Magazine article Arms Control Today

Rumsfeld Wants to Use Riot Control Agents in Combat

Magazine article Arms Control Today

Rumsfeld Wants to Use Riot Control Agents in Combat

Article excerpt

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE Donald Rumsfeld said February 5 that he is trying to write rules of engagement that would allow the U.S. military to use "nonlethal riot agents" in some situations-and perhaps in Iraq-without breaking the law. It is a difficult task, he said, citing "a treaty that the United States signed" and "existing requirements."

In his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Rumsfeld was most likely referring to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and an executive order that then-President Gerald Ford issued on April 8,1975.

The United States signed the CWC in January 1993, and it entered into force in April 1997. The treaty bans the possession and use of chemical weapons but allows the use of "toxic chemicals and their precursors" in "law enforcement including domestic riot control purposes," provided that "the types and quantities are consistent with such purposes." In addition, the CWC allows states-parties to possess "riot control agents," defined as chemicals that "can produce rapidly in humans sensory irritation or disabling physical effects which disappear within a short time following termination of exposure."

The CWC, however, bans the use of riot control agents "as a method of warfare." (See ACT, December 2002.) The gray area between using riot control agents for domestic law enforcement and for warfare remains undefined. Some proponents of using riot control agents overseas argue that law enforcement allows for military missions such as peacekeeping and counterterrorism. Some opponents argue that using riot control agents beyond domestic law enforcement would certainly undermine the CWC and might also violate U.S. obligations under the treaty.

In addition to restrictions under the CWC, the U.S. military is also limited by Executive Order 11850. The order states that "the United States renounces. …

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