SEPTEMBER 11, 1996
The Senate will vote tomorrow on an international agreement that would ban the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons worldwide. Elizabeth Farnsworth leads a discussion with Senators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) on the merits and faults of the treaty. A background report leads off the segment.
Previous NewsHour Transcripts:
May 24, 1996:
A NewsHour look at the link between Gulf War Syndrome and chemical weapons.
The complete NewsHour segments on defense issues.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: To debate the chemical weapons convention as the agreement is called, we turn now to two senators: Sam Nunn, Democrat of Georgia, the ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, a member of the Select Intelligence Committee and the Senate Arms Control Observer Group. Thank you both for being with us. Starting with you, Sen. Nunn, why is this important? Is there more of this kind of--are there more chemical weapons than ever before?
SEN. SAM NUNN, (D) Georgia: Well, weve had an empire break up, the Soviet Unions broken up, with possessing thousands of nuclear weapons, thousands of tons of chemical weapons, and biological weapons, and that is one fact. A second fact is that the knowledge about how to make and use these weapons is proliferating around the world with the Internet and other means of communication more rapidly than ever before, so the dissemination of knowledge is a second factor. The third fact is the United States is trying to lead an effort to avoid proliferation in the world, and the only way we can possibly do that is with our allies. This is truly our number one national security concern. The overall effort to stop the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. It must be done with allies--over 160 countries have signed this agreement--some 61 have ratified it. Either were going to be in this treaty and part of it, or its going to take place anyway without us. And if were going to continue to lead our proliferation efforts around the world and take care of our own security, we must, I think, be a part of this treaty, even with its imperfections.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Sen. Nunn, how can this treaty be effective, or this convention be effective, if it doesnt include Iraq or Libya, both of whom have produced chemical weapons and reportedly Iraq used them?
SEN. NUNN: Well, some of the countries that signed it may not abide by it, so its not a question of simply being in on or out. Iran has signed the treaty. But were going to have to watch that very closely. The main thing here is were not going to be able to verify it perfectly, but--and there will be some imperfections in verification--no doubt about that--but it is a tool and a foundation that moves us in the right direction. Were going to have to try to see what North Koreas doing, what Iraq and Libya are doing with chemical weapons, whether were in the treaty or without the treaty, or whether were a party or not. If we turn it down, were still going to have to try to verify what theyre doing and be able to take steps. If were part of it, it will be easier, and our intelligence community is pretty solid on that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Sen. Kyl, what about that, the issue of whether were better off inside the treaty than outside, even if certain nations dont sign?
SEN. JON KYL, (R) Arizona: I think youve identified the--one of the two critical problems, actually both of them. And let me first say that those of us who oppose the treaty would gladly support a treaty that achieved the goals. We all want to rid the world of these terrible weapons, as Sen. Nunn said. The problem is this treaty will not accomplish its goals. It does not cover the nations it needs to cover like Syria and Libya and Iraq and North Korea. And there are other nations who have signed it. They may or may not ratify it--Russia, China, Iran, Cuba. And in the case of all of these countries, it is impossible to verify whether or not a nation is cheating. Unlike missiles which you can count from satellites and so on, anybody can make chemicals literally in a big walk-in closet. As a matter of fact the Aum Shinri Kyo group in Japan constructed the nerve gas that they used in the Tokyo subway in a room eight feet by fifteen feet. You cant detect that kind of activity. So the treaty is not verifiable, and because of that, it isnt going to achieve the objectives. In addition, there are significant costs to the treaty which Id like to address if we have the time.
MS. FARNSWORTH: Would there be--you said that you would accept this treaty if there were changes made in it. Lets assume for a minute that all these countries did sign it. Would you still have all the problems with verification that you just named?
SEN. KYL: Youd still have verification problems, but if we could bring all of the countries that need to be brought into the treaty into it, and if we could certify that the treaty is verifiable, then of course we would support the treaty. Thats the key here. We are willing to pay a pretty high cost to rid the world of chemical and biological nuclear weapons. And therefore, I think we would all support that kind of a treaty but, remember, this is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Uh, you cant amend this treaty, and, therefore, all of the flaws having been acknowledged, it is our view that we need to start from scratch, in effect, revise the treaty, and eliminate the flaws that exist in it, require countries that should be involved in such a treaty be involved and have a verifiable regime with real enforcement mechanisms.
MS. FARNSWORTH: Sen. Nunn, first, on the question of whether all the countries need to be involved and second, please tell us how the verification would work and, and Id like your response to those comments about verification that Sen. Kyl made.
SEN. NUNN: Well, Sen. Kyl is correct that we cannot completely verify this treaty. Uh, the question is whether we can do a better job of verifying what we already have to do for our own national security with the treaty or without it. And I think clearly we can do a better job of verifying and monitoring and focusing on outlawed regimes or renegade signers of the treaty who do not carry out their obligations. So verification will be difficult but it will be improved and we will be better off than we are now in protecting our national security.
MS. FARNSWORTH: Could you just explain that. How? For example, what in the treaty makes it more--makes it easier to verify what we need to verify?
SEN. NUNN: Well, first of all, you have people who sign it who have to give you information, and if they dont give the information that you need, you can demand it, and thats an information base that we dont have now. Second, any weapon, once this treaty is fully in effect, will be something thats a violation. Now there is no violation to possess weapons. The only violation now is to use weapons. So we will by the very nature of it be able to determine when people are not complying with their obligations here. Third, if you wait for a period of time, uh, where you really have all the re