Arms Control and the U.S. Russian Relationship



The Chemical Weapons Convention, which was concluded in 1992 and opened for signature in 1993, codifies several principles. Signatory nations to the CWC pledge never to develop, produce, acquire, store, transfer, or use chemical weapons. It requires the destruction of all chemical weapons, agents, and production and storage facilities within ten years after its entry into force. As of mid-1996, the CWC had been signed by 160 states and ratified by 61, and will come into effect 180 days after 65 nations have deposited instruments of ratification with the U.N. secretary-general. The convention reflects unprecedented cooperation of the chemical industry with governments in this endeavor.

The United States signed the CWC in January 1993, but both the United States and Russia have yet to ratify it. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported out the CWC by a vote of 13 to 5 on April 25,1996, and the Senate is expected to give its advice and consent this year. After U.S. ratification, a surge of endorsements will probably follow from nations that have been waiting for U.S. accession. This will likely push the CWC's number of approved states over 65, triggering entry into force and placing pressure on the Russian Federation to ratify the convention as well.

The CWC contains a complex verification schedule that binds signatories to provide extensive declarations regarding potential chemical weapons agents and their precursors, and to submit to routine and short-notice challenge inspections at government and civilian facilities. Should a signatory state be found in violation, a variety of measures can be taken, extending from termination of the violator's rights and privileges under the convention to other steps such as sanctions. The convention does allow states to


maintain a small quantity of chemical warfare agents for the testing of antichemical protection and other permitted purposes. However, this material is to be carefully monitored to prevent any attempt to convert it into an offensive capability.

Implementation of the treaty and its verification measures will be overseen by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is to be established in The Hague and supported by contributions from member states. The U.S. share of OPCW's funding has been estimated at roughly $20 million per year. The OPCW will be authorized to impose sanctions against both member and nonmember nations that violate the convention's prohibitions.

The United States is unilaterally obligated to destroy its chemical weapons by the year 2004, in accord with a 1985 act of Congress and a May 191 Bush administration directive. Thus, both the Bush and Clinton administrations have argued that the treaty serves American national interests by seeking to globalize a process that is currently underway in the United States in any event, and by providing the United States with an instrument for mobilizing international action against chemical weapons proliferation. By requiring the domestic criminalization of activities prohibited by the CWC and enhancing national capabilities to track chemical weapons precursors, the convention offers a new mechanism to help deal with the potential terrorist use of chemical weapons. If the convention had been in effect, strengthened criminal laws and procedures in Japan might have assisted earlier identification of the terrorist organization that surreptitiously manufactured nerve gas and then used it in the Tokyo subway system.

Aside from the CWC itself, separate agreements toward chemical weapons destruction have previously been reached between Washington and Moscow. Both nations signed a bilateral accord on June 1, 1990, to reduce their chemical weapons stockpiles to a level of 5,000 metric tons. At present, the U.S. stockpile of chemical weapons is second only to Russia's - 30,000 metric tons as compared to Russia's declared 40,000 metric tons (perhaps a dubious number). For his part, President Yeltsin made


four public declarations between January l992 and March 1995 pledging to eliminate the Russian chemical weapons arsenal. In March 1996, the Yeltsin government approved a chemical weapons destruction program that would be implemented over a ten-year period at an estimated cost of $3.68 billion. The Duma is still debating the issue.

Chemical weapons destruction in Russia has been slow and tentative throughout. In July l992 the United States agreed to provide $25 million in Cooperative Threat Reduction Program assistance to the Russians for chemical weapons destruction, a figure that was later supplemented by $30 million. Approximately half of this amount has now been obligated.


Difficulties with the CWC fall into two categories: those that relate to U.S. worries about Russia's chemical weapons program and those that involve the growing chemical weapons threat from rogue nations and terrorist groups. With regard to Russia, most experts agree that it cannot meet the destruction commitments of the CWC within its specified limit of ten years (although there is a provision for a one-time five-year extension, if approved by the OPCW's executive council), especially if the treaty were to enter into force within the next year. Russia does not now possess reliable and environmentally sound methods and facilities for destroying its chemical weapons or the financial means to do so on its own.

Moreover, Moscow has not been forthcoming in some of its past understandings with the United States. U.S. officials have noted discrepancies between the chemical weapons data provided in 1989 by the then-Soviet Union and information furnished to Washington by Moscow in 1994. Also, Russia has been suspected of continuing to work on binary chemical weapons, which, although presently lawful, would certainly be contrary to the spirit of the CWC and President Yeltsin's public assurances.

U.S. officials have also voiced apprehensions about Russian chemical weapons facilities that Moscow says have been converted to commercial use and therefore do not need to be declared and


destroyed. There is worry that these facilities could in time be reconverted to military use. Moscow has taken the position that these facilities should not be subject to inspection - except in connection with challenge inspections - arguing that such plants will no longer be used for military production, pose no further threat, and therefore do not require inspection. Because of Moscow's intransigence, a U.S.-Russian Bilateral Destruction Agreement, which was meant to facilitate the CWC, has not yet been implemented.

In addition to these Russian dimensions, the United States must also take into account the possibility that other states may not join the CWC and therefore ignore treaty prohibitions and imperil U.S. military forces with their chemical weapons capabilities. Although the CWC obligates states to destroy their chemical weapons facilities, its sanctions may have a negligible effect on those nations that choose not to ratify the treaty or to abide by its terms. North Korea, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Iran have all pursued chemical weapons programs despite international condemnation, and will likely continue to do so. Despite the convention's best efforts, certain nations will produce chemical weapons, even in the face of sanctions, and the United States must base its policies on that definite threat.


  1. The United States should ratify the CWC in 1996. Although this is not a perfect agreement, it is in U.S. national interest to reduce and eventually eradicate Russia's chemical weapons capabilities, and to combat worldwide chemical weapons proliferation. By ratifying the convention, the United States would generate international pressure on Moscow (and other states) to approve the CWC and undertake serious reductions in its chemical weapons inventory. It would also establish legal constraints on the sale or transfer of certain chemicals necessary for chemical weapons programs to states that have not ratified the treaty.

  2. The United States should seek Russian ratification of the CWC. The United States should insist that Moscow's ratifi-


    cation is the beginning, not the end, of the Russian effort to reduce its chemical weapons. Russian ratification of the CWC would, at the very least, create a window of opportunity during which real progress could be made toward destruction of its chemical weapons stocks and facilities.

  3. The United States, along with its allies and friends, should provide increased funding for the destruction of Russian chemical weapons using Russian technology and organizations. In the context of this financial assistance, the United States should require that Russia accept broad-based chemical weapons inspections of facilities, including those that have been converted to civilian use, and clear up questions regarding the size of the Russian chemical weapons stockpile and the Russian binary program.

  4. If Russia meets the conditions in the previous prescription, Washington should initiate a cooperative dialogue with Moscow on deterrence of and defense against chemical weapons use.