From Tue Nov 8 16:30:36 2005
Date: Mon, 7 Nov 2005 11:56:35 -0600 (CST)
From: Edward Hammond <>
Subject: [NLCBW] Ensign Amendment 1374 on the Use of Riot Control Agents
Article: 226458
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;

Ensign Amendment 1374 on the Use of Riot Control Agents Would Violate the Chemical Weapons Convention

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, press release, 7 November 2005

Press Contact: Alan Pearson
Phone: 202-546-0795 x107

Washington, DC (November 7, 2005) The U.S. Senate may vote soon on an amendment to the 2006 Defense Authorization Act that would promote the use of riot control agents in combat. “This is a very bad idea— it would undermine the Chemical Weapons Convention and the protections it provides to the United States and the U.S. Armed Forces,” says Alan Pearson, Director of the Program on Biological and Chemical Weapons Control at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. The Center distributed a letter to all U.S. Senators today detailing its concern with the proposed amendment, and describing current U.S. policy and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Pearson says that the amendment, proposed by U.S. Senator John Ensign (R—NV) “broadly authorizes the use of riot control agents, chemicals like tear gas and pepper spray, by U.S. military forces in combat. This runs directly counter to current U.S. policy and to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which the United States ratified in 1997 and which 174 other countries are party to. The Chemical Weapons Convention is clear: parties to the treaty agree ‘not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare.’”

Pearson says that Senator Ensign's claim that it is “the longstanding policy of the United States” that riot control agents may be used “in combat” is wrong. “Current U.S. policy is that riot control agents may be used only in a few situations, and then only in what is called ’defensive military modes to save lives.’ Even this policy has been controversial,” says Pearson, “but other countries have stayed silent because the United States has not used riot control agents in combat more generally. This would change under the policy proposed by Senator Ensign.”

The amendment comes as Convention members are opening their annual meeting in The Hague. In May 2003, the parties to the Convention agreed that all signatories would act to implement the Convention by this month's meeting, including passing laws that ban any actions prohibited under the treaty. Pearson says that “the United States strongly supported this decision, calling the low level of implementation at the time ‘intolerable.’” Two and a half years later, “the situation is much improved, but there is still much more work to be done. U.S. action to unilaterally re-interpret the Convention would likely be seen as a slap in the face to these efforts, and would certainly provide an excuse to those nations who are dragging their feet.”

Col John Gilbert (USAF, retired), Senior Science Fellow at the Center, says that “riot control agents will do nothing to protect our troops from the biggest risks they face in Iraq—roadside bombs, rocket propelled grenades and mortars. Riot control agents are also totally ineffective against the suicide bombers who have killed dozens of U.S. troops and hundred of Iraqi civilians over the past few months.” Gilbert says that passage of the amendment “would further diminish U.S. prestige, even among current close allies,” and asks “what tangible benefit will the amendment provide?”

Gilbert asks whether U.S. allies “will be willing to send their troops into situations where the U.S. military may use riot control agents that their forces are prohibited from using by their national policies and by the Chemical Weapons Convention.” In March 2003, British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon said that “the United Kingdom is fully signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention” and thus that it would not use riot control agents “in any military operations or on any battlefield” in Iraq.

Gilbert asks “what are the risks to U.S. forces of introducing riot control agents into already volatile situations?” Pearson says that any promised benefits of the proposed new policy are likely to be illusory. “Imagine the reaction, in Iraq and around the world, to reports that U.S. troops are using gas to fight the war in Iraq, even if it is only tear gas. Imagine the rumors that will inevitably follow such reports. And thinking beyond Iraq, what will be the long-term impact of reintroducing the use of toxic chemicals in war-fighting? Do we really want to go down this path?”