Chemical Weapons Convention Sell-out

Not since "read-my-lips" George Bush raised taxes and destroyed his presidency has a Republican leader so soiled the GOP's claim to be a party of liberty.

After weeks of seeming indecision, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott declared his support for the United Nations-sponsored Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), swaying enough Republican votes to ratify the treaty. In so doing, Mr. Lott handed a big political victory to a Clinton-led coalition of globaloney enthusiasts, arms control hucksters, and left-leaning politicos.

Bill Clinton promises that the CWC will "banish poison gas from the earth in the 21st century." In reality, the treaty will strengthen military despots while creating a regulatory nightmare for American companies.

To make the world safer, a chemical weapons ban would have to be verifiable and enforceable. Otherwise, it will disarm only the law-abiding countries, giving the lawless a monopoly on the prohibited weapons. But the CWC is neither verifiable nor enforceable. Iraq, a nation defeated in war, is subject to far more intrusive verification efforts than anything contemplated by the CWC. Yet Iraq continues to conceal its chemical munitions from U.N. inspectors. Iraq also used poison gas against its own Kurdish population, violating the 1925 Geneva Convention. Yet what has the U.N. done to punish Iraq for this crime? Absolutely zip. Now try to imagine the U.N. forcing big-time bullies, like Russia or China, to destroy their chemical arsenals. The very idea is laughable.

So instead of reducing the chemical warfare threat to treaty-honoring countries like the United States, the CWC will tilt the military balance in favor of the most ruthless regimes.

As if that weren't bad enough, the CWC will impose complex reporting requirements on U.S. firms, and establish a massive, U.N.-style bureaucracy to monitor compliance with the new regulations. Respected companies that do not even manufacture chemicals – Sherwin Williams, Lever Brothers and Xerox, for instance – could face surprise inspections from U.N. bureaucrats demanding to see proof that the firms are not covertly producing chemical arms.

Since the CWC regulates types and quantities of chemicals not already covered by existing environmental regulation, the paperwork burdens will be significant, especially for small business. Processing costs will run anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars per company. As many as 8,000 firms could find themselves entangled in this regulatory web.

And bear in mind who will do the regulating – an unaccountable international bureaucracy. Some of the U.N. inspectors will undoubtedly be intelligence operatives specializing in industrial espionage. Snoops with authority to ferret out illegal chemicals should have little trouble filching proprietary business information, such as new drug formulae, chemical synthesis techniques, and customer lists. The CWC thus will facilitate the theft of American trade secrets, potentially costing billions in lost U.S. competitiveness.

Thanks to the forthright intervention of Sens. Jon Kyl and Jesse Helms, the Senate approved an amendment requiring U.N. officials to obtain criminal search warrants before conducting non-voluntary inspections of U.S. firms. Absent this provision, the CWC would nakedly violate Fourth Amendment guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure.

Unfortunately, our constitutional rights are still not safe, because the feds have ways of making companies "volunteer." Executive agencies could avoid doing business with firms that don't allow U.N. inspectors on their premises. An unscrupulous White House could also direct EPA, OSHA, or IRS to hound and abuse uncooperative companies.

Having approved the CWC, the Senate will come under growing pressure to ratify other hair-brained global treaties waiting in the wings, like the economy-wrecking climate change convention championed by Al Gore. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Lott will sell us out on that one, too.