Magazine article Insight on the News

Weapons Pact May Expose U.S. to Chemical Arms

Magazine article Insight on the News

Weapons Pact May Expose U.S. to Chemical Arms

Article excerpt

Perhaps it is an omen. Just as the Clinton administration was launching its final push the first week in April to coerce the Senate into ratifying a defective Chemical Weapons Convention treaty, or CWC, with a public-relations extravaganza at the White House, that morning's Washington Post published a stunning bit of news:

Even as former Bush administration Secretary of State James Baker was warning of dire repercussions if the United States failed to approve the CWC he helped to negotiate, people all over town were reading that Russia deliberately was violating another chemical-weapons accord for which he directly was responsible. Under the U.S.-Russian Bilateral Destruction Agreement, or BDA, first outlined in Wyoming in 1989 by Baker and then Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, the Russians were not supposed to be producing any more chemical weapons. But, the Post reported that Jane's Land-Based Air Defense 1997-98 -- a highly respected London-based defense publication -- confirmed that the Russians recently have developed three lethal nerve agents.

Unfortunately, Baker was not the only luminary participating in the White House fandango for the CWC whose rhetoric seemed disconnected from reality. Alas, not a few of them were Republicans, notably Defense Secretary William Cohen, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.

Compared with President Clinton's performance on this occasion, however, these gentlemen appeared more deluded than disingenuous. By contrast, Clinton persisted, on issue after issue, in grossly overselling the benefits of this convention, misrepresenting its terms and/or understating its costs. Consider the following:

* The president declared that by ratifying the CWC, the United States has "an opportunity now to forge a widening international commitment to banish poison gas from the Earth in the 21st century." This is the sort of wish-marquerading-as-fact that has been much in evidence in presidential statements to the effect that "there are no Russian missiles pointed at our children."

The truth -- as even more-honest CWC advocates acknowledge -- is that not a single country of concern, or for that matter no subnational terrorist group, that wishes to maintain a covert chemical-weapons program will be prevented from doing so by this treaty. Neither are they likely to be caught at it if they do. And even if they are, there is a negligible chance the international community will be willing to punish them for doing so. This hardly is the stuff of which effective banishment is made. …

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