Foreign Policy News Stories
The Gulf War Syndrome Cover-Up
SYNOPSIS: While the Pentagon denies that U.S. soldiers were
exposed to chemical and biological warfare agents during the Gulf
War, its own records contradict the official line. Now, four years
after the war's end, tens of thousands of Gulf War personnel have
come down with one or more of a number of disabling and life-threatening
medical conditions collectively known as Gulf War Syndrome.
The syndrome's cause is unclear, but veterans and researchers
have focused on the elements of a toxic chemical soup in the war
zone that included insecticides, pesticides, various preventive
medicines given experimentally to Gls, and smoke from the burning
oil fields of Iraq and Kuwait. There also is reliable evidence
that one of its causes is exposure to low levels of chemical and
biological warfare (CBW) agents during the war.
According to a variety of sources, including recently declassified
Marine Corps battlefield Command Chronologies and After Action
Reports, widespread exposure to CBW agents occurred when U.S.-led
forces bombed Iraqi chemical facilities, and during direct attacks
by the Iraqis.
Despite Pentagon denials, evidence of CBW exposure during
the war is abundant and mounting. In response to a Freedom of
Information Act request by the Gulf War Veterans of Georgia, in
January the Pentagon released 11 pages of previously classified
Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Incident (NBC) logs. The NBC
log excerpts, which cover only seven days of the war, document
dozens of chemical incidents. They also reveal chemical injuries
to U.S. Gls, discoveries of Iraqi chemical munitions dumps, fallout
from allied bombing of Iraqi chemical supply dumps, and chemical
attacks on Saudi Arabia.
The recently released Marine Corps battlefield reports also
confirm scores of CBW incidents during the ground war including
the use of anthrax and Lewicite, a chemical nerve agent. Army
documents strongly support contentions that CBW agents were present
in the Gulf: "Conclusions: Clearly, chemical warfare agents
were detected and confirmed" during the war. "It cannot
be ruled out that [CBW agents] could have contributed to the illness
in susceptible individuals. "
Reports from VA doctors contradict the Pentagon line while
numerous reports from the field also cite the presence of CBW
agents. In addition, Iraqi documents captured by U.S. and British
forces further bolster the information in the NBC logs and the
on-the-scene accounts, as do reliable reports by U.S., British,
and Czech chemical weapons specialists deployed in Iraq and Kuwait
after the war.
Given the abundance of evidence, one must wonder why the U.S.
continues to deny CBW exposure. First, to admit that CBW exposures
occurred means the military must admit its inability to protect
U.S. forces from CBW agents. Next is the embarrassing history
of U.S. government and corporate cooperation with Iraq in the
1980s. With the active support of two presidents and many U.S.
officials, U.S. and Western European companies sold the technology
to Iraq that may now be making tens of thousands of soldiers and
And there always is the military bureaucracy's natural instinct
to cover itself in the face of any problem or scandal. Finally,
the cover-up is being compounded by evidence that the military
has harassed and mistreated Gulf veterans who have reported ill-effects.
Small Arms Wreck Major Worldwide Havoc
SYNOPSIS: Rwanda is just one example of what can happen when
small arms and light weapons are sold to a country plagued by
ethnic, religious, or nationalist strife. In today's wars, such
weapons are responsible for most of the killings of civilians
and combatants. They are used more often in human rights abuses
and other violations of international law than major weapons systems.
In the post-Cold War era, in which the profit motive has replaced
East-West concerns as the main stimulus behind weapons sales,
ex-Warsaw Pact and NATO nations are dumping their arsenals on
the open market. Prices for some weapons, such as Soviet-designed
Kalashnikov AKM automatic rifles (commonly known as AK-47s), have
fallen below cost. Many Third World countries, such as China,
Egypt, and South Africa, also have stepped up sales of light weapons
and small arms. More than a dozen nations that were importers
of small arms 15 years ago now manufacture and export them. But
most of this trade remains unknown. Unlike major conventional
weapons systems, governments rarely disclose the details of transfers
of light weapons and small arms.
The resulting impact of such transfers are apparent. Small
arms and light weapons have flooded nations like Rwanda, Sudan,
Somalia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, not only fanning warfare, but
also undermining international efforts to embargo arms and to
compel parties to respect human rights. They have helped to undermine
peacekeeping efforts and allowed heavily armed militias to challenge
U.N. and U.S. troops. They raise the cost of relief assistance
paid by countries like the United States. Yet the international
community has no viable mechanism to monitor the transfer of light
and small weapons, and neither the United Nations nor the Clinton
administration has demonstrated the leadership required to control
It is increasingly clear that the proliferation of light weapons
endangers not only internal, but also regional and international
The largest conventional arms exporter in the world is the
United States. The Clinton administration has trumpeted the increased
threat of the spread of weapons of mass destruction as the foremost
danger facing the U.S. Yet it has issued hardly a word on conventional
arms except to assert their importance to U.S. defense manufacturers.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee of Foreign Operations reports,
"Regrettably, the evidence clearly indicates that the Administration
has sought to promote arms sales, rather than to reduce them."
While the vast majority of the U.S. major weapons transfers
are public, most of its transfers of light weapons and small arms
are not. No regular reporting is made to Congress in either classified
or unclassified form. Many sales are private commercial transactions,
and attempts to get detailed data on them through the Freedom
of Information Act are routinely denied on proprietary grounds.
The United States, as the world's number one arms merchant,
should take the lead in proposing new ways to control the flow
of light weapons and small arms. An administration that is struggling
to deal with crises in Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, and elsewhere
should recognize its own need to check this type of proliferation
and stop shooting itself in the foot.