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Chemical weaponsU.S. still has 3,100 tons of chemical weapons to be destroyed

Published 17 September 2013

Last weekend’s U.S.-Russia agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons has put on hold a U.S. strike on Syria. The pause may allow a reflection on the fact that the United States possesses one of the world’s largest chemical arsenals. Sixteen years after a treaty banning of chemical weapons went into effect, the Unites States has 3,100 tons stored in Colorado and Kentucky.

Last weekend’s U.S.-Russia agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons has put on hold a U.S. strike on Syria.. The pause may allow a reflection on the fact that the United States possesses one of the world’s largest chemical arsenals.

Sixteen years after a treaty banning of chemical weapons went into effect, the Unites States has 3,100 tons stored in Colorado and Kentucky. The Anniston Star reports that this is a mere 10 percent of the quantities of chemical weapons materials the United Had in its arsenals  whenthe United States, in 1997, ratified the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Under the treaty, the United States and Russia agreed to destroy their chemical stockpile. The United States expect its remaining 10 percent to be eliminated by 2023.

The growth of the U.S. chemical arsenal was the result of the U.S.-Russia relationship during the cold war. At the end of the cold war, Russia had about 40,000 tons of chemicals weapons and the United States had about 30,000 tons. The U.S. chemical stockpile was viewed as a deterrent against Soviet use of chemical weapons on the battlefield.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Pentagon decided that U.S. nuclear weapons, in addition to deterring the use of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union, would also serve as a deterrent against the use of chemical weapons. Instead of serving a military need, chemical weapons were no presenting a storage and safety problem.

 “There was a long-running battle between the nuclear people and the chemical people, and the nuclear people won,” Dan Goure, an analyst for the Lexington Institute, a Washington think tank devoted to defense policy, told the Star.

President Nixon ordered an end to chemical weapons production and renounced the use of chemical weapons. “The value of a thing as a deterrent evaporates when it’s clear we would never use it,” Henry Sokolski, who served as deputy secretary of defense for nonproliferation in the George H. W. Bush administration and now heads the nonprofit Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, told the Star.

President Reagan supported building a chemical VX weapon in binary form. Binary chemical warheads contain two chemicals that mix to become poison gas when the weapon is launched. The binary warhead was considered safer to store than pre-mixed chemical weapons. The United States, in 1993, signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, putting an end to the VX warhead and beginning the destruction of chemical weapons.

There are 523 tons of VX and sarin are stored at Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky, and 2,611 tons of mustard gas are stored at Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado. Both locations will use chemical processes known as neutralization to destroy the weapons. Workers are currently being hired to destroy the weapons in the Pueblo Plant and the Blue Grass plant is currently being built. Both facilities are not directly under U.S. Army control. In 1997, Congress handed the destruction process to a federal agency called Assembled Chemicals Weapon Alternatives, established in response to public concern that incinerating the weapons would lead to environmental pollution.