Dangers of Chemical Warfare Can't Be Papered over with a Treaty

Article excerpt

Just because the Cold War is over does not mean that the great divide in foreign policy thinking has vanished - the one between wishful thinkers and realists.

Oh, that's not the way the wishful thinkers would put it. They'd say that they are the party against (pick one or more) (1) war, (2) nuclear holocaust and (3) chemical and biological weapons. The hopes of the wishful thinkers have a history of being codified in lovely sounding international treaties. The current incarnation is the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Chemical and biological weapons are horrifying and vile. But the question the U.S. Senate must ask as it considers whether to ratify the treaty is this: Will a piece of paper and one more United Nations bureaucracy really make the United States or the world any safer from the threat of these weapons? The answer, regrettably, is no. The real world answer to fear is reason, not a feel-good treaty that could make things worse. Reason told us that only deterrence, not treaties (and there were many), kept us safe from nuclear attack during the Cold War. Deterrence keeps us safe still, which is why we are not dismantling our nuclear arsenal. Deterrence is the only answer to the chemical and biological threat, as well (along with any defensive technology we can devise, but that's part of deterrence). It was deterrence, not the 1925 Geneva Convention outlawing chemical weapons, that prevented Adolf Hitler from using poison gas in World War II. Remember the pictures of Londoners in the Underground during the early days of the war? They were all equipped with gas masks. Treaty or no, both sides were fully armed with poison and the defensive technologies of masks and uniforms. The treaty was ignored, but the balance of terror ruled. How would we verify compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention? Impossible. Chemical weapons are called the "poor country's nuclear weapons" because they are so cheap and easy to manufacture. The sarin gas that killed so many on the Tokyo subway was made in one small room. Two of the worst chemical agents, phosgene and hydrogen cyanide - both of which were used to devastating effect in World War I - are not banned by the treaty. …