THE ADMINISTRATION keeps plugging away to put the United States back in the business of making new chemical weapons, whose manufacture President Nixon renounced in his first term. This year it seeks $48 million for 155 mm binary chemical artillery shells and $66 million for equipment and chemicals for Bigeye binary bombs. But its case for building these weapons get no better and in some ways gets worse.
The basic case remains that the United States must modernize its CW stockpile to meet the Soviet CW threat in Europe. But why must a chemical threat be met with chemicals? Almost all Europeans react in revulsion against their prospective use by either side. Fortunately, NATO has many other military means with which to deter and defend against a Soviet attack of whater sort. Europe is not Loas or Afghanistan, the places of limited means where the Soviets or their clients use chemicals still.
Meanwhile, events raise other considerations. The new binary weapons are hailed for their safety features. But last year the Pentagon discovered the Bigeye bomb might explode in the plane en route to target, and it was forced to defer a request for production funds. The very real issue of the danger chemicals pose to users is further illumined by accounts of the accident at a Soviet chemical facility in Sverdlovsk in 1979: about 1,000 people were said to have died.
Soviet or Soviet-sponsored use of chemical and biological agents in Indochina and Afghanistan has given the West a powerful political argument. At the same time, such use has raised the requirement for solid verification measures at the long-running Geneva negotiations on destroying old chemical weapons and banning new ones. Few people expect early results from those talks.
But that supplies no good reason for the United States to resume production of weapons of dubious military value and heavy, negative political weight. Such weapons are not, politically speaking, a big-ticket item like the MX, but there is a considerable bureaucratic investment in them. The burden is on Congress, especially the House, to ensure that the United States does not break the production moratorium that it established 13 years ago, to its honor and profit.