New U.S., Russian Chemical Destruction Deadlines Approved

States-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention have approved the extension of U.S. and Russian interim deadlines for destroying portions of their chemical weapons holdings, leaving undetermined the final date for destroying all stockpiles.

Meeting in The Hague, the Oct. 20-24 Conference of States-Parties approved Russia’s request to extend the deadline for destroying 20 percent of its 40,000 tons of declared chemical weapons to April 29, 2007. The conference, which brought together 116 countries, also agreed to push back the U.S. target date for destroying 45 percent of its 31,500-ton stockpile to December 31, 2007. The conference also approved a 2004 budget of $86 million, a 6.7 percent increase from the 2003 allocation.

Because these new deadlines will infringe on the treaty’s date for Russia and the United States to destroy 100 percent of chemical weapons stockpiles, states-parties extended the final deadline “in principle” but held off setting a date pending further information from Moscow and Washington. The treaty calls for all stockpiles to be destroyed no later than April 29, 2007, but also includes provisions allowing that deadline to be extended up to five years, if necessary. Russia already has requested that the date be pushed back to 2012. (See ACT, November 2002.)

Russia and the United States have each experienced setbacks to their chemical weapons destruction programs that have forced both countries to extend the deadlines. Russia announced the destruction of one percent of its stockpile April 26—three years after the original deadline—and currently operates only one destruction facility; two additional sites are still under construction due to financial and political setbacks. (See ACT, June 2003.)

Political and operational obstacles, as well as management problems, have plagued the U.S. program. (See ACT, October 2003.) Most recently, officials overseeing construction of the Umatilla destruction facility announced a three-month delay for the start of operations at the site. Mary Binder, an Army public affairs spokesperson, said Oct. 27 that officials now expect the site to begin burning chemical weapons in June or July of 2004—over two years after the original milestone projected in 1998.