Chemical Weapons All
Around the World
From the Sun News Online, Myrtle Beach, SC
By Heather Dewar
WASHINGTON - Say the phrase ''chemical weapons'' and most Americans think of such black-hat countries as Iraq and North Korea - closed societies run by scary dictators.
In fact, when it comes to chemical and biological agents of death, it's hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys.
The United States and several close allies are sitting on huge stockpiles of lethal gases, plagues and poisons, these nations concede under the terms of a new treaty. Even with the best of intentions, it's going to be tough to keep some countries' stockpiles out of the hands of terrorists, criminal gangs or rival nations.
American officials make an international brouhaha out of suspicions that Iraq has a chemical and biological weapons program, but say very little - at least out loud - about friendly nations such as Israel that are suspected of having similar programs.
''This is all part of a larger geopolitical process,'' said Javed Ali, author of a recent book on the worldwide spread of chemical and biological weapons. ''We make a big deal about Iraq, but we don't bang on the heads of other countries as much. We have different political relationships with them.''
According to U.S. intelligence sources, about 20 countries around the world probably have, or are developing, chemical weapons, mostly gases that attack the lungs, bloodstream or nervous system. Seven powerful countries - the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, India, China and Japan - have admitted having such weapons.
Countries around the world are hurrying to comply with the international Chemical Weapons Convention, which went into effect in April. The treaty, signed by 167 countries and fully in effect in 104 of them, requires the countries that take part to disclose their chemical weapons stockpiles, get rid of them, close down the plants where they were made, and submit to rigorous international inspections.
Why would a country like Iran, which signed up this month, submit to such a deal? Because the treaty has a powerful incentive: Any country that has not ratified the chemical weapons convention by May 2000 will be barred from importing or exporting the chemicals used to make them.
Some of the ingredients to be banned are obscure substances that have no known use except to sicken or kill plants, animals and people. But others are the basic ingredients of everything from fertilizer to makeup and ink.
No country can do without chemicals such as phosphorus, chlorine and sulfur, said weapons expert Amy Smithson of the nonprofit Stimson Institute, a defense think tank in Washington. Developing countries can't make all the chemicals they need and have to buy them; developed nations have huge industries devoted to exporting them.
Biological weapons are even harder to control. A treaty that bans their use has been on the books since 1972. But experts say it's toothless because it doesn't make any provisions for enforcement. And it contains a big loophole: Any nation can do whatever it takes to defend itself against biological or chemical attack.
''There's no way to tell whether you're manufacturing something for offensive or defensive purposes,'' Ali said. ''It's only when you get to the weapon-building stage that you can tell the difference. And even then it's impossible to tell by satellite surveillance. You need to have someone in the lab or the weapons plant.
''There's really no way to verify whether a country is cheating.''
The club of nations suspected of making biological weapons is confined to Asia and the Middle East. China, Taiwan and North Korea are commonly cited in congressional testimony and government reports. So are Egypt, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya.

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