Is The Emerging US-Soviet Chemical Weapons Accord Too Unverifiable To Be A Treaty?

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The Center for Security Policy has been advised that the Bush Administration believes the U.S.-Soviet agreement aimed at eliminating the preponderance of the two sides’ chemical weapons (CW) stocks is likely to be too unverifiable to secure the sixty-seven Senate votes needed to permit ratification of a treaty. Rather than risk defeat — with all that would entail for bilateral relations and for the prospects for other arms reduction accords also encumbered by serious verification problems (such as START) — the Administration has evidently decided to negotiate this pact as an executive agreement rather than a treaty.

While an executive agreement would also be submitted to the Senate, it would not require ratification. Instead, following the precedent established with the 1972 Interim Agreement on Offensive Arms (SALT I), both the Senate and the House of Representatives would be encouraged to pass a symbolic joint resolution endorsing the bilateral chemical weapons pact.

Opponents of the U.S. chemical capability in Congress — notably House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dante Fascell — will welcome this agreement as a means of quickly terminating the American binary modernization program. They can be relied upon to minimize concerns about the unverifiability of the accord and to muster the simple majorities in both houses needed for the joint resolution.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., the Center’s director, said, "If the Bush Administration lacks the confidence that an arms control agreement effecting radical changes in a key U.S. deterrent capability can be ratified, it should not conclude such an agreement. If two-thirds of the Senate can be persuaded that a bilateral chemical weapons accord is in the U.S. interest, despite its utter unverifiability, there is a constitutionally mandated procedure for making the terms of such an accord the supreme law of the land."

Gaffney added, "If, on the other hand, thirty-four Senators believe that the seriously diminished chemical deterrent posture that will result from this accord — and the cessation of U.S. CW production and defensive preparations likely to ensue from it — do not square with the national interest, they should not be thwarted from preventing such an outcome by a parliamentary end-run. The requirement for ratification of treaties by two-thirds of the Senate was seen by the framers of the Constitution as an important quality-control device for diplomatic initiatives. It remains so today and the Bush Administration should not attempt to disguise its inability to meet the requisite qualitative standards by circumventing this mechanism."

The Center has produced numerous analyses in recent months raising serious questions about the Bush Administration’s campaign to try to eliminate chemical weapons through arms control negotiations. The following are but a few of the considerations associated with even the relatively modest notion of reducing the U.S. and Soviet CW arsenals by 90 percent — to say nothing of the vastly more ambitious idea of a global, verifiable chemical weapons ban:

  • The United States can have little confidence that it knows the actual size of the USSR’s CW stockpile. While recent leaks have suggested that the U.S. intelligence community has lately decided that Soviet stocks are smaller than was previously suspected, this is — of necessity under present circumstances — simply a case of one guess replacing earlier guesses.

  • Given the ease with which chemical weapons can be manufactured and the integration of chemical operations into the Soviet Union’s comprehensive approach to defense against nuclear, chemical and biological warfare, the Soviets will likely remain ready to utilize chemical weapons, notwithstanding agreements limiting — or even banning — such weapons. The same cannot be said of the United States.

  • The need for a U.S. chemical deterrent is not necessarily tied to the size or disposition of the Soviet CW stockpile. Indeed, in recent years, the number of nations capable of producing chemical weapons has increased substantially.

  • There is every reason to believe that at least some (if not many) of these will either decline to participate in a "global" chemical ban or — should they become parties to such an accord — attempt to cheat on its terms. Under such circumstances, a reliable, credible U.S. chemical capability will continue to be required. Such a capability would require a flexible CW production and deployment program at variance with the spirit and/or the terms of the emerging chemical weapons agreements.


  • Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union has in place today the necessary facilities to dispose safely of the vast quantities of lethal chemical agent that would have to destroyed under the bilateral accord. This fact alone argues for caution in committing to the expeditious elimination of the bulk of the U.S. CW arsenal. Moreover, before commitments are assumed to transfer American technology in order to facilitate destruction of declared Soviet CW stocks, a careful assessment must be made of the possibility that such technology might be diverted to other military purposes.


The Center for Security Policy believes that considerations like these make it extremely problematic that the Bush Administration’s efforts will produce effective and verifiable chemical arms control agreements — either of a bilateral or multilateral character. Given the stakes associated with an inadequate U.S. deterrent to chemical attack, it is incumbent upon the executive branch to ensure that the results of its negotiations receive nothing less than the Senate’s constitutionally stipulated advice and consent. Should the Administration remain unwilling to follow such a course, the Center believes the Senate must insist that the emerging U.S.-Soviet bilateral chemical weapons agreement take the form of a treaty so as to safeguard both its prerogatives as a partner in the treaty-making process and the security of the United States.

Center for Security Policy

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