April 17, 1997 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Closer To Chemical Warfare

Imagine it's the year 2000 and you have a son or daughter in the U.S. armed forces, stationed in some hot spot like Israel's Golan Heights.

You receive some terrible news: Syria has launched an attack using chemical agents that wreak hideous deaths upon a large number of U.S. troops. You pray your child wasn't in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As you are making urgent calls to find out whether your loved one is safe, a question is gnawing in the back of your mind: "Didn't the United States sign a worldwide ban on chemical weapons? Wasn't the treaty supposed to make it virtually impossible for renegade nations like Syria to get their hands on the frightful stuff?" You resolve to call your congressman and ask about this -- as soon as you find out whether your son or daughter is all right.

When you make that call, what you learn is an outrage: The U.S. Senate ratified a treaty in 1997 that made the use of chemical weapons against American forces more likely, not less!

That's right. If the Senate caves in to a relentless pressure campaign being mounted by the Clinton administration and the professional "arms control" community, it will soon ratify -- hastily and without proper review -- the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), a treaty aimed at "banning" chemical weapons.

This treaty, one of the most potent pieces of politico/military naiveté to come down the pike since President Jimmy Carter, will not just fail in its goal to bar the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons. It actually will disarm the "good guys," like the United States, which are the only countries that will conscientiously abide by the treaty.

This, in turn, will encourage "bad guys" -- rogue nations like Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea -- to build up their chemical stockpiles and possibly use them.

After all, even in World War II, we saw the murderous Nazis refrain from using chemical weapons because they knew "the good guys" could retaliate in kind. Based on the other atrocities they committed, it's hard to imagine they would have behaved in the same way if we hadn't had our own chemical weapons.

As usual, the Clinton administration is not taking foreign policy and U.S. security seriously. The only reason this treaty is being pushed so hard by the White House is because of the political brownie points President Clinton will score for signing such a "humane" document.

Yet, if the Senate allows itself to be rushed to ratification, here's what will happen:

  1. The United States will ban all of its chemical weapons, giving outlaw states that retain them an advantage they would be crazy not to use in a wartime situation;
  2. We will be locked into a treaty that is unverifiable. At a congressional hearing, then Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey admitted "I cannot state that we have a high confidence in our ability to detect non-compliance, especially on a small scale";
  3. Violations will likely go unpunished. The CWC calls for the United Nations to impose sanctions on violators, a weak prospect at best. Besides, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- including two potential manufacturer/violators, Russia and China -- can veto any sanctions imposed on them, or anyone else, by the others;
  4. The risk of chemical weapons proliferation will increase. Article XI of the CWC requires "cooperation" among countries with respect to "the peaceful use of chemicals." Anyone familiar with what happened under a similar arrangement called "Atoms for Peace" in the 1950s knows this will serve to spread the kind of knowledge we "good guys" shouldn't want the "bad guys" to have.

Why put the argument in terms of "good guys" and "bad guys?" Because that's precisely the point that treaties like the CWC fail to recognize; the same truth liberals were never able to face during the Cold War: In this world there are, indeed, good guys and bad guys. "Moral equivalence" is just as much a delusion today as it was when the Soviet Union stood on the brink of world domination.

By treating all nations as moral equals, the Chemical Weapons Convention makes the same fundamental mistake that almost lost the Cold War for America. One would think liberals would have learned this lesson by now.

Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office