HOLUM: 84 PERCENT OF AMERICANS SUPPORT CHEMICAL WEAPONS TREATY

(Opinion poll says majority favors ratification)
By Robert D. Tadlock USIA Staff Writer - 20 March 1997

Washington -- Eighty-four percent of the American people believe the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) "is a good idea," according to Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Director John Holum.

At a March 19 news conference, Holum cited a national opinion poll taken at the end of February which shows that an overwhelming majority of the American public supports ratification of the treaty. The CWC would ban the production, possession, transfer, and use of poison gas worldwide.

The chemical weapons ban has strong bipartisan support, which Holum attributes to two basic realities: "First, because it addresses a threat that everyone agrees is serious and growing in the post-Cold War era. Second, unlike nuclear and biological weapons, today there is no international law against the possession of chemical weapons."

The poll was conducted by two Washington-based groups -- Mellman Group, Inc. and Wirthlin Worldwide -- for the Henry L. Stimson Center, a non-profit, non-partisan research center based in Washington. Mellman Group, Inc. has long been associated with the Democratic Party, while Wirthlin Worldwide is a polling organization associated with the Republican Party.

When the 1,002 respondents to the poll were asked if the United States Senate should ratify the chemical weapons treaty, 84 percent approved of ratification, while only 13 percent opposed. The poll also showed that Americans believe the treaty is a better means of protection than maintaining U.S. chemical weapons. When asked if they felt that the treaty was the best means of security, 63 percent of Americans said yes, 13 percent said no, and 22 percent weren't sure.

The power of the voices representing the 13 percent opposing the treaty in Washington have stalled the ratification process in the Senate. Holum said "a lot of that campaign is based on just flat misinformation that I think has been widely spread around...that we're having a hard time catching up with and overcoming."

The staunch opposition of Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a major reason for the delays in Senate ratification. Leading the fight against ratification, Helms argues that the treaty will not affect rogue states such as Libya, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, the nations which concern America the most. Helms has said that U.S. ratification will further diminish its chemical weapons arsenal, while these rogue states will ignore the treaty, and maintain and improve their arsenals.

Holum said treaty implementation would "dramatically complicate" the ability of such countries to acquire chemical weapons. "If they don't join the treaty, they are punished economically by restrictions on trade in relevant chemicals that are also important for industry, agriculture, health...and they'll be isolated politically."

"We are...trying to negotiate in good faith to resolve concerns, but at the same time making clear to the American people that this is a very important issue," Holum added.

To become an original member of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the United States must ratify the pact by April 29. Over 160 countries have signed the treaty, 70 of which have already ratified.