Championing Responsible National Security Policy

Senators Upset Over Pentagon's Option for Destroying Chemical Weapons

A recent press release by the Chemical Weapons Working Group points out that the Pentagon has submitted its semiannual report to Congress on the state of its Chemical Demilitarization Program. The U.S. participates in the Chemical Weapons Convention, which calls for ratifying countries to destroy their stockpiles of chemical weapons by 2012, and no later than 2017. According to the report, a little over half of the U.S. stockpile (54 percent) has been destroyed as of June 2008.

So why are some members of Congress upset over this particular report? One of the options mentioned in the report would involve transporting portions of the stockpile to other states (Oregon, Alabama, Utah, and Arkansas) in order to keep better pace with the treaty's deadline. Yet, according to Public Law 109-13, it is illegal for the Pentagon to even study the "transportation of chemical weapons across State lines." Shortly after the report was released, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Gates and Inspector General Claude Kicklighter, stating his concerns and asking the IG to open an investigation into whether or not the Pentagon broke the law by studying the option of interstate chemical weapons transport.

In the Pentagon's defense, it has previously warned the Congress that the program is not on target to meet the set deadlines. The U.S. was granted a five-year extension in 2006, after it became clear that the initial target date of 2007 would not be met. However, when the U.S. requested the extension, Eric Javits, the permanent U.S. representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, stated that even the new deadline remained unfeasible due to varying reasons, such as difficulty obtaining permits to destroy the weapons.

While we applaud the Pentagon's efforts to meet the Convention's deadlines as quickly as possible, we too are concerned that the Pentagon's option for interstate chemical weapons transport would violate the law and put the public's safety at great risk.