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Sverdlovsk and Yellow Rain Two Cases of Soviet Noncompliance? Elisa D. Harris o n November 10, 1981, Richard Burt, director of politico-military affairs at the Department of State, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “Over the past five years, and perhaps longer, weapons outlawed by mankind, weapons successfully banned from the battlefields of the industrialized world for over five decades, have been used against unsophisticated and defenseless people, in campaigns of mounting extermination which are being conducted in Laos, Kampuchea [Cambodia], and, more recently, in Afghanistan.”’ In the view of the Reagan Administration, the Soviet Union was directly involved in these heinous activities. This charge of chemical warfare in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan has been at the center of the Administration’s arms control noncompliance case against the Soviet Union. It has received prominent attention in the numerous noncompliance reports that the United States has released over the past several years.* And it has been vigorously repeated in publications ranging This article was originally prepared for a conference on ”Chemical Weapons and European Security,” cosponsored by the Aspen Strategy Group and the European Strategy Group in cooperation with the Aspen Institute Berlin, held in Berlin, June 12-14, 1986. It will appear in the forthcoming book from the conference, Chernical Weapons and Western Security. The author would like to thank Albert Carnesale, Ivo Daalder, John Deutch, Paul Doty, Michael Heylin, James Lindsay, Matthew Meselson, John Moon, Julian Perry Robinson, and Walter Slocombe for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. An earlier draft was also submitted to the Publications Review Board of the Central Intelligence Agency for security review. The cut-off date for information for this article is November 1986. Elisa D. Harris is a Predoctoral Research Fellow at Harvard Uniuersity’s Center for Science and Internntional Affuirs, and n doctoral cnndidate 117 irzternational relations at the University of Oxford. She w a s formerly on the professiorial staffof tke Committee on Foreign Afiairs in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she did extensive uiork on chernical and biological weapons issues between 1980 and 2984. 1. U.S. Congress, Senate, Yelloui Rnin, Hearing, Subcommittee on Arms Control, International Operations, and Environment, Committee on Foreign Relations, 97th Congress, 1st Session, November 10, 1981, p. 12. 2. See The President’s Report to the Congress on Sozliet h’oncotnpliance with Arms Control Agreenients (Washington, D.C.: The White House). There are three such reports, published on January 23, 1984, February 1, 1985, and December 23, 1985. See also General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament, “A Quarter Century of Soviet Compliance Practices Under Arms Control Commitments: 1958-83” (Washington, D.C.: The White House, October 10, 1984); Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, ”Responding to Soviet Violations Policy (RSVP) Intermhonul Securlty, Spring 1987 (Vol. 11, No. 4) 01987by Elisa D. Harris. 41 lnternational Security 1 42 from Reader‘s Digest to The Wall Street Journal.3As a result of these and other efforts, the accepted wisdom among Washington officialdom is that the Soviet Union has been involved in illegal chemical warfare in these distant lands.4 The Reagan Administration’s chemical warfare charges against the Soviet Union have had profound implications. They have been used to justify breaking President Richard Nixon’s 1969 moratorium on the production of new chemical weapon^.^ They have provided the stimulus for increased biological warfare research by the United States.h Finally, they have weakened confidence in and support for existing chemical and biological arms control agreements as well as future agreements in this and other areas.7 This article examines this charge and the related issue of whether an outbreak of disease in the Soviet city of Sverdlovsk in 1979 resulted from illegal biological warfare activities. It concludes that neither the chemical warfare charge nor the U.S. explanation for the Sverdlovsk epidemic are supported by the evidence available in the public domain. Clearly, certain types of evidence are necessary in order to be able to determine whether there has been an arms control violation. In the area of chemical and biological weapons, the following types of evidence are particularly relevant: detailed information about the symptoms of alleged victims; physical evidence...


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