News | Dec. 1, 2011

U.S. Ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention

By Jonathan B. Tucker CSWMD Case Study 4

On October 1, 1990, two months after Iraq’s surprise invasion and annexation of Kuwait had put the United States and other members of the international community on a collision course with the Saddam Hussein regime, President George H.W. Bush spoke to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York. He described Iraq’s brutal aggression against its neighbor as “a throwback to another era, a dark relic from a dark time.” Noting that Saddam Hussein had waged a “genocidal poison gas war” against Iraq’s restive Kurdish minority during the 1980s, President Bush hinted that if it ultimately proved necessary to liberate Kuwait by force, the United States and its allies could face Iraqi attacks with chemical weapons—highly toxic chemicals designed to incapacitate or kill.

This looming threat made it all the more important to conclude the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), a multilateral treaty banning the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical arms. Both as Vice President under Ronald Reagan and as President himself, Bush had played a leading role in the negotiation of the CWC, and he was now determined to make it a reality. A year earlier, in September 1989, Bush had come to the UN General Assembly to present new U.S. proposals designed to speed the conclusion of the treaty. Now the possibility of war with Iraq gave additional urgency to this goal. “The Gulf crisis,” President Bush told the General Assembly, “proves how important it is to act together, and to act now, to conclude an absolute, worldwide ban on these weapons.”