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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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