Nonproliferation
Policy Paper

Verification of a Chemical Weapons Convention: A Guide to the Perplexed

in Program

Verification, like beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder. Analysts disagree on the value of arms control and disarmament agreements in large part because they disagree on core assumptions about the nature of national security and the objectives of negotiating partners. Similarly, assessments of an agreement’s “verifiability” can be quite different, depending on underlying assumptions about the motives of participating states, the military utility of cheating, and the potential for responding to violations. Professionals in the intelligence community are supposed to advise policymakers about which treaty provisions can be monitored easily and which with great difficulty. Ideally, these assessments help shape the executive branch’s arms control and negotiating policy and become the basis for high-level policy pronouncements about verification. The legis­ lative branch then passes judgment on the adequacy or effectiveness of verification arrangements, echoing arguments ventilated in the media, pro and con. Although basic substantive issues are often in dispute, debates over verification usually are a surrogate for larger political issues.

Verification debates have been especially contentious over bilateral agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union. During the ebbs and flows of the cold war, the Kremlin habitually pushed against the margins of agreed limitations or entered gray areas in ways bound to create friction. On rare occasions Soviet officials overstepped agreed boundaries with such clarity as to create political firestorms abroad and embarrassment at home. Soviet behavior dovetailed and reinforced a legalistic negotiating approach in Washington to produce highly detailed treaty texts keyed to verification concerns.

Multilateral negotiations dealing with proliferation have involved afar more relaxed approach to verification than recent U.S.-Soviet accords. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), signed in 1968, does not include verification provisions. The “safeguards” agreements of the Inter­national Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), governing verification of states’ obligations under the NPT, were not even concluded before the Senate consented to ratification. The Biological Weapons Convention (BWe), signed in 1972, has no verification provisions whatsoever.

Verification arrangements for the Chemical Weapons Convention (ewe), however, cannot be treated so cavalierly. This accord, unlike the NPT, is a nondiscriminatory agreement and will not permit the United States to stockpile unconventional weapons while other states pledge to refrain from doing so. Yet a U.S. commitment to adhere to the ewe’s provisions will do nothing to prevent lesser, nonsignatory military powers from making and using chemical weapons. Unlike biological weapons, chemical weapons have periodically been used on the battlefield, at times with considerable tactical success. If the convention enters into force, and if the United States becomes a party to it, U.S. military forces will be unable to retaliate in kind against chemical attacks.

Thus, the Bush administration can hardly follow the approach adopted in the BWe, especially given the troubling allegations of Soviet violations of that convention and given Saddam Hussein’s covert program to produce both biological and nuclear weapons. There is also the delicate matter of eight years of Reagan administration rhetoric about the need for the most stringent verification requirements, for challenge inspections in particular. The man who conveyed this message to the chemical weapons negotiators at the Conference on Disarmament in 1984 was none other than Vice President George Bush. The ewe will therefore include useful verification arrangements. They will, however, fall considerably short of inspections “anywhere, anyplace, without a right of refusal,” as previously sought by Reagan administration officials.

Consequently, both supporters and critics of the ewe will have powerful arguments to make about the verification arrangements of this multilateral accord. Supporters will dwell on the utility of establishing international norms against chemical weapons and the utility of the new multinational bodies created to implement the convention. Critics will argue that norms can easily be vitiated by large verification deficiencies, as well as by nonsignatory states. All of these arguments have merit, and all are interconnected. What follows is an effort to guide the reader through the pros and cons of verifying a chemical weapons convention. A concep­tual approach is adopted, both because detailed provisions in several key areas have yet to be concluded as of this writing and because a conceptual framework is especially useful for addressing the larger political and national security issues associated with verification provisions.

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