Would you support a new Pentagon program that adds billions of dollars to the $200 billion deficit, that has never been field tested because it has failed 80 percent of its controlled laboratory tests, that has been rejected by our closest allies in NATO, that if put into effect would kill civilians in droves while leaving protected enemy soldiers unharmed, and that makes chemical weapons proliferation and terrorist use more likely and arms control less so?
Of course not.
That's why a bipartisan majority in the House has decisively rejected over the past three years the Pentagon's request to produce new binary nerve gas weapons, a proposal supported on this page May 21 ("Chemical Weapons: The Real Issues," by Sens. John Glenn, Barry Goldwater, Sam Nunn and John Warner) We strongly support, however, the administration's request for over $1 billion to improve chemical protection for our troops and to continue chemical research efforts.
The message from Congress has been clear: if the chemical threat from the Soviet Union is as dangerous and real as argued, then the priorities of our chemical program should be the protection of our troops, the maintenance of our current adequate retaliatory stockpile and the pursuit of a verifiable arms control ban on chemical weapons. As Rep. Les Aspin said: "We want more defense, not more production lines."
In its technical evaluations of the binary Bigeye bomb, the General Accounting Office found that binary weapons are not as safe, modern or reliable as claimed by the Department of Defense. For example, one binary component is as least as toxic as the chemical that leaked at Bhopal, India. Citing moisture, temperature, purity, fusing and structural deficiencies, GAO concluded that "technical problems still plague the Bigeye bomb development."
This conclusion was preceded by the infamous 1982 test in which the Bigeye bomb prematurely exploded and spewed deadly gas at an Army test facility. Just two weeks ago, the GAO reported that the Bigeye has failed to meet test standards at least eight out of 10 times over the past year.
In an effort to sell the binary program, Pentagon reports have argued that the binary stockpile would be substantially smaller than the current usable unitary chemical stockpile. That hardly seems a credible deterrent to the Soviet chemical threat. Furthermore, a Defense Department blue-ribbon panel has already concluded that the current stockpile is adequate and constitutes a credible retaliatory deterrent into the 1990s. It's hard to understand why the Pentagon would want to replace the current stockpile in Europe, where the greatest threat of chemical warfare exists, with one that is smaller and not acceptable to the Europeans.
It is clear that in order to form a credible deterrent, the new weapons would have to be prepositioned in Europe. Moving massive amounts of nerve gas munitions in the opening phases of a crisis, as the Pentagon argues, would only worsen the situation and convince the Soviets that we were preparing to strike first.
If pressed, the issue of binary chemical weapons in Europe would become one of the hottest issues facing NATO, placing into jeopardy more important defense and foreign policy objectives -- joint research on SDI, theater nuclear deployments, and improvements in conventional defenses. The supreme allied commander in Europe, Gen. Bernard Rogers, aptly described this reality in April: "The issue has become too tough to handle. I find it is put in the too-sensitive/too- tough-to-handle box and it just reposes there." The secretary general of NATO, Lord Carrington, said as much at a recent congressional reception. Our European allies do not hesitate to wonder why we would hand Mikhail Gorbachev such a public relations opportunity in the middle of his peace offensive.
Confronted with decisive bipartisan defeats in the Congress, the Pentagon has tried to rescue the binary program by appointing a commission. A majority of the commission were already pro-binary, and the panel did not include a single opponent, despite our recommendation that Ed Bethune, a former Republican colleague and recognized expert, be appointed.
In addition, the commission's executive secretary, the Defense Department's assistant secretary on chemical matters and the Pentagon's chief lobbyist for the binary program are one and the same person. The commission's three-page testimony, hastily produced in just five weeks, predictably endorsed the Pentagon's binary request. The commission even hired a few public relations consultants at $250 a day to spread the word.
Except for adding even more to the federal deficit, nothing has changed on this issue since the House, by a bipartisan majority, overwhelmingly defeated the binary nerve gas program. Already 119 Democrats and Republicans are sponsoring legislation to delete this unwarranted program once again. For sound reasons of defense, foreign policy, arms control and budget, Congress should once again say no.