Romancing Chemical Warfare

Article excerpt

Ah, the romance of history. The First World War, for example, the war to end all wars. Wasn't that romantic, leading as it did to the Treaty of Versailles, the treaty to end all treaties? And the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which unequivocally condemned "recourse to war for the solution of international controversies?" All of 62 nations ratified this romantic document, which proclaimed that the settlement of all conflicts, no matter of what origin or nature, should be sought by only peaceful means.

Germany joyously signed the Pact in 1928, and eight years later Hitler's troops joyously crossed the Rhine, which perhaps led a distinguished American historian to call Hitler an "authoritarian romantic." Which certainly gives us a new view of romanticism. The New York Times, furthermore, a romantic journal if ever there was one, promised that after crossing the Rhine Hitler would be restrained from further aggressive action by "world opinion." Which might lead you to think world opinion doesn't amount to much.

But we're now engaged in another vast, romantic endeavor, the banishment forever of chemical weapons from the face of the earth. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which a lot of nice countries have already signed and on which Congressional hearings were conducted only last week, has come to the fore in removing this curse. Of course we already have the Geneva Convention of 1925 banning chemical warfare - as well as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which bans war itself. So with chemical warfare and war itself already banned, one might wonder just how far this new ban gets us.

All of these pacts and conventions are unenforceable, needless to say, and the new CWC banning manufacture of chemical weapons, however improved, is still unverifiable. Since you can make chemical weapons in a space the size of your garage you can't even tell if countries are complying or not. And one wonders, while great nations are romantically dreaming about reducing the horrors of war, why they don't go after biological warfare, which is far more lethal than chemical. A crop duster flying over the Capitol Mall in Washington daintily spaying it with anthrax would kill a million people. If you're going to dream romantic dreams, why not make them really big?

So how about a Biological Warfare Convention, which whenever it suits them would be ignored at will by Iraq, Libya, and North Korea -none of which will sign - just as Iraq already blatantly ignored the Geneva Convention prohibiting the use of poison gas. Does anyone think that Iran, which believe it or not has actually signed the CWC ban, would actually be restrained by a sense of decency from breaking its word? What happened to Iraq as punishment for using chemical weapons against the rebellious Kurds? That's right. Nothing.

Of course a number of high-minded gentlemen who've concerned themselves with arms control feel that it's better to set a norm on chemical weapons and have it broken than not to have a norm at all. …