The Chemical Weapons Convention and the United States

- Rajiv Nayan, Research Officer, IDSA


The United States (US), presently, the most influential country of the world, which is busy projecting itself as a leading activist of the international peace after the Cold War, is now involved in a number of arms control and disarmament activities. Some of these activities have resulted in successful conclusion and implementation of treaties and agreements which were shunned by the US on previous occasions. Prominent among them are the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and so on. The CWC, that prohibits use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and direct and indirect transfer of chemical weapons, is hailed by many as a trendsetter. Lawrence S.Eagleburger, Secretary of State during the Bush Administration stated, "The Chemical Weapons Convention is an important part of an international structure that would increase US and global security in the next century."1 Secretary Warren Christopher made a statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 28, 1996, "The Clinton Administration supports this treaty because, it is especially suited to the post-Cold War securtiy environment, where the threat posed by chemical weapons is not limited to one state or group of states."2

James Woolsey, the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), perceives it as " instrument with broad applicability, which can help resolve a wide variety of problems."3 He considered it a "universal tool" for achieving a common goal of eliminating the threat of chemical weapons. However, the relationship between the US and the CWC has never been uniform. During different phases of contemporary history, the relationship has seen many ups and downs. The present paper will concentrate on the US attitude towards chemical arms control and disarmament since World War I, which witnessed the most extensive and large-scale use of chemical weapons. However, the emphasis will be on negotiations that had taken place within formal bodies like the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament (ENDC) of 1961 and its successors, the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament (CCD) and the Conference on Disarmament (CD) as well as puzzling events after the conclusion of the CWC and its opening up for signature, Finally, an attempt will be made to discern whether with the passage of time any pattern in the US attitudes and responses toward chemical disarmament has emerged or not.

The Post-World War I Era

As World War I experienced ample use of chemical weapons, the need to arrive at some agreements to outlaw such weapons was on the agenda among the world leaders because of the pressure of international public opinion. After the end of the War, several agreements were signed in which chemical weapons became a special target, although some of the agreements were exclusively drafted for tackling the menace of this category of weapons. The US, known for adopting isolationism as the guiding principle of its foreign policy, was noted as not a very active participant4 in formulating these agreements. The inaction was not based on any principle or policy. Actually, the appearance of ambiguity was a result of the prolonged and inconclusive debate among different sections of the US armed forces and chemical industry.5 However, it did actively intervene whenever it felt that because of a particular treaty or agreement, its national interests could be hampered. As a result, it did not have much problem in signing and ratifying the Washington Treaty of 1922 that prohibited the use of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases and all analogous liquids, materials and devices in war, which, because of the French objection, was not to enter into force. The US projected its good image without any cost. At the same time, despite producing a draft proposal for the international conference of May 1925 to supervise the trade in chemicals, the US for a long period did not ratify the famous Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare. The Protocol was a side result of this conference, although the US signed it in 1925 itself.

In May 1925 , in the international conference to supervise trade in chemicals, the US representatives stated that for reducing the barbarity of modern warfare, it was imperative to obstruct the traffic in poisonous gases. This would help in promoting the causes of humanity and peace. The American draft carried the popular language of that particular period. According to the draft, "The use in war of asphyxiating poisonous or other gases and all analogous liquids, materials or devices has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world, and a prohibition of such use has been declared in treaties to which a majority of the civilized powers are parties. The High Contracting Parties, therefore, agree absolutely to prohibit the export from their territories of any such asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and all analogous liquids, intended or designed for use in connection with operations of war."6

However, the US acknowledged that it would be problematic to draw a dividing line between warfare gases and legitimate industrial ones. To respond to the disagreements conveyed by other countries on the American draft, the US presented a modified draft which ran as follows: "To the end of lessening the horrors of war and of ameliorating the sufferings of humanity incident thereto, the High Contracting Parties agree to control the traffic in poisonous gases by prohibiting the exportation of all asphyxiating, toxic or deleterious gases and all analogous liquids, materials and devices manufactured and intended for use in warfare under adequate penalities, applicable in all places where such High Contracting Parties exercise jurisdiction or control."7 In principle, countries supported the US stand but many countries emphasised that it would lead to a great divide between chemical weapon have and have-not countries.

Thereafter, the US insisted that defence preparedness against chemical weapons would not be stopped. The US, in 1930, resisted the views expressed by an expert body of the League of Nations that the difficulties in detecting the preparation of chemical warfare could be overcome by internation control.8 Also, because of the US negative outlook towards collective security, the disarmament conference of 1933 failed.

The Post-World War II Era

On December 14,1946, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in which an appeal was made to eliminate all major weapons which were capable of becoming Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). For the purpose, the United Nations Commission for Conventional Armaments asked countries to define WMD so that a definition of major conventional weapons could also be arrived at. Through a draft resolution on September 5, 1947, the US defined the WMD as atomic explosives, radiocative material, lethal chemical and biological weapons, and any weapons developed in the future which have characteristics comparable in destructive effect to those of the atomic bomb or other weapons mentioned above.9 The addition of the word lethal to chemical and biological weapons was questioned. It was felt that it would lead to further confusion.

On this issue the US maintained that the idea behind the use of the word lethal was to clarify whether the weapon in question is deadly or not. The US proposed a revised draft resolution on September 8, 1947. In it the WMD was redefined as "atomic expolosive weapons, radiocative material weapons, lethal chemical and biological weapons, and any weapons developed in the future which have characteristics comparable in destructive effect to those of the atomic bomb or other weapons mentioned above."10 But the disagreement over the issue continued to prevail.

Throughout 1950s, the US did not give any concrete assurance of not using chemical weapons legally and symbolically by ratifying the Geneva Protocol. Some linked it up to nuclear weapons. According to them, after doing it for chemical weapons, the US would also have to do it for nuclear weapons which this country does not want to forego even now. This line was not enthusiastic about the battlefield relevance of the American chemical weapons stockpile of that period and underlined the need of American nuclear weapons to deter the USSR. As an alternative to it, the US kept proposing disclosure and verification of all armed forces and armaments and subsequently increasing reduction and elimination of banned weapons under proper control and safeguards. Surely, the motive was to distract the attention from the American obstinacy of not ratifying the Protocol of 1925. Even many Western writers found these rationales scarcely convincing.

The US and some other countries submitted a programme for General and Comprehensive Disarmament in a Free and Peaceful World to the UN Ten-Nation Committee on March 16, 1960.11 There was a proposal to cover the production of chemical weapons as well as other WMD under it. Later, it was promised that the agreed categories of missiles, aircraft, surface ships, submarines and artillery which can deliver WMD will also be brought under its purview. On October 14 of the same year, the US reiterated the same position in the General Assembly.12

On September 20, 1961, the US and the USSR jointly gave the McCloy-Zorin Statement.13 It called for elimination of all stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, bacteriological and other WMD, the halting of the production and the elimination of all means of delivery of such weapons. Also, partial measures of disarmament were visualised. In the same month, the US submitted a three-stage plan to the General Assembly.14 It had provisions for a Chemical, Biological, Radiological (CBR) Expert Commission with the objective of examining and reporting on the feasibility and means for accomplishing the verifiable reduction and the elimination of CBR weapons stockpiles, and halting of their production was envisioned. Still, it had reservations on the complete distruction of WMD.

Establishment of the Formal Body

In 1961, the US and the USSR decided to set up a new body, the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC). The body got the UN sanction through a General Assembly Resolution. It had to facilitate the crucial task of arms control and disarmament negotiations in a more meaningful way. There were other members, including India, in the body. Many separate and joint proposals submitted to it did not lead to substantial path-breaking agreements in any field in the initial years. In the realm of chemical weapons, the US was found recommending almost the same plan it had put forward in different fora earlier.

Almost all the issues on which the US had expressed reservations before the beginning of negotiations in the formal structure continued to dog the body, though most of the contentious issues were resolved in the process. The American participation in the deliberations of the formal bodies did not stop it from practising diplomacy outside the formal bodies. In the formal body, it sometimes participated with the Western capitalist countries and on many occasions, it went alone, too. Also, the later phase saw it participating with the old socialist countries, for the simple reason that the socialist bloc had lost its relevance in international politics with the end of the Cold War.

In the CCD, the issue of banning development, production and stockpiling of chemical and biological weapons became conflictual. Before 1968, the international community always clubbed chemical and biological weapons together. Any effort to deal with one variety had to take care of the other, too. When negotiations for the elimination of both varieties of weapon began, biological weapons were militarily almost redundant for the US, while chemical weapons were much in use. It had extensively deployed and used chemical weapons in the killing fields of Vietnam. The US favoured separate treatment for both categories of weapons. The socialist and non-aligned countries maintained that both are WMD which use similar means of delivery and have been treated collectively in numerous international agreements. It was feared that the Geneva Protocol might be weakened because of the attempt to separate the two. These countries also cited evidences to prove that there is little strategic and tactical difference in use between these two categories.15

The US disagreed with these countries.16 It did not hold the view that the entire category of chemical weapons should be classified as WMD. It wanted relaxation for incapacitating agents, while it had no objections in calling the entire category of biological weapons as WMD. According to the US, there is no similarity between the two categories on potential toxicity, speed of action, duration of effect, specificity, controllability and residual effects. Interestingly, the most pressing reason for a complete ban, as put forward by the US, was ineffectiveness and uselessness of biological weapons in war; so, there were hardly any substantial research activities undertaken by countries. In this scenario, verification would not pose a serious problem, as stated by the US. The country further contended that it would be very difficult to re-use biological weapons after elimination; and in this way, the Geneva Protocol, instead of getting weakened would grow stronger.

By 1972, the conclusion of the Biological Weapons Convention became a reality but any such thing for chemical weapons did not find consensus in the community of nations, then. However, the world public opinion turned restless and started paying attention to the menace emanating from this category of weapons when the United States used it in Indo-China. There was a growing demand for adherence to the 1925 Geneva Protocol. The problem of definition of chemical weapons, a big stumbling block in the way of a ban, kept surfacing even with the formation of the formal body.

In 1966, the United States maintained that the Geneva Protocol was designed with the intention of prohibiting the deadly gases like mustard gas and phosgene, not all gases like tear-gases. It further opined that "...whether or not, or by what procedure, states which had not yet done so, should adhere to the Geneva Protocol, was for each of them to decide in the light of constitutional and other considerations that may determine their adherence to any international instrument. What could be done, however, was to obtain public expression of intent to observe strictly the objectives and the principles of the Protocol."17 Also, it was stated that "it would be unreasonable to contend that any rule of international law prohibits the use in combat against an enemy, for humanitarian purposes, of agents that governments around the world commonly use to control riots by their own people."18 Also, it was expressed that the Protocol did not apply to herbicides.

For some, the November 1969 statement of the American President19 was assumed as a major policy shift; in reality, it was not. The statement renounced the first use of lethal and incapacitating chemicals against any country but with the same old reservations on harassing and anti-plant agents. Even the proposal for the Senate ratification of August 1970 had no condition for biological weapons and certain conditions for chemical weapons.20

On chemical weapons, the American reservation went beyond its stand on tear-gas and herbicides. The US gave a strategic angle. Believing chemical weapons have got battlefield uses, the US stated that if a nation is attacked with chemical weapons and is not able to retaliate, the aggressor nation gets an edge in this case. On the use of nuclear weapons for chemical attack, the US maintained that it would hamper the very concept of providing arms control solutions. They also viewed that there would be no effective ban on the use of chemical weapons as the draft proposed by the socialist bloc was without any provision for this, and for them, the Geneva Protocol did not favour complete ban on chemical weapons use. So, the US and others averred that this draft could not be a starting point for negotiations.

Quite naturally, the US continued to have reservations21 on the 1969 report22 of the UN Secretary-General on the definition of chemical weapons. In the report, chemical agents of warfare were defined as chemical substances, whether gaseous, liquid or solid which might be employed because of their direct toxic effects on man, animals and plants.

Although, in principle, the US had been opposing the use of chemical weapons in war, still on account of a number of reasons the very issue of prohibition was resisted by the US. The US finally ratified the Geneva Protocol on April 10,1975,23 but it again made it very much clear that the Protocol would only stop first use of chemical weapons, not retaliatory use. In 1991, the US, at last, agreed to a complete ban on the use of chemical weapons in warfare24; there is no scope for retaliatory use now.

In addition to herbicides and riot control agents, the US maintained that dual-purpose chemicals should also be put on the list of permitted activities. It also wanted the use of chemicals in a few special military operations like the use of tear-gas for riot-control, in prisoner-of-war camps as well as the use of anti-plant agents for clearing vegetation around the country's own military bases.25 Also, the US was reluctant to give up its stock of binary weapons as a lethal chemical could be produced only when the two chemicals are put in the stationary munition form of a compound. This escape route of the US was resisted by other countries. The international community evolved two models26 to resolve the problem of determining the criterion of declaring chemical weapons. One was the criterion of purpose, while another was the criterion of toxicity. The US suggested standardisation of the experimental procedures27, to make toxicity measurements from different laboratories consistent. At the same time, it did underline the absence of a toxicity criterion clearly separating single-purpose supertoxic chemical warfare agents from dual-purpose chemicals. The US was hoping that binary weapon components might skirt the criterion of toxicity because these chemicals were assumed harmless, if not mixed.

After a prolonged discussion, the US, finally, agreed to make the Convention comprehensive. So, apart from use, it was decided that prohibition would be extended to development,production, stockpiling, possession, transfers, and retention of chemical weapons. This decision was an outcome of a bilateral agreement between the US and the USSR.28 The two countries also supported the idea of not assisting, encouraging or inducing others to carry out the prohibited activities of the Convention and at the same time not blocking certain activities which are otherwise not objectionable. These activities, put forward as permitted activities, the US maintained, had no relevance in the context of warfare.29

By 1979, the US preferred the banning of supertoxic lethal chemicals like nerve gas, while lethal chemicals like phosgene and not so lethal but highly toxic incapacitants were favoured to be left out along with certain chemical munitions like spray tanks.30 In 1983, the US insisted that transfer of supertoxic lethal chemicals or key precursors produced or acquired for protective purposes should be banned to anyone other than another party. In any case, the transfer of weapons should not have exceeded 100 grammes within a year and it had to be accompanied with an advance notice.31

There was an intense debate on the issue of bringing private companies and facilities, which were not directly involved in the production of chemical weapons, under the jurisdiction of the Convention. The Soviet Union also sought clarification on the status of the subsidiaries of transnational chemical corporations. The idea was to fix the responsibility of the state to keep track of the possible activities related to chemical weapons. Till 1987, the US asked to focus on facilities or establishments which have direct involvement instead of diversifying activities on indirect establishments and facilities.32 The US promised that any outside branch of an organisation constituted under the US law would have to abide by the obligations agreed to by the US government. In 1990, in a bilateral agreement, the US decided to settle the pugnacious issue of binary weapons.33

Destruction of chemical weapons was also an important area of continuous disagreement among different countries during the process of negotiations. In 1974, Canada gave the idea of phased destruction of chemical weapons.34 In 1979, the US and the USSR agreed to destroy or divert the means of chemical warfare for permitted purposes within ten years of any country becoming party to the CWC.35 It was proposed that the destruction would be started not later than eight years after any country became party to the Convention. The size of the accumulated stocks was given as the main rationale of the longer time gap. The US proposed36 to start destruction of the chemical weapon production and filling facilities not later than six months after the date on which the CWC enters into force. It also favoured that a chemical weapon production or filling facility could be temporarily converted for destruction of chemical weapons. After the use, it had to be destroyed. In 1988, the US proposed that within nine years of entering into force of the CWC, all states parties possessing chemical weapons should start their destruction.

In yet another proposal the US mooted that all stockpiles be levelled off over eight years.37 Still, the American proposal of keeping 2 per cent of the arsenals was an irritant in the way of the CWC. During a meeting between the then Secretary of State of the US, James Baker, and the then Soviet Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, in Moscow in 1990, the USSR accepted the American proposal of destroying upto 5,000 metric tonnes of the stockpiles of both countries and afterwards to destroy the rest of the stockpiles in the first eight years after entry into force of the CWC to a level of 500 tonnes.38 The level of 500 tonnes came to nearly 2 per cent of the total stockpiles of the US of that period. The USSR's approval of 2 per cent maintenance reflected a change, since before that, the USSR had always opposed this proposal.

The two main players of international politics in yet another bilateral agreement reached a consensus on the destruction of chemical weapons. The agreement fixed a time-table for the destruction programme. Over a period of time, the US discussed various means of the destruction of chemical weapons in an environment-friendly and safe manner. In 1990, an order for destruction of chemical weapons and chemical weapon production facilities was accepted.39 It was agreed that chemical weapons would be destroyed every year in equal quantity during the first eight years. At the end of the eighth year, the total amount of chemical weapons was not expected to cross 500 tonnes or 20 per cent of the quantity of chemical weapons declared by a state party, whichever is less. In 1991, George Bush stated that the US had no objection in destroying all of its chemical weapons within ten years of the entry into force of the Convention.40 With this the controversy surrounding the 2 per cent solution was ended forever.


The task of arriving at a consensus on the elaborate verification network, the salient feature of the CWC, had been extremely fractious. Countries with different economic, political, and security systems had different proposals for a future verification system. The US, too, had its own perception of the model of verification under the Convention. From time to time, the US submitted draft proposals to design the verification architecture. Beside reflecting its viewpoint inside, the US shaped even verification measures by activities outside of the formal body of negotiations. The most outstanding had been the decisions arrived at in several bilateral meetings with the USSR. In most of the cases, the decisions were later transmitted to the formal body.

The US, in the early 1970s, did not support the Soviet offer in which there was no provision for institutionalised international machinery to procure or analyse data. There was an arrangement for mere voluntary exchange of information among countries and data procured only in this way could be analysed to serve the purpose of verification. In 1974, for the first time, the US felt that economic monitoring could be used as a possible control system with the purpose of checking diversion of phosphorous from general manufacturing channels to nerve agent production.41 By 1978, the US and the USSR realised the importance of a combination of national and international methods of verification.42 For many years, both countries maintained that a routine check of the civilian chemical industry was impractical and undesirable and an optional challenge inspection would be sufficient to clear doubts. Still, the US had a different point of view on mandatory international on-site inspection. Unlike the USSR, it treated such a verification as inevitable for proper screening of destruction work. Importantly, it was because of the problem of verification that the US did not support the idea of diversion of chemicals to permitted purposes.

The American draft proposal of 1984 suggested special international inspection of any relevant location or facility owned or controlled by a member-state.43 The Soviet Union, the country primarily with state-controlled industries, objected to this discriminatory proposal. The US, afterwards, made an amendment whereby on-site inspection was to cover all relevant locations and facilities.44 America reiterated its stand on mandatory inspection, while the socialist bloc continued with their emphasis on keeping the nature of inspection voluntary and that the country must have the right of refusal. Later, the US gave a sketch of a step-by-step approach of verification.

The Soviet Union gave an alternative proposal such as visual inspection of the suspected facility without entering it; however, subsequently, if needed partial access to this type of facility, collection and analysis of air and water samples of the suspected sites, etc. were offered in the Soviet proposal. But in the US view, the arrangement was not adequate for detecting the contents of a suspect munition bunker; so, it proposed mandatory right of access to any location within the shortest possible time in place of on-site inspection. However, in 1989, the US and the USSR in a bilateral agreement were ready to exchange data and allow on-site inspection to ascertain the accuracy of the data.45 In yet another bilateral agreement, it was decided that there could be on-site inspection during and after the destruction process to verify whether destruction had properly taken place or not.46 By 1990, the US also abandoned the principle of anytime anywhere which was being pronounced since 1984.

On July 15, 1991, the US presented a new proposal47 with Australia, Japan and the UK. The time-frame within which access to a requested site should be negotiated and accepted was extended from the previous 48 hours up to 168 hours. Introduction of four differently defined parameters of access like initial, alternate, provisional and final, was made. The change in the American stance was a reflection of drastic developments in the international system. The American interests now called for preventing potential abuse of the challenge verification instead of focussing on an effective verifiable CWC. Several new terms were coined to express the idea of challenge inspection in a soft manner.

Executive Council

In 1984, the US proposed48 that the composition of the executive council would be limited to a sub-set of about 15 parties. The super blocs favoured the notion of permanent members in the council. The seats were to be occupied by the main chemical manufacturing countries. The great powers also favoured granting of the highest portion of seats to those states which produce or supply chemicals. Consequently, the chemical weapon states could have controlled their own supplies. It was opposed by many other countries.

The Conclusion of the Convention

Finally, on September 3, 1992, in the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, the draft text of the CWC was concluded. It was subsequently, unanimously endorsed by the UN General Assembly in November 1992. It was opened for signature on January 13 in Paris. The US was one of the first batch of countries to sign it. To turn operational, it needed deposits of ratification of 65 countries. The US, that had taken extra interest in the last leg of the conclusion of the Convention, took too much time in ratifying the convention. The opposition of an important section of the American establishment, in fact, was responsible for the delay. In the Senate, the pack was being led by the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms.

A few non-signatory countries known as the hold-out states such as Syria, Libya, Iraq were used by the opponents of the Convention. These countries were projected as threats to American security. Several studies conducted by different American agencies have declared them as "potential" and "possible" possessors of chemical weapons. In reality, it was the fear of the use of chemical weapons by the West Asian countries, more especially in the Gulf War, which prompted the US to conclude the Convention hastily. The US felt that by disarming countries possessing the poor man's atom bomb, the country with a nuclear bomb could have a decisive edge in a battlefield situation.

It was further argued that the very concept of verification already perceived to be not cent percent perfect would be completely absent in the context of these hold-out states. The task of verification, it was maintained, would become more complicated and resultantly, ineffective in closed societies like China and North Korea.49 It was also contended that the Convention does not even prohibit phosgene and hydrogen cyanide which are the "backbone" of the Iranian chemical weapon stockpile. Actually, these chemicals are now known for their commercial purposes rather than for military uses. For the latter, there are many types of chemicals available. Some of the chemicals50 like Novichoks and the highly toxic fluorine compound called Agent Z that Canada and the UK researched and considered a candidate chemical warfare agent in 1940-41 are also not included. Most of the newly developed and "undiscovered" chemicals are believed to be in the stockpile of the developed countries like the US.

The opponents also viewed that the association of the US with a mechanism like the CWC might promote complacency and finally, lax defence preparedness against chemical weapons. At the backdrop of this arguments were the revelations about gas effects on Allied soldiers in the Gulf War. It was stated that over 5,000 soldiers were affected because of the destruction of the chemical ammunition depot in Southern Iraq.

Besides, it was put forward that Articles X and XI of the Convention, which lay down fullest possible exchange of information for protection against chemical weapons as well as for the development and application of chemistry for purposes not prohibited under the Convention, all have the potentiality to expose the civil population along with soldiers to chemical attacks proliferated by the US itself. It is a corollary to the thinking that there is hardly any technological difference between the prescribed and proscribed purposes of the Convention.

It was sensed that all these factors would deny American soldiers a level playing field. This might lead to "lack of desire" of the soldiers to fight a battle. Definitely, all these fears and apprehensions were highly exaggerated. No country described as a threat to the US has a capability to reach the continental US. Taepo Dong-3 is a mythical concept well promoted and propagated by the American themselves. Moreover, the ex-Defence Secretary, William Perry, had already threatened to use nuclear weapons against chemical attacks.51 The hold-out states are not as irrational as they were portrayed. They understand the disaster which can follow after a chemical attack on the US.

For a Gulf War type of situation, the US chemical defence programme had already consumed too much of resources. If the research work undertaken so far has not produced the desired results, the US should go through a thorough introspection of its existing system. It should not hesitate in properly restructuring itself, once it is required.

There were certain economics based arguments, too. Opponents expressed concern "over the short-notice inspection" as well as unintended consequences for non-chemical industries such as automatives, food processing, bio-technology, distilleries and brewers, electronics, soaps and detergents, cosmetics and fragrances, paints, textiles, non-nuclear electric utility operators, ball point pen ink manufacturers, etc. They also argued that the reporting requirements and risks of intrusive on-site inspection of chemical and other above mentioned industries would be very costly. This cost could affect the competitiveness of the US industry.

In an environment of equal burden-sharing by all countries with chemical industries, the argument that the competitiveness of industries of a developed country like the US was going to be adversely affected is in no way convincing. Stanley A. Weiss, the Chairman of Business Executives for National Security, an organisation of the US business leaders, too, confronted this thinking. He wrote, "Of 25,000 US companies, only 200 are ever likely to be liable to on-site inspections. In an industry subject to continuing inspections by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and which fills out more forms than almost any other sector, the addition of a simple one-page report on chemical weapons compliance each year can hardly be considered a major paperwork burden."52 It was also visualised that the benefits from the Convention will outbalance costs accruing from it. According to an assessment made in June 1996, there would be a loss of $60 billion to US export business and the thousands of US jobs associated with it because of the postponement of a vote in the Senate.53 Besides, the Convention has detailed provisions for maintaining confidentiality of information. If the US industries are adversely affected, surely, the situation of the industries of developing countries like India will be worse. Actually, the prime motive of the opposition was hegemonic intentions. The US chemical industry did not want to take up minimum obligations for the social cause, while the defence establishment did not want to forego a weapon which can have exclusive uses. In the worst case, even if the Convention is ratified, there might be a move to take a few concessions through pressure tactics. However, the US Senate, after a long drama, ratified the Convention. This decision was a result of a number of developments which took place in the process of the campaign for the ratification of the Convention.

There was a fear among a section of the US chemical industry that buyers would switch over to other developed countries like Japan, Germany and France. The much publicised $60 billion loss was the big factor in inflencing the commercial American mind. The argument that the American involvement with the CWC will incur high cost on the American economy was also countered. It was argued that the US already spends $75 million annually on operations and maintenance of the stockpiled chemical weapons. This amount is four times more than what the US would spend on meeting the Convention requirements.

Other factors like the possibility of withdrawal of many more countries from the Convention, intense lobbying by the US Administration for the fear of loss of the US leadership in the anti-proliferation drive that it felt was very crucial for global and national security, the withdrawal of the veto by Senator Helms, support to the Convention by some Republicans such as Bob Dole and Trent Lott, consensus on certain conditionalities put forward by the opponents of the Convention, and so on, also influenced the decision in favour of ratification. It was noted that sub-national groups and the so-called rogue states would enjoy the upper hand in this case. The statement of Senator John Glenn, that "evidence indicates that more countries are seeking to obtain or retain a chemical weapons capability than to acquire nuclear or biological weapons. Therefore, a truly effective approach to prevent them from succeeding must be global in scope--and the less discriminatory the regime, the broader will be its base of legitimacy in the world community."54

There was a danger of acceleration of chemical proliferation in the absence of moral leadership of the US. It would have an impact on the efficiency of the US troops wearing protective clothes and gear. And it was impossible for the US to use chemical weapons, since it had already made a commitment to destroy its chemical stockpile in a bilateral agreement with the then USSR. There was all possibility of pressure to grow on the US to fulfill old obligations domestically and internationally.

Australia Group

The US has been one of the leading lights of the Australia Group, the cartel formed to stem chemical weapon proliferation. Developing countries have continuously been demanding abolition of the regime, as it has been perceived as an obstruction to free trade of commercial chemicals. On different pretexts, the US and others have ignored the demand of developing countries. The US and the like still find it relevant for chemicals which have not been covered under the CWC. Ultimately, they maintain that the security of developing countries will be getting benefits.


An overview of the US stances, responses and attitude towards chemical disarmament in different phases of contemporary history highlights certain established as well as startling facts. At times, the response appeared flexible but many a time it was too rigid. But the US never compromised its national interests whether it was the phase of the so-called idealism of Woodrow Wilson or democrat Bill Clinton. Any step toward chemical arms control or disarmament was taken only after it was assured that no harm to US interests would be done. Importantly, even in the Senate, the instrument of ratification is not unconditional. It has been attached with certain conditionalities to safeguard US interests. Moreover, of the two options of arms control and disarmament, the inclination of the US had been always toward the former. It was basically because of the pressure exerted by the defence forces which were always resistant to the surrendering of weapons which would have uses and more especially exclusive ones. Earlier, in the American strategy, chemical weapons were important not only to deter chemical weapons of other countries but also to check escalation in nuclear deterrence by presenting a soft WMD option55 to escape the wrath of the international public opinion and, at the same time, to maintain strategic superiority. Needless to mention here, this concept was based on certain unrealistic assumptions. Whatever weapons are surrendered in agreements, these are in almost all cases absolete. Even Western literature has admitted this fact.

The SIPRI Yearbook of 1974 had mentioned, "For those who have stockpiled super-toxic chemical weapons in quantities sufficient to meet their military requirements, the solution described above would amount to the banning of something which they have stopped or were about to stop doing, anyway, without a formal international commitment. The USA, for example, has not produced lethal chemical agents on any scale since 1968 and for some years has been phasing out parts of its chemical-weapon arsenal, principally mustard gas, which the US army considers obsolete, and those nerve gas munitions whose safe storage lifetime has come to an end, or for which delivery systems are now obsolete."56

Never had the US lost hold over the edge. It made all efforts to shield binary munitions. When it came under pressure to give up its stand on the issue, it did so only after making sure that its security was not adversely affected. That there was effective defence was demonstrated with the overt and covert promise of nuclear back-up, which became the real determining factor of the US support to the CWC whether during the negotiations period or after that. In addition to security considerations, the US took proper care of its economic interests. At no stage was the reckoning of profit of the US industry completely ignored. The US always tried to safeguard new inventions so that the industry is in an advantageous position.

There were a number of occasions when the US indulged in certain informal practices quite contrary to the formal utterances it had made. For example, despite continuously renouncing the use of chemical weapons in war, it not only took a long time to ratify the Geneva Protocol but also at least once used this category of weapons in a war. It was also accompanied with incessant defence preparedness. Thus, one final pattern emerges after the study that in an idealistic notion like chemical disarmament, for the US, the prime moving force has never been idealism. The guiding spirit of the US policy, under all circumstances, has been crude realism.



1. Quoted in the US Senate and the Chemical Weapons Convention: The Price of Inaction, (Washington: The Henry L. Stimson Centre, Report No. 18, October 1995). p. III.

2. Secretary Christopher, "Ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention: A Top Priority," US Department of State Despath, April 8, 1996, Vol. 7, No. 15 p. 180.

3. n. 1, p. V.

4. SIPRI, The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare: A Study of the Historical, Technical, Military, Legal and Political Aspects of CBW, and Possible Disarmament Measures, vol. IV, CB Disarmament negotiations, 1920-70 (Stockholm, 1971), p. 18.

5. Frederic J. Brown, Chemical Warfare: A Study in Restraint, (Princeton, 1968), pp. 3-50.

6. Quoted in n. 4, p. 59.

7. Ibid., p. 60.

8. Ibid., p. 105.

9. UN document, S/C.3/Sc.3/7.

10. Ibid., S/C.3/SC.3/7/Rev.1.

11. Disarmament Conference document, TNCD/3.

12. UN document, A/C./L.250.

13. Ibid., A/4879.

14. Ibid., A/4891.

15. n. 4, p. 9.

16. Ibid., p. 290.

17. UN document, A/C.1/PV.1461.

18. Ibid., A/PV.1484.

19. n. 4, p. 280.

20. Ibid., p. 284.

21. Ibid., p. 275.

22. Ibid., pp. 266-274.

23. SIPRI Yearbook 1984, World Armaments and Disarmament, (London, 1984), p. 668.

24. SIPRI Yearbook 1992, World Armaments and Disarmament, (London, 1992), p. 147.

25. SIPRI Yearbook 1980, World Armaments and Disarmament, (London, 1980), p. 365.

26. SIPRI Yearbook 1975, World Armaments and Disarmament, (London, 1975), p. 428.

27. Ibid.

28. n. 25, p. 365-66.

29. Ibid., p. 366.

30. n. 25, p. 365-66.

31. Committee on Disarmament, CD/343.

32. Ibid., CD/403.

33. Moscow Domestic Service GMT, January 16, 1990, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report--Soviet Union (FBIS-SOV), FBIS-SOV-012, January 12, 1990, pp. 6-7.

34. Conference on Disarmament, CD/PV.643.

35. Ibid., CD/PV.227.

36. Ibid., CD/343.

37. Text from US mission in Arms Control Reporter, April 27, 1998, p. 704.

38. International Herald Tribune, May 19-20, 1990.

39. Conference on Disarmament, CD/1033.

40. Ibid., CD/1077.

41. Ibid., CD/48.

42. Ibid., CCD/PV.788.

43. Ibid., CD/CW/WP.132.

44. Ibid., CD/664.

45. Chemical Weapons Convention Bulletin, no. 7, February 1990, p. 17.

46. TASS Internaitonal Service, May 2, 1990 in FBIS-SOV-90-108, June 5, 1990, pp. 10-11.

47. Conference on Disarmament, CD/CW/WP.352.

48. Ibid., CD/500.

49. David Smith, "Go Slow On Chemical Treaty," Defense News, February 3-9, 1997.

50. Chemical Weapons Convention Bulletin, no. 29, September 1995.

51. Arms Control Reporter, July 1996, p. 704.B608.

52. Stanley A. Weiss, "Chemical Weapons: A Valuable Treaty to Ratify," International Herald Tribune.

53. Amy E. Smithson, "Playing Politics with National Security," The Boston Globe, October 7, 1997.

54. Senator John Glenn, "Why the Senate Should Ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention" in n. 1, p. 5.

55. For discussion, see Matthew Meselson ed., Chemical Weapons and Chemical Arms Control, (New York, 1978).

56. SIPRI Yearbook 1974, World Armaments and Disarmament, (London, 1974), p. 374.