IT IS ODD that the administration should be thinking of calling together the 100-odd nations that have agreed to the Geneva Protocol's ban on first use of chemical weapons to ask them to go all the way and ban all use of those weapons. Soviet- American talks on the subject stalled some time ago on the question of verifying a CW production ban. This happened even before the still unresolved Sverdlovsk incident suggested an apparent Soviet violation of the biological warfare treaty, and even before evidence mounted that Soviet chemical weapons were being used in several Asian countries. What with Moscow's palpable disdain for the arms control commitments it has already undertaken in this field, what would new commitments mean?
Moscow has refused to explain what happened in Sverdlovsk, where between 20 and 1,000 people died in an anthrax outbreak stemming from what the U.S. government believes was a biological weapons factory. The refusal to answer valid charges of a violation constitutes in itself a continuing violation of the Biological Warfare Convention. Meanwhile, the Soviets labor to frustrate the United Nations' investigation of alleged use of Soviet chemical weapons in Laos and Afghanistan. Before any wider CW arms control talks are begun, it is essential to try to get to the bottom of the Sverdlovsk and "yellow rain" incidents.
The United States should keep raising these incidents and trying to focus international attention on the Kremlin's CW stockpile and extensive CW training. To do this at a larger CW negotiating forum, however, could too easily lead to its being accused of disrupting those talks. Meanwhile, the two incidents demand some hard thinking about what is "adequate" verification, especially if it is proven that Moscow flagrantly violated a clear treaty requirement.
There is a final reason to go slow on a new CW negotiation. The administration has broached the idea in the context of its effort already under way to return to chemical weapons production itself. Administration sources now speak of a "two-track" building and bargaining plan. The trouble is, as some figures in this administration have pointed out in the past, the "bargaining chip" can easily end up being built, not bargained.
The weapons in question, so-called binary chemical weapons, are innocuous until fired, and therefore easier for troops (or terrorists) to handle. Such is the risk of opening an expensive competition in the building of these weapons, however, that the only grounds on which binaries should be produced is a clear requirement of American military security. Binaries are of minimal military value against a prepared opponent like the Soviet Union. A good case for producing them has yet to be made.