The Pentagon's 'Nonlethal' Gas
John Alexander, the former head of the JNLWD and author of Future War: Non-Lethal Weapons in Twenty-First-Century Warfare, says such weapons can and should be used in any upcoming military action in Iraq--which would, in most interpretations, put the United States in the ironic position of violating the same international laws that it is ostensibly seeking to force Iraq to comply with.
"If we fight Saddam, there is a high probability this is going to take place in Baghdad," says Alexander, who helped compile a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences that endorsed further work developing calmatives. "You know damn well he is not going to fight us in the open again. That means we are talking about tough urban combat. Imagine what the Russians faced in Grozny. Are we as a nation prepared to send troops into combat knowing that we are going to have very high casualties and also knowing that we have weapons systems like fentanyl immediately available to allow us to do the same things without taking any casualties? It doesn't make any sense to willingly sustain casualties because some lawyer wants to sue you over treaties. The people who support the chemical treaties, they say any violation will bring about the end of the world as we know it. Even if these weapons were prohibited, the truth is we've got the wrong treaties to begin with. We might tap-dance around these questions at the Pentagon and at the NAS, but that is the frank answer."
Not everyone in the Administration agrees with this kind of realpolitik or the Pentagon's semantic dance. One high-ranking official at the State Department who deals with chemical and biological weapons issues was disturbed when confronted with the Pentagon's arguments for the legal use of calmatives. The official, who asked not to be identified, defended the development of calmatives for law enforcement uses but was surprised when told that the military had produced a mortar round capable of delivering a chemical payload. "You apparently have more information than I do," said the official. "This is not something that has come up for a formal intragovernmental review. But I assure you I am going to get to the bottom of it."
Despite the reservations of some, the Pentagon's creative legal interpretations were adopted almost verbatim by an NAS report released last October. The NAS agreed that chemical NLWs should be allowed under "legal interpretations of the [CWC] treaty indicating that it does not preclude such work or the employment of such agents in specified and increasingly important military situations." The report noted that "the Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons. However, the definition of chemical weapons in the CWC is critical, since it can allow for the use of some NLWs." The report also adopted the Pentagon's Orwellian definition of war, saying that "the United States generally interprets 'means or method of warfare' to mean the offensive use of force in international armed conflict."
In some ways, the military's development of calmatives is part of a larger, disturbing expansion of the country's biological warfare capability. Since the Bush Administration took office, it has embraced and expanded on the Clinton Administration's work to develop new forms of anthrax and the CIA's replication of a Russian germ bomb, according to the 2001 book Germs by Oregonian managing editor Stephen Engelberg and New York Times reporters Judith Miller and William Broad. The Bush Administration has also made it harder to detect violations of current international law by effectively blocking an international draft agreement to create an inspections regime to enforce the BTWC last year. Negotiators from 143 countries had already agreed to strengthen the treaty, which--unlike the CWC and nuclear weapons agreements--has no real enforcement mechanisms. "The Bush Administration's decision to walk away from the draft on the table and to reject any possible future draft was a big mistake," says Elisa Harris, who helped shape the draft when she served as a biological weapons expert on Clinton's National Security Council.
The Administration's decision to back out of the agreement has raised suspicions that Washington itself has something to hide. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Congress passed $6 billion in funding ostensibly for defensive biological warfare measures. But the line between bio-defense and bio-offense is a thin one. The scientific know-how for both is often identical. And America's premier new bio-defense facility, being built at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, happens to be right next door to a large fermenter capable of producing biological weapons on a massive scale.
"At every turn, whether we are talking about calmatives or bio-defense, we are acting to give the impression that we are involved in offensive biological-weapons development," says CUNY professor Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, who chairs the Federation of American Scientists working group on biological weapons. "This will only encourage other countries to do the same, under the cover of defense, as the United States is doing. We are encouraging a biological arms race. The doctrine of pre-emption has replaced the doctrine of arms control."