Regardless of what happens to the Chemical Weapons Convention, both the United States and the former Soviet Union have pledged to destroy the majority of their chemical weapons stockpiles.
But the problems that the two countries have encountered in trying to implement this decision illustrate the difficulties that await the 22 other nations that are believed to possess chemical weapons or the means to produce them.Both the United States and Russia (which took over the obligations of the former Soviet Union under the agreements) have encountered strong public resistance to their plans for destroying the chemical weapons. And both countries are finding that getting rid of the terrible weapons is very expensive.
The U.S. Army, which controls the 31,000 tons of chemical weapons owned by the United States, has been working on a plan to destroy the majority of its weapons for nearly a decade. In 1985, Congress ordered that the Army get rid of the chemical weapons by 1999 (later amended to 2004).
The weapons are stockpiled at eight sites around the country: Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.; Anniston Army Depot, Ala.; Lex-ing-ton-Bluegrass Army Depot, Ky.; Newport Army Ammunition Plant, Ind.; Pine Bluff Arsenal, Ark.; Pueblo Depot Activity, Colo.; Tooele Army Depot, Utah; Umatilla Depot Activity, Ore.; and Johnston Atoll Depot in the South Pacific.
The biggest problem the United States has encountered is resistance from local communities that object to the method the Army has chosen to destroy the chemicals: incineration.
Under this method, the chemical weapons would be drained from their munitions, and then both the chemicals and munitions would be burned.
Because of concerns that the chemicals would leak or spill in transit, the Army plans to dismantle and incinerate the weapons in specially constructed facilities that will be built at each site. In order to build those incinerators, the Army must get a variety of local, state and federal permits, including ones mandated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Air Act.
The thought of burning the deadly chemicals, no matter how safe the process, has frightened local communities. At least two states, Kentucky and Indiana, have passed laws that would make it difficult for the Army to obtain permission to build the incinerators.
Destruction cost estimates have risen rapidly, from $2 billion in 1985 to roughly $8.6 billion now.
In Russia, as in the United States, the public is questioning the government's disposal methods. At least one destruction facility that had been completed has been closed and will not be used because of vociferous complaints from the local community.
But even more problematic for Russia than public opinion are the lack of funds and the general confusion of the governmental system.
Russia is believed to own the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world. It will cost an estimated $6 billion to dismantle and destroy the country's 40,000-50,000 tons of chemical weapons and munitions. Russia has yet to start destroying its chemical weapons and has no working plan to do so.
The United States has pledged to contribute $55 million to the Russian effort, and the Defense Department has indicated that it might give Russia up to $300 million to help build a pilot destruction plant.
In early 1994, Russia and the United States reached an agreement that calls for a U.S. contractor to develop a complete dis-man-tle-ment program for the Russians.