Bonn offers compromise on chemical-weapon control
West Germany has put finishing touches on a compromise chemical-arms control proposal that attempts to resolve one of the world's hottest weapons issues.
Surprisingly - given the present climate of East-West confrontation - the attempt is being made on a consensus basis that Bonn hopes could embrace the opposite views of Washington and Moscow.
At the same time the effort represents a West German search for a specific role for a country that itself has renounced all ''ABC'' (atomic, bacteriological, and chemical) weapons and must still move cautiously in any foreign-policy initiatives because of the legacy of Hitler's war.
The West German proposal, expected to be made March 25 at the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva by disarmament ambassador Friedrich Ruth, seeks to bridge the East-West gap that has so far made any agreement on verification impossible. That gap separates the Western demand for routine on-site inspection from the Eastern demand for challenge-only, on-site inspection.
As a compromise, the West German proposal would provide ''regular'' - but sudden and lottery - on-site inspections only of those plants capable of producing ''supertoxic'' chemical warfare agents (including the binary agents the US is developing). It would provide for additional challenge inspections as suspicions arose, plus more extensive inspection of any treaty-agreed destruction of stocks and production facilities.
Any plants producing organo-phosphorus compounds on an industrial scale would be subject to the inspection regime. Overall, inspections would involve on-site sampling and toxicological or chemico-physical determination of samples; near-site analysis of effluent air and water; off-site monitoring of black-box sensor-transmitted data; and hand statistical evaluation of production, supply, and reprocessing sheets.
Such a regime, Ambassador Ruth contends, would provide maximum confidence about arms control compliance with minimum intrusion, and do so without compromising industrial secrets. It would provide sufficiently random inspections so that a violator of any ban would be taking a high risk of discovery of secret production in violation of that ban.
West Germany argues on the basis of its own experience that it is possible to satisfy both criteria of confidence and minimum intrusion. West Germany has one of the leading chemical industries in the world; yet - uniquely - it has opened this industry to international on-site verification of nonproduction of chemical warfare agents ever since 1954.
West German diplomats note that an international consensus has been built so far on the desire to prohibit chemical weapons. They therefore have hopes that a verification regime acceptable to all can be developed. The basic treaty in the area is the Geneva protocol of 1925 banning the use of chemical weapons. By now this has the effective status of international law.
The modern supplement is the 1972 international convention outlawing the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons. Since 1977 bilateral US-Soviet negotiations have been seeking a more explicit convention against chemical weapons, and these negotiations have continued despite the general East-West confrontation following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.