Hapless Chemical Weapons Policy Threatens US Security

The Center for Security Policy decried recently disclosed initiatives by the Bush Administration and by some members of Congress that threaten to derail long-overdue modernization of the U.S. chemical deterrent arsenal.

Yesterday’s Washington Post reported that the Administration is considering a decision to cut back on planned production of modern, binary chemical weapons (CW). Some in the executive branch evidently believe that this action is necessary in light of the president’s proposal, announced last month at the United Nations, to conclude a global ban on all such weapons and, as an interim step, to reduce dramatically the size of the American CW stockpile.

According to The Post, this view is shared by Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dante B. Fascell. These key congressional figures are said, in particular, to be highly critical of one facet of the Bush Administration’s current CW approach: They are urging the president to abandon the idea of continuing U.S. production of chemical weapons after a treaty banning chemical weapons has been concluded.

This step has correctly been judged by President Bush to be necessary to ensure that such chemical weapons as the United States maintains during the lengthy period provided for drawdown and destruction of declared CW arsenals remain effective and safe.

"Unfortunately, preserving a credible U.S. chemical stockpile — a capability that has, historically proven to be the only reliable means of deterring chemical attack — is certain to become increasingly problematic given the Administration’s internally inconsistent policies in this area," Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., the Center’s director said. "Indeed, yesterday’s revelations are simply among the first of the chickens born of these policies coming home to roost."

The Center believes that President Bush and his Administration simply cannot have it both ways: They must choose between preserving a small but effective chemical deterrent and pursuing a treaty that every responsible expert knows can neither be verified nor counted upon to eliminate the threat of chemical attack.

In an analysis released on 3 October 1989 entitled Banning Chemical Weapons: Negotiating Unilateral U.S. Disarmament, the Center reiterated earlier calls for the Bush Administration to make the only prudent choice: The United States must retain a powerful disincentive to the use of chemical weapons against it and its allies by continuing to replace obsolete munitions with safe ones as a residual deterrent stockpile. America must, accordingly eschew the temptation to accede to a superficially appealing but ultimately dangerous and unverifiable treaty that would prevent America — but not others — from possessing chemical weapons.

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