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Arms Control Today

U.S. Explores INF Responses

The United States is reviewing a broad range of military options to respond to a future Russian deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile that violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a senior Defense Department official said.

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

In this video image, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, testifies at a December 10 hearing in the House of Representatives on Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (House Arms Services Committee)The United States is reviewing a broad range of military options to respond to a future Russian deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) that violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a senior Defense Department official told Congress in December.

The State Department announced in July that Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligation “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a GLCM with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” (See ACT, September 2014.)

In testimony at a Dec. 10 hearing in the House of Representatives, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said a military assessment concluded “that development and deployment” of an INF-range GLCM by Russia “would pose a threat to the United States and its allies and partners.” At the hearing, held jointly by the House armed services and foreign affairs committees, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told lawmakers that the United States has seen Russia developing a prohibited GLCM, but did not say that the missile was deployed.

If Russia does not come back into compliance with the INF Treaty, McKeon said, the United States will seek “to ensure that Russia gains no significant military advantage from its violation.” Russia denies that it is breaching the INF Treaty. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a July 28 statement that the allegations are “baseless” and “no proof has been provided.”

McKeon said the range of military response options under consideration includes “active defenses to counter” INF-range GLCMs, “counterforce capabilities” to prevent attacks from these missiles, “and countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.” The Defense Department is reviewing the effect these options “could have on convincing Russian leadership to return to compliance with the INF Treaty, as well as countering the capability of a Russian INF Treaty-prohibited system,” McKeon added.

McKeon did not provide details on the options, but did say that some “would be compliant with the INF Treaty” and some “would not be.” He later added that deploying U.S. GLCMs “would obviously be one option to explore.”

McKeon said that, in responding to Russia’s alleged treaty violation, the United States wants to avoid “an escalatory cycle of action and reaction.” But he warned that “Russia’s lack of meaningful engagement on this issue, if it persists, will ultimately require the United States to take actions to protect its interests and security, along with those of its allies and partners.”

One European analyst said the deployment of U.S. GLCMs in Europe is unlikely. In a Dec. 16 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Jacek Durkalec, nonproliferation and arms control project manager at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said other options, including sea- and air-launched cruise missiles “have been seen as more realistic and less costly.” He added, however, that “if Russia would really deploy a militar[il]y significant number of GLCMs, perceptions in Europe could change.”

The INF Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, marked the first time the two superpowers agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification. The treaty eliminated almost 2,700 intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles, most of them Russian.

At the Dec. 10 hearing, Gottemoeller said the administration has “a kind of three-pronged approach” for dealing with Russia’s INF Treaty violation: diplomatic efforts to bring Russia back into compliance, exploration of potential “economic countermeasures,” and “military measures” in the event Russia’s noncompliance persists.

McKeon and Gottemoeller refused to say how much time the United States would give Russia to come back into compliance before pursuing economic and military measures. Gottemoeller noted that, in the case of Russia’s noncompliance with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in the 1980s, “the Reagan administration and the [George H.W.] Bush administration worked with the Soviets diplomatically for five years” before Russia returned to compliance with the treaty.

Gottemoeller led a U.S. delegation to Moscow in September for talks with Russian officials to discuss the violation. A State Department press release summarizing the meeting said that “the U.S. concerns were not assuaged at the meeting.” At the hearing, Gottemoeller and McKeon said that Russia refuses to acknowledge the existence of an illegal missile.

In a Dec. 12 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the McKeon and Gottemoeller testimonies “caught our attention.” The statement lamented the U.S. “intention to exercise economic and military pressure on Russia because of its alleged non-compliance with the INF Treaty.” Referring to the downturn in U.S.-Russian relations over Ukraine, the statement said U.S. military measures “would increase tensions in a situation that is already complicated.”

The statement said that the U.S. government continues to be unable “to give an explicit wording to its claims and accusations” on Russia’s alleged INF Treaty violation and accused the United States of being in noncompliance with the treaty. The statement referred to the use of “target missiles that resemble short- and intermediate-range missiles” in U.S. missile defense tests, “armed US drones that necessarily fall under the INF Treaty definition of ground-launched cruise missiles,” and the U.S. “intention to deploy in Poland and Romania a land-based version of the MK 41 shipboard launcher for intermediate-range cruise missiles” as examples of U.S. INF Treaty violations.

The issue of how to respond to the alleged Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty was a controversial issue on Capitol Hill last year. The House-passed fiscal year 2015 defense authorization bill included a provision requiring the Defense Department to develop a plan for the research and development of intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the defense authorization bill contained no such provision. The final version of the bill, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 19, softened the House demands by requiring the Defense Department to submit a report on Russia’s alleged violation and a report describing any steps being taken or planned by the department in response.

A senior Senate staffer said in a Dec. 19 interview that the incoming Republican-led Senate would likely follow the House in advocating for a more aggressive U.S. response to Russian noncompliance.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Nuclear Impact Meeting Is Largest Yet

At a December conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, many delegates emphasized that “humanitarian considerations should…be at the core of all nuclear disarmament deliberations.”

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

A December conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use attracted more participants and included a broader focus than the previous two meetings on the issue, with many delegates emphasizing “that humanitarian considerations should no longer be ignored but be at the core of all nuclear disarmament deliberations,” according to the chair’s summary of the meeting.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz speaks on December 8, 2014, in Vienna at the third international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use. (Samuel Kubani/AFP/Getty Images)The Dec. 8-9 meeting at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna drew delegations representing 158 states, the United Nations, and academia.­­­

For the first time in the series of conferences on nuclear weapons use, the list of participants included countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—the United Kingdom and the United States. In addition, an unofficial representative from China attended the meeting. Two other nuclear-armed states, India and Pakistan, took part in the previous two meetings and also were present in Vienna.

Previous conferences had focused primarily on the consequences of nuclear weapons explosions, but the Vienna meeting expanded the agenda to include the risk of nuclear weapons use, the application of international law to the consequences of nuclear weapons explosions, and the shortfalls in international capacity to address a humanitarian emergency caused by the use of nuclear weapons.

The meeting included presentations from experts on the factors that could lead to the deliberate or inadvertent use of nuclear weapons and the relevance of international environmental and health law to nuclear weapons use.

“The scope, scale and interrelationship of the humanitarian consequences caused by nuclear weapon detonation are catastrophic and more complex than commonly understood,” concluded Alexander Kmentt, conference chair and director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, in his summary delivered at the end of the conference.

The Vienna conference was the third meeting in the past two years focused on the medical and societal impact of nuclear weapons use. The first meeting took place in March 2013 in Oslo and brought together representatives from 127 governments. Delegations from 146 governments attended the second conference, held in Nayarit, Mexico, in February 2014. (See ACT, November 2014.)

The Catholic Church used the occasion of the December conference to revise its long-standing position on nuclear deterrence, stating that “reliance on a strategy of nuclear deterrence has created a less secure world” (see box).

The Vienna conference and the two that preceded it reflect the growing impatience of many non-nuclear-weapon states with what they characterize as the slow pace of progress toward nuclear disarmament.

But unlike the conference summary statement delivered by host Mexico at Nayarit, the Austrian chair’s statement did not call for the initiation of a diplomatic process to ban nuclear weapons. Instead, Kmentt noted that state delegations “expressed various views regarding the ways and means of advancing the nuclear disarmament agenda.”

In a separate statement, Austria called on all NPT members “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” and promised “to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal.” Unlike the treaties prohibiting even the possession of chemical and biological weapons, there is no such legal ban on nuclear weapons.

The U.S. statement, delivered by Adam Scheinman, President Barack Obama’s special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, alluded to “the growing political will to pursue a practical disarmament agenda,” but advised that there must be “a practical way to do it.”

In remarks delivered at the Brookings Institution on Dec. 18, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that “[w]hile we acknowledge the views of those who call for the negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban treaty, the United States cannot and will not support efforts of this sort.”

Many non-nuclear-weapon states that are close allies of the United States expressed similar sentiments at the Vienna conference. “Prospects for disarmament are enhanced by engaging, not alienating, those states that will need to take the action to disarm,” Australia said in its statement.

In a Dec. 22 e-mail, Kmentt told Arms Control Today that the Vienna meeting “established the humanitarian focus” as the “mainstream” view and the context in which “the vast majority of states wish to discuss the nuclear weapons issue.” If nuclear weapons are used, “no capacity exists to deal adequately with the consequences,” he said. “These arguments and findings make the insistence on nuclear weapons as a necessary security tool for possessor States untenable.”

Kmentt added that this majority of states will expect the upcoming NPT review conference, to be held in New York later this year, “to give clear answers to address” the findings and conclusions of the Vienna conference “and point a credible way towards the implementation” of Article VI of the NPT. That article commits the nuclear-weapon states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race” and “to nuclear disarmament.”

In a Dec. 23 interview, Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, director of the International Organizations and Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said that the conversation on the humanitarian aspect promises to be “a central theme” of the review conference. She said she expected that many countries would make a strong push to ensure that the findings and conclusions of the Vienna meeting are reflected in the review conference’s final document, if there is one.

It is unclear whether there will be a fourth conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and, if so, what the final result of the process will be. In his Dec. 22 e-mail, Kmentt said that no country had offered to host another meeting.

The focus for NPT states is “to achieve progress within the NPT framework” and “see what happens at the Review Conference,” he said. That is certainly Austria’s objective for the conference, he said.

Vatican Revises Stance on Deterrence

The Catholic Church revised its long-standing position on nuclear deterrence in December, declaring that the possession and use of nuclear weapons are not acceptable.

At a Dec. 8-9 conference in Vienna on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, the Vatican’s UN ambassador in Geneva, delivered the Vatican’s statement. He said the “reliance on a strategy of nuclear deterrence has created a less secure world,” and called for all countries to review deterrence as a “stable basis for peace.”

The Catholic Church has consistently advocated for the abolition of nuclear weapons, but its original position on deterrence, laid out in the 1963 papal encyclical Pacem in Terris, stated that a minimal nuclear capability to deter a nuclear attack is acceptable as an interim ethic until disarmament is achieved.

Although that position might have been acceptable during the Cold War, the current pace of disarmament is too slow and the status quo is “unsustainable and undesirable,” Tomasi said. The argument that nuclear weapons prevent war is “misleading,” he said.

Nuclear deterrence “works less as a stabilizing force” in a multipolar world and serves as an incentive for countries to break out of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and develop nuclear weapons, he said. In addition, the threat of accidental use or theft of the weapons has become too high, Tomasi said.

In a Dec. 8 document, “Nuclear Disarmament: Time for Abolition,” prepared for the Vienna conference, the Vatican laid out in greater detail its reasoning for moving away from limited deterrence. In addition to calling on all states possessing nuclear weapons to increase the pace of disarmament, the document called for an examination of the rationale for nuclear deterrence.

In a Dec. 7 letter to the conference president, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, Pope Francis said that “nuclear detterence and the threat of mutually assured destruction” cannot be the basis of “fraternity” and “peaceful coexistence amongst peoples and states.”

The Vatican document cited several factors that influenced the Vatican’s revised position on deterrence, including the “illusion of security” from nuclear weapons, the high costs of arsenal maintenance, and the lack of transparency and oversight of the disarmament process. The Vatican proposed that states examine these factors in further detail to question the “moral legitimacy of the architecture of the ‘peace of a sort’ supposedly provided by deterrence.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    Russia Extends Chemical Arms Timetable

    Russia now plans to complete destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile by the end of 2020, a five-year extension of its previously announced timetable.

    January/February 2015

    By Daniel Horner

    Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw addresses the conference of states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention in The Hague on December 2, 2014. He said Myanmar was on the verge of ratifying the treaty. (OPCW)Russia now plans to complete destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile by the end of 2020, a five-year extension of its previously announced timetable, according to a Dec. 1 Russian statement.

    In the statement, which came on the first day of the week-long annual conference in The Hague of countries that are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Russia said it was “fully committed” to the convention and would complete the destruction as quickly as possible. But Moscow “will do so based on the actual economic situation as it unfolds, while following all safety standards that ought to be met during the implementation of such a complex technological task,” the statement said.

    In the statement, Russia said it planned to complete the work at four of its active destruction facilities—Leonidovka, Maradykovsky, Pochep, and Shchuch’ye—this year, but that work at the Kizner facility would continue through 2020.

    Under the CWC, countries that possessed chemical weapons were supposed to eliminate their stockpiles by April 29, 2012, the 15th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force. Russia and the United States, which accounted for the vast majority of chemical arms declared under the CWC, did not meet the deadline. Libya, which declared a much smaller stockpile, also did not meet the deadline.

    In a document adopted at their 2011 annual meeting, the CWC parties essentially recognized that the three countries would miss the deadline, but said they should complete the work “in the shortest time possible.” The document spelled out reporting and monitoring requirements for the destruction work. (See ACT, January/February 2012.)

    Russia had set the 2015 target date in 2010. (See ACT, July/August 2010.) At the time, some experts expressed skepticism about the feasibility of that timetable.

    Earlier this year, Moscow indicated that it would not be able to meet the schedule. According to a May 2014 report by the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) describing a visit to Russia the previous month by members of the council, a senior Russian official, Col. Gen. Victor Kholstov, told the delegation about several obstacles for the work at Kizner.

    According to the council’s report, Kholstov described certain munitions that are particularly expensive and time consuming to destroy because of their complex configuration. The report cited Kholstov as saying that funds were moved from Kizner to the facilities handling the complex munitions, delaying completion of the construction work at Kizner. Kholstov also said that recently adopted safety regulations have had a particular impact on the technology used at Kizner, further delaying the work there, the report said.

    At the council’s meeting in July 2014, Russia provided information that work at Kizner would continue beyond 2015, according to the official report of that meeting. Russia apparently did not specify a new target date at that time.

    The current U.S. target date for eliminating its chemical stockpile is 2023.

    According to figures cited by OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü in his Dec. 1 statement to the CWC conference, the United States has destroyed about 24,900 metric tons of chemical weapons, representing 90 percent of its stockpile. Russia has destroyed about 33,800 metric tons, about 85 percent of its holdings, he said.

    In his remarks, Üzümcü praised the OPCW’s “truly remarkable achievements” in the successful effort to eliminate Syria’s declared chemical weapons, but noted that some issues relating to Syria’s chemical weapons program remain to be resolved.

    On one of those issues, the destruction of 12 chemical weapons production facilities, he reported that contracts with the “commercial entities” that are to carry out the destruction had been finalized at the end of November. In a Jan. 5 e-mail to Arms Control Today, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan said destruction of the first facility had begun Dec. 24 and was “ongoing.”

    Another issue is the completeness of the declaration of its chemical weapons program that Syria made when it joined the CWC in 2013. In her Dec. 3 remarks to the meeting of CWC parties, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that “chemical weapons capabilities may very well remain in the hands of the Syrian government.”

    Üzümcü said in his statement that the OPCW would continue its consultations with Syria on the country’s declaration. Another continuing effort, he said, is the work of the OPCW team that determined “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine had been used as a weapon in three villages in the northern part of the country last year, when Damascus already was a CWC party. (See ACT, October 2014.)

    With Syria’s accession to the CWC, six countries—Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan—remain outside it. At the December conference, Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw said his country was on the verge of ratifying the treaty.

    During remarks at a Dec. 12 conference in Washington sponsored by the Arms Control Association, Peter Sawczak, head of government relations and political affairs in the OPCW’s external relations division, said he expected Myanmar to ratify the CWC “in short order.”

    Sawczak also highlighted another nonparty, Angola, which began a two-year term on the UN Security Council on Jan. 1. “I think a lot of states-parties have delivered the message that it’s not a good look for a member of the Security Council not to be a state-party to cornerstone arms control treaties” such as the CWC, he said.

    CORRECTION: The original version of this article misstated the conclusion of the report by an investigative team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into allegations of weapons use of chlorine in Syria. In its report, the team said it had a “high degree of confidence” that chlorine had been used as a weapon, but it did not assign responsibility for the chlorine use to any party.

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    Time to Close the Iran Deal

    The failure of Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1 to bridge their differences on a comprehensive nuclear agreement by their November 2014 target date is disappointing.

    January/February 2015

    By Daryl G. Kimball

    The failure of Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1 to bridge their differences on a comprehensive nuclear agreement by their November 2014 target date is disappointing. Nevertheless, a historic agreement to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran is attainable within the next several weeks and certainly before their new July deadline.

    The agreement would block Iran’s major potential pathways to nuclear weapons development—the uranium-enrichment route and the plutonium-separation route—guard against a clandestine weapons program, and remove a major threat to international security. To get to “yes,” the two sides must act with renewed determination, and Iran in particular must demonstrate greater flexibility on key issues.

    There is no time to waste. Some members of the new, Republican-led Congress are threatening to advance new Iran sanctions legislation and set unrealistic requirements for a nuclear deal. With a deal so close at hand, new sanctions are unnecessary and would be counterproductive. Moreover, they would violate the terms of the successful November 2013 interim nuclear agreement and prompt Iran to take escalatory steps.

    Over the past year, Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have made significant progress toward long-term solutions on major issues of proliferation concern. For instance, the two sides agree in principle that the design of and fuel for Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor can and should be modified to drastically cut its output of weapons-grade plutonium.

    They agree that Iran should implement and ratify measures that would allow short-notice inspections of undeclared sites and provide early notification of new nuclear projects to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This would allow for prompt detection and disruption of a clandestine nuclear weapons effort.

    Both sides understand that the ongoing IAEA investigation of past Iranian activities with “possible military dimensions” will continue after a comprehensive nuclear agreement is reached. At the same time, it is clear that all sanctions tied to this particular issue will not be removed unless the questions are adequately resolved. This makes it more likely that if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement, Iran will have a stronger incentive to provide the IAEA with the information necessary to determine that no such efforts are taking place now or will in the future.

    Some members of Congress erroneously suggest that the only way to block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons is somehow to persuade Iran’s leaders to dismantle the country’s major enrichment facilities and other elements of its “illicit nuclear program,” as Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), two leading advocates of new sanctions, recently put it. But it is unrealistic to expect that Iran’s leadership would accept such harsh terms, even under tougher sanctions pressure.

    Instead, negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 are discussing a combination of realistic, practical measures that would establish verifiable, long-term, sustainable limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity. These must be sufficient and irreversible enough so as to block Iran from quickly amassing fissile material for weapons use while providing Tehran with a politically and technically acceptable enrichment capability consistent with its practical needs.

    Iran’s 10,200 first-generation, operating centrifuges provide a capability that far exceeds its foreseeable civilian nuclear fuel needs. At the same time, they can produce enough weapons-grade uranium gas for one nuclear bomb (25 kilograms) in about two to three months. The P5+1 is, for good reason, pressing Iran to significantly reduce its enrichment capacity in order to increase the time Iran would need to produce a significant quantity of weapons-grade material to a year or more.

    Effective limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity will involve several complementary measures, including reducing the capacity of currently operating centrifuges; verifiably disabling centrifuge machines that are installed but not yet operating; limiting, but not stopping, research on more-advanced centrifuges; and reducing the size of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium and converting it to oxide form.

    The two sides are closer to agreement on the right formula, but differences remain. In late November, Iranian negotiators proposed lowering the number of its operating centrifuges, but they will need to reduce the number further to assure the P5+1 that Iran cannot make a dash for nuclear weapons.

    The P5+1 has promised Iran that it will phase out nuclear-related sanctions as Iran meets its nonproliferation obligations. But if the P5+1 wants to convince Iran to accept tighter restrictions on enrichment, the six-country group should agree to the faster removal of certain sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the European Union that are not tied to the weaponization issue.

    An effective, verifiable nuclear deal is within reach if the two sides—and the U.S. Congress—make smart choices in the days and weeks ahead.

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead

    The successful chemical disarmament effort in Syria represents a historic step toward the goal of ridding the world of chemical weapons. The Syrian experience has strengthened the global regime centered on the CWC.

    December 2014

    By Paul F. Walker

    Just one year after Syria’s formal accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international body responsible for implementing the treaty, announced this October that almost all of Syria’s declared chemical agents and precursor chemicals had been safely and irreversibly destroyed.[1]

    Workers in protective clothing carry a dummy grenade into a bunker during a media day at the GEKA facility in Münster, Germany, on March 5. The liquid waste from the neutralization of Syrian sulfur mustard agent aboard the MV Cape Ray was brought to the GEKA facility last summer for further treatment. (Nigel Treblin/Getty Images)This was an enormously ambitious and difficult effort, especially in light of the ongoing civil war in Syria, the refusal of Syria to cover the costs of demilitarization, the strong reluctance of any other country to destroy the Syrian chemical stockpile on its territory, and the ongoing allegations of continued and indiscriminate chemical weapons use against rebel forces and civilian populations in Syria.

    As of October 20, according to the OPCW, almost 98 percent of Syria’s declared stockpile of 1,308 metric tons of sulfur mustard agent and precursor chemicals had been destroyed in four countries and on board the MV Cape Ray, a U.S. Merchant Marine vessel uniquely outfitted in late 2013 to neutralize about half of the stockpile. The success of this disarmament effort, spearheaded by the OPCW and the United Nations in a unique joint mission, represents a historic breakthrough in establishing a world free of chemical weapons, in strengthening the CWC and the OPCW, and in building momentum toward accession to the treaty by Egypt and Israel, the two remaining nonmembers in the Middle East.

    Demilitarization in Syria
    Egypt, Israel and Syria had long been suspected of harboring chemical weapons stockpiles. Their reluctance to join the CWC stems from the linkage politics in the Middle East, identifying chemical weapons as a possible deterrent to Israel’s nuclear arsenal. The violence of the civil war that has engulfed Syria since 2011 brought attention to the potential use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government or by rebel forces taking over Syrian military sites.

    Reports of attacks in Syria allegedly involving chemical weapons began in December 2012 and continued through the summer of 2013. The final report of the review conference for the CWC in April 2013 noted the parties’ “deep concern that chemical weapons may have been used in the Syrian Arab Republic and underlined that use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances would be reprehensible and completely contrary to the legal norms and standards of the international community.”[2]

    Yet, the issue of chemical weapons use did not seize world attention until August 21, 2013, when a massive, nighttime attack on civilians took place in a rebel-held area, Ghouta, just east of Damascus, with the nerve agent sarin. Early reports by rebel forces described the deaths of some 1,400 people, including several hundred children, overcome by clouds of yellowish vapor in the middle of the night. Pictures of victims showed frothing at the mouth and suffocation, with none of the visible bullet or shrapnel wounds that one would expect from typical aerial or artillery bombardment.

    The UN, at the request of the Syrian government, had dispatched a team of experts to Damascus on August 18 to investigate prior allegations of chemical weapons use. The UN team, led by Åke Sellström of Sweden, included nine OPCW experts and three from the World Health Organization (WHO). After the August 21 attack, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requested that the team change plans to investigate that attack.

    The Sellström team’s September 13 report confirmed that “chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale.”[3] The following day, Syria deposited its instrument of accession to the CWC with the UN. Largely the result of Russian political intervention with Syria, this disarmament step precluded a threatened U.S. military strike against Syria’s chemical weapons program, made Syria the 190th state-party to the CWC, and set in motion the efforts to safely destroy Syria’s chemical stockpile. On September 17, Russia and the United States announced a framework agreement for elimination of Syria’s chemical arsenal.[4]

    The OPCW Executive Council issued a decision on September 27 noting that the treaty would enter into force for Syria on October 14 and calling for a full declaration of Syria’s chemical weapons program, including all weapons, agents, chemicals, laboratories, production plants, and storage facilities as required by Article III of the CWC. In addition, the council required that all mixing and filling equipment, used to fill delivery systems with chemical agents just before launch, be destroyed by November 1 and that “all chemical weapons material and equipment [be destroyed] in the first half of 2014.” It also stipulated that OPCW inspections would begin by October 1, 2013.[5]

    Hours after the Executive Council decision, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2118, endorsing the OPCW plan.

    The very ambitious schedule, based largely on the bilateral U.S.-Russian framework agreement, would require expedited transport and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, far faster than any other declared stockpile had been eliminated to date. The first planning decision by the OPCW made in the fall of 2013 was that it would be too risky to set up a destruction facility in Syria in the middle of an ongoing, very violent conflict.

    Throughout the OPCW’s 5,500 inspections at 265 chemical weapons-related facilities and more than 2,000 industrial sites in 86 countries, its inspectors had never had to face armed enemies. Syria, however, presented a different situation. The OPCW’s early inspections of Ghouta and other areas demonstrated that its inspectors would likely come under live fire. After August 2013, all inspectors were fitted with bulletproof vests for the first time in the OPCW’s 16-year history.[6]

    All declared chemical weapons stockpiles until 2013 had been destroyed within the possessor country, usually very close to the existing storage facilities. The CWC, under Article III and the Verification Annex, assumes that destruction will take place within the possessor country. In the case of Syria, it was decided, for reasons of safety and security, that the chemicals themselves should be removed from Syria and destroyed in a foreign country. The OPCW, UN, and United States proceeded to inquire if any Mediterranean or European countries might be willing to receive the chemicals and have them destroyed on their territory.

    No country responded positively to this request. Most of them cited environmental and regulatory requirements that would inhibit meeting the tight timeline established by the OPCW and the framework agreement. Eventually, Finland, Germany, and the United Kingdom declared their willingness to accept limited amounts of precursor chemicals and the larger volume of toxic effluent from first-stage neutralization.

    Albania had been proposed as a possible recipient country, perhaps primarily because it had destroyed 15 metric tons of declared mustard agent during 2006 and 2007, but Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in mid-November 2013 flatly rejected all requests to destroy Syrian chemicals on its territory. News reports cited ongoing frustration by the Albanian government with the failure to clean up toxic waste still remaining from the mustard incineration effort, which Germany, the United States, and other countries had supported.

    In December 2012, during the first alleged uses of chemical agents in the Syrian conflict, the U.S. Department of Defense had begun investigating options for destroying chemical stockpiles abroad, long before there was much public discussion about Syria’s chemical arsenal. The chemicals held in the Syrian stockpile were sulfur mustard agent (HD), sarin nerve agent (GB), and precursor chemicals such as methylphosphonyl diflouride (DF), the specific targets of the new U.S. technology development effort. By early February 2013, the Defense Department had committed funding to developing semi-mobile platforms for the neutralization of such agents and chemicals in remote areas. Four months later, in June, the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Aberdeen, Maryland, conducted a prototype demonstration.

    In light of the political progress made with Syria’s decision to join the CWC and the lack of progress made with European countries in persuading them to accept Syrian chemicals, the United States sent a team to Baltimore  and Portsmouth, Virginia in September 2013 to consider U.S. ships for possible sea deployment of a neutralization facility, something never done previously. The MV Cape Ray, an older roll-on/roll-off freighter, was chosen in November 2013 as a suitable platform for utilizing the new Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, a neutralization unit developed at the Edgewood facility.

    The fitting of two of these hydrolysis units aboard the Cape Ray began in Portsmouth on December 2 and was completed six weeks later. After sea trials, the ship departed on January 27, 2014, for the U.S. Navy base in Rota, Spain, where it remained until the last chemicals left Syria. The ship also carried a third hydrolysis unit for spare parts.

    Each of these unique chemical hydrolysis systems was designed to fit on two large flatbed trucks for ease of transportation and deployment. Back at Aberdeen, Maryland, the plan was to produce another three hydrolysis units for future use. These systems all reused titanium-lined mixing tanks that had been part of the neutralization process for the 1,471 metric tons of bulk mustard agent from the U.S. chemical stockpile at Aberdeen from 2003 to 2005.

    The OPCW-approved plan for destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile involved transporting all chemicals from more than 20 sites to the port of Latakia in northwestern Syria and transferring them to two freighters, the Ark Futura from Denmark and the Taiko from Norway. Once the ships had received all of Syria’s declared chemicals, they would deliver the more dangerous (“Priority 1”) chemicals, mustard and DF, to the Cape Ray for onboard neutralization in the Mediterranean Sea and the less dangerous (“Priority 2”) precursor chemicals to land-based incinerators in Finland, the UK, and the United States. The original deadline for completing the shipments out of Syria was February 5, 2014, but this process required another five months due to concerns expressed by the Syrian government over security along the land-based shipment routes.

    The first shipment of chemicals left Latakia on January 7. After several new deadlines were also missed, the 19th and final shipment, about 100 metric tons, of declared chemicals left Latakia on June 23 aboard the Ark Futura. The Taiko had departed Latakia in early June and delivered 130 metric tons of precursor chemicals to the port of Hamina Kotka in Finland, to be incinerated by the company Ekokem, in the town of Riihimaki, just north of Helsinki. The ship then sailed to Port Arthur, Texas, with several hundred tons of precursor chemicals to be incinerated at a Veolia Environmental Services facility just outside Houston.[7]

    ashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to the media about Syrian chemical weapons outside the Security Council chamber on September 12, 2013, two days before Syria deposited its instrument of accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention with the UN. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)With all declared chemicals out of Syria, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü praised the “extraordinary international cooperation” involved in the effort and reiterated that “never before has an entire arsenal of a category of weapons of mass destruction been removed from a country experiencing a state of internal armed conflict.” In a June 23 statement, he said that although a “major chapter” in his organization’s effort was closing, the “OPCW’s work in Syria will continue.”[8] This last phrase was a reference to the continued discussions with Syria about destruction of declared production and storage facilities, apparent discrepancies in the country’s declaration of its stockpile to the OPCW, and alleged attacks during the Syrian civil war with chlorine, a dual-use chemical not banned by the CWC but prohibited in warfare.

    Destruction at Sea
    Because the Cape Ray was never allowed into Syrian territorial waters, it needed a Mediterranean port where it could receive the 600 metric tons of mustard agent and sarin precursor from the Ark Futura. After some extended negotiations, the port of Gioia Tauro in southwestern Italy agreed to receive the two ships, and the transfer took place without incident over a half day spanning July 1-2. The Ark Futura sailed to the UK and off-loaded some 150 metric tons of other Priority 1 chemicals to be destroyed at a Veolia Environmental Services incinerator at Ellesmere and at a second company, Mexichem UK Limited.

    On July 7, the Cape Ray began neutralizing 19.8 metric tons of sulfur mustard and 581 metric tons of DF in the two hydrolysis units, operating eventually 24 hours a day, six days a week at sea, with a seventh day set aside for maintenance and repair.[9] Original schedule projections indicated that the job would require 60 to 90 days. Those projections assumed that the units would be down for 40 percent of the time due to high seas and bad weather. This would calculate to a throughput rate of 11 to 17 metric tons per operating day of Syrian chemicals. Fortunately, the weather remained very good and the seas very low, allowing the hydrolysis process to finish on August 17, after just 42 days of operations. This indicates an average throughput rate of more than 14 metric tons per day, right in the middle of the range of original projections, but without any unplanned operating downtime.

    Operations aboard the ship went very well, with no major incidents. A few minor mishaps took place—a small fire in the kitchen, which was extinguished quickly; a minor leak of reagent, which never escaped the protective enclosure for the hydrolysis system and was easily cleaned up; and a few minor bumps and bruises, as well as dehydration, for the crew. The whole at-sea operation, which raised many concerns around the Mediterranean, appears to have fully met the requirements of the CWC, which states that “during transportation, sampling, storage and destruction of chemical weapons, [each state-party] shall assign the highest priority to ensuring the safety of people and to protecting the environment.”[10]

    During the spring of 2014, large citizen demonstrations with more than 10,000 protesters had taken place in Athens, Istanbul, and Cyprus, and a flotilla of boats sought to demonstrate in July. Üzümcü wrote a formal response to a June 2014 letter from the Pancretan Commission Against the Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons in the Enclosed Sea of the Mediterranean. He reassured the signers that “the safety of people and protecting the environment has been one of the foremost considerations in all activities relating to the transportation and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons” and that “[a]ll of these activities…have occurred in accordance with international and national regulations, and without mishap.”[11]

    After six weeks in the Mediterranean, the Cape Ray delivered its neutralized sulfur mustard effluent, no longer a chemical weapon but still quite toxic and about 15 times its original volume, to Bremerhaven, Germany. The company GEKA, located outside Hamburg, known for handling military weapons and waste, would receive the 350 to 400 metric tons of waste and burn the material in its incinerator.[12] The ship then sailed to Finland and off-loaded the neutralized DF effluent, about 6,000 metric tons, to be burned at the Ekokem facility.

    The Cape Ray returned to Virginia in mid-September. The two hydrolysis units are currently being cleaned and dismantled for possible use elsewhere.

    As of October 20, 100 percent (1,047 metric tons) of “Category 1” chemicals and 89 percent (232 metric tons) of “Category 2” chemicals had been destroyed, a total of 98 percent safely eliminated in less than a year of demilitarization operations. The remainder, about 29 metric tons, will be destroyed in the next few months, along with some 6,000 metric tons of toxic effluent.

    Click image to enlarge.

    Impact and Lessons
    The Syrian chemical weapons destruction process in 2013 and 2014 has been a remarkable example of successful multilateral disarmament operations in the middle of a costly and dangerous civil war. It has removed not only the threat of mass-casualty attacks with deadly nerve agents against soldiers and civilians in the Syrian civil war, but also the threat of chemical weapons use against neighboring countries. Furthermore, it has set a precedent for Egypt and Israel, the other two suspected chemical weapons possessor states in the region, to join the near-universal CWC. The complete abolition of chemical weapons in the Middle East will be an important confidence-building measure for negotiations on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the region, as proposed by the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

    In addition to the political momentum generated for further disarmament efforts focusing on nonconventional weapons in the Middle East, several other important related issues and goals should be noted.

    Strengthening the OPCW. With a 500-person staff and a budget of about $88 million, the OPCW, which is based in The Hague, remains much smaller than many of its counterparts in Geneva and Vienna.[13] Yet, it has successfully facilitated and verified the safe elimination of more than 62,000 metric tons of deadly chemicals from millions of weapons at hundreds of sites across the globe. With Syria, which had been one of the last seven nonmember countries, suddenly acceding to the CWC in 2013, momentum has quickened toward “universality”—complete global membership—for the abolition regime. This will not only help prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons, but will also provide encouragement to the Biological Weapons Convention, with 170 states-parties, and the NPT for abolishing the remaining two classes of nonconventional weapons.

    The Chemical Weapons Convention

    After more than a dozen years of negotiations, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was opened for signature in January 1993, with 158 countries signing the treaty in the first year. By July 1997, just three months after its entry into force, 98 countries had ratified the CWC. The two largest possessor countries, Russia and the United States, ratified the CWC on November 5, 1997, and April 25, 1997, respectively.1

    The CWC is unique as an arms control and disarmament treaty in that it bans the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer, or use of chemical weapons by all states-parties. It establishes an international verification and inspection regime for declared stockpiles and the chemical industry, and it requires all declared chemical weapons, as well as facilities and laboratories related to chemical weapons production, to be safely destroyed within certain deadlines.2 Therefore, it differs from the Biological Weapons Convention by establishing a strict verification regime and from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by crafting a nondiscriminatory regime, one in which all member countries abide by the same rules requiring verified abolition of chemical weapons programs.

    Syrian accession to the CWC in September 2013 expanded the membership to 190 countries, leaving just six—Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan—outside the treaty. At least two areas of the world, Taiwan and the Palestinian territories, are not yet covered by the CWC due to their unique political situations and lack of UN membership. Taiwan in particular, with a large chemicals industry, will be important to bring under verification in the near future.

    Eight countries have declared chemical weapons stockpiles to date: Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Russia, South Korea, Syria, and the United States, with Russia and the United States accounting for 95 percent of the declared chemical agent tonnage.3
      The implementing body for the CWC is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an entity created by the treaty. In the more than 17 years that the CWC has been in force, the OPCW has overseen and verified the safe destruction of 85 percent of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles. This means that more than 62,000 metric tons of deadly chemical agents and millions of weapons (landmines, bombs, rockets, spray tanks, missile warheads, and artillery shells) in seven countries have been destroyed, an enormous step forward in improving global security.

    Russia still has 8,000 metric tons of chemical weapons to destroy, and the United States has 2,800 metric tons. Libya has about 850 metric tons of precursor chemicals. Iraq continues to have an unknown quantity of chemical agents and precursor chemicals left in two large bunkers at the site in Fallujah known as al Muthanna. Sealed in the mid-1990s by UN inspectors, these bunkers were reportedly captured by the Islamic State militant group in June 2014. According to recent reports, the group might have used chemical weapons in the siege of Kobani in the Kurdish area of northern Syria.4


    1. For an excellent history of the long negotiations on the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), see Daniel Feakes and Ian Kenyon, eds., The Creation of OPCW: A Case Study in the Birth of an Intergovernmental Organization (The Hague: TMC Asser Press, 2007).

    2. For the text of the CWC, see http://www.opcw.org/chemical-weapons-convention/.

    3. For a history of chemical weapons destruction, see Paul F. Walker, “Abolishing Chemical Weapons: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities,” Arms Control Today, November 2010.

    4. Joseph Cirincione and Paul Walker, “Is ISIS Using Chemical Weapons?” Defense One, October 14, 2014, http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2014/10/isis-using-chemical-weapons/96425/?oref=search_Walker.

      None of this will happen automatically. In order to bring the remaining six countries (see box) into the treaty regime, there must be a determined effort by the OPCW, CWC states-parties, the UN, and civil society to press these countries to join the CWC and other arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation regimes. Countries that acceded to the CWC in recent years, such as the Bahamas in 2009, required direct visits by high-ranking OPCW officials and technical support with convention declarations and national implementation. Although the OPCW has specific plans for promoting universality, national legislation, and assistance and cooperation, the states-parties need to take an active role in persuading countries to join. The CWC Coalition, an active network of some 150 nongovernmental experts and organizations across the globe, should actively work with civil society in these nonmember countries to build a public discussion about their lack of membership.[14]

      There needs to be careful reconsideration by states-parties of the OPCW annual budget, which has fallen from a peak of more than $100 million annually during the 2007-2011 period to a low of less than $93 million projected for 2015. This decline has forced reductions in the size, seniority, and experience of the organization’s staff. The costs for OPCW inspections and verification for 2013 and 2014 in Syria alone, not projected in the earlier budget plans, were $5.5 million; these funds were fortunately raised through a special voluntary fund.

      Multilateralizing disarmament. The role of the OPCW is to implement the CWC and verify stockpile destruction; there is very little it can do to enforce the regime other than refer violations to the UN. The joint efforts among the OPCW, the UN, and the WHO to investigate the alleged use of chemical agents in the Syrian civil war and to remove Syrian chemicals from the country were very successful. This OPCW-UN joint mission, headed by Dutch diplomat Sigrid Kaag, worked out very well. There were some issues of miscommunication and competing leadership early in the operation, but in the end, this multiagency effort demonstrated that large, multilateral bureaucracies can indeed work well together.

      This joint mission also underlined the importance of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which establishes legally binding obligations on all states under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and their means of delivery to other countries and nonstate actors. The UN must press this national obligation on CWC nonmembers.[15]

      Building transparency. Early in the Syrian chemical demilitarization operations, very little information was made available to the public and interested nongovernmental stakeholders. This led to unnecessary suspicions about what was actually happening to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and what risks might arise, especially for Mediterranean countries. Syria had reportedly requested confidentiality from the OPCW regarding its declaration and stockpile figures, and other countries were very sensitive about their role in the operation. For example, Italy did not reveal until mid-January that Gioia Tauro would be used for the transfer of Syrian chemicals from the Ark Futura to the Cape Ray. The mayor of Gioia Tauro complained at the time that the national government had not informed him of the decision, that he and his colleagues had “received no official information,” and that they were “stumbling around in the dark.” He also warned that they would “pursue all legal means” to prevent the port operation.[16]

      Eventually, the OPCW decided to post summary figures of the Syrian declared stockpile and to update destruction figures monthly on the OPCW website. This latter effort helped alleviate some public anxiety and build confidence in the process.

      Engaging stakeholders. Quiet and productive international discussions had been continuing since at least 2011 at governmental and nongovernmental levels to prevent the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict, to prevent a foreign military attack on Syria, and to bring Syria into the CWC. Once Syria acceded to the CWC, the process of the country’s declaration, the required on-site inspections, and the demilitarization plans were closed to public scrutiny. By late 2013, it became known that Syria’s chemicals would be shipped out of country and half of the exported tonnage would be destroyed at sea. Public protests began to mount in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Turkey, and elsewhere, and national governments demanded to be more informed about the process.

      On February 3, 2014, a dozen chemical demilitarization experts, including this author, from the nongovernmental sector wrote to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel suggesting a more robust public outreach effort, including several “national dialogues” in the Mediterranean region and real-time updates from the Cape Ray while it was operating in the sea. This letter also was sent to officials such as Kaag, Üzümcü, and Angela Kane, head of the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs. The letter stated that “[e]ngaging potentially impacted communities in a timely and transparent way will not only strengthen the protection of public health and the environment, but it will help alleviate public concerns that could otherwise undermine this historic and important demilitarization mission.”[17] There was no reply to this letter.

      Although the State Department organized several invitation-only, off-the-record discussions for Washington-based stakeholders and the OPCW organized two invitation-only conference calls for a select group of European nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the public outreach effort was never sufficient to satisfy concerned organizations and citizens, especially those in the Mediterranean region most likely to be affected by any accidents. The Defense Department organized an “open house” for media and NGOs on the Cape Ray while it was docked in Rota, Spain for more than three months prior to the destruction efforts, but this was done on a last-minute basis with no travel support and failed to attract NGOs.[18]

      The failure to produce an integrated plan to inform and involve the public was partly due to the multilateral process, with many senior players pointing the finger of responsibility at other colleagues, but it clearly undermined public confidence in the demilitarization plan. The ambitious schedule also caused national and multilateral bureaucracies to shortcut public outreach efforts. Nevertheless, the many delays in the process of removing the chemicals from Syria provided opportunities for much more coordinated outreach and public information if the responsible officials had been inclined to take advantage of those opportunities. Such action would have reduced the mistrust with which the public and governments approached the removal and destruction operations.

      Financing demilitarization. Syria made it known very early in the process that it could not afford to pay the costs of its demilitarization plan. It covered some of the costs for aspects such as land-based transportation, security, and facility destruction, but would not pay for out-of-country chemical destruction or for the verification work by the OPCW, although the CWC requires state-parties that possess chemical weapons to pay these costs.[19]

      Fortunately, some three dozen countries made financial or in-kind contributions or both to support the disarmament operations and inspections. Üzümcü reported to the OPCW Executive Council in early October that the trust fund established for that purpose had received almost $65 million from 24 states-parties and the European Union.[20] In addition, U.S. operations aboard the Cape Ray, the use of Danish and Norwegian freighters, and the convoy that provided security for the three ships must have totaled several hundred million dollars. Although at least three countries—India, South Korea, and the United States—have covered their chemical weapons demilitarization costs, another three—Albania, Libya, and Russia—have relied on outside funding to cover at least part of their costs. This may argue for an ongoing OPCW trust fund for operations to be used in cases of demilitarization, challenge inspections, and other urgent tasks.[21]

      Inspecting demilitarization. The OPCW has been under pressure from states-parties, especially the major bill payers such as the United States, to reduce its annual budget for the last several years. This had led to major staffing reductions in the inspectorate from about 175 inspectors to fewer than 125, with much less experience. When the Syrian operation arose in 2013, the OPCW had to scramble to rehire some 50 inspectors, many of them having been out of the job for several years. These returning inspectors substituted for the many active OPCW inspectors needed for the Syrian teams. In the end, this worked out well, but it raises questions about the future size of the OPCW inspectorate and how best to ensure readiness to carry out urgent missions in a timely way.[22]

      The OPCW and the CWC states-parties should reconsider the current plans for the standing size of the OPCW inspectorate, which would be available for demilitarization operations and industry inspections. Chemical industry inspections are becoming much more important as the OPCW seeks to prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons and to promote peaceful uses of chemistry. The OPCW should consider developing an ongoing active-reserve inspectorate that would be on call for urgent and unpredictable operations such as the one in Syria. Funding for such a reserve force should be part of the budget reconsideration discussed above.

      After a year of active and ongoing demilitarization operations, with almost all of Syria’s declared chemicals destroyed, the UN, the OPCW, and contributing countries can declare a large if not yet total success. Syria has recently revealed at least two new canisters of sarin discovered in “rebel-held territory” and four additional facilities related to chemical weapons—three research and development facilities and one production site for ricin. In addition, there have been new allegations of attacks with chlorine on rebel forces in Syria.[23] These issues demonstrate that the demilitarization process is not yet finished and that the OPCW must continue its inspections and fact-finding missions. Moreover, this multilateral disarmament effort has not put a stop to the ongoing and widespread violence in Syria.

      Yet, the laudable and costly efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons program over the past year have demonstrated that the world is very close to eliminating an entire class of weapons of mass destruction from the globe. This alone is a very worthy step forward in global security and most appropriate as the world approaches the 100th anniversary of the first massive use of chemical weapons in warfare.

      Paul F. Walker is director of environmental security and sustainability with Green Cross International. He holds a Ph.D. in international security studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is a former professional staff member for the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee. He was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 2013 for his work to press for the elimination of chemical weapons. He serves on the Arms Control Association Board of Directors.


      1. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), “Syrian Chemical Destruction Data,” October 20, 2014, http://www.opcw.org/special-sections/syria/destruction-statistics/.

      2. OPCW Conference of the States Parties, “Report of the Third Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties to Review the Operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention,” RC-3/3, April 19, 2013.

      3. UN General Assembly and UN Security Council, “Report of the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus on 21 August 2013,” A/67/997-S/2013/553, September 16, 2013. See OPCW, “UN Investigation Team Returns to The Hague From Syria,” September 2, 2013, http://www.opcw.org/news/article/un-investigation-team-returns-to-the-hague-from-syria/.

      4. OPCW, “Joint National Paper by the Russian Federation and the United States of America: Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons,” EC-M-33/NAT.1, September 17, 2013.

      5. OPCW, “Decision: Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons,” EC-M-33/DEC.1, September 27, 2013.

      6. OPCW, “OPCW Director-General Condemns Attack on UN Inspection Team,” August 26, 2013, http://www.opcw.org/news/article/opcw-director-general-condemns-attack-on-un-inspection-team/.

      7. For a weekly blog on the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons, see Green Cross International, http://www.gcint.org/green-cross-blog/.

      8. OPCW, “Announcement to Media on Last Consignment of Chemicals Leaving Syria,” June 23, 2014, http://www.opcw.org/news/article/announcement-to-media-on-last-consignment-of-chemicals-leaving-syria/.

      9. See Daniel Horner, “Syrian Chemicals Destroyed on U.S. Ship,” Arms Control Today, September 2014.

      10. Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), art. IV, para. 10.

      11. Ahmet Üzümcü, Letter to the Pancretan Commission Against the Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons in the Enclosed Sea of the Mediterranean, L/ODG/192695/14, July 29, 2014.

      12. See Annette Langer, “Kampfstoff-Entsorgung: Syrische Chemiewaffen in der Heide,” Der Spiegel, April 9, 2014, http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/giftgas-aus-syrien-geka-in-munster-entsorgt-senfgas-von-der-cape-ray-a-963357.html.

      13. For the latest OPCW financial report, see OPCW, “Financial Statements of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and Report of the External Auditor for the Year Ending 31 December 2013,” EC-77/DG.1, July 14, 2014; OPCW, “Draft Decision: Draft Program and Budget of the OPCW for 2015,” EC-77/DEC/CRP.7, October 2, 2014.

      14. The author is the coordinator of this coalition, which held a roundtable in Tel Aviv and met with Israeli parliamentarians in November 2014.

      15. See Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State, “United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540,” n.d., http://www.state.gov/t/isn/c18943.htm.

      16. Lizzy Davies, “Italian Mayor Dismayed as Port Chosen for Syrian Chemical Weapons Transfer,” The Guardian, January 16, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/16/italian-mayor-port-gioia-tauro-syrian-chemical-weapons.

      17. For the text of the letter, see Green Cross International, “Public Outreach and Stakeholder Involvement in Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons,” February 4, 2014, http://www.gcint.org/public-outreach-and-stakeholder-involvement-destruction-syrian-chemical-weapons

      18. The open house produced several stories in the press. For example, see Frank Gardner, “Syria Chemical Weapons: Time Running Out for Destruction,” BBC, April 10, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26979101.

      19. Paragraph 16 of CWC Article IV specifically states: “Each State Party shall meet the costs of destruction of chemical weapons it is obliged to destroy.”

      20. OPCW, “Note by the Director-General: Progress in the Elimination of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Program,” EC-77/DG.22, September 24, 2014, para. 14.

      21. For example, Libya is now asking for the financial and technical support of the OPCW and CWC states-parties to remove and destroy its remaining precursor chemicals.

      22. In a recent interview, Üzümcü said that the number of inspectors would be further reduced to “90 or so.” See Jean Pascal Zanders, “Üzümcü: ‘After Syria I Do Not See Any Country Able to Use Chemical Weapons Anymore,’” The Trench, November 17, 2014, http://www.the-trench.org/uzumcu-interview/.

      23. See OPCW, “Update on Syrian Chemical Weapons and the Fact-Finding Mission Into Alleged Chlorine Gas Attack,” May 22, 2014, http://www.opcw.org/news/article/update-on-syrian-chemical-weapons-destruction-and-the-fact-finding-mission-into-alleged-chlorine-gas/.

      Posted: December 31, 1969

      Nations Prepare for ATT Obligations

      As the global treaty to regulate the arms trade enters into force, all 50-plus participating nations will have to issue public reports on the import and export of weapons within a year.

      December 2014

      By Jefferson Morley

      When the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) enters into force Dec. 24, a longtime dream of international civil society—regulation of the world’s weapons market—will become reality. That is when the difficult work begins, treaty proponents say.

      Panelists participate in an event on the Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations on April 2. The treaty will enter into force December 24. (Control Arms)“Most states won’t be ready to implement the ATT when it enters into force,” predicted Rachel Stohl of the Stimson Center in a Nov. 17 interview. “And the ones that are ready can do more.”

      The treaty, approved by the UN General Assembly in April 2013, is the first global, legally binding agreement to regulate the global market in weapons. More than 50 countries have ratified the treaty and must apply the treaty’s criteria when making decisions about the transfer of weapons ranging from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft, and warships. The treaty forbids transfers that support terrorism, organized crime, war crimes, genocide, or human rights abuses.

      Another 68 countries, including the United States, have signed the treaty, but not ratified it.

      The ATT’s two biggest initial obligations, according to Stohl, are the establishment of a national control system for the import and export of arms and the creation of a national control list of weapons whose transfer will be scrutinized under the criteria established by the treaty. Countries must file their first report on the import and export of arms by May 31, 2015, according to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, and their first report on implementation of the treaty by the end of 2015.

      A survey of 44 countries that have signed or ratified the ATT, conducted by Stohl and arms analyst Paul Holtom, found that almost all of them have control lists.

      The survey found wide disparities in how countries regulate arms transfers. Although 86 percent of the respondent countries said they issue an annual report on arms exports, for example, only 68 percent said they produce an annual report on arms imports.

      “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach,” Stohl said. “Arms-producing countries will have different needs than nonproducing countries. We’re looking to find out what the best practices are.”

      The ATT preamble emphasizes “the need to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion,” but the treaty does not specify how countries should achieve this goal.

      Countries can choose among measures such as preshipment checks, verification of end users, and improvements in dock security and port security, Stohl said. All countries have to “decide what will work best for them,” she said. According to Stohl, there will not be a global “denied persons list” or “approved brokers lists,” but “it makes sense for each country to share that kind of information.”

      Participating countries held preparatory conferences for implementation of the ATT Sept. 8-9 in Mexico City and Nov. 27-28 in Berlin to discuss, among other issues, the treaty’s reporting requirements.

      The scope of the ATT’s reporting requirements is “basically identical” to that of the main categories of the UN Register of Conventional Arms, Angela Kane, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, said at the Mexico City meeting. One difference, she noted, is that the ATT requires reporting on transfers of small arms. Data on such transfers are considered voluntary “additional background information” in the reporting for the register.

      The Obama administration has not reported on U.S. efforts to prepare for the treaty because of a January 2014 congressional ban on expenditures “to implement the Arms Trade Treaty until the Senate approves a resolution of ratification” for it.

      The administration has not issued a timetable for submitting the ATT to the Senate.

      Posted: December 31, 1969

      States Clash on Disarmament at UN

      At the UN disarmament committee, nuclear-weapon states generally voted against resolutions aimed at speeding up progress toward the elimination of nuclear arms.

      December 2014

      By Kingston Reif

      As states without nuclear weapons are growing increasingly impatient with what they say is the slow pace of nuclear disarmament efforts in the lead-up to the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review

      Conference, the United States and most other nuclear-weapom states have continued to vote against resolutions aimed at accelerating progress toward the elimination of nuclear weapons at the UN disarmament committee in New York.

      The UN General Assembly First Committee meets to adopt an agenda and work program on October 2. (UN Photo)Four of the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the NPT (France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) voted against a resolution calling for the “urgent commencement” of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva to pursue the “early conclusion” of a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons to prohibit their “possession, development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer and use or threat of use, and to provide for their destruction.” (See ACT, December 2013.) In the UN General Assembly First Committee, which deals with nuclear disarmament, 135 countries supported the resolution.

      The resolution was one of several offered this year that the committee has considered in previous years.
      China was the only recognized nuclear-weapon state to support the resolution. India and Pakistan also voted in favor of the resolution; Israel and North Korea opposed it.

      India, Israel, and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, but are not members of the NPT. North Korea joined the NPT, but announced its withdrawal from the treaty in 2003, an action that NPT members have not officially recognized.
      In a joint statement, France, the UK, and the United States said that the call for a convention to abolish nuclear weapons “is not mentioned as such in the 2010 [NPT] Action Plan” and that “a practical step-by-step process is the only way to make real progress in our disarmament efforts.” At the May 2010 NPT Review Conference, the states-parties adopted a 64-point action plan across the three “pillars” of the NPT: nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

      The other states that voted against the resolution or abstained are members of NATO or are “nuclear umbrella” states that have nuclear security agreements with Washington, such as Japan.

      According to a September 2014 analysis published on the website of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists by Hans Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, there are approximately 16,300 nuclear weapons located at some 98 sites in 14 countries. Russia and the United States together possess 93 percent of the total global inventory.

      Except for China and Pakistan, which abstained, every state with nuclear weapons also voted against a resolution titled “Towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: Accelerating the Implementation of Nuclear Disarmament Commitments.” The supporters of the resolution, led by Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, and South Africa, said they were “[d]eeply disappointed” with “the continued absence of progress towards multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament” and “urge[d] the Conference on Disarmament to commence, without delay, substantive work that advances the agenda of nuclear disarmament.”

      The First Committee approved the resolution by a vote of 166-7 with five abstentions.

      In addition, the United States joined France, Russia, and the UK as the only opponents of a resolution on “taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.” The resolution laments “the absence of concrete outcomes of multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations within the United Nations framework for more than a decade.”

      France, the UK, and the United States opposed the resolution on the grounds that it reflects “a substantial and unwarranted focus” on nuclear disarmament processes beyond those of the NPT and CD and places disproportionate focus on nuclear disarmament at the expense of the other two pillars of the NPT—nonproliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

      In an Oct. 7 statement to the First Committee, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, emphasized the importance of “patience and persistence” on the path toward nuclear disarmament. Gottemoeller suggested thinking about disarmament “in terms of how creeks and streams connect to form rivers. Over time, those mighty rivers are irreversible; they cut through massive and seemingly impenetrable stone on the way to their final destination.”

      In an Oct. 9 interview with Arms Control Today, Gottemoeller disputed the concerns of the non-nuclear-weapon states about the slow pace of disarmament. She said that the nuclear-weapon states have done “a spectacular job in reducing and eliminating our nuclear arsenals” since the height of the Cold War and that there have “been inadequate communications between the nuclear-weapon states and the non-nuclear-weapon states” on the difficulty of reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons.

      In an Oct. 8 statement to the First Committee, Mikhail Ulyanov, a Russian arms control official, said that the UN Disarmament Commission and the CD “have suffered stagnation for many years.” But he warned that shifting disarmament negotiations to “new fora” would “threaten to bring serious damage to the existing institutions.”

      The sponsors of the First Committee resolutions calling for accelerating the pace of disarmament continue to stress that their efforts are consistent with the NPT. They note that Article VI of the treaty requires “effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament” and that the 2010 NPT Review Conference agreed to “the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons.”

      Posted: December 31, 1969

      EU Ready for Negotiations on Space Code

      The European Union says it is ready to begin negotiations on a final draft of its proposed space code, but several countries are still asking for more time.

      December 2014

      By Timothy Farnsworth

      The European Union says it is ready to begin negotiations on a final draft of its proposed international code of conduct for activities in outer space, but several countries are still asking for more time.

      In an Oct. 27 statement to the UN General Assembly First Committee, Clara Ganslandt of the European External Action Service, the EU’s diplomatic arm, said the EU and many participating countries are ready to move the process of developing a code of conduct for space to a “negotiating phase.” Since June 2012, the participants have been engaged in “open-ended” consultations.

      Ganslandt, who heads the division of the diplomatic service that deals with weapons of mass destruction, conventional weapons, and space issues, said several countries requested more time to study the proposal that would launch negotiations. The EU is “currently consulting” with these states, she said.

      In her statement, Ganslandt said the latest draft of the code of conduct from the May 2014 consultation in Luxembourg would serve as the basis for the negotiating phase and “remains open to further changes.”

      The proposal calling for the negotiations to begin has been circulated among some UN member states, but was never officially presented to the UN Secretariat as a formal document and has not been made public, according to a UN official familiar with the document.

      The goal of the code is to establish guidelines for responsible behavior in space that would reduce the risk of debris-generating events and increase transparency in space operations in order to avoid collisions between space assets and debris.

      Since 2008, when the EU began the process of developing a code, the deadline for producing a final text has been delayed at least twice. In 2012, when the open-ended consultations were announced in order to gain broader support from the international community, the EU had hoped to host a diplomatic conference by the end of 2013. (See ACT, September 2012.) At the end of the final consultation meeting in May 2014, meeting chairman Jacek Bylica said in his closing remarks that he hoped to conclude the process by the end of 2014.

      In a Nov. 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Bylica, who is principal adviser and special envoy for nonproliferation and disarmament in the EU diplomatic service, said moving to a negotiating phase of the process would be difficult next year because of “a very rich calendar” that includes events such as the month-long nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference and the first conference of states-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty. Even so, the EU is “looking for ways which would enable all willing to do so to engage in the negotiations” on the code, Bylica said.

      Christopher Buck, the U.S. alternate representative to the UN First Committee, said in his Oct. 27 statement to the committee, “We now look forward to working next year with the European Union and the international community in an inclusive process to finalize” the code of conduct.

      In January 2012, the United States announced that it backed EU efforts to establish a code of conduct for space, but would not sign the document at that time. (See ACT, March 2012.) Later that year, the EU established the open-ended consultations as a result of criticism by many countries, including Brazil and India, that the EU process for developing the text was not inclusive enough. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)

      Many countries have argued that the United Nations is the appropriate place to debate the code of conduct. In a joint statement at the end of their summit last July, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—a group of countries known as the BRICS—“call[ed] for an inclusive and consensus-based multilateral negotiation to be conducted within the framework of the UN without specific deadlines in order to reach a balanced outcome that addresses the needs and reflects the concerns of all participants.” Many other countries, including the United States and EU members, have been against negotiating a code within the UN fold to avoid being bogged down in procedural questions. (See ACT, November 2012.)

      The BRICS statement also called for negotiations to conclude an “international agreement or agreements to prevent an arms race in outer space” and welcomed the introduction by China and Russia of the updated draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects. The United States has been critical of that draft treaty since China and Russia introduced the original text in 2008.

      Posted: December 31, 1969

      CTBTO Conducts Major Field Exercise

      The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization launched a five-week-long, on-site inspection field exercise in a remote desert region adjoining the Dead Sea.

      December 2014

      By Daryl G. Kimball

      Participants in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s five-week-long field exercise in Jordan adjust monitoring equipment on November 18. (CTBTO)The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) launched its second full-scale, on-site inspection field exercise in a remote desert region adjoining the Dead Sea southwest of Amman, Jordan, in early November.

      The objective of the five-week-long exercise, which will cost an estimated $10.3 million, including in-kind contributions from nine states and the European Union, is to test the CTBTO’s ability to determine whether a nuclear test explosion has taken place following the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

      The month-long event, known as Integrated Field Exercise 2014 (IFE14), involves a multinational team of more than 200 experts and scientists, including officials from the fictitious CTBT state-party under inspection and an inspection team of 40 experts searching a rugged area of approximately 1,000 square kilometers for evidence of a nuclear test. The team is deploying a wide range of inspection techniques, including radionuclide, seismic, geophysical, and other methods, as would be permitted under an actual inspection if requested and approved by the CTBTO’s executive council of states-parties.

      At a Nov. 15 briefing at the inspection area in Jordan, Oleg Rozhkov, the director of the On-Site Inspection Division and IFE14 project executive, described the exercise’s scenario. Under that scenario, the CTBT has been in force for six months when the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System (IMS) detects suspicious seismic readings and noble gas emissions indicative of a nuclear blast. Five days later, a state-party requests an on-site inspection; the Executive Council approves the request. Ten days after the initial readings, the inspection team moves in to set up a base of operations.

      Fourteen days later and after negotiations with officials from the inspected state who claim the IMS’s readings were wrong, the first CTBTO team moves into the field using sensitive and mobile seismic and radiation monitoring equipment. Using visual surveys, aircraft reconnaissance, and satellite information to supplement the readings from the field equipment, the inspection team quickly narrows its search to four smaller areas of interest in the inspection zone. Once there, the team looks for more-definitive evidence of a prohibited nuclear explosion, such as the collapse of an underground cavity or emissions of additional noble gases.

      “IFE14 demonstrates the CTBTO’s advanced capabilities” and shows that the organization is in “the last phase of [its] preparations for on-site inspections” and is ready for the CTBT’s entry into force, CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said in a Nov. 18 interview.

      Short-notice on-site inspections can only be requested and approved following the treaty’s entry into force. Under Annex 2 of the treaty, 44 specified countries must ratify the treaty to bring it into force. Eight of those 44 countries have not ratified the treaty.

      The IMS consists of 337 stations, 85 percent of which are operational and transmitting data.

      The exercise in Jordan is the most extensive since the CTBTO was established in 1997. In 2008 the CTBTO conducted its first IFE at the former Soviet nuclear test site located in present-day Kazakhstan. (See ACT, November 2008.)

      Beginning in 2009, the CTBTO carried out a series of build-up exercises for IFE14 to practice specific methods, techniques, and sensor technologies in Austria, Finland, Hungary, and Jordan. These included testing special multispectral and infrared sensors used for overflight monitoring, as well as field-testing communications equipment to ensure it is secure from eavesdropping by inspected states-parties. Several training workshops on on-site inspections also were held, most recently in Yangzhou, China, in November 2013.

      In combination with the CTBTO’s success in detecting North Korea’s three nuclear tests, the exercise in Jordan “proves that we’re ready to detect any type of nuclear test explosion,” Zerbo said in a separate statement issued Nov. 18.

      The results of IFE14 will be evaluated at a workshop to be held in Israel in March 2015, which will be open to officials from all signatory states, including Egypt and Iran, according to CTBTO officials. Those two countries, along with Israel, are the region’s Annex 2 states.

      “I am confident the exercise will prove that CTBT on-site inspections are a viable deterrent against would-be Treaty violators,” Rozhkov said.

      Posted: December 31, 1969

      More Scrutiny for Autonomous Weapons

      As nongovernmental organizations renew their call for a ban on “killer robots,” a divided UN conference in Geneva can agree only to another experts meeting in April 2015.

      December 2014

      By Jefferson Morley

      Autonomous weapons systems will receive more scrutiny at a UN conference next year after stark divisions emerged among the states-parties in Geneva attending the annual meeting of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Nov. 11-14.

      At the end of the meeting, conference president Remigiusz Henczel of Poland announced “an informal meeting of experts” next April 13-17 to discuss questions related to the emerging technologies that policymakers call “lethal autonomous weapons systems” and headline writers have dubbed “killer robots.”

      The issue raised by these new weapons technologies was first taken up by the United Nations after the April 2013 report by Christof Heyns, the organization’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, called for a moratorium on the development of weapons that can target and kill without human intervention.

      The first multinational conference dedicated exclusively to robotic warfare took place in Geneva last May. (See ACT, June 2014.)

      Several nongovernmental organizations and a handful of countries renewed their calls for a pre-emptive ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems. But, as happened last May, the only consensus that the 80-plus governments in attendance could muster was that autonomous weapons need more study.

      “Important questions still remain,” the European Union said in a Nov. 13 statement. The Campaign to Ban Killer Robots, a coalition of nongovernmental groups, lamented the lack of a “sense of urgency” in the scheduling of more study. The campaign called on delegates to adopt the standard that all weapons systems must have “meaningful human control” or else be prohibited.

      Michael Biontino, a German representative at the conference, concurred. “We regard the retention of human control over the decision about life and death as indispensable,” he said.

      Autonomous Systems Versus Drones
      One key difference among the speakers was whether lethal autonomous systems are already in use.
      Delegates from Cuba and the Palestinian territories suggested that U.S. and Israeli drones deployed in armed conflicts in Pakistan and Gaza qualify as autonomous or semiautonomous weapons.

      “Drones with lethal autonomous munitions have been extensively used to target Palestinians,” Palestinian representative Adel Atieh said at the meeting. He alleged that observation towers around Gaza “are equipped with automatic gun machines with lethal autonomous capabilities.” Atieh said several Palestinian farmers had been killed by the machines.

      The Israel Defense Forces did not respond to requests for comment.

      Cuba is concerned about the use of semiautonomous military technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles, said Anayansi Rodriguez Camejo, the country’s representative to the UN in Geneva.

      Vatican representative Silvano Tomasi said further studying of lethal autonomous weapons systems “does not dispense the CCW from discussing in an appropriate manner the complex question of use of armed drones.”
      Other countries made a distinction between drones and lethal autonomous systems, saying the latter are not yet a reality. “We are not speaking here about existing weapons systems,” said a UK government statement.
      Russian representative Vladimir Yermakov said there are no working models of lethal autonomous systems. Discussion of “international legal regulation of virtual technology that presently has no functioning models seems to be doubtful,” he said in a statement.

      What Is to Be Studied?
      One of the issues likely to be debated at the meeting next April, say independent experts, is whether the use of autonomous weapons should be governed by international humanitarian law or international human rights law.
      Humanitarian law applies “in situations of armed conflict whereas human rights laws, or at least some of them, protect the individual at all times, in war and peace alike,” according to the website of the International Committee for the Red Cross.

      At last May’s meeting on robotic warfare, the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, a group of academic experts seeking a pre-emptive ban on autonomous systems, said, “It is not enough to consider only armed conflict or international humanitarian laws when discussing autonomous weapons.” States should consider the human rights implications “in any situation,” the committee said.

      At the November meeting, Venkatesh Varma of India urged the attending nations to go beyond legal questions and assess the impact of the weapons on international security “if there is dissemination of such weapon systems.”

      The autonomous features of existing weapons system need further study, said Laura Boillot, a project manager at Article 36, a London-based human rights group that seeks an international treaty to pre-emptively ban weapons that are fully autonomous.

      “Understanding the controls that are considered acceptable in existing systems should help to work out what is acceptable in future systems,” Boillot wrote in a Nov. 18 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

      “We have a number of experts’ individual views,” Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel of France, chair of the May experts meeting, said in a Nov. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today. “We need now to move towards official national positions. It is a necessary step that we cannot avoid.”

      Posted: December 31, 1969


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