May 4, 1996

THE HONORABLE JOHN D. HOLUM, DIRECTOR
U.S. ARMS CONTROL AND DISARMAMENT AGENCY
TO AN "EARTH DAY" PROGRAM AT THE
SIDWELL FRIENDS SCHOOL

We should all be grateful that the environmental movement's pioneers sought creative ways to raise our consciousness. The seed for Earth Day was planted, as I'm sure you've studied, when Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin flipped though a magazine left on an airplane more than 25 years ago. His hope was that national "teach-ins" on the environment, like those on Vietnam at the time, would educate Americans about the environmental crisis. It's working, and I congratulate all of you for helping.

The environmental movement mostly addresses our everyday deeds -- working in offices or factories, consuming electric power, driving our cars, getting rid of the containers our hamburgers come in. What I'd like to focus on are the environmental impacts of more unusual events -- preparing for and fighting wars.

That does not mean I want to shift the environmental focus away from the core issues of clean air, water and land -- or from profoundly important efforts to cut greenhouse gasses, reduce pollution, reverse deforestation, slow population growth, and restore nature's balance. But I do claim that arms control issues are deeply relevant to the environmental cause. For it is one more excellent reason -- along with security, economics and others -- to intensify our efforts to contain or banish the deadliest arms.

Let me give you some concrete examples.

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For over fifty years now, we have placed heavy security reliance on the power of the atom -- with major environmental implications. Here, especially it is easy to understand how

The biggest environmental travesty would happen if modern nuclear arsenals were ever used. In 1945, amidst all the other grisly effects of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, only a few observers noted the effects of the smoke. It blocked the sun, chilled the August air, and condensed water vapor that fell back to earth, laden with radioactive soot -- as black rain.

By the 1980s, the United States and the Soviet Union had amassed combined stockpiles of about 65,000 nuclear warheads and bombs. If a large fraction of those were detonated the immediate targets would all be devastated, of course. But, over time, so would much of the planet -- especially in the Northern Hemisphere. Because of the lingering effects -- brought on by pumping so much smoke, soot and debris into the sky -- the earth could produce little food ... so no matter who "won," most survivors on both sides would eventually starve.

The environment has also been threatened as we've been making weapons. For nearly twenty years, nuclear weapons were tested in the atmosphere -- some 210 times by the United States alone. In 1954 a Japanese tuna trawler, the "Lucky Dragon," was hit by fallout from a test. A crew member died, and there was panic in Japan. In our own country, we begin to find elevated levels of radioactive isotopes in milk -- and soon, in children's teeth and bones. Shortly there was a world-wide outcry against testing.

By the late 1950s, President Eisenhower had endorsed a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing and declared a moratorium on our tests, challenging the Soviets to follow suit. In 1963 President Kennedy was able to complete a partial test ban treaty -- which some refer to tongue in cheek as the first clean air act, for while it did not stop nuclear tests, it did drive them underground (where they continued for another thirty years here, and are still going on in China).

Meanwhile, we and the Soviets used the information from those tests to design and build more and better weapons. Since matters of national security tend to override everything else, clean air, water and soil weren't the highest priorities at places like the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington, Rocky Flats in Colorado, Savannah River in South Carolina or Oak Ridge in Tennessee. Hanford, to take one example, is closed -- yet more people work there now, on environmental monitoring and cleanup, than at the peak of its nuclear weapons output.

Nationwide, our total cleanup cost is estimated at several hundred billion dollars, and will take some eighty years to complete. Your grandchildren will still be bearing its consequences and paying its costs.

And the situation in the former Soviet Union is far worse. For example, over the course of several years, radioactive waste from Chelyabinsk-65, one of their key nuclear weapons production facilities, was pumped directly into a nearby river. When the contamination spread too far downriver, they started draining this waste into a nearby lake. Eventually, a hot summer followed a dry winter, water evaporated, and strong winds blew radioactive dust from the lake bed over a vast area, affecting some 41,000 people.

With nuclear weapons, even the good news has sobering elements. Today, the United States and Russia are dismantling nuclear weapons. But that means adding hundreds of tons to the stocks of radioactive materials that need disposal. We haven't yet resolved how to get rid of spent fuel from power reactors. And now we're dealing with substances -- highly enriched uranium, or HEU, and plutonium -- that are not only hazardous to human health, but could be used to make more nuclear weapons if they found their way into the wrong hands.

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Consider another kind of weapon of mass destruction.

On the first Earth Day angry students wore gas masks to protest the quality of the air they were breathing. That was an option not available to those who first encountered chemical warfare. In 1915, clouds of chlorine gas drifted through the trenches in Belgium, blinding and asphyxiating their victims. Modern versions are much more efficient. A pinhead-size drop of nerve agent can induce convulsions, loss of muscular control, and certain death through paralysis of the lungs and other organs.

Chemical weapons are also treacherous to make, keep and dispose of. In 1990, millions of dead fish washed up on nearly 40 miles of shoreline in the former Soviet Union. Suspicions settled first on a possible radiation leak from an aging nuclear submarine. But then nearly all the dead fish tested positive for mustard gas -- a legacy from ocean dumping after World War II.

U.S. chemical weapons are stored at eight locations across the continental United States and on Johnston Island, about 700 miles south and west of Hawaii. At some of those sites a number of M55 rockets, loaded with nerve agent, have been leaking a vapor. There's no conclusive evidence of the cause, but one theory is that the stabilizer in the fuel is deteriorating, which could increase the risk of accidental ignition.

The Defense Department lists 200 other sites where chemical weapons or materials may have been disposed of in ways now considered unsafe. One of the first to be cleaned up was here in Washington, at Camp American University, where chemical weapons were simply dumped into a pit and buried during World War I.

Russia has a declared chemical weapons arsenal of 40,000 metric tons of agent. Our own stockpile is 30,000 tons. Some twenty other countries also have chemical weapons programs or capabilities -- among them such model world citizens as Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea. Last year in a Tokyo subway, we saw the first use of chemical weapons -- the nerve agent sarin -- not by governments but terrorists, against an urban civilian population. Chemical weapons are a security and environmental nightmare.

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My third example operates on a much smaller scale than nuclear or chemical weapons, yet has produced for many countries a monstrous environmental hazard. Picture yourself walking across a stretch of countryside, not knowing whether your next step will fall on safe, solid earth -- or on a landmine that can instantly take your legs or even your life.

Antipersonnel landmines used to be laid in fields and mapped. Now they're often scattered at random, perhaps out of an airplane, with no record to guide anyone who might want to return and dig them up. They used to be fairly bulky and made mostly of metal. Now they often approximate a hockey puck made mostly of undetectable plastic. They're dispersed in wartime, maybe covered with a little brush or dirt, and forgotten.

These landmines last for about thirty years on average. The armed conflict eventually ends -- but the mine doesn't know that. Then a child at play or a farmer at work comes along and becomes a new casualty of an ended war.

In the time we spend together here today, it's unlikely that a nuclear or chemical weapon will kill an innocent bystander -- but it's almost certain that at least one landmine will. It happens to about 500 people a week.

There are nearly a hundred million of these mines, in as many as 80 countries around the world, buried but alive. In Cambodia there are more mines under the ground than people above the ground. The heavy concentrations of mines in Bosnia are endangering American troops on a mission of peace.

Mines cost a few dollars to make -- and hundreds of dollars to detect and clear. The total number of emplaced mines is increasing by about two million per year.

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Having painted this gloomy picture, let me now fill in a few areas of light.

Today, the race to build nuclear arsenals has been transformed into a race to take them down. Under the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, we and Russia are watching each other slice up missiles and bombers, and have further agreed to reduce our deployed nuclear arsenals to roughly one-third their peak levels. And under the President's detargeting initiative, we no longer aim the remaining weapons at each other.

We are making great strides to limit the spread of nuclear arms. Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, for example, were all left with nuclear weapons when the Soviet Union broke up. All agreed to renounce them, and the agreements are being kept.

Last year, against uphill odds, the United States led the way in extending forever the instrument -- the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT -- that stands as the main reason why there are only five declared nuclear weapon states today, and not twenty or more, as many in the 1960s predicted would happen. It was the NPT, for example, that would have enabled United Nations sanctions had North Korea not come to terms on questions about its nuclear program.

Just in the last few weeks, the United States has signed on to two nuclear weapon free zones -- one covering the South Pacific; the other, all of Africa. These add to earlier treaties for Latin America and the Antarctic, which the United States also supports. So for more than 100 countries -- including nearly all of the Southern Hemisphere -- there is now a commitment not to use, threaten to use, test, or even station nuclear weapons.

President Clinton has brought within reach the historic goal that eluded President Eisenhower -- a truly comprehensive ban on all nuclear tests by anyone, anywhere, forever. In 1993 the President put the United States squarely in favor of a test ban, so negotiations could begin in Geneva. Then last August, he endorsed a true zero yield treaty, with no exceptions. The test ban is arms control's longest-sought, hardest-fought prize. If the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva does its job, we should complete it in the first half of this year.

That will erect another barrier against proliferation. You can build a primitive nuclear bomb without testing. But remember that our first one was so big they had to dig a trench under a B-29 bomber to fit it on board. It's much harder without testing to use the advanced designs needed for weapons to fit on light aircraft, rudimentary missiles, even in a terrorist's luggage.

And the test ban will also prevent any renewed race to make better nuclear weapons. Whatever the future holds in Russia, China and elsewhere, we will be grateful we locked all nations in place on the nuclear weapons learning curve.

Some of the hardest work on nuclear weapons still lies ahead. We need to negotiate further limits, control the warheads themselves, and look to their ultimate elimination. We need to improve international safeguards on nuclear materials. We must come to terms with safety and security issues like those to be addressed at this week's summit in Moscow.

But we are making real progress on what the President has rightly called "the most ambitious agenda to dismantle and fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction since the atom was split."

* * * *

That also applies to chemical weapons. The United States is getting rid of its chemical weapons stockpile. With support from the National Academy of Sciences, the Army has chosen incineration as its method. At Johnston Island, under strict environmental controls, more than two million pounds of nerve and mustard agent have already been destroyed. Our stockpile should be gone by 2004.

Meanwhile, we want other countries to follow our lead. So President Reagan sought, President Bush secured, and President Clinton has pushed the Senate to approve a treaty that will not just limit the use of chemical weapons, but ban them outright -- including their production, stockpiling, even simple possession. And it will apply the most ambitious rules ever negotiated to catch cheaters -- including short-notice challenge inspections of suspect sites, private as well as governmental.

The Convention has been awaiting Senate action for more than two years. At last, after thirteen separate hearings by three committees, Senator Helms' Foreign Relations Committee is required by a unanimous consent agreement to report the Convention out by the end of this month -- or to be discharged, so the Treaty can be brought straight to the Senate. It still must be scheduled for debate and a vote.

I hope that will happen this summer. Our ratification will increase pressure on Russia to do the same. They haven't been ready to implement our Bilateral Destruction Agreement -- in part, we're told, because environmental groups are concerned about Russia's plans for destruction. Well, good. But we are, in fact, working closely with Russia on safe and affordable ways to eliminate chemical weapons, to serve both of our countries and our planet.

The Chemical Weapons Convention will put the chemical weapons genie back in the bottle and incinerate the bottle. We should not delay any longer a vital new instrument to protect our security and our environment.

* * * *

The landmine challenge has several answers. One is to find and eliminate mines now in place -- a painstaking process many countries are now supporting with us.

A second, intermediate step would help keep the problem from getting any worse. We can require mines to be powered by batteries that die, typically in about 40 days. Whenever we replace a 30-year mine with a short-life mine, we reduce by more than 99 percent the risk that it will hurt a civilian. We've been negotiating that for three years, and have a very good chance of finishing in the next month. My representative on those negotiations, incidentally, is the father of a 1991 Sidwell graduate, Lisa Sherman.

The best answer in the longer term, of course, is that anti-personnel landmines should simply be banned, which President Clinton has set as our ultimate goal.

* * * *

This has touched on only some of our arms control agenda, leaving out such things as biological weapons, missiles, the trade in advanced conventional arms, and many others. But I hope it has been enough to help identify arms control as an important part of the environmental challenge. For war today can be as lethal to the environment as to human life; to the extent arms control makes war less likely, or less devastating, we serve the environment too.

Last week at Stanford University, Secretary of State Christopher detailed how environmental issues are being put "where they belong: in the mainstream of American foreign policy." For as the Secretary observed, "pollution respects no boundaries." And of course, the most powerful arms are designed to cross boundaries. So efforts to control both must be global.

These are, after all, intensely practical issues. We control the ways we fight, and the ways we make a living and use our air, water, and land, not only because it is noble to do so, but because this is the only way we can survive, be healthy, and remain civilized.

In peace and war, we have achieved technologies that literally can destroy us.

To borrow from Vice President Gore, "The choice is ours; the earth is in the balance."