Created April 7, 1997

THE HONORABLE JOHN D. HOLUM, DIRECTOR
U.S. ARMS CONTROL AND DISARMAMENT AGENCY
REMARKS TO THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL
WASHINGTON, DC

I'm grateful for the chance to meet with the Atlantic Council again as we enter the final days of Senate consideration of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Senate's decision on the CWC will profoundly affect America's security and global standing -- even in ways that transcend the treaty itself.

As you know, the Chemical Weapons Convention outlaws not only the use of chemical weapons, but their production, acquisition, even possession. Existing stockpiles have to be destroyed within 10 years. It prohibits assistance to anyone else's CW programs, and tracks the movement of CW precursors around the world.

It restricts trade with non-members in chemicals important for industry and agriculture. And it has the strongest verification regime of any arms control agreement yet, including both routine and challenge on-site inspections.

To date 161 countries have signed, and 70 have ratified -- including all our major allies. China has ratified but says it won't deposit until the United States does. Russia also probably won't join until we do.

The Convention is now in its fourth year of review by the Senate. Last year, after more than a dozen hearings and hundreds of additional written answers for the record, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee favorably reported the treaty to the Senate floor. But it had to be pulled before a mid-September floor vote, for that date proved too close to the presidential election -- and as Senator Lugar said, "the whole process was politicized in a way that would be harmful to our foreign policy."

So we have renewed the ratification effort in the 105th Congress. But now postponement is not an option. For the 65th ratification in late October triggered an inexorable six-month timetable for entry into force on April 29 -- with or without the United States. Failure to ratify by then would cost us dearly, even if we subsequently joined.

Moving anything through the Senate quickly is a challenge, and this particular one is compounded by Senator Helms' tendency to link the CWC to his other favorite causes -- like UN reform, State Department reorganization, or how we deal with other treaties. We are working with Senator Helms, Majority Leader Lott and others to address specific CWC concerns in ways that do not undermine or conflict with the treaty. But we will not accept the premise that the CWC is a favor to President Clinton, to be traded for, when in fact it is a security instrument for the American people -- to whom its benefits inalienably belong.

My own firm conviction is that this treaty's prospects will continue to rise along with public awareness of it. So I am especially grateful for your interest in discussing it today.

Several basic realities should frame our consideration of the treaty.

First, chemical weapon and similar threats are growing. Cold War disciplines are gone. The technology is widely available. Some twenty countries have CW programs. They've been used by countries -- Iraq and Iran -- and they've been used by terrorists, in Tokyo's subways and, by some accounts, in New York's World Trade Center bombing. This is a mounting, tangible, leading danger in the post-Cold War era.

The second reality is that chemical weapons today are legal. The 1925 Geneva Protocol amounts to a ban only on first use. Unlike nuclear and biological weapons, today there is no international law against making chemical weapons; regimes like Libya, Iran and North Korea can legally build up stockpiles. If they are states harboring terrorists, they can legally hand out chemical agents. We can know about the biggest underground chemical weapons facility in the world, at Tarhunah, in Libya. We can wave our arms. We can wring our hands. But there's no legal basis for sanctions or other action, because it's not against the law.

So keep in mind that the alternative to the CWC is to give rogue states and terrorists a free pass to have chemical weapons.

That would be particularly perverse in light of the third reality, which is that this treaty is about other countries' weapons, not ours.

In 1985 President Reagan signed a law mandating destruction of our stockpiles. That is underway. Those stocks will be destroyed even if we don't join the Convention. Indeed, several opponents of the CWC have recently introduced, as an alternative, legislation that would confirm that decision, and make chemical weapons illegal here, but leave them legal everywhere else.

So all agree we're not going to use chemical weapons against anyone, under any circumstances. The only question is whether we'll press others to do what we are already doing -- to make it less likely that poison gas will be used against us.

So we have a growing danger, now legally unconstrained, in weapons the United States is unilaterally destroying. How does the CWC fit into that?

  • The treaty offers us tools to deal with those twenty countries, many hostile to us, that have or seek chemical weapons. This is not a stale or theoretical concern. As Secretary Cohen wrote yesterday, our defense planners are focusing on "asymmetrical warfare" -- the risk that rogue regimes will be tempted to nullify our clear conventional superiority by lashing out with even primitive weapons of mass destruction.

    Two-thirds of those countries of concern have signed the treaty and likely will ratify. As to them, the CWC provides powerful new tools, including short-notice challenge inspections of suspect sites, public or private.

    They may be able to conceal small amounts of forbidden chemicals. No one claims 100 percent verification for the CWC. But the likelihood of detection and probability of sanctions rise sharply as quantities grow to military significance -- and are prepared for weaponization and use.

    At a minimum, we know these two things: First, as the Intelligence Community has repeatedly testified, the CWC will give us more information than we have now about global chemical weapons dangers -- a threat we need to monitor with or without the treaty. And, second, the treaty will make this information actionable -- through sanctions -- because chemical weapons possession will be illegal, which is not so now.

    With the treaty, we will build a web of detection and deterrence that will increase CW acquisition costs, raise the risks of discovery, and so make it less likely that chemical weapons will ever be used against American forces or civilians.

  • What about rogue states that do not join? The treaty ensures they will suffer, politically and economically, through mandatory restrictions on chemical trade. At a minimum we will have a powerful new political tool against them -- an opportunity to challenge Libya's denial of CW ambitions, for example, by asking, "Well, if you have nothing to hide, why not join the Convention?"

    Over time I believe nearly all countries will join -- for the same reasons that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty now has 185 members, only five short of universality. But I am even more certain of something else: that hold-out rogue states need never join if we remain outside -- keeping them company, and giving them cover.

  • The CWC is also our best leverage against Russian CW activities. Once the U.S. is in, Russia cannot afford to stay out and cut itself off from significant chemical trade. And under the CWC, many other countries will back us up in pressing Russia to demonstrate destruction of its massive CW stockpile and capabilities.

  • Our military is urging ratification -- with General Shalikashvili joined by every one of a unanimous Joint Chiefs of Staff -- knowing that, as retired Admiral Elmo Zumwalt wrote this year, "our failure to ratify will substantially increase the risk of a chemical attack against American service personnel." Or as retired General Norman Schwarzkopf testified a few weeks ago, "We don't need chemical weapons .... And frankly, by not ratifying ... 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."

  • Our chemical industry has long urged ratification, and now has to worry about losing $600 million annually in sales if the treaty's trade restrictions -- intended to bring in rogue states -- take effect against us as a non-Party.

  • The CWC, with its implementing legislation, can be a valuable tool in the fight against terrorism. The only country to suffer chemical weapons terror against civilians, Japan, ratified the Convention within weeks of the deadly 1995 sarin attack in the Tokyo subway. Without the treaty implemented in our own country, we have no domestic federal law against cooking up poison gas here. We want such laws everywhere. The CWC requires them.

  • Finally, as a Republican negotiating achievement, the CWC is the best possible vehicle for renewed bipartisanship in foreign affairs. President Reagan began serious negotiations; the treaty was completed and signed under President Bush; and today he and other Republican leaders -- from Colin Powell to Brent Scowcroft to James Baker to Richard Lugar -- are urging ratification.

    * * * *

    In light of the arguments for the treaty, Admiral Zumwalt has described opposition in some quarters as "astonishing." But there is a segment of opinion in America -- a sliver, really -- that just doesn't like arms control. Among the public, according to a recent poll by Wirthlin Worldwide and the Mellman Group, 13 percent would oppose a treaty to ban chemical weapons. 84 percent of the public -- interestingly, broken down 84 percent of Democrats, and 84 percent of Republicans -- supports it. But those 13 percent still have loud voices in Washington.

    But they have a problem. It's very hard to answer credibly the baseline argument that compared to letting chemical weapons run free, the CWC, while no silver bullet, nonetheless will help -- that it does give us more tools against real dangers. So why not grasp them?

    Undeterred, arms control's opponents counter by asserting that the CWC must be defeated not only because it does not do enough, but because it will actually damage our interests. To make that implausible case, they have contrived five main arguments. Let us test them.

    First, they claim the CWC forces violation of our Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures and self-incrimination. Well, as the lawyers among you know, it can't. The Constitution cannot be overridden by a treaty or any other law; the only possible issue is whether the Constitution requires us to be in violation of the treaty. Well, it doesn't. The Convention explicitly provides that inspections will be conducted according to each nation's constitutional process. Ours will. No inspections without either consent or a warrant.

    Second, opponents claim the CWC will lull us into a false sense of security, and we'll neglect our defenses. You may recognize this as the standard formula against any arms control agreement. I suspect that if you declare yourself among the 13 percent who just don't like arms control, they issue you a textbook of arguments, and "lull us to sleep" is chapter one.

    Examined more closely, it really comes down to an argument that we should expose our troops and our people to avoidable dangers, just so we'll have an incentive to keep our guard up. Well, why don't we then give chemical weapons to all countries that don't have them, so we'll really have an incentive?

    Seriously, this argument does suggest an unspoken agenda, that more arms is a greater good than more security. But I think most Americans support diplomacy to avert threats, even as they support military preparedness against the threats that nevertheless arise. That's the course we should take here.

    Third, opponents claim that the CWC hurts business. Last year they tried to gin up opposition by portraying hordes of UN inspectors, led by Iranians, descending on dry-cleaning establishments, soap manufacturers and breweries -- presumably in black helicopters -- bent on industrial espionage.

    Roughly 2,000 facilities nationwide -- not the 8,000 to 10,000 imagined by opponents -- will be affected by the CWC.

    Less than 200 of those will bear real burdens of detailed declarations and routine inspections. But those are the chemical manufacturers who strongly support the treaty, and are satisfied with its protections of constitutional rights and proprietary information.

    The other 1,800 will be producers of discrete organic chemicals above certain thresholds -- but their basic task will be to check boxes on a two page form once a year.

    With those facts on the table, the National Federation of Independent Business, which last year expressed concerns about the treaty, has concluded its members "will not be affected."

    Fourth, opponents assert that the treaty will actually foster -- not combat -- chemical weapons proliferation, by requiring that we get rid of chemical export controls as to all members.

    This "poisons for peace" claim veers beyond the contrived to the bizarre. Article XI of the treaty generally does encourage chemical trade, but that general provision is explicitly subject to the fundamental ban in Article I on assisting anyone -- that's anyone, whether or not they have joined the Convention -- in acquiring chemical weapons. No treaty member is entitled to trade in dangerous chemicals. Far from undercutting export controls, the CWC will be a basis for stronger ones, with more countries enforcing them than now.

    If you doubt this, consider that the treaties banning nuclear and biological weapons also encourage trade -- yet export controls in those areas, as with chemicals, have kept growing tougher and gaining more countries over the years.

    Ironically, what the Convention's U.S. opponents are doing is parroting a reading of nonproliferation treaties that is Iran's hobby horse -- and has no real credibility elsewhere. I'm sure the Ayatollah will be grateful for their support. But it won't change the effect of the treaty.

    Striking out on that argument, treaty opponents say, well, maybe Article XI isn't all that important, but now they've discovered Article X, which they say is a perverse oversight in the treaty that requires rogue states be given the best CW defensive technology.

    Incidentally, I'm told the basic elements of Article X were drafted in 1988 -- so if there was an oversight, it wasn't by President Bush's team.

    Nor was there any oversight. Article X, entitled "Assistance and Protection Against Chemical Weapons," is in the treaty to assure countries who join that they won't be left defenseless against neighbors who still have CW programs. Smaller states don't want to be lulled to sleep either.

    Article X assistance focuses particularly on members that are attacked or threatened with chemical agents. But there is no requirement to provide high tech defenses, or even gas masks; the obligation to assist can be satisfied by medical or humanitarian aid. Otherwise, members only undertake to "facilitate... the fullest possible exchange" of defensive technologies. For our part, we obviously will not find it "possible" -- let alone legal -- to share technologies that could compromise our security.

    But, the opposition says, other, less scrupulous countries will use Article X as an excuse to profiteer by giving away defense secrets. They even make charges against some of our closest allies.

    But pointing fingers misses the point. The question is, what is the effect of the CWC? If a country is so mercenary as to condone the sale of defense secrets to rogue states, what prevents that now? What earthly basis is there for believing that the treaty would increase such states' incentive to do the wrong thing? Plainly the opposite is more likely true -- that an actively-enforced global ban on even possession of chemical weapons would draw closer scrutiny of all relevant trade, whether offensive or defensive, with countries whose compliance is in any doubt.

    So I suggest this argument, like the others, is without the slightest merit. It's a weird attempt to blame potential wrongdoing on the law designed to constrain it.

    Conclusion

    Let me conclude with a broader point. The CWC is a priority for President Clinton not only for its own considerable value, but because failure to ratify would be a grave, self-inflicted wound for our country.

    For the United States is the world's leader -- its indispensable country -- in building global coalitions, in enforcing strong export controls, in fashioning international regimes against all weapons of mass destruction.

    Indeed, the United States led in negotiating the CWC. We led in the test ban. We're leading now in strengthening safeguards against nuclear weapons, applying what we learned from Saddam Hussein's clandestine program. We're leading the effort to strengthen the global ban on biological weapons.

    With the end of the Cold War, all these dangers have grown. No one disputes that.

    So there could not be a worse time to weaken America's hand. I can't imagine a worse time to tell the world, we're less interested in fighting proliferation than in fighting among ourselves.

    I say this on behalf of people who deal with these problems routinely -- not as an intellectual exercise, an ideological or political outing, but in the trenches -- where shipments are made or stopped, where other countries listen or turn a deaf ear, where negotiations succeed or fail. When we make our case for another country to halt a dangerous export, I don't want to hear, "Why should we listen to you? You pushed the world to embrace the CWC, then turned your backs on it."

    It is from this intensely practical perspective, among others, that we need the Convention. For it is unavoidable that if you want results in our global efforts against proliferation and terrorism, you'll get less if this treaty fails -- both because we won't have the tools in the CWC, and because our leadership and effectiveness will be depleted across the board.

    So the campaign against the CWC is effectively a far broader assault: against our ability to follow through at home on what we have urged abroad -- against our claim to global leadership against all weapons of mass destruction and terror.

    For all these reasons, we must return to the fundamental truths about deadly chemical agents designed for war: To make them is a waste; to keep them an affliction; to use them an abomination. To champion their destruction makes us at once more exemplary, more civilized and more secure.

    We should get on with the task.