The United States has announced that it will not be able to destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons before a final deadline required by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), even with the maximum one-time extension permitted by the treaty.
In April 10 letters to the chairs of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that by April 2012 the United States anticipated destroying only 66 percent of its stockpile, the second largest in the world. As of mid-April, the United States has destroyed about 39 percent of its 38,000-metric-ton stockpile. A Department of Defense official said that based on the current timeline, destruction activities will not be completed at all sites until 2017.
The convention requires the United States to destroy its stockpile by April 29, 2007. However, the treaty does permit states-parties to request a one-time, five-year extension to the final deadline, allowing destruction activities to continue until April 2012. The Conference of States-Parties, the CWC body that must approve all deadline extensions, effectively granted the United States the one-time extension in 2003 when it extended an interim deadline for destroying 45 percent of the stockpile to December 2007.
During an April 20 informal meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Executive Council, Eric Javits, the U.S. ambassador to the international body, indicated that the United States planned to formally request the final deadline extension to April 2012, but acknowledged that the United States would not be able to meet even that target. The executive council will consider the U.S. request at its next meeting May 16-19 and send any recommendations to the Conference of States-Parties for approval in December.
“It has taken longer than anticipated to build facilities and to obtain the necessary permits and consent to begin destruction of chemical weapons, and we have found that, once operating, our facilities have not destroyed weapons as rapidly as we initially projected,” Javits said.
During an April 17 briefing in Washington, a State Department official said that although the United States might miss the 2012 deadline, it was not a reflection of the commitment to the goal of the CWC, which remains “strong.”
The consequences of the U.S. failure to meet the CWC’s final deadline are unclear. Article XII of the convention permits states-parties to take measures to address issues of noncompliance but does not spell out any automatic penalties. CWC states-parties could choose to pursue various individual or collective actions against the United States. (See ACT, June 2005.) However, the State Department official did not believe the other states-parties would impose any serious sanctions and downplayed the possibility of amending the CWC to extend the deadline.
The United States is not alone in its tardiness. Of the five other states that have declared stockpiles of weapons, only Albania is expected to complete destruction activities by April 2007, a State Department official said. Despite claims that it will destroy its entire stockpile in accordance with the CWC, Russia is also widely expected to miss the 2012 deadline. Russia has destroyed less than 3 percent of its stockpile, which at 41,000 metric tons is the largest declared stockpile.
South Korea has already received a deadline extension until the end of 2008, while the Executive Council will be considering May 16-19 requests from India and Libya along with that from the United States. Libya is awaiting a U.S. decision about whether to provide destruction assistance (See "Libya Chemcial Weapons Destruction Costly"). India and Libya, said the State Department official, are expected to request one-time extensions of less than five years. Japan and China have also requested an extension to the deadline to destroy the chemical weapons Japan abandoned in China at the end of World War II.
In the United States, at least six of nine chemical weapons disposal facilities will be continuing operations beyond 2012, including four U.S. Army incineration facilities. Of these, a facility in Umatilla, Oregon, is not expected to finish until 2017. A fifth Army-operated disposal facility in Newport, Indiana, has begun neutralizing chemical agents but has encountered resistance from the public and certain state governments to a plan to transport hydrolysate, a caustic by-product of the neutralization process, to New Jersey for further treatment. Construction of an on-site treatment plant could add $300 million in costs and up to four years to the destruction process, said a Defense Department official.
Two other planned destruction sites in Pueblo, Colorado, and Blue Grass, Kentucky, are still in the design phase. Both facilities, which are operated by the Defense Department independent of the Army, are not expected to be operational until 2011 and would not complete their destruction activities until 2017.
In the past, Senators from Colorado and Kentucky have blasted the Defense Department for failing to adequately fund efforts at both sites (see ACT, March 2005). Recently, Colorado’s two Senators offered a non-binding resolution acknowledging the importance of meeting the treaty’s deadline and calling upon the department not to slacken its efforts.A Defense Department official estimated that, without further changes, the final costs of destroying the entire stockpile, including the costs of cleaning up and closing the disposal facility sites, would be $32 billion. That number is up from the initial estimate of $14.6 billion and the 2001 estimate of $23.7 billion. (See ACT, May 2004.)