US BUSINESS BACKS BAN ON CHEMICAL WEAPONS

US BUSINESS BACKS BAN ON CHEMICAL WEAPONS

U.S. industry, in a neat blend of altruism and self-interest, has thrown its full weight behind the push for ratification of a global treaty to ban and destroy all chemical weapons.

Segments of the industry, which in an unprecedented display of cooperation with the government on foreign policy matters helped to draft the treaty, may end up cornering a good chunk of the estimated $25 billion-plus business to dispose of the weapons.Although the treaty would impose a new regulatory structure on the 2,000 to 2,500 chemical companies in the United States and subject them to international inspection, representatives of the industry insist economic gain was not the motive.

Rather, said Michael Walls, the senior assistant general counsel of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the reason for its involvement is that ''we don't want our legitimate products used for illegitimate purposes." He said "nobody (among CMA members) makes chemical weapons."

Speaking in an interview, Mr. Walls said, "We knew that the verification system had to involve the chemical industry. By being there, we helped to

draft a verification program that takes our commercial interests into account."

The result is what administration officials and many company executives consider a model for future public-private partnership in negotiations on

disarmament and other issues.

More than 150 United Nations member countries, after more than two decades of negotiation and facing renewed threat of chemical weapons use, recently concluded the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Only 32 of them ratified it, however, with most of the rest holding out for U.S. Senate endorsement of the treaty. The treaty will not take effect until at least 65 countries have ratified it.

H. Martin Lancaster, special White House adviser on arms proliferation, said 25 countries are believed to possess chemical weapons or capability, including some of the world's most abhorrent regimes, such as Libya, Iraq and Iran.

Russia has the world's largest arsenal of chemical weapons, estimated at 40,000 tons, while the United States, ranking second, stores about 30,000 tons of chemical war agents.

The treaty would, among other things, ban the development, production, stockpiling, transfer and use of chemical weapons. It also would require the disposal of all chemicals and weapons capable of wartime use and all the facilities used in their production.

Trade in specified chemicals would be either prohibited or strictly controlled and their production facilities would be subject to international inspection by a special agency.

Business Executives for National Security, a group of U.S. company executives backing the treaty, estimates disposal of the U.S. chemical arsenal will cost at least $11 billion over the next eight years and at least double that worldwide.

In an announcement earlier this month, the Army, charged with the destruction of the chemical arsenal, has invited industry to submit proposals for alternative ways to dispose of the chemicals.

Its original plan, which has attracted protest from environmentalists and civic groups, called for the incineration of the chemical agents at special facilities built in each one of the eight arsenals storing chemical weapons.

The Russians, meanwhile, are working on a plan of their own, which calls first for neutralization of the chemical agents and then their incineration.

Michael Moodie, head of the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute, said the disposal program offers "commercial opportunities, especially for large companies and companies experienced in the disposal of hazardous materials."

Mr. Moodie served as a top official in former President Bush's U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency which negotiated the chemical treaty.

"The United States has the leading edge and the practical experience in getting the job done," he told The Journal of Commerce in an interview. "The Russians are having a lot of problems putting their destruction plan into effect."

But the White House's Mr. Lancaster told a group of chief operating officers here last week that Senate ratification, while virtually assured if submitted to a vote, may be stalled by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who has threatened to hold up the measure in the committee.

Preaching to the converted, Mr. Lancaster urged the executives to launch a letter campaign to force the treaty to a vote. "You are for it and we are for it, you should let them know that," he said.

GETTING RID OF CHEMICAL ARMS

The Chemical Weapons Convention, which has been signed by 157 countries, would:

* Ban the development, production, stockpiling, transfer and use of chemical weapons.

* Require that all chemical weapons in existence be destroyed, together with the facilities that produced them.

* Ban the trade in specifically listed chemicals and place the transfer of other specified substances of dual use under strict control.

* Create an independent international entity in The Hague to monitor compliance and conduct inspections.