Skip to main content

Chemical Weapon Disarmament

Back to All Publications

In their Jan. 5 Friday Opinion essay, “Farewell to the last U.S. chemical weapon,” Joe Cirincione and John Isaacs wrote that following the U.S. renunciation of biological weapons by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969, “the United States destroyed all its biological weapons, as did other nations.” The Soviet Union did not destroy its biological weapon stockpiles until the early 1990s, 20 years later, and only after the public disclosure of its massive and continuing offensive biological weapons program in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which entered into force in 1975.

The authors’ suggestion that the achievement of the BWC in 1975 led to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997 was very misleading. The Nixon administration gave up the U.S. biological weapons program precisely to maintain the U.S. chemical weapons program, a policy strongly favored by two later presidents: Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

The authors stated that “no major nation has chemical weapons today.” That is not clear: The U.S. government, in its annual noncompliance statements, suggests that China has not destroyed its chemical weapon stocks. The authors said that “no nation anywhere admits to having them.” That is true, but Israel almost certainly has retained chemical weapons.

The authors also wrote, “In World War II, the Nazis perfected nerve agents, including tabun and sarin, but did not use them in combat, reserving them for genocide in concentration camps.” That line read as saying that tabun and sarin were the gases used to kill people in concentration camps. That is not so: The Germans used Zyklon-B, a product containing hydrogen cyanide, which is not a “nerve agent.”

The authors ended on a complimentary note to President George H.W. Bush, which he deserved. However, it would have been useful for the authors to have also pointed out that since 2013, it has been the policy of the Russian government to do everything it can to undermine the Chemical Weapons Convention.

View All Publications