CWC Members Meet to Review Progress, Goals

Kerry Boyd

With the threat of chemical weapons grabbing the public spotlight, delegates from around the world have gathered for the first review conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which entered into force in 1997 and requires member states to destroy their chemical weapons.

Delegates gathered April 28 in The Hague to assess the implementation of the treaty and discuss challenges to its goal of preventing chemical warfare. The provisional agenda called for discussing “the role of the Chemical Weapons Convention in enhancing international peace and security.” Delegates are expected to discuss a range of issues, including measures to bring more countries under the treaty, national implementation of measures related to the treaty, protection against chemical weapons, and the functioning of the body that implements the treaty—the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). (See ACT, April 2003.)

The United States expressed its preference for a thematic approach to reviewing the treaty, rather than going through the treaty article by article. An OPCW spokesperson said in April that a thematic approach is likely at the conference, which is chaired by Algerian Ambassador Noureddine Djoudi.

The United States wants to highlight the issue of national implementation measures at the conference, U.S. Ambassador Eric Javits said in a March 18 speech. Article VII of the CWC requires states to take action to implement the treaty, such as enacting legislation to prohibit individuals or groups from activities unlawful under the treaty and ensuring penalties for such behavior. Javits said a number of states have failed to adopt national measures to implement the CWC, citing data from the OPCW’s Technical Secretariat. The United States circulated a working group paper calling for “concrete, meaningful steps” to reduce problems with national implementation, Javits said.

Javits added that the United States would like the conference to discuss conducting a “thorough assessment” of verification methods the OPCW uses to ensure compliance with the treaty; he expressed interest in improving “efficiency and cost effectiveness.” The OPCW conducts inspections at military and commercial sites related to the treaty.

In addition to the formal review conference, the OPCW is hosting an open forum for diplomats and experts to discuss challenges to the CWC. Issues on the forum’s agenda include efforts to destroy chemical weapons, implement national legislation to prosecute substate actors who violate the treaty, and how the chemical industry views the verification regime.

Experts are also set to discuss chemical incapacitants—chemicals designed to be less than lethal but which could completely incapacitate a person. (See ACT, April 2003.) It is unclear whether that issue will arise in the formal review conference.