By Douglas Remillard USIA Special Correspondent - 07 March 1997

New York -- A top executive of the American chemical industry March 6 reaffirmed the chemical industry's "unwavering support" for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) that will ban the development, production, use, stockpiling and transfer of chemical weapons.

But, said John Mugger, president of the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA), "every time I go into a senator's office and try to sell this treaty, the senator acts surprised that, of all people, the chemical industry representative is behind this convention."

"We, indeed, support this treaty," even though it will impose new regulations on the industry and will subject some production facilities to international inspections, Mugger said.

Commercial chemical companies do not produce chemical weapons, but they do produce materials used in agriculture, medicine, and fire prevention which can be processed into chemical weapons agents. The goal of the U.S. industry is to prevent illegal diversions and preserve legitimate markets.

Critics of the treaty in the United States say it will make the U.S. vulnerable to espionage from corrupt inspectors, impose massive regulatory burdens on businesses, lull the U.S. into a false sense of security, and erode Constitutional rights. But Mugger rejected such arguments by U.S. opponents of the CWC, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms.

"The critics are simply wrong," he said. "This treaty will raise the bar for other nations to the same high standards already set by the United States. This convention is a natural extension of U.S. policy."

In 1985 the U.S. Congress voted to end the production of chemical weapons by the military and begin destroying existing stockpiles. Proposals for the treaty -- based on tough U.S. standards and rules for chemicals -- were presented by then-President Ronald Reagan to the United Nations. President Bush signed the treaty in Paris in 1993. Now, President Clinton is urging the Senate to ratify the treaty by the end of April so that the U.S. will be a party to the treaty when it enters into force on May 6.

Mugger told a group of business executives that practice tests of the CWC's record-keeping requirements and seven full-fledged inspection trial runs did not indicate that extensive burdens would be imposed upon the industry.

"We are confident that the convention will protect our confidential business information; it will respect our Constitutional right against illegal searches and seizures; and it will impose no unreasonable regulatory burden. In short, the benefits far outweigh the costs," Mugger stated.

Mugger spoke at a luncheon hosted by Business Executives for National Security. The group -- made up of business executives with an interest in shaping American foreign and defense policy -- has long urged the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty, arguing that it will reduce threats to American troops, help intelligence agencies monitor emerging chemical weapons threats, and protect the American chemical industry.

The group also heard from John Holum, director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Holum said Senator Helms opposes ratification as a way to force attention to issues that are important to the Republican leadership, such as consolidation of the U.S. foreign affairs agencies and U.N. reform.

"We will not accept the premise that the CWC is a favor to President Clinton to be bargained for, when in fact it is a security instrument for the American people to whom its benefits belong," Holum said.

He said that the treaty's prospects for ratification increase with rising public knowledge about it. Holum noted that according to one major poll, 84 percent of the American public supports treaty ratification.

The Senate has until late April to ratify the treaty which, since its creation in 1993, has been signed by 160 countries and ratified by 65. The treaty will become effective in May with or without U.S. ratification. As a result, debate has ignited over the past few months regarding the consequences and opportunities of the treaty for the United States.

Proponents argue that failure to ratify the treaty would mean global sanctions against American chemical firms and no seat on the international Executive Council that will implement the treaty and authorize inspections. In addition, U.S. chemical firms stand to begin losing export trade to their overseas competitors as mandatory trade sanctions against non-parties to the treaty are phased in.

Noting that the U.S. has already unilaterally decided to destroy its stock of chemical weapons, Mugger emphasized that the CWC would apply "this most sensible policy to other nations throughout the world and raise higher standards for other countries."

As an example of the treaty's usefulness, Mugger said it could have prevented the Tokyo subway gas attack two years ago because the CWC "creates a paper trail to improve detection of illegal activities" by setting new accountability requirements for anyone handling significant amounts of weapons-making ingredients.

If the treaty had been in effect, he said, security experts would have had a better chance of uncovering the attack before it was carried out.

According to Mugger, as much as $600 million in annual export sales of chemicals could be lost if the treaty is not ratified.