Luntz Poll on CWC fatally flawed

The poll released last week by the Luntz Research Companies on the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is a classic example of the rule that in polling, the questions asked are more important than the answers given. The poll’s misleading, biased questions gave a severely distorted picture of the CWC to respondents -- and produced fatally flawed results.
First, in describing the Convention to respondents, the poll failed to state the most basic -- and irrefutable -- fact that argues for ratification: The United States, as a result of a law passed by Congress a decade ago, is destroying nearly all of its chemical weapons, with or without the CWC. The CWC will compel other nations to follow our lead by agreeing to destroy their chemical weapons and to not produce, acquire or transfer such weapons in the future.
Second, the poll asked respondents whether they would support the CWC if it had certain troubling characteristics and/or implications -- none of which the CWC has. Specifically, the poll asked the following disingenuous questions:

1. “Would you support the treaty ... if only the United States and its allies wound up obeying it while other, potentially hostile countries like Russia, China, Iran, Iraq or North Korea keep their chemical weapons?”

  • As stated above, the question fails to inform respondents that the United States decided to destroy nearly all of its chemical weapons a decade ago under a law passed by Congress -- and not as a result of the CWC.

  • In fact, Russia, China and Iran all have signed the CWC -- and the Chinese legislature has already ratified the treaty. As CWC parties, they will be subject to its extensive verification procedures, including routine and short-notice challenge inspections by international inspectors (Americans could be among those inspectors -- but only if the United States ratifies the treaty.)

  • As to rogue states that reject the CWC, they may seek to acquire or produce chemical weapons with or without the CWC. But with the treaty, the community of civilized nations will have new tools to make these efforts more difficult than it would be without the treaty. First, the treaty requires parties to destroy their stockpiles of chemical weapons, the largest potential source from which rogue states or terrorists could steal or otherwise illegally acquire chemical weapons. Second, the treaty prohibits parties from selling, transferring or trading to non-parties certain dual-use chemicals needed to make chemical weapons -- making it more difficult for rogue states to acquire them. Third, the treaty gives the United States and any other party the right to demand short-notice inspections of facilities in member countries suspected of selling prohibited chemicals to non-parties -- this too will make it more difficult for rogue states to acquire chemical weapons than it would be without the CWC.

  • Finally, the question implies that the treaty is fatally flawed because we cannot assume ratification or full compliance by rogue states. That is like saying we should not pass a law against drug smuggling because we cannot assume full compliance by drug traffickers. The United States must not allow the rules of the international system to be dictated by a few pariah states.

  • 2. “Would you support the treaty ... if it would result in the transfer of technology that could help countries like Iran, Cuba or China increase their ability to fight chemical wars?”

  • It would be strange if a treaty expressly devoted to eliminating chemical weapons and to making their production, acquisition and trade more difficult resulted in the transfer of chemical weapons technology to its parties. The CWC does just the opposite. It absolutely prohibits helping any country make chemical weapons. The treaty reads: “Each Party ... undertakes never under any circumstances to develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone. Each State Party shall adopt the necessary measures to ensure that toxic chemicals and their precursors are only developed, produced, otherwise acquired, retained, transferred or used within its territory ... for purposes not prohibited under this Convention.”

  • The question seeks to further a fiction by treaty opponents about technology transfer which is based on a misreading of language in the treaty: “... States Parties shall facilitate ... and have the right to participate in ... exchange of chemicals, equipment, and ... information relating to ... chemistry.” This provision is explicitly restricted to exchanges for “purposes not prohibited under the Convention.” It merely affirms the right of parties to engage in chemical commerce for peaceful purposes (e.g. industrial, agricultural, research, pharmaceutical, medical or other pursuits) as they do today without the CWC. A state party with chemical weapons aspirations has no right under the treaty to anything that furthers those aspirations and no state party has an obligation under the treaty to facilitate the transfer of chemical weapons technology -- the facts are exactly the contrary. And nothing in the treaty requires the elimination of American export controls on chemical materials or equipment.

  • 3. “Would you support the treaty ... if countries that violated its prohibitions went unpunished?”

  • Well no -- and neither would the Clinton Administration, every Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since 1976, former President Bush, former Secretary of State James Baker, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and former chiefs from every branch of the military who now support the treaty.

  • Indeed, the question underscores why it is so vital that the United States ratify the treaty. If we do not, Americans will not be able to help enforce the rules we helped to write. Americans will not be allowed to serve on the treaty governing board. Americans will not be allowed to lead or take part in inspection teams. And we will have no standing -- legal or moral -- to ensure that when violations of the treaty are discovered, they are punished.

  • With the treaty, if the United States detects illegal chemical production or trade by a party, it can help rally international support for any number of multilateral actions, including even military action, to halt such illicit activities. And of course, we retain the right to act unilaterally. With the United States as a vigilant and vigorous member, the CWC gives us more tools to prevent, stop or punish those who would produce or acquire chemical weapons.

    4. “Would you support the treaty ... if it would authorize UN inspectors to go to any site in the United States; potentially without legal search warrants and potentially risking American business or military secrets?”

  • The bias of this question is immediately evident by its erroneous assertion that “UN” inspectors would be involved in inspections. The United Nations will have no role in implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention. Rather, the treaty will be implemented by inspectors and others from the countries which have ratified the Convention.

  • Far from allowing inspectors to go where they please when they please, at the insistence of the United States the CWC explicitly allows members to take into account their constitutional obligations when providing access for challenge inspections. Both the treaty and its implementing legislation fully protect U.S. citizens, including businesses, from unreasonable search and seizure.

  • Because the U.S. chemical industry fully supports the CWC, the Administration anticipates inspection access to be granted voluntarily in almost all cases. In the rare cases where access is denied, a search warrant will be required.

  • The Chemical Manufacturers Association, which strongly supports the CWC, helped write the rules covering inspections and confidential business information -- ensuring that any burdens on business were reasonable and protecting trade secrets were its top priorities during the treaty negotiations conducted by the Reagan and Bush administrations. The CMA “test drove” the treaty during seven full-fledged trial inspections at chemical facilities to make sure the protections against unreasonable searches and seizures and industrial espionage are strong. They are. Besides providing for warrants when a company does not consent to a search, the treaty protects sensitive equipment, information or areas not related to chemical weapons during a challenge inspection through managed access techniques.

  • Finally, fearmongering about unlawful searches and industrial espionage is doubly misplaced given the very small number of companies likely to be inspected. Of the fewer than 2,000 American companies we expect to be covered by the treaty, more than 90 percent will be required to do no more than fill out a two-page form once a year. About 140 companies are likely to be subject to routine inspections. Any challenge inspections are expected to be directed largely at military facilities.

    Three-and-a-half years after the Clinton Administration submitted a treaty to the Senate that was initiated by the Reagan Administration and completed and signed by the Bush Administration -- and after 16 hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and more than 1,500 pages of information, testimony, and answers to reports and questions for the record -- the facts about the Chemical Weapons Convention clearly demonstrate its benefits to America’s national security. In a poll conducted by the Wirthlin Group in February that gave respondents a succinct, balanced summary of arguments by two hypothetical Senate candidates -- one for, one against the treaty -- 75 percent of the respondents said they would support the candidate who supported ratification. Unlike the Luntz poll, the Wirthlin poll results speak for themselves.
  • Produced by the White House Working Group on the Chemical Weapons Convention.
    For more information on the Chemical Weapons Convention: Phone: 202-647-8677 Fax: 202-647-6928