Air Date: April 15, 1997 Program 9715


Bill Clinton, President, United States of America
Al Gore, Vice President, United States of America
Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State, United States of America
James Baker, III, Former Secretary of State, United States of America
John Holum, Director, US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency

(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

BILL CLINTON, President of the United States of America: We're already destroying almost all our chemical weapons. The convention requires other nations to follow our lead; to eliminate their arsenals of poison gas and to give up developing, producing, and acquiring such weapons in the future. By ratifying the chemical weapons convention, we can help to shield our soldiers from one of the battlefields deadliest killers.

MARY GRAY DAVIDSON, Producer: President Clinton makes a last ditch appeal for a chemical weapons treaty. That's our topic during this half hour of Common Ground. Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Mary Gray Davidson.

April 29, 1997 is the day the international treaty banning the use, manufacture, even the possession of chemical weapons goes into effect. Seventy nations have already ratified the treaty, known formally as the Chemical Weapons Convention. But even though it was negotiated under the Reagan and Bush administrations, as of early April it has not yet mustered the two thirds Senate majority needed for full U.S. ratification. To put pressure on the Senate holdouts, including Republican Senator Jesse Helms, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, President Clinton, on April 4, held a pep rally of sorts on the White House lawn, to show the level of bi-partisan and even military support for the Chemical Weapons Convention. Vice President Al Gore was first to address the distinguished gathering which included prominent Republican figures like General Colin Powell and James Baker. Gore reminded the audience of the toll chemical weapons had taken on an earlier generation of Americans.

AL GORE, Vice President of the United States of America: From the killing fields of the Ardennes in World War I, to those of Hallaba in Iraq, to Tokyo's subways and beyond. Over all that distance chemicals weapons have traced an insidious path of unspeakable horror through our century. It has been a long time since WWI. Allow me to say that the oral history of my own family teaches lessons about what happened there. My father's older brother went from the hills of middle Tennessee as a teenager to join the Army and served with our troops in WWI in Europe. He came home a broken man because he had been a victim of poison gas. He lived for a long time; coughing , wheezing, limited in his ability to move around. He had one lung removed and part of another and his life, he made a lot of his life, but it was very nearly ruined by that experience. So many millions of families around the world came into personal contact with the horrors of poison gas in WWI, that the world arrived at a rare moral consensus that chemical weapons ought to be forever banned, and it lasted for awhile, but then that consensus started to erode.

DAVIDSON: U.S. Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, former Republican Senator from Maine, warned of the increasing threat to U.S. soldiers from chemical weapons.

WILLIAM COHEN, former Republican Senator from Maine: Quite simply, this treaty is critical to the safety of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. The Chemicals Weapons Convention is needed to protect and defend the men and women in uniform who protect and defend our country. We live in a world today in which we find regional aggressors, third rate armies, terrorist groups, and religious cults who may view lethal chemical agents as the cheapest and most effective weapon against American troops in the field. Our troops, in fact, may be in greater risk of a chemical attack today than in the past, because America's forces are the world's most powerful adversaries and are more likely to challenge us asymmetrically through the use of non-conventional means, such as chemical weapons. And that's why our military leaders, who stand before us stand firmly behind America's ratification of this treaty. They understand that we can far better protect our nation working to abolish chemical weapons from the world rather than stockpiling and threatening to use them.

JAMES BAKER, III, former Secretary of State, United States of America: As we've heard the chemical weapons convention was negotiated under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush...

DAVIDSON: And speaking now is James Baker, the Secretary of State under George Bush. Baker, along with America's military leaders at that time, actually faced the potential of Saddam Hussein, using his arsenal of chemical weapons against U. S. troops during the Persian Gulf War. Yet he too is backing this chemical weapons convention which he and others refer to as the CWC.

BAKER: The argument that some have used against ratification of the CWC is that it would somehow undermine our national security. Frankly, the suggestion that George Bush and Ronald Reagan would negotiate a treaty detrimental to this nation's security is outrageous. Ratification of the CWC is at its core, really a test of American leadership. If we fail to ratify this treaty, we will forego the influence we would otherwise have had in the continuing international effort against chemical weapons. If we fail to ratify this treaty we will postpone indefinitely any progress on a ban against the equally dire threat of biological weapons. But most importantly of all my friends, if we fail to ratify the CWC, we will be sending a clear signal of retreat from international leadership, both to our allies and to our enemies alike. This is a message we should never, never send.

DAVIDSON: Some critics of the chemical weapons convention are not satisfied with the verification arrangements under the treaty, but U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright said we'll never have a perfect treaty.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Secretary of State, United States of America: There's some people who say the treaty is flawed because we cannot assume early ratification and full compliance by out-law states. This is like saying, we should not pass a law against drug smuggling because we cannot assume full compliance by drug traffickers. We cannot allow the rules of the international system to be set by the enemies of the international system. As Secretary of State and as an American, I'm also concerned about our leadership in the fight to stop the spread the weapons of mass destruction. If the Senate were to reject the CWC, we would be isolated from our allies and on the same side, as countries such as Libya and Iraq. The problem countries will never accept a prohibition on chemical weapons if America stays out and keeps them company and gives them cover. We will not have the standing to mobilize our allies to support strong action of violators if we ourselves refuse to join the treaty being violated. The time for Senate action is now. The treaty has been pending in the Senate for 180 weeks. It's been the subject of more than a dozen hearing and scores of briefings. And we have supplied more than 1500 pages of testimony, reports, correspondence and answers for the record concerning it. In summary, this treaty is a test of our ability to follow through on commitments. It reflects existing American practices and advances enduring American interests.

DAVIDSON: We'll pause for a short break and when we return we'll hear from one of the President's senior advisors on the threat chemical weapons pose to civilian populations.

JOHN HOLUM, Director, US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency: The risk, I think, of chemical weapons being used is growing. They have been used in countries, Iran and Iraq both against each other and against their own people. They have been used by terrorists in Japan in the subways bombing by the Aum Shinrikyo cult.

DAVIDSON: You're listening to Common Ground, a program of world affairs sponsored by the Stanley Foundation. Our guests are supporters of the International Chemical Weapons Convention, which the U.S. has yet to ratify, but which will go into effect anyway, April 29. Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available, and at the end of the broadcast, I'll give you details on how to order. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

My next guest is John Holum, the director of the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. He serves as the principal advisor to the President and Secretary of State on the full range of arms control matters. Holum outlines the strengths and weaknesses of the chemical weapons treaty.

HOLUM: Well, I think it has on the weaknesses side, very few. The thing to keep in mind, is that once you pass a treaty dealing with weapons of mass destruction and the international rule of law, you have a lot of work to do. You have to spend a lot of time enforcing it. No treaty can make the threat of chemical weapons go away. So if there is a weakness, it's that the international community will have to muster the will and determination to enforce the treaty in order to make it truly meaningful. But I think the strengths are clear and they make it manifestly in the U.S. national interest. The treaty for the first time, will make it illegal, internationally, to have chemical weapons. To make them, to manufacture them, even possess them. That's not the case now and few people realize that. It's illegal to have nuclear weapons for countries that are members of the non-proliferation treaty. It's illegal to have biological weapons. It's not illegal to have chemical weapons. So countries like Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, can build up arsenals. And we can't do a thing about it. Now under the treaty we'll have two new elements added to the equation. One is that, we'll have much more information than we have now about other countries' chemical weapons efforts, because we'll have the right to conduct on-site challenge inspections of suspect sites and other very strong verification provisions. The strongest ever in an arms control treaty. Plus, as I was indicating, the information will be actionable. Because the chemical weapons will be illegal and there will be a basis for sanctioning countries that don't comply. So this will strengthen international efforts against chemical weapons, whether by rogue states or by terrorists.

There's another important element to this, and that is that the treaty makes chemical weapons harder to acquire, because at every step along the way, whether it's looking at reports on exports, whether it's evaluating routine trade, there will be more information around. And that means, that people who want to acquire chemical weapons, whether they're terrorists or governments, they'll have a harder time getting access to them.

DAVIDSON: Are these stockpiles growing now? You had mentioned the quantities?

HOLUM: Well there are two countries in the world with declared stockpiles; those are the United States and Russia. We have 30,000 tons, they have something over 40,000 tons. Both the United Sates and Russia are in the process of destroying our stock piles. Both have signed the treaty and we think the Russians will follow us fairly soon in ratification. In addition to that, there are about 20 countries that have not declared chemical weapons stockpiles, but we think, based on intelligence, have them. The number of countries is relatively stable. But the risk, I think of chemical weapons being used, is growing. They have been used by countries in Iran and Iraq both against each other and against their own people. They have been used by terrorists in Japan in the subway bombing by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, and I think the risk of their use is growing and something we need to be increasingly concerned about.

DAVIDSON: This convention is between countries, but terrorist groups are obviously interested in chemical weapons too. How does this convention counter those sub-national groups?

HOLUM: It's a very good and important question. We don't claim that this treaty is aimed against terrorism, it's between countries, but it does, as Attorney General Reno has said, add a very important tool to law enforcement's efforts against terrorism. That's, in part, because of the tracking. Chemical weapons stockpiles will have to be destroyed and trade will be more closely monitored. It's also in part because each country under the treaty is required to make the basic prohibitions of the treaty, the ban on chemical weapons, part of it's domestic criminal law. So that mere possession of chemical weapons by a U. S. citizen or by a Japanese citizen or an Iranian, would be against that country's national law and would have to be prosecuted. In the United States we've had a good example of how that works. We've got a biological weapons convention, as I've said earlier, on the books that bans biological weapons. It doesn't have a very good enforcement mechanism and we're negotiating to fix that, but it does prohibit biological agents. And it requires domestic legislation like the CWC, the chemical treaty does. In 1995, a member of a hate group in Ohio, ordered some of the plague bacillus from a specialized health supplier in Rockville, Maryland. The supplier filled the order, but because it was out of the ordinary and because of the domestic implementing law for the biological weapons convention, the supplier also called the authorities. And they found out that it was a skinhead operation; who knows what they were planning to do with it. But the domestic implementing law under the treaty, made it possible to interrupt that activity. And who knows what it averted. The CWC, the chemical treaty, will work in the same way.

DAVIDSON: We've mentioned a couple of incidents, specific incidents so far of both the use of biological, or, chemical, and the potential use of biological weapons. What are some of the more significant incidents of the use of chemical weapons to date, so that our listeners know exactly what kind of threat we're talking about.

HOLUM: Well, the most, the clearest one, and the one that would should I think be most alarming, because of the growing danger of terrorism was the use by the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan in 1995. And they released rather small portions of the nerve agent sarin in the subway system. Twelve people were killed in that attack. Something like 5,000, excess of 5,000 were injured, suffered serious longer term consequences. There was a previous use of chemical weapons, at least according to some of the reports, and according to the court documents in the United States, at the World Trade Center bombing. As I understand it, the perpetrators of that act attempted to lace their explosives with cyanide. And they didn't use enough. they weren't very competent, and they ended up dispersing the chemical agent through the explosion. But we've already had that suggests, an incident of chemical weapon terrorism in the United States. And when you consider the World Trade Center bombing, the Oklahoma City tragedy, the Olympic Park bombing, other events of that kind, you come to recognize that the United States is vulnerable to terrorism just as other countries are. It can happen here. And how much more awful the suffering would be if even small quantities of chemical agents were used.

DAVIDSON: Were chemical weapons used against soldiers in the Gulf War, against U.S. soldiers?

HOLUM: That's I think, still an open question. There was certainly some exposure, and they're trying to determine the extent of it. At the end of the war, when chemical munitions dumps that the Iraqis had maintained were destroyed. But as of now there is not firm evidence that the Iraqis decided to use chemical weapons against U.S. troops. It's interesting, because it's sort of a confirmation of our military decision in 1985 under President Reagan, that the United States didn't want chemical weapons. In that year legislation was passed calling for the abolition of our chemical weapons stockpile and that's now underway. And we didn't take chemical weapons obviously to the Gulf War, even though we knew that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons stockpiles. That's because our military, led by Chairman, Shalikashvili of the Joint Chiefs is convinced that the best answer to chemical weapons is strong conventional protection against chemical weapons. We don't need chemical weapons to fight in conflicts. What we need is the deterrent capability of strong defenses and other of course conventional weapons.

DAVIDSON: Have chemical weapons been used against U.S. troops since WWI, which I believe is the last time there was great public knowledge about the use of chemical weapons in war?

HOLUM: They have not. They have been used in other conflicts, but not against U.S. troops since then. Threatened obviously in the Iran-Iraq conflict.

DAVIDSON: Mr. Holum, there's a question of whether the U.S. is attacked by chemical weapons, how we would retaliate. Would the U.S. respond with anything stronger than chemical weapons if attacked?

HOLUM: Well, we wouldn't respond with chemical weapons because we are getting rid of ours, regardless of the treaty. We would first, as Secretary of Defense Perry and Secretary of Defense Cohen, his successor, respond with overwhelming conventional power. And we have that power, and I don't think it needs to go beyond that. I think our ability to repeat what happen to Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War is sufficient to deter chemical weapons used by others. We don't specify, precisely what our response would be to chemical or biological or other weapons of mass destruction. Because we don't want to telegraph our intentions. But any country that is considering using these weapons against U.S. troops, has to be on notice that the response would be devastating and overwhelming.

DAVIDSON: So nuclear weapons have not been completely ruled out?

HOLUM: Nor in. I think the key is that we don't specify.

DAVIDSON: What happens if April 29, when the treaty goes into effect, the U.S. has not yet ratified it? What does that do to the United States, within the international community?

HOLUM: Well, the first thing it does is make us look like a follower rather than a leader. And it would be a tragedy because the United States is really the indispensable country in enforcing strong international rules against the spread of weapons of mass destruction and terror. We led in negotiating the Chemical Weapons Convention. It would be a shame if we trailed in bringing it into effect.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: We are closing a 20th century which gives us an opportunity now to forge a widening international commitment to banish poison gas from the Earth in the 21st century. This is a simple issue at bottom, even though the details are somewhat complex. Presidents and legislators from both parties, military leaders and arms controls experts have bound together in common cause because this is simply good for the future of every American. I received two powerful letters recently calling for ratification. One has already been mentioned that I received from Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker, Senator Boren, and former National Security Advisor General Brent Scrowcroft. The other came General Powell, General Jones, General Vesey, General Schwartzkopf and more than a dozen other retired generals and admirals. All of them saying, as one, America needs to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. And we must do it before it takes affect on April 29. Of course the treaty is not a panacea. No arms control treaty can be absolutely perfect, and none can end the need for vigilance. But no nation acting alone can protect itself from the threat posed by chemical weapons. Trying to stop their spread by ourselves would be like trying to stop the wind that helps carry their poison to its target. We must have an international solution to a global problem. The convention provides clear and overwhelming benefits for our people. Under a law congress passed in the 1980's we are already destroying almost all our chemical weapons. The convention requires other nations to follow our lead. To eliminate their arsenals of poison gas and to give up developing, producing and acquiring such weapons in the future. By ratifying the chemical weapons convention, as Secretary Cohen said, we can help to shield our soldiers from one of the battlefield's deadliest killers. We can give our children something our parents and grandparents never had, broad protection against the threat of chemical attack. And we can bolster our leadership in the fight against terrorism of proliferation all around the world. If the Senate fails to ratify the convention before it enters into force, our national security, and I might add, our economic security will suffer. We will be denied the use of the treaty's tools against rogue states and terrorists; we will lose the chance to enforce the rules we helped to write, or to have Americans serve as international inspectors. Something that is especially important for those who have raised concerns about the inspection provisions of the treaty. Ironically if are outside this agreement, rather than inside, it is our chemical companies, our leading exporters, which will face mandatory trade restrictions that could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. In short order, American will go from leading the world to joining the company of pariah nations that the chemical weapons conventions seeks to isolate. We cannot allow this to happen. The time has come to pass this treaty, as 70 other nations already have done. Since I sent the Chemical Weapons Convention to the Senate three and a half years ago, there have been more than a dozen hearings, more than 1500 pages of testimony and reports. During the last three months we have worked very closely with Senate leaders to go the extra mile to resolve remaining questions and areas of concern. I want to thank those in the Senate who have worked with us for their leadership and for their good faith efforts. Ratifying the Chemicals Weapons Convention again I say is important, both for what it does and for what it says. It says America is committed to protecting our troops, to fighting terror, to stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. To setting and enforcing standards for international behavior and in leading the world and in leading the challenges of the 21st century. I urge the Senate to act in the highest traditions of bi-partisanship and in the deepest of our national interest. And let me again say the words that I have spoken today, are nothing compared to the presence, to the careers, to the experience, to the judgment, to the patriotism of Republicans and Democrats alike and the military leaders who have gathered here, and who all across this country have lent their support to this monumentally important effort. We must not fail, we have a lot of work to do, but I leave here today with renewed confidence that together we can get the job done. Thank you. God Bless you. And God Bless America.

DAVIDSON: President Clinton speaking April 4th at a White House Rally, pushing for the Senate to ratify the International Chemical Weapons Convention. For Common Ground I'm Mary Gray Davidson.

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