President Reagan last week signed an executive order setting up a nine-member bipartisan commission to review the United States’ chemical warfare policy. Though it is official U.S. policy to advocate a complete and verifiable ban on chemical weapons, until such a ban is achieved, “it is also U.
S. policy to deter chemical attack against the United States and its allies,” explains Maj. Richard Ziegler, a spokesman for the Department of Defense (DOD). And having “a credible chemical warfare retaliatory capability” is deemed essential to that deterrence, he says.
That’s why in recent years, the administration has tried to convince Congress to resume chemical weapons production. The fiscal year 1986 budget requests roughly $168 million for that purpose. The new panel — members of which have not yet been named–will be asked to report to the President by Feb. 15 on whether the national needs a retaliatory stockpile; by March 1 on the existing stockpile’s adequacy; and by March 15 on whether DOD should begin developing “binary” weapons — chemicals that become toxic only after being mixed on the battlefield, shortly before use.