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U.S. Chemical Weapons Program to Miss Deadline

Christine Kucia

U.S. officials informed the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) last month that the United States will not meet a key interim deadline set by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to destroy nearly half of its chemical weapons holdings. Under the CWC, the United States had agreed to destroy 45 percent of its stockpile by April 29, 2004, but U.S. officials are now seeking an extension to December 2007.

The new deadline means the United States, possessing the world’s second-largest chemical weapons stockpile, will not meet the CWC’s final date of April 2007 for destroying 100 percent of the stockpile and will have to ask for another extension in the future. The convention allows member states to request up to a five-year extension of the final deadline.

Washington’s appeal follows on the heels of multiple requests by Russia, which has the world’s largest arsenal of chemical weapons, to extend its deadline for destroying the country’s 40,000-ton stockpile. Russia destroyed one percent of its chemical weapons in April 2003, three years after the original deadline, and is slated to have just 20 percent completed by 2007. (See ACT, June 2003.)

Washington’s request was forwarded for consideration to the OPCW Conference of the States Parties, scheduled to convene Oct. 20-24.

The Department of Defense blames U.S. delays on “unresolved political and operational issues that forced shutdowns or postponed start-up dates,” according to a Sept. 3 statement. To date, the U.S. program has destroyed approximately one-quarter of the total declared stockpile of 31,500 tons.

Greg Mahall, a spokesman for the U.S. Army’s Program Manager for Chemical Demilitarization—the office that conducts U.S. chemical weapons destruction activities—said the program ran into difficulties when disposal experts found munitions and agents in worse shape than previously thought and because new means of disposing of the chemicals were more technically challenging than they expected. He said “earlier [time] projections were somewhat unrealistic” and stressed that the Army wouldn’t sacrifice “safety for schedule.”

A Sept. 5 report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) concluded that the U.S. chemical weapons program is “in turmoil” because of “long-standing and unresolved leadership, organizational, and strategic planning issues.” GAO investigators recommend that Pentagon and Army officials develop a strategy and implementation plan with a mission statement, long-term objectives, and clear roles and responsibilities for program leadership. They also suggest adding near-term performance measures and tools that could anticipate internal and external factors that may predict program impediments.

Meanwhile, despite longer timelines for destroying chemical weapons in Russia and the United States, new states continue to join the CWC. The island nation of Sao Tome and Principe in western Africa will formally join the CWC regime on Oct. 9, and Afghanistan will become the 155th state party to the convention on Oct. 24.

 

Slipped Milestones from 2001 Schedule

U.S. Chemical Weapons Site
Next Project Milestone
Scheduled Date to Begin
New Start Date
# of Months Delayed
Anniston, Ala.
Operations
July 2002

July 2003
(began Aug. 9)

+13
Umatilla, Ore.
Operations
July 2003
December 2003
+5
Pine Bluff, Ark.
Operations
October 2003
April 2004
+6
Johnston Atoll
End of closure process
September 2003
January 2004
+4

 

 



 

 

 

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