March 13, 1997
Should the U.S. ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention and join scores of other nations in destroying its chemical weapons arsenals? Following a background report, former U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick and former National Security Advisor Brent Scrowcroft debate the issue with Elizabeth Farnsworth.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now to that Republican debate on the Chemical Weapons Convention. Brent Scowcroft, a retired air force lieutenant general, served as President Bush's national security adviser. He is now president of the Scowcroft Group, and international consulting company. Jeanne Kirkpatrick was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1981 to 1985. She is now a professor at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Thank you both for being with us. Gen. Scowcroft, would ratification of the chemical weapons treaty enhance U.S. security?
BRENT SCOWCROFT, Former National Security Adviser: I believe it would. We have a very narrow question facing us now. The United States has made a decision to get out of the chemical weapons business.
The Congress has forbid us to build new chemical weapons, the so-called binary weapons, which are safer, and it has mandated that by 2004 we will have gotten rid of our stock. The Convention before us is now in force; 70 nations, including most of our friends and allies have signed it, so the real question is: Are we better off inside this treaty than outside? And given the fact that we're going out of the chemical weapons business, it seems to me that anything which will assist us in getting others out of it is in our interest.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why shouldn't the Senate ratify the treaty by whatever date? What's wrong with it?
JEANNE KIRKPATRICK, Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.: What's really wrong with the treaty, in my judgment, is its non-verifiability. It is not verifiable, and because it creates an impression that it's verifiable, because it creates an impression that it's both verifiable and enforceable, when it is neither.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why is it neither?
JEANNE KIRKPATRICK: It is neither because first of all the products which are utilized in making chemical weapons are very common and they're very widespread. It used to be called the third world nuclear weapons at the U.N. regularly. The second, because the technology is very simple and almost anyone of us can do it, and it's very clear cut and easy, it cannot be observed.
You can see some people making some kinds of chemical weapons but you can't see all people making all kinds of chemical weapons. And the--the fact that its non-verifiability is one very big problem because when you're dealing with promises of nations, those promises are not necessarily good, you need verification. All right, second, you also need enforcement, and also non-enforceable because a lot of such treaties are not enforceable. We already have such a treaty. The Geneva protocol, 1925, and it's not in force. It's not in force--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Also on chemical weapons.
JEANNE KIRKPATRICK: Also on chemical weapons. And it's not in force because they cannot--we cannot get it enforced because the countries that would have to agree to its enforcement don't agree to it, and very much in the same way that a lot of countries that have signed onto the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, for example, don't act to enforce that treaty.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Gen. Scowcroft, what about that, is it verifiable, and is it enforceable?
BRENT SCOWCROFT: The administration says it is effectively verifiable. I'm probably more skeptical, and I think Amb. Kirkpatrick is exactly right. Building chemical weapons, poison gas, if you will, is sort of like building insecticides, so that the process is very easy. It's easy to conceal. It's easy to switch from making pharmaceutical to chemicals; there's no question about it. But one can do some verification, and some is better than nothing. And I think the notion that we should just sit back and wring our hands rather than do what we can, we can do much, for example, to discern efforts to build chemical weapons.
There are certain chemicals which are called precursors which are essential to the construction of chemical weapons. Now, many of them have other uses. In fact, almost all of the have other uses, but not in the kinds of pharmacies that it takes when somebody is out to build chemical weapons.
So rather than now, where they could buy a little bit from this country and a little bit from that country and a little bit from somebody else, and amass enough to do it, the kinds of controls that they have now will allow us to say look what's going on; they're trying to circumvent the treaty; they're trying to build chemical weapons. It is not perfect, but what I'm saying is it is helpful. It helps us do the job we have to try to do anyway, which is find out what's going on.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what about enforceability?
BRENT SCOWCROFT: Enforceability? No treaty is automatically enforceable. It depends on the will of the participants, and certainly the treaty will be more enforceable if it were part of it than if it were not.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about that argument, that whatever the weakness is, it's better to be part of it, and to be able to have some enforceable elements than none?
JEANNE KIRKPATRICK: I would simply say that it does relieve us from the need to seek both to verify and to know who's building what and to take steps to defend ourselves against--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You mean on our own.
JEANNE KIRKPATRICK: On our own. Today, with this treaty we will still have a--the need to know whether--the rogue nations in the world, none of whom are signatory, almost none of whom are signatory.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Iraq and Korea.
JEANNE KIRKPATRICK: Korea, precisely, and such nations. Russia is, I'm afraid.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Hasn't Russia signed but not ratified?
JEANNE KIRKPATRICK: Well, it's ambiguous. They have not--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: They have not ratified.
JEANNE KIRKPATRICK: Right.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: One argument though is that if we don't ratify, they won't; that there will be--
JEANNE KIRKPATRICK: Well, now they've got a new argument. If we do, they won't, unless we agree to pay for them. The problem is really whether they will if we did too. You know, the fact is that our signing will not relieve us of the need unilaterally and independently to verify whether nations are doing--governments are doing what they say they're going to, or whether those governments who don't sign at all, who are the most dangerous are, in fact, doing the same thing. So we're still going to have to take these steps to verify, and--
BRENT SCOWCROFT: I agree completely. I agree completely. What this treaty does is give us additional levers to help us verify it, to help us reinforce, to get the good guys together in cooperating.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you see it as part of an effort to end chemical weapons production?
BRENT SCOWCROFT: Absolutely. It doesn't solve the problem. Absolutely.
JEANNE KIRKPATRICK: That may be the difference between us, the two of us on the one side, and maybe some other people on the other side. I don't--because I don't think you find much of anybody among the Republicans who would regard the treaty as the solution to the problem of chemical weapons.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But why not sign it as part of a solution?
JEANNE KIRKPATRICK: If you think it is part of a solution, I actually think it may make it more difficult and more dangerous because, first because some governments and some administrations will use the existence of a treaty as a kind of an excuse. You know, much as if--as people have used the existence of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and the IAEA regime as an excuse for not verifying.
The only--Iraq had--made very great progress, as we all know, in the development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear and chemical and biological, and was, in fact, discerned by Israel because it's a matter of life and death for Israel and by us when we--when Gen. Scowcroft and President Bush did such a marvelous job leading the world to enforce the U.N.'s decisions and our decisions against the Iraqi aggression, but that's when we discovered it.
It wasn't the treaty that enabled us to discover it. It wasn't the enforcement mechanisms, or verification mechanisms. It was something completely outside that whole regime, and you know, during that whole time Iraq was sitting on the governing board of the IAEA participating in the verification and enforcement of that treaty. Now, this is the sort of thing that's happened. When Iraq participated--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let me just get a response.
BRENT SCOWCROFT: I don't really disagree with that, but what happened, what this treaty will help do is to call to the countries of the world attention to the problem, so that companies in advanced industrial nations cannot just quietly ship the chemicals off to Iraq, which they did. I mean, one of the things we're searching for are the list of all the companies that have helped provide precursor chemicals, helped nuclear devices, and so on and so forth. This will help make all that public so that one can take efforts and I don't think any--any peoples in the world want poison gas again.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think is likely to happen in the Senate? At the moment Sen. Helms, who's head of the Foreign Relations Committee, could block this. Do you think it will come out of his committee and be ratified?
BRENT SCOWCROFT: Well, you know, I'm not--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You all are very much a part of the debate.
BRENT SCOWCROFT: Yes, we are. It will be--it will be close. I think--I have to say I think the administration has not handled this well. The treaty was actually signed in 1993. It took them a year before they even submitted it to the Senate, and then they delayed, and then they brought it up during the campaign last year, which was the worst possible--whether you're for it, or whether you're against it, if you're a Republican, you don't want to see the President, your opponent, having a Rose Garden ceremony saying he's banned poison gas war. So there's a lot of work to be done, and how much of it will be done I don't know. I think it will be close.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think it will be close too, Madam Ambassador?
JEANNE KIRKPATRICK: I think it'll be close. I think it'll be close, and I think--I think it will not pass, in fact. That's a prediction, but I don't imagine that I'm infallible, I might say. My crystal ball is always a little foggy.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you both for being with us.
BRENT SCOWCROFT: Thank you.