Albania Has Chemical Arms; CWC Review Conference Meets

Kerry Boyd

While the United States invaded Iraq and sent its troops around that country on a so-far fruitless search for chemical and biological weapons, a European state quietly announced that it has chemical weapons. During a meeting of states belonging to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in mid-March, Albania stated that it possesses chemical weapons. A month later, 110 of the 151 CWC member states gathered to review the treaty, which bans all chemical weapons and requires their destruction, and agreed on several steps to enhance the treaty’s implementation.

Albania will soon start destroying its stockpile, according to Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Director-General Rogelio Pfirter. Further information on the size and content of the country’s chemical stockpile is not yet publicly available, according to the OPCW.

A month after Albania’s declaration, CWC member states met in The Hague from April 28 to May 9 for the treaty’s first review conference since the treaty entered into force in 1997. At the end of the conference, states agreed both to a final declaration and a political declaration; the ability of states to agree to such declarations is often considered a sign of success for a conference.

The declarations released at the end of the conference reaffirm the states’ commitment to the convention’s goals and the importance of expanding the treaty’s membership to include countries that might have chemical weapons and are not party to the CWC. Thus, the conference accomplished two of the main tasks suggested in advance by Pfirter and several leading countries, such as the United States.

The final documents also emphasize the importance of improving the efficiency of the inspection regime mandated by the CWC. One of the United States’ primary goals at the conference was making inspections more cost effective. The OPCW expects the number of sites used to destroy chemical weapons to increase dramatically starting this year as the United States and Russia plan to open more demilitarization sites, and the organization has decided it must find ways to make inspections more efficient in order to fulfill its inspection responsibilities.

Delegates also agreed that national implementation of the treaty’s provisions is key to the convention’s effectiveness. Each state-party is required to adopt certain measures, such as enacting penal legislation, to implement the treaty on its own territory. States are supposed to inform the OPCW of such measures, but many have failed to do so. According to British delegate Denis MacShane, only one-quarter of member states have “implemented the necessary legislation covering all the key areas for enforcement” of CWC provisions.

The U.S. and British delegates urged states to implement national provisions required by the treaty, particularly penal legislation, arguing that such legislation is key to preventing terrorism involving chemical agents. MacShane spoke of suspected terrorist activity in the United Kingdom last winter that involved the development of the toxin ricin and the role British penal law played in helping to apprehend and prosecute the alleged terrorists.

The final declaration calls on member states that are lagging behind to submit information on national implementation measures by the next regular session of the Conference of the States-Parties, a decision-making body comprised of all CWC member states.

The states also agreed on the importance of assistance to help states protect themselves from chemical attack and emphasized the need for increased international cooperation in chemical science and technology—issues of particular importance to non-Western states.

Outstanding Issues

The final documents, however, do not address several concerns that states and nongovernmental organizations had going into the conference. At an open forum where nongovernmental experts spoke, concerns were raised about the increasing interest of certain states in so-called nonlethal chemical weapons, ranging from riot control agents to chemical incapacitants designed to render targets unconscious. A note from Pfirter to the review conference, released April 17, said states might want to discuss concerns related to nonlethal weapons. “These issues need to be carefully analysed so as to prevent any potential harm to the Convention,” the note says. At least two states-parties raised the issue of nonlethal weapons in their speeches at the conference, but neither the final declaration nor the political statement refers to the issue directly.

Another issue is Russia’s request for an extension on the 2007 deadline for destroying its entire chemical weapons stockpile—the largest in the world. On April 26, Russia finished destroying 1 percent of its stockpile, after receiving an extension on the original April 2000 deadline. (See ACT, June 2003.) Russia has said it will miss the April 2007 deadline for total destruction of Category 1 stockpiles—the most dangerous weapons. The treaty allows states to request an extension until 2012. The final declaration did not directly address Russia’s difficulty meeting deadlines, but it reaffirmed that possessor states are responsible for destroying their chemical weapons. It also, however, called on states with the ability to provide assistance to do so.

The United States is also not expected to meet the 2007 deadline, although, so far, it has met its interim deadlines and it has not yet requested an extension. “Since entry into force, we have met every treaty milestone, and to date have destroyed over 22 percent of our stockpile,” said Stephen Rademaker, U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control. He also noted that destroying the entire U.S. chemical weapons arsenal is expected to cost a total of $24 billion.

Confronting Problem States

Rademaker’s statement to the conference reflected the Bush administration’s approach to weapons of mass destruction: drawing attention to a few problem states and showing little interest in using inspection provisions. He listed Syria, Libya, and North Korea as states outside the treaty that are developing chemical weapons. “One step we must collectively take is to provide powerful incentives—both positive and negative—to those states remaining outside the Chemical Weapons Convention to join,” Rademaker said.

Continuing a Bush administration trend of breaking the diplomatic taboo against “naming names,” Rademaker also accused Iran, a CWC state-party, of stockpiling “blister, blood, and choking agents” and possibly making nerve agents. In response, the Iranian delegate called Rademaker’s statements “baseless allegations” and noted that, although Iran acquired some chemical weapons capability at the end of its war with Iraq in the 1980s, it has dismantled its production facilities under OPCW supervision. He reiterated Iran’s full support for the convention, highlighting Iran’s own tragic experience with Iraqi chemical attacks.

Rademaker also said the United States is working with Sudan to address U.S. concerns that the country has attempted to obtain the capability to produce chemical weapons.

He did not name any other states-parties but said more than a “dozen countries currently possess or are actively pursuing chemical weapons. While some…are not Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, others have representatives here in this room.”

Rademaker urged the organization to be bold in confronting states that are violating the convention and added that the United States has “made extensive use” of CWC provisions that allow countries to discuss concerns bilaterally. The United States, however, has not used the provisions allowed under the treaty to call for a challenge inspection of Iran or any other country it suspects of developing chemical weapons.

U.S. Upgrades Presence at OPCW

Rademaker also announced that the United States has appointed Ambassador Eric Javits as the U.S. representative to the OPCW, upgrading U.S. representation to permanent resident status. Javits was previously the representative to the Conference on Disarmament, and his reassignment is both a sign of U.S. annoyance at the impasse in that conference and an expression of U.S. support for the OPCW’s new director-general. The United States had led a campaign to oust the organization’s first leader, José Bustani, and successfully won a vote that removed him in April 2002. Pfirter became the new director-general in July 2002. (See ACT, September 2002.)