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Time to Abolish Chemical Weapons

By Mikhail Gorbachev/ Green Cross International

Picture a fisherman threatened with old, rusting mustard agent weapons in his fishnets. Picture a whole neighborhood evacuated because of chemical weapons unearthed in one family's backyard. Picture gallons of deadly nerve agent leaking out of storage containers and floating downwind toward communities. And, worst of all, picture a terrorist group releasing nerve agent in a public place - say, the subway - in the middle of rush hour.

These four scenarios are not hypothetical. They have all taken place over the past few years in the US, Japan, and on the high seas. Chemical weapons, produced by the hundreds of thousands of tons by Russia, the US, Japan, much of Western Europe, and now in Asia, continue to threaten us all in many and varied ways. Large stockpiles and buried and dumped munition caches still exist. It's time to understand this growing threat better and to mutually abolish chemical weapons before it's too late.

The United States and Russia today have over 65,000 tons of chemical weapons stockpiled at sixteen major sites. US stockpiles, some 25,000 tons now, are located in eight states - Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Oregon, and Utah - and on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific. Russian stockpiles, larger with 40,000 tons, are concentrated at seven sites in western Russia and one east of the Urals. India has also publicly acknowledged an existing stockpile and several additional countries no doubt also possess smaller stocks of chemical weapons.

Both the US and Russia, along with the great majority of the world, signed an international agreement over the last decade banning the development, production, and stockpiling of chemical weapons. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) took twelve years of tough negotiating, partly under my watch as Soviet President, and is a historic breakthrough in non-discriminatory, verifiable, global disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. It has set an excellent precedent for efforts at nuclear weapons abolition.

And yet, although ratified by the US Senate and Russian Duma three years ago this year, the CWC has failed as of yet to eliminate much of the chemical weapons threat. Serious progress is needed immediately in chemical weapons destruction in order to preclude more accidents or terrorist incidents that will inevitably happen if we wait much longer.

First, we all must recognize that the continued existence of enormous chemical weapons stockpiles is a threat to us all. Nerve, mustard, lewisite, and other deadly agents kill indiscriminately, especially when detonated by terrorist groups in public places or when leaking from stockpile sites and drifting downwind. These old arsenals are also serious environmental and public health hazards to local communities, but our main concern must be global security. The proliferation threat, especially of relatively insecure Russian weapons, is real.

Second, the international community must begin to seriously help Russia in destroying its chemical weapons arsenal. Russia is fully committed to abolition of its stockpile, but its difficult post-Cold War socio-economic situation has precluded it from destroying a single weapon to date. The American Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, established eight years ago by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, has committed some $150 million in recent years to planning a destruction facility in the Kurgan region, just north of Kazakhstan on the steppes of Siberia. And European allies - Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, and others - have committed some $50 million. But the Russian program is estimated at $8-10 billion to destroy all seven CW sites. Much more coordinated support is needed now in order to share this burden more fairly.

Especially important is for the US and the Nunn-Lugar program to retain its leadership. Recent efforts in the US Congress to halt this program are misguided and dangerous.

Third, continued technology development for safe and environmentally sound weapons destruction is needed in order to have a toolbox applicable to all weapons, agents, and situations. The US, having now successfully destroyed 6,000 tons of chemical weapons by incineration, has learned that there is no silver bullet solution for CW destruction. The last five years of alternative technology development will help us all make progress toward safe and final CW destruction.

Fourth, those most threatened by stockpile destruction are understandably the local communities in Russia and the US. Democratic decision-making, with inclusion of all stakeholders through national and regional dialogues, advisory commissions, dedicated outreach programs, and transparent processes will be key to success.

Finally, we must begin to address old and abandoned chemical weapons which contaminate countries and oceans throughout the world. The US, for example, has identified over 200 suspected dump sites in two-thirds of the states which may contain chemical weapons. Green Cross Russia has recently studied an open-burn site for lewisite in the Penza region of Russia. And all major powers have sunk bargeloads of chemical weapons to the bottom of the seas. While these weapons are less threatening from a security point of view, they endanger the environment and health of the global community.

I am committed to ridding the world of these deadly weapons and obsolete arsenals of mass destruction. I appeal to the public and to world leaders to join me in this effort while we still have time.

Gorbachev Calls on World Leaders to Help Abolish Chemical Weapons

On June 25, President Gorbachev sent letters to dozens of heads of state and other political leaders in the United States, Europe and Russia making an urgent call for nations to commit mutual financial support to Russia's flagging chemical weapons destruction program. The response so far to this rare appeal has been heartening, with positive replies from: President of the Confederation of Switzerland, Adolf Ogi; UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair; French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin; Prime Minister of The Netherlands, Wim Kok; President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Luciano Violante; Chairman of the Austrian National Assembly, Heinz Fischer; and President of the Belgian Senate, Armand De Decker. All these leaders expressed the commitment of their governments to chemical weapons destruction.

A World Free of Chemical Weapons
Campaign 2000 launching in Switzerland

The good news is that there is an internationally binding convention to destroy chemical weapons. The bad news is that it is not yet in effect. Tons of chemical weapons are still slowly rotting away, posing a danger for humanity and the environment. The contracts have finally been signed - effective action must now ensue. Green Cross' "Destroy Chemical Weapons Now" Campaign 2000, to be launched in Bern, Switzerland, on September 21, aims at stimulating just such action.

The mission of Green Cross is the remediation and alleviation of the environmental and social consequences of the misuse and degeneration of the environment. The Green Cross Legacy of Wars Program addresses the safe and environmentally sound destruction of weapons of the Cold War and the environmental impacts of war. The chemical weapons campaign seeks to contribute towards the goal of ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction by creating the political and public will needed to support the practical implementation of the CWC - with the objective to destroy all land-based CWs by 2015.

In order to remove the threat posed by chemical weapons, nations with existing stockpiles need to generate the necessary, and considerable, funds for responsible destruction, and all nations must be committed to the prohibition of any future production - as was agreed under the Convention.

The strategy of the Green Cross campaign will be to create and enhance awareness on all levels; among the public through a "bottom-up" information and advertising campaign, and within political circles using "top-down" networking and appeals to influential figures. It is necessary to strengthen the political resolve to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention, and more specifically to generate financial backing needed - particularly for Russia.

Under the management of Green Cross Switzerland, Campaign 2000 has already begun in Switzerland with initial activities to disseminate information and introduce the issue to the public, and to Parliamentarians. The Swiss campaign will form the basis for the internationalization of the campaign in like-minded - particularly European - countries in the coming years. With a view to spreading the campaign to other nations as soon as possible, Green Cross Switzerland will collaborate closely with Green Cross National Organisations in Russia, the United States and across Europe, as well as with Green Cross International in Geneva.

One method of awareness raising that will be used in the campaign is appealing to parliamentarians - both in Switzerland and internationally - as a means of simultaneously informing the public and politicians of the environmental, human and security risks of chemical weapons. Events such as the State of the World Forum in New York in September 2000 also provide important opportunities to get chemical weapons destruction at the forefront of the international agenda.

To achieve a lasting public consciousness, the dangers posed by chemical weapons must be clearly understood by people in the street. Campaign 2000 will undertake to reach people efficiently and effectively using visual images that can be repeated as a carrying agent and "eye-catcher" for the message of the campaign. The visuals used by the campaign will be related to the mission of Green Cross, i.e. demonstrate the risk to human subjects of having chemical weapons in our environment, and will be developed in Switzerland and later extended throughout Europe.

GCI, 160a, rte de Florissant, 1231 Conches, Geneva, Switzerland, Tel: +4 22 789 1662, Fax: 1695, gcienternational@gci.ch.
GC Switzerland: Stephan Robinson, stephan.robinson@greencross.ch
GC Russia: Sergej Baranovsky, gcrus@glas.apc.org
GG USA: Paul Walker, ipis@igc.apc.org
A chemical weapons campaign web site is linked to the GCI site at www.gci.ch.



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