Abolishing Chemical Weapons: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities
- A History of Chemical Weapons
- Table 1: Stockpiles of Declared Chemical Weapons Possessor States
- Table 2: U.S. and Russian Declared Chemical Stockpiles, by Site
From November 29 to December 3, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will host its 15th annual conference of states-parties in
As the key institutional elements of the most successful multilateral arms control and disarmament regime to date, the CWC and OPCW serve as models for long-term, verified, and cooperative nonproliferation, threat reduction, and global security regimes.
However, this successful and ongoing elimination of a whole class of weapons of mass destruction has not been without its own challenges and hurdles, including choosing the safest and most environmentally sound destruction technologies; paying the high costs of demilitarizing dangerous liquid agents, propellants, explosives, and other pollutants; meeting legally binding weapons destruction deadlines with little if any relationship to planning, engineering, construction, and operational schedules; bringing all countries under the OPCW inspection regime; encouraging all states-parties to fully implement the convention domestically; shifting the CWC from a demilitarization to a nonproliferation and anti-terrorist regime; and encouraging full cooperation, consensus building, and transparency from all members and stakeholders.
Although more than 60 percent of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been successfully eliminated over the past two decades in five of the seven declared chemical weapons possessor states, almost 30,000 metric tons still await destruction, and several suspected possessor states remain outside the CWC regime. Meanwhile, terrorist organizations have reiterated their intention to obtain weapons of mass destruction—nuclear, chemical, and biological—raising the stakes over the past decade to secure and eliminate chemical weapons stockpiles as quickly as possible and strengthen the CWC nonproliferation and inspection regime.
This article will review the history of establishing and implementing a global ban on a whole class of weapons of mass destruction; explain the progress to date in destroying large and dangerous Cold War arsenals of chemical weapons; address current and future challenges to completing this process; and draw conclusions for the abolition regime and other global arms control efforts.
The Chemical Weapons Convention
Article IX of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention includes a commitment by states-parties to work toward an international ban on chemical weapons. International negotiations on the CWC began in earnest in April 1984, one month after a UN report on Iraqi chemical weapons attacks, when U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush introduced a draft chemical weapons treaty at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. This was a decade after the Soviet Union and the
The convention, in short, bans the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons and requires all possessor states to destroy their stockpiles safely. The CWC’s preamble explains that states-parties are “determined for the sake of all mankind, to exclude completely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons, through the implementation of the provisions of this Convention, thereby complementing the obligations assumed under the Geneva Protocol of 1925.” Article IV obligates each country to declare “all chemical weapons owned or possessed by a State Party, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control” and to “destroy all chemical weapons.… Such destruction shall begin not later than two years after this Convention enters into force for it and shall finish not later than 10 years after entry into force of this Convention,” that is, by April 29, 2007. The treaty allows a deadline extension of up to five years from that date. The convention also requires round-the-clock, on-site inspection of all chemical weapons destruction operations and allows for challenge inspections of suspect activities.
The OPCW is the implementing agency for the CWC. Located in
Chemical Weapons Demilitarization
Of the 188 states-parties to the convention today, seven have declared chemical weapons stockpiles:
The U.S. Army initially planned to construct three centralized incinerators to destroy the
When the U.S. Senate finally approved the CWC, on April 25, 1997, after a long and contentious debate, the articles of ratification specified, among many other conditions, that the president place the highest priority on protection of public health and the environment and that the Army undertake the development and demonstration of nonincineration technologies for chemical weapons destruction. Congress also mandated that a new program, the Assembled Chemical Weapons Assessment program (renamed the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program in 2003), be established to evaluate nonincineration technologies. The program established a “national dialogue” of stakeholders—federal, state, and local officials; environmentalists; public health experts; and military officials—to determine what criteria might be used to choose alternative, nonincineration demilitarization technologies.
Today the United States has constructed and operated five large incinerators: on Johnston Atoll and in Tooele, Utah, as previously noted; in Umatilla, Oregon; in Anniston, Alabama; and in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The Johnston Atoll incinerator finished operations in 2000; the other four continue to operate. In addition, neutralization facilities were built in
As of October 20, 2010, the
This 20-year history of
The first Russian chemical weapons demilitarization facility, built and funded as a prototype facility by Germany for neutralizing lewisite, an older, arsenic-based chemical agent, opened in 2002 at Gorny in the Saratov Oblast. Since then,
After eight years of chemical weapons demilitarization,
Other possessor states.
The last CWC state-party to declare a chemical weapons stockpile is
Thus, of the seven countries that declared chemical weapons stockpiles, three—Albania, India, and South Korea—have completed their demilitarization programs in the last three years; the two largest possessor states—Russia and the United States—will continue to demilitarize their enormous arsenals for another five to 10 years or more; and the final two countries—Iraq and Libya—will likely destroy their remaining agents still sooner, perhaps in the next two to five years. This is an enormous success story for the OPCW and all states-parties.
As of September 2010, the OPCW has declared that 43,131 metric tons of chemical agents have been destroyed since the CWC entered into force in 1997. This represents 61 percent of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles of 71,194 metric tons (at entry into force). This 13-year, multilateral demilitarization effort has also included the elimination of 3.95 million munitions and containers, 46 percent of the 8.67 million weapons inventoried by OPCW inspectors in the possessor states. This concerted effort by many countries, especially the
Challenges and Conclusions
Old and abandoned chemical weapons. The CWC requires states-parties to identify and safely destroy nonstockpile chemical weapons that may have been buried, dumped, or abandoned on foreign territories, once they are excavated and retrieved. At the end of 2009, the OPCW stated that 13 states-parties had declared old chemical weapons and that some 87,000 of these had been recovered and were still awaiting destruction. Most of
The United States reported in 1993 that it suspected some 224 burial sites of old chemical weapons and agents in 38 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Perhaps the best known and surveyed site is in northwestern Washington, D.C., known as Spring Valley, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has uncovered dozens of buried chemical munitions, related toxic materials, and unexploded ordnance over the last 17 years, all dumped after World War I in 1918 when the Army chemical weapons laboratory closed at American University. Costing more than $250 million to date, this program remains very controversial because of the heavily populated area and the unknown environmental and public health impacts. Beyond Spring Valley, the U.S. Army needs to be more proactive in surveying and remediating old burial sites.
The most serious case of abandoned chemical weapons involves
Chemical industry inspections. The CWC obligates all states-parties to declare and destroy or convert their former chemical weapons production facilities (CWPFs). By the end of 2009, 43 of 70 declared CWPFs had been destroyed, and another 19 had been converted for purposes allowed under the convention. Of the remaining eight, located in
The convention also obligates all states-parties to declare other chemical production facilities (OCPFs) capable of producing banned or dual-use chemicals and to permit occasional OPCW inspections to verify that these facilities are not producing banned chemical agents. Once existing chemical weapons stockpiles are fully eliminated over the next decade or less, this will be the main occupation of the OPCW—inspections of commercial chemical industry facilities in order to verify and enforce the convention’s ban on deadly chemicals and the proper use and trade in dual-use chemicals. To date, the OPCW has carried out 4,166 inspections at 195 chemical weapons-related sites and 1,103 industrial sites in 81 countries. The organization has declared that 4,918 industrial facilities are currently subject to inspection, so this important task will continue for the long-term future.
CWC universality. The CWC attracted 151 signers in its first year, 1993, and had 88 full members by its entry into force in 1997. Today it includes 188 countries representing 98 percent of the world’s population. Although the treaty’s coverage is very close to universal, seven countries remain outside the abolition regime. Two of these—
OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü emphasized universality and its importance to nonproliferation and the
Transparency and stakeholder involvement. All weapons of mass destruction were highly secret during the Cold War. Due to this legacy, terrorist threats, and political sensitivity around potential public health and environmental impacts, the demilitarization of chemical weapons has taken more than two decades to become more public. Even now, limits in public diplomacy and transparency persist to varying degrees in all the possessor states. India and South Korea still refuse to discuss their demilitarization programs publicly; Russia very closely manages its public relations and has threatened activists and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are critical of federal operations; and the United States, although the most transparent of all possessor states, has stopped most on-site visits of stakeholders since the September 11 terrorist attacks and still is reluctant to have visiting OPCW officials meet with local officials and activists.
The OPCW itself has sought to promote greater involvement of NGOs, industry, and other international organizations; it organized an “academic forum” and an “industry forum” at its last five-year review conference in 2008. It also supported the establishment of an alliance of NGOs, known as the CWC Coalition, at last year’s annual conference in
All state-parties, including chemical weapons possessor states, must realize that, for the CWC to become truly universal and enforceable, there must be active participation by all stakeholders, including interested NGOs, industry, and other state and local government officials committed to a world free of chemical weapons.
OPCW staffing and budget. The OPCW employs an international staff of some 525 diplomats and experts, including an international inspectorate of about 175 experts trained to inspect both chemical weapons stockpiles and chemical industry facilities. The annual budget of the OPCW is about $103.5 million (74.5 million euros). One-half of this amount covers verification and inspections, and the remainder covers management, external relations, and support for cooperation and assistance to states-parties.
The OPCW budget has remained steady, essentially a no-growth budget with some recent reductions, since 2005. This has strained the organization in the last several years, but may be helped by sizable reductions in the inspectorate as more stockpiles are destroyed in the next four to five years. However, the OPCW must maintain an expert inspectorate and Technical Secretariat in order to continue its global monitoring of commercial industry, support for nonproliferation and national implementation, and promotion of the peaceful uses of chemistry, all mandated in the convention. It also must maintain a robust capability for “challenge inspections,” as allowed under Part X of the CWC Verification Annex. To accomplish this, its annual budget must inevitably rise in real terms; and its most senior staff, including inspectors, must be exempted from the current and controversial seven-year ceiling on OPCW employment. Also, states-parties must pay their annual assessments on time. For the first time in many years, the
OPCW leadership. The OPCW has just undergone its second change of leadership since 1997. Last December, the states-parties chose Üzümcü, the former Turkish ambassador to the CD, to replace Rogelio Pfirter from
Pfirter and Üzümcü have supported broader efforts at public diplomacy, more transparency, and wider and more sustained involvement of all stakeholders in order to strengthen the organization and fully implement its guiding principles. Üzümcü, now only three months on the job, has already begun to meet with staff, states-parties, NGOs, and industry to discuss the organization’s future and will no doubt begin to imprint his own style on the organization over the coming year.
In comparison with nuclear and biological weapons, chemical weapons often get overlooked in current arms control and disarmament discussions. Yet, they remain the most numerous, with some five million munitions still awaiting destruction and two to four additional suspected stockpiles in nonmember states undeclared. Chemical weapons have been used in warfare and terrorist attacks a dozen times or more in the last three decades, causing horrific human suffering. Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Aum Shinrikyo, Iraqi and Afghan insurgents, and others continue efforts to steal or produce deadly chemical agents for indiscriminate terrorist attacks. These current threats underline the central importance for global security of ridding the world of chemical weapons.
The chemical weapons abolition regime, led by the OPCW, seems the best example to date of a multilateral verification organization, effectively managed and run by consensus, to oversee the total elimination of a whole class of weapons. It would behoove both the nuclear and biological arms control and disarmament regimes to learn from the CWC’s successes and challenges and to move forward with truly comprehensive abolition regimes themselves. A world free of all weapons of mass destruction will be a much more secure, safe, and peaceful world.
Original Size of Stockpile (Metric Tons)
|Amount Destroyed (Metric Tons, as of October 2010)|
|South Korea||2,000 (est.)||2,000 (est.)|
|India||2,000 (est.)||2,000 (est.)|
|Note: The numbers above may vary depending on assumptions. The OPCW states that 43,131 metric tons (61 percent) have been destroyed out of a 1997 total of 71,194 metric tons as of the CWC’s entry into force. The exact sizes of South Korea’s and India’s stockpiles are not known publicly.|
|Stockpile Site||Original Size (Metric Tons)||Amount Destroyed as of Oct. 20, 2010 (Metric Tons)||Percentage Destroyed|
|Blue Grass, Ky.||475||5||1|
|Pine Bluff, Ark.||3,494||3,424||98|
Original Size (Metric Tons)
|Amount Destroyed as of Sept. 2010 (Metric Tons)||
|Gorny, Saratov Oblast||1,143||1,143||100|
|Kambarka, Udmurt Republic||6,349||6,349||100|
|Kizner, Udmurt Republic||5,745||0||0|
|Leonidovka, Penza Oblast||6,885||5,500||80|
|Maradikovsky, Kirov Oblast||6,890||5,000||73|
|Pochep, Bryansk Oblast||7,498||0||0|
|Shchuch’ye, Kurgan Oblast||5,456||1,500||27|
|Note: Numbers may not add to totals due to rounding. Destruction figures are estimates.|
Paul F. Walker is director of the Security and Sustainability Program at Global Green USA, the
1. For information on the CWC and OPCW, see www.opcw.org. The official title of the CWC is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction.
2. Article IX of the Biological Weapons Convention states, “Each State Party to this Convention affirms the recognized objective of effective prohibition of chemical weapons and, to this end, undertakes to continue negotiations in good faith with a view to reaching early agreement on effective measures for the prohibition of their development, production and stockpiling and for their destruction, and on appropriate measures concerning equipment and means of delivery specifically designed for the production or use of chemical agents for weapons purposes.” See www.state.gov/www/global/arms/treaties/bwc1.html.
5. For an excellent history of the founding of the OPCW, see Ian Kenyon, “Establishing the PC and Creating the OPCW Technical Secretariat,” in OPCW: The Creation of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, ed. Ian R. Kenyon and Daniel Feakes (The Hague: TMC Asser Press, 2007), pp. 31-67.
10. OPCW, “Libya Submits Initial Chemical Weapons Declaration,” March 5, 2004, www.opcw.org/news/article/libya-submits-initial-chemical-weapons-declaration/; OPCW, “Initial Inspection in Libya Completed,” March 22, 2004, www.opcw.org/news/article/initial-inspection-in-libya-completed/.
11. An example of this repeated usage of “A State Party” to represent South Korea as a chemical weapons possessor state is Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter’s statement before the OPCW Executive Council in 2009: “As of 30 September 2009, the aggregate amount of Category I chemical weapons destroyed by A State Party, Albania, India, the Russian Federation, and the United States of America was approximately 35,892 metric tonnes (MTs), or approximately 51.70% of the declared quantity of this category of chemical weapons. A State Party,
15. See OPCW, “Ceremony Marks Start of Destruction of Chemical Weapons Abandoned by
19. OPCW Director-General Rogelio Pfirter alluded to past delays in annual assessments in his last report to the Executive Council: “As at 28 June 2010, 91.9% of the annual contributions for 2010 had been collected, as compared to only 64.1% by the same date last year. This is, of course, a very significant improvement. Nevertheless, I wish once again to encourage States Parties that have not yet done so, to do their utmost to pay their dues at the earliest and in full. The lack of payment on time by some Member States is indeed the subject of some reflections by the External Auditor, to which I fully subscribe.” OPCW Executive Council, “Opening Statement by the Director-General to the Executive Council at its Sixty-First Session,” EC-61/DG.17, June 29, 2010, p. 10, www.opcw.org/index.php?eID=dam_frontend_push&docID=13851.
The use of harmful chemicals in warfare, personal attacks, and assassinations dates back centuries, but the rise of industrial production of chemicals in the late 19th century opened the door to more massive use of chemical agents in combat. The first major use of chemicals on the battlefield was in World War I when
The 1925 Geneva Protocol sought to ban the use of biological and chemical weapons, but many of its signers joined with major reservations. China, France, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom all joined in the 1920s, but Japan did not join until 1970 and the United States until 1975. Between the two world wars, there were a number of reports of use of chemical weapons in regional conflicts:
Most of the major powers in World War II developed, produced, and stockpiled large amounts of chemical weapons during the war. Since the end of the war in 1945, there have been only sporadic reports of limited use of chemical weapons, including in the Yemen war of 1963-1967 when Egypt bombed Yemeni villages, killing some 1,500 people. The United States heavily used herbicides such as Agent Orange and tear gas in the Vietnam War in the 1960s; although such chemicals are not covered under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), some observers saw this as chemical warfare. The first major uses of chemical weapons were by
The use of the nerve agent sarin by the Japanese terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo in June 1994 in Matsumoto, Japan, and again on March 20, 1995, in the Tokyo subway system, killing 19 people and injuring some 5,000, suddenly brought to light the potential threat of nonstate actors intent on using weapons of mass destruction. The first official on-site inspection by the
Iraqi insurgents in recent years have combined tanks of chlorine gas with improvised explosive devices, but with little success. There have been more recent reports of the possible limited use of chemical agents by Taliban insurgents in
2. “Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare,” opened for signature on June 17, 1925, and entered into force on February 8, 1928.
4. For the UN report on alleged use of chemical weapons by Iraq in 1984, see UN Security Council, “Report of the Specialists Appointed by the Secretary-General to Investigate Allegations by the Islamic Republic of Iran Concerning the Use of Chemical Weapons,” S/16433, March 26, 1984, www.iranwatch.org/international/UNSC/unsc-s16433-rptusecw-032684.pdf.
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