An enduring legacy: How U.S. Cold War Policy Created the Chemical Stockpile Preparedness Program


By Mr. Michael J. Wells, WMD Modeler, Pentagon Operations Center Emergency Medical Directorate, Pentagon Force Protection Agency (PFPA), USA & Mr. Allen Edwards, Senior Operations Specialist, United States Department of Defence, USA

In 1984, the United States Government deposited a draft treaty to ban the production, use, and stockpiling of chemical weapons worldwide to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, in Geneva, Switzerland. The following year, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act that directed the Department of Defense to dispose of its unitary chemical weapons while ensuring the protection of the public and the environment. These two events formed a new US foreign policy toward the destruction of an entire class of weapons of mass destruction during the Cold War and a domestic policy to safely destroy these lethal weapons. The draft treaty, known as CD/500, became the basis for the Chemical Weapons Convention and the NDAA of 1986 enabled the US Army and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program. Together, the CWC and CSEPP have a lasting legacy, the CWC verifying the destruction of chemical weapons, and CSEPP destroying the US chemical stockpile while increasing the preparedness of the local community.


Modern attempts to construct a treaty banning chemical weapons started with the UN Conference on Disarmament. Originally named the Committee on Disarmament, the conference was alarmed over reported chemical attacks during the civil war in Yemen in the early 1960s. The conference was also empowered by the ratification of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), in 1972. In its preamble, the BWC recognizes that the treaty is a first step towards achieving a convention banning chemical weapons. Progress, however, was slow. The conference delegates met for a few months each year in Geneva, Switzerland, and broke into working groups, each assigned with drafting a disarmament treaty. Each year, at the end of the session the draft chemical weapons treaty, was rejected, and the process started again the following year. By the middle of the 1980s, this trend was about to change. On, April 18, 1984, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush deposited a draft treaty at the plenary session of the Conference on Disarmament, known as Conference on Disarmament Paper 500 (CD/500). The conference voted to adopt the draft as a rolling text for future negotiations. CD/500 was the first treaty text to propose the concept of Challenge Inspections, where any member state to the convention could challenge another member state over compliance. Analysts at the time wondered why the US had deposited a draft treaty banning chemical weapons, due to the Reagan Administration’s policy of military build-up. Many, however, believed the Soviet Union would reject the treaty due to the “Challenge Inspection” concept.


From October 1983 to May 1984 a study was conducted and a report was produced by the board of Army Science and Technology stating most of the US chemical unitary munitions were aging or obsolete. The report suggested new technologies to destroy the stockpile. One year later, in 1985, the US Congress passed the NDAA of 1986, directing the US Army to start the destruction of lethal chemical agents and munitions without damage to the environment. The act also prohibited the production of binary chemical agents and, unless for national security reasons, acquiring any chemical weapons. This, in effect, married US domestic policy regarding chemical weapons with its foreign policy of a worldwide ban. In order to comply with the NDAA requirements, the US Army expanded an existing program to destroy its M55 rocket stockpile. Public meetings were held in the eight communities with military depots storing chemical munitions, and in 1987, the US Army presented a Draft Emergency Response Concept Plan outlining the risks involved with the stockpile. The army then published the Chemical Stockpile Disposal Implementation Plan and requested funds to improve emergency preparedness. FEMA came onboard with a Memorandum of Understanding, and technical standards were developed. In 1991, the army published Pamphlet 50-6 establishing guidelines for instillation commanders regarding chemical agent releases.


On September 3, 1992, the Conference on Disarmament submitted the Chemical Weapons Convention to the United Nations General Assembly, which approved it on, November 30, 1992. The convention opened for signature, in Parks, on January 13, 1993, where it was signed by the US Secretary of State. The Senate, however, would have to give its consent for the CWC to be ratified. Consent required sixty-seven votes or a two-thirds majority. This was a tough political battle, with Sen, Jesse Helms (R-NC) battling the Clinton Administration, and Republicans fighting each other.

The 1994 mid-term elections provided a political landslide for the Republican party and put Sen. Helms as the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Helms sought to hold the CWC in committee as leverage to reform old US Cold War programs. Sen. Helms, however, was not the only issue. Republicans were bitterly divided, with the more pragmatic Senators believing the US should participate in international treaties with the UN, and ideological Republicans arguing the US should pursue its interests unilaterally. This mini-Republican civil war was a necessary debate over what its post-Cold War foreign policy platform would entail, but it almost cost the US entry into the CWC.

On October 31, 1996, Hungary became the 65th country to ratify the CWC, triggering the 180-day countdown to treaty implementation. If the Senate did not provide consent in time, the US would not become an original party to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and have a seat on its Executive Council, US citizens could not work for the OPCW and US chemical companies would lose overseas sales due to new restrictions. The Clinton Administration moved fast, holding marathon negotiation sessions with Sen. Helms’ staff, with the White House making concessions to fold independent Cold War agencies into the State Department and the condition requiring search warrants for involuntary “Challenge Inspections” of US chemical plants. After a huge public relations campaign, and a few tense hours on the Senate floor, the CWC received the Senate’s consent. In the end, all of the concerns over the treaty amounted to nothing. To this date, no Challenge Inspection has ever been initiated, and the CWC has worldwide appeal.


The destruction of the US chemical weapons stockpile involves a partnership between the US Army and FEMA, as well as verification by international inspectors. The OPCW sends inspection teams to the US to ensure stockpile accountability and verify its destruction. Meanwhile, the US Army is responsible for the stockpile destruction, and partners with FEMA in the CSEPP program ensuring the safety of the local communities. This partnership has evolved through various stages. The 1990’s until 2000 saw the formalization of the CSEPP program. During this time state, tribal, and local CSEPP programs were established. Also, emergency plans were developed, personnel was hired, emergency operations centers were established, and protective equipment was purchased. From 2000 to 2005, CSEPP moved into a “Maturation” phase, where the army and FEMA produced a more team-oriented approach. The terrorist attacks in September 2001, showed the need to protect and expedite the stockpile destruction. This time period saw a renewed effort to enhance the emergency response readiness of the surrounding communities, with many of the sites receiving work permits. Since 2005, CSEPP has focused on sustainment and site closeout. At this time all but two sites in the US have been closed.

Today, the remaining US sites, Pueblo, CO, and Bluegrass, KY, both have active destruction facilities. Employees at both sites safely transfer chemical munitions from storage igloos to the destruction facilities daily, while adhering to strict environmental standards. The army maintains good working relationships with the local communities surrounding both instillations. PCD works with Pueblo County, CO, while BGCA has many surrounding counties working together, so each site can hold the annual CSEPP exercises where all parties participate. Each year the CSEPP exercise combines realistic scenarios with first responders to improve the readiness in the local communities during a chemical incident. Both PCD and BGCA also hold Chemical Accident Incident Response Assessment exercises several times a year to maintain facility employee readiness. Finally, both PCD and BGCA hold monthly meetings with their respective community’s Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to foster public participation.


No one in April 1984, imagined the draft treaty the US deposited with the Conference on Disarmament would lead to a worldwide ban on chemical weapons, or that the NDAA of 1986 would create the blueprint for a program to destroy the US chemical stockpile that would outlive the Cold War. CD/500 became the basis for the CWC, which now has over 190 state parties. The NDAA of 1986, led to the CSEPP program, destroying the US chemical stockpile and improving the emergency response capabilities of the local communities. This rare combination of US domestic and foreign policy, during the latter years of the Cold War, has enhanced US leadership in the world and created an enduring legacy at home.


Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and toxic Weapons and on Their Destruction (also known as the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention), 10 April 1972

Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (also known as the Chemical Weapons Convention)

Department of Defense Authorization Act. (1986).

Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2012). “Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program.” Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

Report of the Conference on Disarmament, New York, 1984. United Nations General Assembly, 39th Session, Supplement No. 27 (A/39?27), Oct 1984.

Authors: Bio

Allen Edwards is the founder of AJ Edwards Consulting. A Colorado based emergency management and business continuity consulting and advisory firm. Allen is an Army Veteran with 20 years of experience in strategic management, media relations, and general administration, and 15 years of comprehensive experience and outstanding abilities in performing chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive mitigation operations, conducting training and development, and management of military and general safety functions. Allen is a graduate of FEMA National Emergency Management Advanced Academy, Master Exercise Practitioner Program and certified Professional Continuity Practitioner.

Michael is the Founder and CEO of WELLS Risk Management Solutions, LLC, a company that specializes in the protection of historical art and artifacts from incidents of weapons of mass destruction. From 2008-2016, Michael was an Inspector, Chemical Weapons/Munitions Specialist (CWMS) with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Michael was an inspector at the OPCW in 2013, when the organization was awarded the Noble Peace Prize. Michael has over 20 years of experience in CBRN protection and non-proliferation, including nine years in the United States Army.

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