secret or proprietary information falling into the wrong hands.

The CWC was also designed not only to wipe out existing chemical weapons stockpiles, but also to provide a defense scheme for nations that come under chemical attack. The CWC provides carrots for its member nations including "arrangements for speedy assistance in the event of chemical weapons attack and the loosening up of export controls" according to Stephen J. Ledogar, the chief American delegate to the treaty's 1992 drafting. The CWC constitutes a positive effort to unite countries against chemical weapons, not merely a set of negative prohibitions against the possession of chemical weapons.

The costs of administering the CWC will be minimal. While the United States, consistent with U.N. rules of apportionment, would be responsible for 30 percent of the estimated $100 million in annual costs, those $30 million would amount to hundredths of a percent of our federal budget.

In short, the United States has much to gain by ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention. The costs are relatively insignificant; the benefits to the treaty, the U.S. and the world are enormous. The best opportunity we have had this century to end the scourge of chemical weapons is now before us. Let's take the next step and ratify the Convention.

Michael M. Rosen '98 received a Harvard College Research grant to investigate the convention and the effects of American ratification.