MIA: History: USSR: Government

To Ban Chemical Weapons

The United States Manoeuvres

The United States has from the outset blocked any move towards the prohibition of chemical weapons. Since it had tested chemical weapons on a large scale in Vietnam it continued to rely on them as one of the means of achieving success in its policy of aggression.

It took the United States half a century to become a participant of the 1925 Geneva Protocol which it ratified in 1975 under strong pressure from other states. But the US accession to the Protocol did not essentially change its negative attitude to this important international document. When ratifying the Protocol the United States made reservations with the intention of undermining the document, under which, contrary to the letter and spirit of the Protocol, the United States unilaterally assumed the right to use a number of toxic chemicals under certain circumstances. In the autumn of 1982 the United States and its allies made a move intended to remove the existing barriers to the chemical threat. At the 37th Session of the UN General Assembly they forced through a resolution on the revision of the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning the use of chemical and bacteriological weapons, under the pretext that a system should be set up for verifying its observance. This decision is illegal if only because it was accepted not by agreement among the parties to the Protocol, but by voting, with the participation of those states which have not yet acceded to the document. Nor is there any genuine reason for revision since the Convention now being drafted could also include the relevant provisions for verifying the non-use of chemical weapons.

For years the United States has blocked the commencement of talks on the prohibition and destruction of chemical weapons under the pretext that the matter had not been researched thoroughly. In point of fact this question has been considered and accordingly studied for 15 years now by the Committee on Disarmament. During this time the technical, military, legal and other aspects of the problem have been most thoroughly analysed with the help of experts in the relevant fields. On all these aspects the participant states have submitted in great detail their views and considerations, both in oral statements and in special working papers (of which there are nearly 300). Pressure from other states, including its allies, persuaded the United States to agree to take part in the talks on the prohibition of chemical weapons. During the talks the United States still continued to evade agreement.

Yet prerequisites for a solution began to take shape despite the obstacles artificially created by the United States. To a large degree this was due to the constructive moves by the Soviet Union, the other socialist countries, and all states interested in banning chemical weapons. The fact that in 1983 the talks were chaired by a Polish representative was a most welcome factor. Valuable contributions were made by non-aligned countries as well as by Sweden and Canada.

The most important thing was that the scope of prohibition was in the main agreed upon: by a general consensus the participants in the talks were in favour of the complete and universal prohibition of chemical weapons, as the Soviet Union and other socialist states had proposed from the outset. The outline of an agreement also began to take shape in another important direction-the verification of the Convention's observance. It was found expedient to combine national verification with international procedures. Control over the destruction of chemical-weapons stockpiles was practically agreed upon. Finally, the participants in the talks agreed in principle with the need for international verification in the event of any states being suspected of violating the Convention (concealment of nuclear-weapons stocks, non fulfilment of the commitment to destroy facilities producing these weapons, etc). Agreement has also grown nearer on several other issues, such as announcement of chemical-weapons stocks, drafting plans for their destruction, etc.

As a result, in early 1984 the participants in the talks were able to begin formulating the provisions of the future Convention, while continuing at the same time to search for a basic agreement on matters where major differences still remained. These difficulties arose mainly because instead o seeking ways of arriving at mutually acceptable decisions, as the logic of negotiations would suggest, the United States in many instances departed from its own position thus making matters more complicated than they already were.

Washington's "New Concept"

So when the situation seemed favourable at the talks for making progress on the Convention the United States used the same old ploy. But this time it took extra precautions to rule out any possibility of further progress in the talks. For this purpose, on April 18, 1984, a bulky document was laid on the negotiating table in Geneva which the United States claimed to be a draft convention prohibiting chemical weapons.

The presentation of the document was preceded by a noisy propaganda campaign which lasted for months. The purpose of the campaign during which the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State and other top officials of the US Administration made repeated statements, was to publicize the US draft as some kind of "fresh approach" which would solve the problem of chemical weapons in a "revolutionary" manner once and for all. Any number of impressive phrases were used to describe the American proposals, such as an "absolutely new concept", an "unprecedented procedure", and so on.

What did the US document actually contain?

The most noteworthy aspect about the document is that essentially it holds nothing new. As before, the United States insisted on a system of verification which went far beyond the confines of surveilling the observance of the Convention and would have led to the discovery of commercial and military secrets. These proposals were obviously unacceptable to other states. But instead of heeding the reasonable objections of their counterparts and moving towards their stand the United States headed in the opposite direction. The very propositions which were formerly unacceptable to other states now reached the point of absurdity.

In keeping with a new concept which has been labelled "inspections on a standing invitation", inspectors should be allowed access to any place and any facility without having to give motives for surveillance. This demand is laid out in terms of an ultimatum: access should be granted automatically within 24 hours, at any time, and when first requested, it must be "unhindered", and so on.

But this is not all. Such inspections are requested only for facilities "owned by the government of a party-or controlled by the government of the party". It takes little effort to realize that this "new approach" constitutes an absolutely unacceptable condition especially for socialist states where all such facilities are the property of the state, while in the United States most concerns are privately-owned.

Newsmen duly noted this at a press conference held in Washington on April 19, 1984. One of them asked a Department of State spokesman if one should expect this condition to cover all facilities of the Soviet Union, for this could not be done in the United States, as it obviously did not affect such concerns as the factories of the Olin Matison Chemical Corporation which were private property. The journalist further asked if it did not strike the spokesman as unequal and capable of creating problems. No coherent answer was given.

It should be added that similar problems will arise not only for socialist states but for certain non-aligned and Western countries where part of the industry is nationalized.

Along with "inspections on a standing invitation" the US proposals provide for systematic visits by international inspectors to military depots where armaments other than chemical weapons covered by the Convention may be stored, and chemical facilities, including those working for peaceful purposes or engaged in military production not connected with chemical weapons, such as the manufacture of rocket propellants, explosives, and so forth.

In effect the purpose of the monitoring system now proposed by the United States is, as soon as the Convention comes into effect, to flood other states, particularly the socialist countries, with international inspectors who would exceed their right for verifying on a reasonable level the Convention's observance and would interfere with the normal activity of many enterprises having nothing to do with chemical weapons, to say nothing of the fact that they would have access to classified military or commercial information.

The absurdity of this US proposal, which would exempt private facilities from control, is particularly striking in view of the fact that the United States is urging that private concerns be allowed to retain their right to manufacture super-toxic lethal substances "for industrial, agricultural, research, medical or other peaceful purposes". As was mentioned above, the Soviet Union proposes to limit the production of such substances to one specialized facility operating under strict coutroL But while paying lip service to "effective control" the United States is actually trying to make an exception of its private enterprises which, under the guise of "peaceful purposes", would be capable of manufacturing the most potent of the known toxic agents which pose an immense danger from the military point of view.

It is also noteworthy that the US draft proposes to lift the ban applied to a number of chemicals which the United States used on a large scale during its aggressive war in Vietnam.

It is obvious that the terms proposed by the American side cannot serve as a basis for negotiations. In proposing its draft convention the US Administration was hardly guided by a desire to ban chemical weapons. Its purpose was entirely different: to disrupt the talks.

Now that it has disrupted the talks on the limitation and reduction of strategic armaments and the talks on the limitation of nuclear armaments in Europe, the US Administration is most concerned not to seem incapable of holding a dialogue with the Soviet Union. The forthcoming presidential elections are forcing the Administration to make elaborate propaganda moves in order to paper over the cracks in its foreign-policy structure. The American draft convention serves one other purpose. For the past few years the Pentagon has been trying hard to push a highly expensive chemical rearmament programme through Congress. This programme would include, in particular, the production of binary weapons. So the plan is first to make a song and dance about the American draft convention and then to tell the Congress that since no agreement could be reached on that basis (which is a foregone conclusion, as we have seen) the only thing left is to produce the cash for chemical rearmament. This was confirmed by US Vice President George Bush who submitted the US draft convention to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on April 18, 1984. He also said that measures were being taken in the United States to prepare for the possibility of producing modern chemical weapons if the parties failed to reach an agreement on its comprehensive prohibition.

By implementing a programme of stockpiling chemical weapons the United States is sabotaging the drafting of a Convention on the prohibition and destruction of chemical weapons and seeks to undermine what has already been achieved. The Soviet Union and other socialist countries oppose this line of action with their own consistent policy of excluding chemical weapons from the arsenals of states and signing an international convention to this end.