Dear President Bush and Prime Minister Blair,
On February 5, 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made statements to Congress and the press suggesting that the United States may be contemplating the use of chemical “riot control agents” during the Iraq war. Press reports indicate that the US may also be considering the use of chemical incapacitating agents.
Proponents of chemical riot-control agents and chemical incapacitating agents argue that they are non-lethal and humane alternatives to the use of deadly force and will help reduce civilian casualties. In fact, as the Russian theatre hostage crisis demonstrated, chemical incapacitating agents are far from non-lethal. They can be as lethal as many other weapons of war. Civilian lethality in the Russian incident was 15%, comparable to the levels of lethality achieved using military firearms, artillery, and grenades (1). Furthermore, in a complex military setting containing both combatants and civilians, lethality will likely be concentrated among civilian populations who will lack access to the protective gear that the Iraqi army, which has been trained to use chemical weapons, is likely to have. Finally, history shows that chemical agents of any type can end up being used to supplement and enhance lethal force, rather than to reduce it, and that once chemical agents are used, their use can rapidly escalate.
The United States and the United Kingdom are among the 150 States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). This treaty explicitly prohibits the use of either chemical incapacitating agents or riot control agents for war-fighting purposes. Any military effort to bring Iraq into accord with the international legal norms enshrined by the CWC would be undermined by the use of riot control agents or chemical incapacitants which every other State Party considers banned by the CWC.
The use of banned weapons by the United States or its allies would also significantly undermine the CWC and the very international norms we seek to uphold, and could stimulate the further proliferation of chemical weapons.
In the interest of national and global security, the United States and all of its allies must uphold the standards of international behavior that they seek to enforce and must not use chemical incapacitating agents or chemical riot control agents in the war with Iraq.
Marie Chevrier, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Economy, University of Texas at Dallas
Dr. Michael Christ , Executive Director, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
Ian Davis – British American Security Information Council (BASIC)
Trevor Findlay, Executive Director, Verification Research, Training & Information Centre (VERTIC)
Lisbeth Gronlund and David Wright – Co-Directors, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientists
Edward Hammond, Director, The Sunshine Project, US/Germany
John Isaacs – President, Council for a Livable World
Daryl Kimball – Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Robert K. Musil, Ph.D.,M.P.H., Executive Director and CEO, Physicians for Social Responsibility