CWC Conference Boosts Treaty, Exposes Rifts

Oliver Meier

A Nov. 5-9 annual meeting of Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) states-parties approved a number of decisions to strengthen the treaty but also exposed some differing views among the 116 participating states. Those differences on issues related to the future of the 10-year-old global ban on chemical weapons also indicate that next year’s CWC review conference might proceed less than smoothly.

British ambassador Lyn Parker is heading an open-ended working group preparing the review conference, which is charged with drafting the final declaration. He told Arms Control Today in an interview Nov. 20 that there was “a high degree of common purpose” among participating state representatives, but warned that differences persist on some major issues, such as defining the balance between activities related to disarmament and nonproliferation of chemical weapons on the one side and civil cooperation, assistance, and protection on the other. Parker welcomed the positive atmosphere in the working group, but pointed out that only a limited number of states-parties are represented there, and that it remained to be seen how discussions might develop when all states-parties come together at the review conference itself.

No Growth in OPCW Budget

The annual conference, the 12th such conference of CWC states-parties, approved the 2008 budget for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which implements the chemical weapons ban. For the third year in a row, the organization must cope with zero nominal growth in funds and was allocated 75 million euros ($111 million).

OPCW Director-General Rogelio Pfirter in his Nov. 5 statement to the conference talked of consolidating the budget and informed states-parties that the OPCW had so far received only 80 percent of 2007 contributions assessed against the 182 CWC member states. Pfirter warned that “our ability to meet our core objectives in 2007, particularly in light of the fact that the 2007 program and budget was a nominal zero-growth budget, still depends on our receiving states-parties contributions in full and on time.”

National Implementation Urged

The annual conference also decided to continue to press countries to do more to implement the convention through national legislation. U.S. Ambassador Eric M. Javits in his Nov. 5 statement argued that states-parties should focus efforts to improve national implementation in those approximately 20 states “that lack effective implementing measures, but have more activities relevant to the convention within their territories.”

In the end, the conference adopted a decision “on sustaining follow-up to the plan of action” on national implementation, including measures to contact and offer implementation support to those 10 states that have not designated a national authority and the 107 states-parties that had not informed the OPCW that they had enacted the comprehensive implementing legislation required by Article VII of the convention.

Iran Proposes to Establish Victims Fund

Agreement on a report of the meeting was held up by an Iranian demand that states-parties establish a “Chemical Weapons Victim’s International Funding & Assistance Network,” a proposal first mentioned by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at the 2006 conference of states-parties.

An Iranian diplomat argued in a Nov. 20 interview with Arms Control Today that because victims can suffer for a long time from the consequences of a chemical weapons attack, some “emergency measures of assistance as detailed in Article X” of the CWC should not necessarily be limited in time. The diplomat explained that, under its proposal, Iran would like to see improved coordination between the OPCW and relevant nongovernmental organizations regarding victims assistance, the creation of a voluntary fund to support such measures, and the establishment of medical centers in certain regions, so that victims could receive assistance more rapidly.

Others believe that the Iranian proposal is an attempt to divert attention away from its nuclear file and focus attention on an issue where it is a victim rather than a suspect. These observers wonder why the proposal is pushed now, some 20 years after the chemical weapons attacks on Iran. (See ACT, July/August 2007. )

Late on the last day, states agreed to task the OPCW’s executive council to conduct “intensive deliberations to develop measures for emergency assistance to Member States, including with regard to the victims of chemical weapons,” and report to the next conference of states-parties in 2008. Iranian negotiators see this as the beginning of negotiations on their proposal, while others point to the fact that discussions on how to implement Article X have been going on for a long time.

Looking Toward the Review Conference

States-parties left it to the review conference, which will take place April 7-18 of next year, to sort out other contentious issues, such as how to deal with the fact that the United States and Russia are unlikely to meet their 2012 final deadlines for destroying chemical weapons stockpiles. (See ACT, May 2007 .)

The Iranian diplomat told Arms Control Today that the review conference “should send a clear message that chemical weapons possessors should adhere to destruction deadlines and that any failure to meet these deadlines would constitute serious noncompliance.” The diplomat conceded, however, that given that the 2012 deadline is still four years away, 2008 might be “too soon” to discuss possible noncompliance by Russia and the United States.

In a Nov. 6 statement, Paula DeSutter, U.S. assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, shied away from mentioning U.S. problems in meeting destruction deadlines and instead emphasized the need to destroy chemical weapons stockpiles in a safe, secure, and irreversible manner.

Parker agreed that “we are not at this moment in difficulty” because the United States and Russia are meeting their current destruction targets. He said that the general mood in the working group is that it would be “a little bit premature to try to work out now how [noncompliance with destruction deadlines] may be handled if and when the time comes.”

Parker argued that the real questions for the viability of the CWC lie in the future. He asked, “What kind of organization does this need to become? What are the balances between the traditional destruction and verification activities and some of the other activities such as cooperation, assistance, and protection, which are important to a lot of states-parties who are not themselves directly involved in the processes related to chemical weapons destruction?” He stated that he hopes the 2008 review conference “will come out with a positive balance sheet about the past and a number of…conclusions which will help move the organization forward over the next few years.”

Click here to read a full transcript of Lyn Parker’s Nov. 20 interview.