Four Principles for Curtailing The Proliferation of Biological andChemical Arms

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Four Principles for Curtailing The Proliferation of Biological andChemical Arms

August 19, 1991 25 min read Download Report
Baker Spring
Baker Spring
Former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy
Baker is a former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy


One of the greatest fears during the Persian Gulf war was that Iraq would attack American GIs with biological and chemical weapons. This fear is one reason why George Bush is pursuing simultaneously several arms control initiatives designed to prevent the spread of these weapons. He announced on May 13 that the United States unilaterally would give up chemical weapons; he expects that this would lead to a worldwide ban on their production. Bush also helped organize a meeting of the United Nations Security Council's five permanent members -- the U.S., Britain, France, the People's Republic of China, and the Soviet Union -- in Paris on July 9 to negotiate ways to curtail the shipment of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons to the Middle East. Bush even has threatened to use force to obtain Iraqi compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, requiring Iraq to destroy all its biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.

Not Arms Control Alone
The trouble with all of these initiatives is that arms control alone will not reduce sufficiently the risk from these weapons. The effectiveness of arms control agreements ultimately depend on how well participating countries comply. Arms controls fail in the case of a Saddam Hussein who either refuses to sign the agreement or to comply with it if it is signed. Saddam repeatedly lies to the United Nations Special Commission established to investigate Iraq's nuclear weapons program. More lies can be expected in the future from him or any other dictator who seeks to build these weapons of mass destruction despite a worldwide ban.

Another problem with arms control agreements attempting to eliminate biological and chemical weapons is that they treat non- aggressive and aggressive nations alike. This implies that the arms themselves, and not their users, threaten the peace. But all nations are not equally aggressors. Israel indeed may have chemical weapons, but these have not threatened the peace. Iraq's weapons have.

International agreements, of course, can help reduce the threats posed by biological and chemical weapons. But other tools also are necessary. These other tools need to be identified and incorporated into a comprehensive U.S. policy that does more than ask nations voluntarily to abandon the production and use of weapons of mass destruction. To do this, the Bush Administration should announce that U.S. policy curtailing the proliferation and use of biological and chemical weapons will be guided by four principles. ( While current Administration efforts to control proliferation will in some instances involve other weapons, such as missiles, nuclear weapons, and even conventional arms, this paper covers only those aspects related to biological and chemical weapons.) They are:

Principle #1: Deter chemical attack by threatening retaliation.

The best defense against a chemical weapons attack is to prevent it. A potential aggressor must be convinced that the cost of using such weapons is too high. Any nation contemplating the use of chemical weapons against America or allied forces should know that it faces retaliation from American chemical weapons. For this retaliatory threat to be credible, Bush must rescind his offer to destroy all American chemical weapons and promise instead to retain a small arsenal of these arms for the purpose of retaliation.

Principle #2: Defend against biological and chemical attacks.

If deterrence fails, American forces on the battlefield need to be protected against biological and chemical weapons. Inoculations protect against biological weapons, while gas masks and special suits can protect against chemical weapons. A July Pentagon report on U.S. military operations in the Persian Gulf war concludes, however, that the U.S. military was inadequately prepared for inoculating troops against an Iraqi biological attack. This deficiency can be overcome by increased biomedical research on inoculations and by setting a firm policy on their use.

Principle #3: Destroy enemy biological and chemical sites and weapons before they can be used.

Reducing the threat posed by biological and chemical weapons requires that America have the means to destroy them before they can be used against U.S. forces. Such "active defenses" were demonstrated in the war against Iraq. U.S. bombs and missiles destroyed many of Iraq's biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons facilities. Pentagon budget cuts should spare the aircraft, artillery, and other weapons needed by U.S. forces to attack enemy biological and chemical weapons.

Principle #4: Curb the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons through arms control.

Arms control can deny potential aggressors easy access to their weapons and delay their proliferation. Export controls are particularly helpful in stemming proliferation. The current U.S. policy banning both biological and chemical weapons through multilateral agreements, however, is too blunt. It fails to discriminate between responsible countries and likely aggressors. To remedy this, Bush needs formally to charge guilty countries with violating the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development and Stockpiling of Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons. Credible evidence exists that Iran, North Korea, and the Soviet Union have violated the agreement.

As important, Bush should change his policy on controlling the spread of chemical weapons. He should reverse his May 13 declaration that the U.S. would renounce unilaterally the use of chemical weapons and destroy its entire stockpile. This would leave the U.S. exposed to chemical attacks by countries not signing an international agreement. Bush thus should pledge to maintain a small stockpile of chemical weapons to deter aggression.

Biological and Chemical Weapons: Old Tactics and New Technologies

Biological Weapons

A biological weapon is an artillery shell, airborne spraying device, or any other means that delivers a communicable disease to troops on a battlefield. A biological agent can be a virus or bacteria that causes anthrax or other diseases or produces deadly toxins such as botulism. In ancient times, infected corpses were thrown over fortress walls during sieges to infect those trapped within. Modern biological weapons are likely to be delivered from aircraft or by special operations forces dropping infected insects such as mosquitoes or ticks (called "vectors" by experts) behind enemy lines.

Stockpiles of Disease
Diseases such as anthrax, encephalitis, and typhus are the most prevalent in the world's military stockpiles. The toxin called clostridium botulinum that causes botulism is also widely available. Anthrax kills by causing extensive hemorrhaging of vital organs. Encephalitis inflames the brain, while typhus causes high fevers and physical depression. Botulism poisons its victims and is characterized by paralysis. (The descriptions of these afflictions were obtained from: Webster's New World/Stedman's Concise Medical Dictionary (New York: Webster's New World, 1987).) Countries other than the Soviet Union believed to possess biological weapons include mainland China, Iran, and Iraq.

Though biological weapons are very deadly, their military effectiveness varies. They can be difficult to stockpile and deliver. The toxin ricin, for example, loses its potency in heat and light very quickly. Other biological agents, such as anthrax, are too potent, lasting very long after they used on the battlefield. ( Gruinard Island off the northwest coast of Scotland is still uninhabitable because of an anthrax test conducted there by the British government in 1942. Anthrax spores, while not persistent in the air, can remain in the soil for extended periods.) Thus "friendly" troops wishing to occupy territory infected with anthrax could become infected themselves if they are not inoculated first against the disease or wear protective clothing. But taking such precautions is cumbersome, time consuming and certainly not without risk, since military operations in an infected area are always dangerous. Finally, once released, biological weapons can be impossible to control and may infect a user's own troops.

Under typical wind conditions, a spray tank holding 220 pounds of biological agents delivered from a helicopter will contaminate an area 75 miles long and five to ten miles wide. The toxin agent that causes botulism costs roughly $200 per pound to produce. ( Neil C. Livingstone and Joseph D. Douglass, Jr., CBW: The Poor Man's Atomic Bomb (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, 1984), p. 7.) Defense against biological agents is very difficult because the microbes cannot be seen by the naked eye and because they can easily infect troops once they are exposed.

Genetic engineering and other advances in biotechnology may revolutionize biological warfare. New biological agents could be nearly impervious to inoculation, resistant to heat, cold, and other adverse environmental conditions, more persistent once released, and better suited to large-scale production. Says defense analyst John M. Collins of biological weapons: "Future capabilities that now seem to border on science fiction conceivably could transform warfare as much as nuclear weapons did four decades ago." (John M. Collins, U.S.- Soviet Military Balance 1980-1985 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 1985), p. 171. For further discussion of the impact of advances in biotechnology on military policy also see: Robert Harris, "Towards a Theory of Biological Deterrence," World Outlook, summer 1990, pp. 69-111.)

Chemical Weapons

Chemical weapons consist of toxic agents that can kill or injure in a number of ways. Ancient uses of chemicals in warfare included coating arrowheads and spears with poison. Today's chemical weapons typically are sprayed as aerosols. This is how mustard gas and nerve agents such as sarin and tabun are delivered. Aircraft can spray troops on the ground. Artillery shells, bombs, and missiles can be armed with chemical warheads. Even land mines may be chemically armed.

Mustard gas, used extensively in World War I, is a blistering agent that can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and causes severe skin irritation and respiratory damage about two to six hours after exposure. Sarin and tabun are nerve agents that so extensively interfere with the transmission of nerve impulses that a victim dies of heart failure or asphyxiation. Reaction to these agents starts within minutes. Chemical weapons vary in their persistence. Mustard gas, for example, can contaminate an area for weeks. Most nerve agents, however, dissipate in hours. (John M. Collins, U.S.- Soviet Military Balance 1980-1985 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 1985). p. 163.)

Advances in technology have improved the means by which chemical weapons can be stored and used. Most significant has been the development in the U.S. of so-called binary agents. They are called "binary" because they consist of two gases, each harmless, which are kept separately in artillery, bomb, or rocket warheads. They form a deadly nerve agent only when they are mixed after a round is fired. Binary weapons are safer to handle and do not dissipate as quickly on the battlefield as do traditional chemical agents.

Third World countries eagerly have been acquiring biological and chemical weapons in the past decade. As many as fifteen Third World countries are developing biological weapons, while up to 25 countries are trying to make chemical weapons. India and Pakistan have biological and chemical weapons programs; Iran and Iraq possess chemical weapons. (Of course, in the wake of the Persian Gulf war, the United Nations has tried to enforce Security Council Resolution 687 banning Iraq's chemical weapon capability.) Wherever there are regional tensions, as in the Middle East and South Asia, the motivation to obtain biological and chemical weapons is high.

The biological and chemical weapons these Third World countries possess have been known in the West for years. Typical biological agents include anthrax, botulism, and typhus. American forces in Operation Desert Storm were inoculated against anthrax because it was feared that Iraq possessed it. Other typical chemical agents in Third World arsenals include cyanide, mustard gas, and nerve gas. So far these countries do not have binary chemical agents, new and more deadly strains of anthrax, and other more sophisticated biological and chemical agents. It is certain, however, that the techniques used to produce the more advanced agents inevitably will become known to Third World governments.

Attempts to Curtail Biological and Chemical Weapons

Among the earliest modern attempts to ban biological and chemical weapons was the 1907 Hague Convention. Approved by the European powers, the Convention prohibited the use of weapons containing poison. (Mark C. Storella, Poisoning Arms Control: The Soviet Union and Chemical/Biological Weapons (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, 1984) pp. 4-5. ) But the widespread use of chemical weapons just a few years later in World War I proved that the Convention's prohibition had little effect. In 1925, a League of Nations conference convened in Switzerland to approve the Geneva Protocol. It banned the use of biological and chemical weapons in war, but not their development or production. Among the countries signing the Protocol were America, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan. Unlike the 1907 Hague Convention, the Geneva Protocol was generally observed during World War II. This is because both sides knew that use of such weapons would result in swift retaliation.

Weak Agreement
The Geneva Protocol is still in force, and the U.S. honors its terms. It is, however, a weak arms control agreement. If countries violate it, they remain unpunished. Nor are there established procedures for establishing the veracity of reported claims of biological or chemical weapons use. The Geneva Protocol sometimes is referred to as a "no first use" agreement because participating states agree to comply with it only so long as biological or chemical weapons are not used against them. America ratified it with the reservation that the Protocol would cease to be binding if the U.S. were attacked first.

The next important agreement restricting biological and chemical weapons was the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development and Stockpiling of Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons, which was drafted at the U.N. Conference on Disarmament. With 136 nations signing it, this Convention goes beyond the Geneva Protocol by prohibiting not only the use but also the development, production, and stockpiling of biological agents. The key signers are America, Britain, and the Soviet Union. The Convention followed an announcement by Richard Nixon in 1969 that the U.S. would unilaterally destroy its entire biological weapons stockpile.

Repeated Violations
The Geneva Protocol and the 1972 Convention have been violated many times. The Soviet Union and its clients used mycotoxins, commonly referred to as "yellow rain," against civilians in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia in the 1970s and 1980s. (Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Chemical Warfare in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan (Washington, D.C.: Department of State, 1982).) Iraq used chemical weapons during its eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s. (W. Seth Carus, "Chemical Weapons in the Middle East," Policy Focus, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, December 1988, p. 4.) Western experts believe that an anthrax outbreak in 1979 near the Russian city of Sverdlovsk in the Ural Mountains was the result of an explosion at a banned biological weapons production facility. The existence of toxin weapons production facilities in Eastern Europe was confirmed when Bulgarian exile and Radio Free Europe commentator Georgi Markov was murdered in London on September 7, 1978, by KGB- sponsored Bulgarian agents who used an umbrella to inject an extremely potent toxin called ricin into his thigh. (Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman, A Higher Form of Killing (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982), pp. 197-198.) These facilities violate the 1972 Convention prohibiting the production and stockpiling of such weapons.

A more recent effort to control the spread of chemical weapons was Australia's 1984 proposal to stem the transfer of chemical weapons-related technologies to the Third World. Specific restrictions and enforcement mechanisms were left to the individual governments. The "Australia Group" now has twenty members. ( The Australia Group includes America, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland.)

Spotty Enforcement
The informal and voluntary nature of the Australian proposal obviously limits its effectiveness. For example, enforcement of the export restrictions falls to the individual member governments. Yet nations have a spotty record on how vigorously they enforce export restrictions. For example, Phillips Petroleum Company, from a plant in Belgium, in the 1980s sold the chemical thiodiglycol to Iraq. This chemical is used in manufacturing mustard gas. ( Gary Thatcher and Timothy Aeppel, "The Trail to Samarra, Christian Science Monitor, December 13, 1988, p. B-1.) And Britain is reported to have sold thiodiglycol and thionyl chloride to Iraq in 1988 and 1989. (Ralph Atkins, et al., "Britain Exported Poisonous Gas Ingredients to Iraq," The Financial Times, July 29, 1991, p. 1.) These sales were contrary to the commitments made by Belgium and Britain to the Australia Group.

In addition to these international accords, countries have adopted their own laws banning the production of biological agents and restricting the export of chemicals that could be used to manufacture weapons. Even prior to the adoption of the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development and Stockpiling of Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons, the U.S. ceased to produce biological agents after Nixon's 1969 decision that the U.S. was renouncing all methods of biological warfare. The action banned the development, production, and stockpiling of biological agents for warfare. The White House ordered the Department of Defense to destroy all existing stockpiles of biological weapons. The following years these prohibitions were extended to toxin weapons.

Examples of laws restricting the export of chemical weapons technologies in the U.S. are the Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Arms Export Control Act. Enforced by the Department of Commerce, the Export Administration Act prevents the export of agents such as thiodiglycol and other commodities used to manufacture chemical weapons. Production equipment for pesticides, for example, also could be used to create nerve gas. Administered by the State Department, the Arms Export Control Act prohibits the export of chemical weapons without government approval. Weapons firms that export chemical arms without authorization can be fined up to $1 million.

Bush's Drive to Control Proliferation

The Bush Administration has taken a number of steps to stop the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed an agreement on June 1, 1990, in Washington to reduce of the chemical stockpiles of the U.S. and the Soviet Union each to 5,000 metric tons. There is no agreement yet on inspection procedures for confirming the destruction of these weapons. Thus, the Bush-Gorbachev treaty has not yet been submitted to Congress for approval.

Bush took another step to control chemical weapons this May 13 when he announced that the U.S. would destroy completely all of its chemical weapons even if other nations did not destroy their arsenals. He made this proposal to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, which has been meeting in Geneva since 1968 to negotiate a ban on the production and stockpiling of chemical munitions. Bush also pledged that the U.S. would foreswear the use of chemical weapons under any circumstances, even if the U.S. was attacked first with such weapons. (The White House, The Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Vol. 27, No. 20, May 20, 1991, pp. 599-600.)

Change in U.S. Policy
This significantly changed U.S. policy. America previously had reserved the right to use chemical weapons. America also had demanded the right to retain a small arsenal of chemical weapons until all countries had agreed to eliminate their stockpiles under the U.N. agreement.

Then this July 9, Bush endorsed a proposal made by the nations sitting on the U.N. Security Council that a zone free of "weapons of mass destruction" be established in the Middle East. This eventually may lead to a ban on the export of biological and chemical weapons to the Middle East.

In addition to these international actions, Bush has issued new regulations to control the export of biological and chemical weapons technologies. A November 16, 1990, executive order extends the authority of the Export Administration Act of 1979, which had expired on September 30, 1990. (The White House, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Vol. 26, No. 46, November 19, 1990, pp. 1835-1837.) This Act restricts the transfer of technologies that have civilian uses but can be easily applied to military hardware.

A month later, on December 13, 1990, the White House ordered that existing licensing procedures for exporting nuclear commodities be applied to exports of biological and chemical commodities. An example of such a commodity is a storage container lined with nickel, which would be resistant to the corruption caused by nerve agents. (The White House, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Vol. 26, No. 50, December 17, 1990, pp. 2033-2034.) Bush's main reason for doing this was to tighten U.S. restrictions on the flow of technologies and chemicals that could be used build the biological and chemical arsenals of Third World countries.

Then on March 7, 1991, Bush increased from eleven to fifty the number of chemicals restricted for export under the Export Administration Act of 1979. Added to the list are dimethyl ethylphosphonate and other so-called "precursor" chemicals for producing nerve agents. This order is designed to impose export controls on the basic ingredients of the precursor chemicals that are themselves mixed together to create lethal chemical agents. (The White House, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Vol. 27, No. 10, March 11, 1991, pp. 261-262.)

Four Principles for Curtailing the Proliferation of Biological and Chemical Weapons

The Bush Administration's approach to curbing the spread of biological and chemical weapons is too narrow. By concentrating so much on arms control, Bush not only underestimates the need to deter attack with such weapons, he may increase their military value to countries that choose to bypass or ignore arms control agreements. The reason: Countries that ban biological and chemical weapons will be exposed to attack by those that refuse to sign arms control treaties. Since only outlaw nations will possess such weapons, the U.S. and its allies will need some capability of their own to deter attack from nations that refuse to go along with arms control accords.

Bush needs a more comprehensive approach to reducing the threat of biological and chemical weapons. He should announce that U.S. policy curtailing the proliferation and use of these weapons will be guided by four principles. They are:

Principle #1: Deter chemical attack by threatening retaliation.

Deterrence has been an essential part of American defense policy since the end of World War II. It successfully prevented a global conflict throughout the Cold War era. Deterrence means convincing a potential adversary that the cost of resorting to force is too high. It also means convincing an enemy that the use of weapons of mass destruction, like chemical arms, will bring swift retaliation in kind. Bush's existing policy of controlling the proliferation of chemical weapons underestimates the need for deterrence.

Logic of Deterrence
Bush's pledge to foreswear the use of chemical arms under any circumstance ignores the logic of deterrence. Henceforth, a U.S. adversary will know that it can attack American forces with chemical arms without risking retaliation in kind. This will force Bush and future presidents to choose between two extremes if attacked with chemical weapons: Either America will do nothing, or it will resort to nuclear weapons, which are far more destructive than chemical agents. The unintended consequence of an American promise never to use chemical weapons under any circumstance could be to raise the risk of nuclear war.

To avoid this, Bush must retract his pledge that America will never use chemical weapons under any circumstance. So doing, he must restore the long-standing American policy of deterrence. For this, America does not require a massive chemical weapons arsenal. It does need, however, at least some of these arms to threaten retaliation. It also needs a strong research and development program to remain abreast of technological developments. Without this, America could find itself without chemical weapons but facing a Third World country that has the latest chemical weapons technology.

Bush should state categorically not only that the U.S. will retain a modest but modernized chemical weapons stockpile, but that it will not rule out their use if American forces are attacked first with chemical agents.

Principle #2: Defend against biological and chemical attacks.

While deterrence is the preferred method for meeting the biological and chemical weapons threat, some adversaries may remain undeterred. This would be particularly true if an enemy believed it faced no risk whatsoever of retaliation in kind. The U.S., therefore, needs to protect its soldiers with what experts call "passive defenses" -- gas masks, protective clothing, antidotes, and inoculations against biological agents.

Improving the Pentagon's capability to inoculate troops against anthrax and other diseases is an urgent priority. A July 16 Pentagon report concludes that GIs were vulnerable to biological warfare attacks during the Persian Gulf war. (Department of Defense, Conduct of the Persian Gulf Conflict, An Interim Report to Congress (Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, 1991), p. 6-6.) At the time of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Pentagon had no policy on how to vaccinate troops to counter biological weapons.

Testing of Vaccines
Prohibiting biological weapons makes it difficult to test the effectiveness of vaccines. Strains of anthrax, for example, can be developed but the antibodies for the vaccine to counter this threat cannot be reliably produced unless research is conducted on these new strains.

To correct this deficiency, Bush and Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney should speed the development of mechanisms for detecting the presence of biological agents on the battlefield. There are now no reliable ways to do this. One way could be to develop a spectrometer and for identifying light wave lengths of different types of bacteria.

Strengthening Intelligence
Then Bush and Cheney should order that intelligence capabilities be strengthened to give military commanders information about an enemy's biological arsenal. The Central Intelligence Agency could be directed to study the biological warfare programs of Iraq and other Third World countries.

Gas masks and special suits can protect soldiers against chemical agents. American forces in Operation Desert Storm were reasonably well prepared to handle a chemical attack by Iraqi forces. The Iraqis were known to possess mustard gas and nerve agents, and it was widely expected that they would use them against U.S. and allied forces.

Yet more needs to be done. A step in this direction was taken on May 22 when the House Armed Services Committee authorized $65 million to upgrade the chemical defense capabilities of the Army and the Marine Corps. This is $65 million more than that requested by the Pentagon. These funds will buy new equipment for detecting chemical agents in the air (like the German-built Fox reconnaissance vehicle), new protective garments that are less cumbersome and hot, and new training programs that include realistic enactments of chemical attacks. (Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, Report to Accompany the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 1992 and 1993, 102nd Congress, 1st Session, Rpt. 102-60, May 13, 1991, p. 193.)

Cheney should welcome the House Armed Services Committee's increased funding for defenses against chemical assaults. He can signal his support when the House and Senate conferees meet this fall to hammer out the final version of the Department of Defense Authorization Bill.

Gulf War Fears
An international ban on all chemical weapons does not eliminate the need for defenses against them. International bans did not stop Saddam Hussein from killing thousands of Kurds with chemical weapons. Similarly, America's refusal to build biological weapons of its own did not reduce the fear during the Gulf war that Saddam would use them against American troops.

The chemical weapons threat will persist even if all nations of the world agree to ban chemical and biological weapons. There will always be a Saddam Hussein. For this reason the U.S. needs the proper equipment, clothing, antidotes, and vaccines to defend itself against even a remote threat of biological and chemical warfare.

Principle #3: Destroy enemy biological and chemical sites and weapons before they can be used.

An effective defense policy for countering biological and chemical weapons must include the capability to destroy the weapons' production facilities and stockpiles and the aircraft, artillery, and other systems used to deliver the biological and chemical agents against American troops. America's ability to launch preemptive attacks proved extremely important in the war against Iraq. Bombs and missiles destroyed many of Iraq's biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons sites. As important were the U.S. special operations forces who identified these facilities for precision bombing runs. (Douglas Waller, "Secret Warriors," Newsweek, June 17, 1991, pp. 20-28.) Whether America can do this in the future depends on the Pentagon having the advanced technology weapons for preemptive strikes behind enemy lines against chemical and germ warfare sites. Weapons that thus should be spared the budget-cutter's knives include the radar-evading stealth F-117A fighter, such highly precise smart bombs as the Paveway, and the Tomahawk cruise missile.

These weapons can be destroy biological and chemical weapons production and storage facilities and applicable delivery systems such as planes and helicopters while they are still on the ground.

Also useful will be the F-15E Strike Eagle fighter aircraft, which destroyed Iraqi missile launchers and airport runways; rapid- fire missile launchers such as the Multiple Launch Rocket Systems for attacking enemy artillery armed with chemical munitions; and the Patriot anti-ballistic missile system, which downed Iraq's Soviet- supplied Scud missiles during the Gulf war. Scud missiles are capable of carrying chemical warheads, even though Iraq's missiles were not armed with them.

Principle #4: Curb the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons through arms control.

Arms control can establish international guidelines and agreements for nations voluntarily to reduce their weapons stockpiles. But the shortcomings of arms control must be recognized. Countries can refuse to participate or violate agreements they have signed. Iraq, for example, has lied repeatedly to U.N. inspectors about its biological, chemical and nuclear arsenals, despite its agreement to destroy such weapons under U.N. Security Council Resolution 687. Other countries too can continue to build these weapons of mass destruction while America is destroying its own arsenal.

Another shortcoming with arms control is that international agreements frequently treat all countries equally as potential aggressors. All countries, of course, are not equally or even potentially aggressive. Some countries with chemical weapons, like Iraq, threaten their neighbors, or, like Libya, sponsor terrorism. Still others, like the Soviet Union, have a history of violating arms control agreements. (In his February 6, 1991, report to Congress on Soviet noncompliance with arms control agreements, George Bush had the following to say about the Soviet Union's biological and toxin weapons program: "The United States has determined that the Soviet Union has maintained an active offensive program since the 1930s and continues to be in violation of the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). The United States judges that the Soviet capability may include advanced biological and toxin agents of which the United States has little or no knowledge, and against which the United States has no defense.")

Then, of course, there are America, Britain, and the other democracies that will abide by their word. The problem of treating all countries the same was noted by Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, this January. He said on the Senate floor: "The solution to the problem does not lie in futile efforts to disarm the world, halt every aspect of the traffic in arms, or control every aspect of proliferation. There is no point in trying to deny peaceful countries the basic tools necessary to preserve their security, or in embarking on arms control efforts that are more likely to weaken friendly states than the states whose arms purchases drive regional arms races and which are the primary threat of aggression." (Congressional Record, January 31, 1991, pp. S1371-S1375.)

Retention of Small Arsenal
To strengthen U.S. arms control policy, Bush should rescind his May 13 decision to ban all U.S. chemical weapons even if other countries do not. Such a policy will leave America unable to retaliate if Saddam Hussein or any other dictator decides to use chemical weapons on American troops or civilians. The U.S. always should retain a small arsenal of chemical weapons to deter those unwilling to participate in arms control agreements. It also means that the U.S. should treat chemical weapons like nuclear weapons. The U.S. continues to modernize its nuclear force as it seeks agreements to reduce nuclear weapons. It should be no different for chemical arsenals. If the logic of deterrence works for nuclear arms, it should do so for chemical weapons as well.

Since Nixon banned U.S. biological arms production in 1969, America has done little work on germ warfare. Yet as many as ten nations, including the Soviet Union, now possess biological weapons. All of these arsenals violate the 1972 Convention on Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons, which the U.S. signed.

This situation poses great dangers to America. Saddam Hussein has demonstrated how real these dangers can become and how quickly they can emerge. The American men and women dispatched to the Persian Gulf were within range of Saddam Hussein's biological weapons.

Formal Changes
As a first step toward ending this danger, Bush formally should charge Iran, Libya, North Korea, and other violators with circumventing the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development and Stockpiling of Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons. Article VI of the Convention directs that such charges be presented to the U.N. Security Council. At the same time, Bush should threaten to withdraw the U.S. from the Convention, as allowed under Article XIII, one year following the lodging of the charges if the violations are not corrected.

Meanwhile, the U.S. can seek to amend the Convention under Article XI to allow specific countries to retain biological weapons stockpiles as designated "possessor" countries. These countries should be the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members and perhaps several others facing a clear threat of biological attack from aggressive neighbors. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty should serve as a good model for drafting such an amendment. It clearly distinguishes between "possessor" and "non-possessor" nations. Washington can make this proposal at the review conference on the Convention, which convenes in Geneva this September 9. Amending the Convention will not require any changes in the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which governs only the use of biological and chemical weapons, and not their production.


Biological and chemical arms are truly horrible weapons, perhaps no less so than nuclear ones. George Bush's desire to ban them thus is understandable. But denying these weapons to America while outlaw countries such as Iraq retain them will not make the world safer for American troops or civilians.

American forces must be prepared to deter and defend against biological and chemical attacks. A failure to do so could inflict enormous casualties on Americans as a result of a chemical or biological attack.

Weapons, Not Policies
The Bush Administration's policies will do little to reduce American casualties if biological or chemical weapons are used against U.S. troops. Its policies to curb the proliferation of these weapons rely too much on arms control. This was made evident when Bush announced on May 13 that the U.S. would renounce the production of its own chemical weapons. He then called on the other nations of the world to do the same. This approach ignores the world's reality. Some nations are certain to retain chemical arsenals despite international agreements prohibiting them.

To reduce the threat of chemical and germ warfare to America, the U.S. needs a comprehensive policy that goes beyond arms control. This policy not only should be guided by a set of principles that admit the need for arms control, but to military strategies of deterrence and defense. One of these principles is that America needs its own biological and chemical warfare arsenal to deter chemical and germ warfare attacks on U.S. forces. Another is that American troops must be defended against germ and chemical assaults with modernized protective clothing, antidotes and vaccines. And another is that arms control agreements must not deny the U.S. a biological and chemical warfare capability while others continue to build such weapons of their own.

Decision Reversal
With these principles in mind, Bush should reverse his May 13 decision for America unilaterally to ban chemical weapons production -- even if other countries do not. Bush then should propose that the 1972 Convention on Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons be amended to allow the U.S. and other select countries to retain modest biological arsenals. This would allow the U.S. legally to build a small but effective arsenal of biological agents to deter germ warfare attack on American forces and civilians.

Saddam Hussein's refusal to divulge the secrets of his biological, chemical and nuclear arsenals is a lesson for U.S. policy makers. Outlaws care little for international law and arms control agreements. America cannot afford to trust international agreements to protect it from chemical and biological attack. The only protection is possession of chemical and biological arsenals that, though small, deter attack.

Baker Spring, Policy Analyst


Baker Spring
Baker Spring

Former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy