March 31, 1994
THE HONORABLE JOHN D. HOLUM, DIRECTOR
U.S. ARMS CONTROL AND DISARMAMENT AGENCY
TO A SEMINAR ON THE CHEMICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION
SPONSORED BY THE CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND
INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

Good morning. It's my pleasure to join you at this CSIS seminar on the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Even though this is a specialized subject, it's one where I believe ordinary common sense will be determinative. Through the Convention, we are seeking for the rest of the world to do what the United States is already largely obligated to do -- and at a very reasonable marginal cost. I am convinced that the Convention will be ratified promptly by the Senate and that it will enter into force in 1995. This will put the United States where it should be: out front, leading, and helping further shape implementation.

To fully appreciate the benefits of the Convention, one must contemplate in some detail the threat it is aimed against. Chemical weapons are instruments of terror. They kill and disable in cruel ways -- by searing, blistering, and asphyxiating. And they are an indiscriminate instrument, affecting soldiers and innocent noncombatants alike.

Recognizing the obvious limits of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, the United States initially pursued the Convention during the Cold War, in large part to eliminate a massive Soviet program that included the world's largest CW stockpiles. Now, with congressional support, we are starting to help Russia destroy its chemical weapons. The United States already is legally required to eliminate the majority of our stockpile, Convention or no Convention, and we are doing so. United States ratification will encourage Russia to ratify as well, and to destroy the huge stocks it inherited from the former Soviet Union.

But another threat is emerging. More than 25 countries are now suspected of having chemical weapons or the ability to produce them. Some of the countries we are most concerned about - such as Libya, Iran and Iraq-- are not known for their restraint. Chemical weapons have been called "the poor man's nuclear bomb" -- representing a kind of "guerrilla weapon" attractive to rogue regimes because they are relatively cheap, are made from fairly accessible precursors, and do not demand an elaborately developed technological infrastructure as required, for example, by nuclear weapons. For these reasons, the danger of chemical weapons is all too clear and present.

And the chemical threshold is no barricade. Nuclear weapons have been used just once -- to end the Pacific War. By contrast, chemical weapons have been unleashed repeatedly in this century. They were used to gas our soldiers in World War I. They were used in Ethiopia in the 1930s, in Manchuria in the 1940s, and in Yemen in the 1960s. Chemical attacks became horrifically commonplace during the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam Hussein dropped chemical bombs on the Kurds in 1989. And of course, our own troops faced a potential chemical weapons threat from Iraq as recently as the Persian Gulf War.

As President Clinton reminded us in the last State of the Union Address,

How should we respond? First, by realizing that our security requires much more than protecting the U.S. homeland against a direct military attack. Our national security today rests on a stable international system in which the U.S. and all members of the world community can pursue democratic ideals and free market prosperity. A central element of our strategy of engagement must be to minimize the ability of states outside the circle of democracy and free markets to threaten those who share these values. So long as such backlash states continue to bully their neighbors and undermine stability, we will work to isolate them -- diplomatically, militarily, technologically, and economically.

The CWC is a vital tool in this larger effort. Significantly, more than three-quarters of those countries identified as having a chemical weapons potential have signed the CWC. Obviously we want them to ratify it as well, and ultimately to obtain universal adherence.

Now, critics can certainly say of the Convention -- or of any real-world agreement, for that matter -- that it doesn't produce apodictic certainty about violations, for example, or that it costs too much, or that it doesn't include in full every U.S. negotiating position ever proposed in the quarter-century of negotiations required to complete it. But one thing that's clear is that it's better than the alternative we have at present.

All of us have heard the saying, "The perfect is the enemy of the good." That for me is an overarching truth to be borne in mind in assessing the Convention. And that truth is inextricably linked with the question, "Compared to what?" The relevant comparison is not to some ideal Platonic Treaty that might have been negotiated under a completely different and hypothetical set of circumstances. The right baseline is the real world, the status quo as we know and face it today. As I've noted, that status quo is not very reassuring.

At present, the Libyas, Irans and Iraqs of the world are free to acquire, develop, produce, stockpile, retain, and transfer chemical weapons with impunity. Even the Geneva Convention's watered-down ban on first use is a toothless deterrent in that it carries no explicit practical penalties.

In this world, the CWC represents a radical improvement over what we now have. It will be an enormous help not just in stemming the threat of chemical weapons, but in reversing it. As Secretary Christopher noted in his Senate testimony last week, the Convention addresses both the demand for and supply of chemical weapons. it requires parties to destroy their chemical weapons and production facilities and to open their chemical industries to international inspection. It prohibits them from transferring chemical weapons to others or assisting in any of the CW-related activities banned under the Convention. And it bans trade in specified chemicals with countries that fail to join the Convention.

In short, the Convention proposes to completely eliminate a scourge that has hung over the world for most of this century.

Nonetheless, we cannot get by with only a superficial review of a complex multilateral agreement that took years to negotiate and contains a number of extraordinary provisions. One reason I am here is to encourage and support the kinds of nuanced, teamed discussions about the Convention that are going to take place today. Seminars like this one will help us ratify the Convention knowledgeably and implement it intelligently. I am looking out at an impressive collection of talent and expertise, and in my view, it only helps when this kind of intellectual firepower is trained on the Chemical Weapons Convention.

That's because I am convinced that the Convention is clearly in the interests of the United States, is clearly verifiable on a practical as opposed to theoretical level, and clearly can be implemented at a reasonable cost.

As you probably know, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held its first hearing on the Convention on Tuesday of last week. If we and 64 other countries ratify by July, the Convention will enter into force next January -- the earliest possible time. I was pleased to testify at that hearing with Secretary of State Christopher.

I also was heartened to hear Chairman Pell set forth plans for follow-on hearings beginning in April. Such a schedule would mean that if all goes well, ratification by July -- allowing entry into force at the earliest possible date -- is still within reach. I am also pleased to report something that you may not know: that just two days later, on Thursday of last week, the Russian parliament also took up ratification of the Convention. So we seem to be on track legislatively.

The Convention will erect a formidable barrier against a profoundly inhumane and indiscriminate method of waging war. It deters misconduct in two main ways: first, by providing means to detect it, and second, by providing means to punish it.

Verification

The Convention establishes an unprecedented verification regime. It is the first multilateral treaty to require intrusive, short-notice challenge inspections of declared and undeclared sites. It will allow us to obtain detailed information about other countries'chemical weapons capabilities and destruction activities. If this information -- or other information obtained by national intelligence means -- leads us to suspect another country of illicit chemical weapons activities, we can initiate on-site challenge inspections under the Convention.

The CWC's verification regime strikes a reasonable balance between the need to verify compliance and deter noncompliance, on the one hand, and the need to protect sensitive commercial information on the other. The Chemical Manufacturers Association, a leading trade group for the U.S. Chemical industry, supports the Convention. The Convention does not pose unnecessary or undue burdens on the U.S. chemical industry.

While no treaty is one hundred percent verifiable, the CWC will substantially increase the risk of detection, and hence, deterrence. It will help us build a network of information -- a web of detection and deterrence - and provide grounds to seek sanctions that will make chemical weapons substantially less attractive to rogue regimes.

We might think of this as being comparable to a very good automobile security system. Experts tell us that if someone really, really wants your particular car for some reason, they can get it. But if you have good door locks and a club on the steering wheel and a good alarm system and so forth -- if you make it expensive and cumbersome and inconvenient enough to beat that security system -- then potential thieves will take a path of less resistance and move down the block to another car. Here, the states we are worried about will move to other methods -- such as conventional forces or negotiation -- that are less objectionable than chemical weapons.

Sanctions

Countries not meeting their obligations under the Convention will face a demonstrable political price. The OPCW can recommend the imposition of collective sanctions on a country engaging in illicit chemical weapons activities. It must bring particularly grave cases to the attention of the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council.

The Convention penalizes countries that do not join. It denies them access to State Party trade in specified chemicals that are important not only to CW production but to industrial development and economic growth. This is a sanction with teeth, as the developed states that will join the Convention, dominate world trade in the precursor and dual-use chemicals whose transfer falls within the terms of the Convention.

Over time, the Convention will also impose political costs. Absent world government, one of the principal ways that arms control arrangements are enforced is through international treaties establishing a global norm. Once such a norm is formalized in a solemn treaty signed by many nations, its violation brings on significant consequences in the form of political isolation. Even though such consequences are "only" political and "only" involve opprobrium in the court of world opinion, history teaches that they become quite difficult to ignore -- as witness the fact that the NPT has gained more than 160 members, the Geneva Protocol 131, and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) 134. As a result, such global norms can become powerful shapers of national conduct.

For these reasons, we are confident that in the end, countries will realize the high political and economic costs of remaining outside the Convention. The Convention makes sense for the U.S. even if some do not join.

In light of the above provisions, more than three quarters of the countries of concern to us, as I noted, have signed the Convention. I'd like to emphasize, however, that it remains strongly in our interest to move ahead with it even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that some countries of concern will never join.

The principal reason is our conclusion that the answer to chemical weapons is not retaliation in kind. Certainly the Gulf War proved that chemical weapons remain attractive to backlash states. But it also confirmed that the answer to chemical weapons is not retaliation with more chemical weapons. It is a full range of chemical defenses, coupled with superior conventional military force and strategy. The CWC explicitly allows us both to maintain our defensive programs and to provide assistance to countries threatened or attacked by chemical weapons.

Thus, we have already decided to eliminate a large part of our chemical arsenal. The Congress has directed the Defense Department to destroy our unitary chemical weapons stockpile and make plans to destroy all other chemical weapons material banned by the CWC. As we unilaterally dismantle our own chemical weapons, it makes a great deal of sense to oblige other countries to destroy their weapons as well. The Convention imposes binding obligations on all parties, to do what the United States has already begun to do.

Further, as I have suggested, by establishing a categorical global norm against chemical weapons, the Convention will give us and the world community substantially greater leverage for pressing radical governments to abandon or shun CW capabilities.

U.S. Costs

I have mentioned the costs to countries of remaining outside the Convention. Let me focus for a moment on the costs of our leading role within it.

I've noted the program under which we are already destroying most of our chemical weapons stocks -- the U.S. Demilitarization program, or "Demil." The United States decision to proceed with Demil is independent of our decision to proceed with the CWC, and it means that the marginal cost of the Convention is extremely reasonable.

The estimated price tag for stockpile Demil alone is $8.6 billion (with some additional amount needed for nonstockpile Demil). On top of this, the estimated direct cost of our participation in the international organization that will implement the Convention (the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) is projected to be in the range of $25 million per year. This figure does not include the cost of providing declarations or of escorting and hosting inspectors. But all things considered, this is a small price to pay for eliminating chemical weapons over time from the world's arsenals -- especially considering that economic measures cannot adequately gauge the risk to peace or harm to human life from these weapons.

I should emphasize in this context that our own obligations under the Convention can be met safely and on time. The dangers of leakage and contamination from extending long-term storage of highly-toxic chemical weapons outweigh any potential risk from destroying our CW stocks. The National Research Council rendered this judgment last month when it reported on the Army's Baseline program to destroy our chemical weapons in high-temperature incinerators. The NRC said:

The baseline system has been demonstrated as a safe and effective disposal process for the stockpile. Delays in disposal operation can only increase the already cumulative risk -- of accidental release from storage ... and they can add to the risks of disposal as agents and munitions continue to deteriorate. The Committee believes that the disposal program should proceed expeditiously.

Clearly, the Baseline program we are already committed to will eliminate a serious risk to human health and environmental quality. That investment makes good environmental policy as well as arms control sense.

The CWC as a Precedent and Symbol

As the first post-Cold War arms control agreement, the Convention fits its time and its context. In the time I have remaining, I would like to comment on several features of the Convention that add precedential and symbolic importance to the great substantive value it has in its own right.

First, it is a multilateral treaty among equals. It was authentically negotiated in the international community -- between developed and developing nations alike -- not forged between two superpowers and presented to the rest of the world for endorsement.

Multilateralism is a central feature of the post-Cold War security environment. And as the CWC confirms -- and the CTBT and fissile material cutoff further demonstrate -- arms control is becoming increasingly a multilateral endeavor. My own sense from time spent in Geneva is that the success of the CWC has energized the Conference on Disarmament. This makes it potentially even more effective as an instrument of international arms control efforts -- a benefit that will be cemented when the Convention enters into force. So the world is watching the fate of the Convention not only for its own sake, but also to see how any agreement multilaterally conceived, achieved, and implemented will fare.

A related feature of the Convention is non-discrimination. It does not make distinctions between different classes of adherents. All parties are equally subject to all provisions. Again, the importance of the Convention is heightened given the nondiscriminatory nature of other upcoming arms control priorities.

Another distinctive and precedent-setting feature of the Convention, of course, is the involvement of the private sector in its formulation, and the close continuing involvement that will be needed in its implementation. As you know, the chemical industry has been closely consulted and involved at every stage of negotiations, and supports the result.

The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency is sponsoring the second of a series of seminars across the United States to continue informing and educating industry about its responsibilities under the CWC and to respond to industry questions and concerns. The precedent established by industry-government cooperation in formulating and implementing the Convention is important as we look down the road to other challenges, such as making the Biological Weapons Convention more verifiable.

Consistent with the mandate of the 1991 BWC Review Conference, a special conference of states parties will be convened this fall to consider the consensus report of the government experts and to decide on any future actions to strengthen the BWC. The success of CWC implementation will make successful collaboration between government and industry in areas such as biological arms control more likely.

In all the ways I've mentioned, the Convention symbolizes the increased importance and scope of arms control generally in the post-Cold War era. It reflects the centrality of arms control to the new international agenda. President Clinton has stressed that nonproliferation should be a leading objective of all our international relationships. He has given strong and repeated endorsement of the CWC and urged its early ratification.

The Convention -- negotiated under a Republican President, with a Democratic President leading the drive for ratification -- also reflects the possibility that with the end of the Cold War, arms control can be once more a truly bipartisan undertaking. During the Cold War, much of what was done or attempted in the name of arms control inevitably came to be viewed through the all-consuming prism of how we handled our relationship with the Soviet Union. The fundamental fact that the bipolar world is no more allows us to take a more objective view of how arms control opportunities -judged on their own merits -- may affect our interests. I welcome this change, and hope it brings a return to the bipartisan spirit and substance that has marked the most successful periods in United States foreign policy.

Why the U.S. Must Move Now

Let me briefly say a word about why time is of the essence. First and most fundamentally, we must move quickly on the Convention if we are to demonstrate international leadership. If the U.S. does not act, implementation will be delayed; at worst, it may never happen at all.

Second, during the critical first months of the CWC's implementation, a thousand small decisions will be made and myriad precedents and habits will be set that we will want to play a role in. Establishing the practical mechanics of routine and challenge inspections is just one example of a process that will be shaped early on and will greatly affect U.S. interests. Given the negotiating history of the Convention, it would be not just unwise, but deeply ironic, if we lost our momentum at this critical late stage. We're not going to let that happen.

Conclusion

Let me sum up with a few closing observations. As Secretary Christopher emphasized last week, the Convention will play a vital role in stabilizing the post-Cold War world, a world in which chemical weapons can make dangerous low-intensity conflicts even more lethal. The Convention's destruction and verification provisions will build confidence among potential rivals that they neither fear nor join a chemical arms race.

They are reprehensible weapons. Responsible world opinion has spoken decisively that they are out of bounds -- they are not "fighting fair." The world has said we want not just to control these weapons, but to destroy them - to put the genie back in the bottle and incinerate the bottle.

Given the uncontrolled chemical weapons threats we face today, the CWC is a tremendous achievement and step forward.

It embraces for us the central and fundamental truths about chemical agents designed to kill and maim in the cause of 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.