CWC Members Debate Inspection Distribution

Daniel Horner

A debate over the 2011 budget for implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was a key part of the annual members’ conference, but the distribution of inspections, rather than the amount of money, was the key issue, delegates to the Nov. 29-Dec. 3 meeting in The Hague said in interviews in recent weeks.

The discussion was over the number of inspections for different inspection categories, and in particular for so-called other chemical production facilities (OCPFs), the delegates said.

The CWC verification system is based on three “schedules,” or lists of toxic chemicals and their precursors that have been developed or manufactured in the past for military purposes. The OCPFs are multipurpose chemical-production facilities that are not monitored with the same intensity as facilities that produce agents listed in the three schedules. There are some 5,000 OCPFs around the world, far more than the number of facilities that are associated with production of agents listed on the three schedules. Many of the OCPFs are in developing countries; China and India have more than 2,000 OCPFs between them. Under current rules, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the body responsible for implementing the CWC, can inspect only a small fraction of the OCPFs each year.

In 2010 the OPCW provided funding for 125 OCPF inspections; for 2011, Western countries sought to raise the figure to 128, a European diplomat who attended the meeting said in a Dec. 20 interview. China, India, and other countries objected, participants said. The debate produced “some pretty intense discussion,” a senior official from the U.S. Department of State said in a Dec. 27 interview.

One participant cautioned against seeing the division strictly as one between developed and developing countries. “It has been rather a more complex issue which has changed over time,” the participant said.

The member states reached a compromise for the 2011 budget, under which they increased the number of OCPF inspections to 127 and decreased the number of Schedule 3 inspections by one, to 29. Schedule 3 contains toxic chemicals that have been used as chemical weapons, such as phosgene, and chemical weapons precursors that have commercial applications in large quantities.

In a Dec. 22 interview, Jorge Lomónaco, Mexico’s permanent representative to the OPCW and a former chairman of the agency’s Executive Council, said the debate has been going on for about 10 years and is “not about expenditure.” He noted that each OCPF inspection costs about $10,000; the total OPCW budget for 2011 is about $100 million.

The issue was addressed in the opening statement of Cuba on behalf of the group of CWC parties that includes the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) and China. The group referred to the current methodology for selecting OCPFs for inspection as “an interim measure” and “reiterate[d] the desirability of directing inspections towards facilities of greater relevance to the object and purpose of the Convention” based on a “hierarchy of risk.” That approach would lead to more inspections of Schedule 1, 2, and 3 facilities and fewer of the OPCFs, Lomónaco said.

In his opening statement, Lomónaco said the continuation of the dispute “could badly reflect on what a credible and successful organization the OPCW is.” He urged the parties “to solve the issue of a definitive site-selection methodology for OCPF inspections as soon as possible.”

Destruction Deadlines

Another issue that spurred debate was the language in the conference’s final report on the CWC’s 2012 deadline for Russia and the United States to finish destruction of their stockpiles of chemical weapons. Russia said last year it would not meet that deadline, which represents an extension of the original April 2007 CWC deadline. Moscow now estimates that it will complete the job by the end of 2015. (See ACT, July/August 2010.) The United States had announced in 2006 that it would not meet the 2012 deadline and has recently set 2021 as the target date. (The U.S. Congress, however, has set 2017 as the target date for completing the demilitarization of all U.S. chemical weapons stockpiles.)

The NAM-China statement expressed “grave concern” about the prospect that Russia and the United States would miss the CWC deadline. Such a lapse “endangers the credibility and integrity” of the CWC, it said. Iran, a member of the NAM, made a similar point in its opening statement, saying timely destruction of chemical weapons is the convention’s “raison d’être” and commenting, “As the saying goes, if there is a will, there is a way.” Iran pursued the issue during the meeting, participants said.

South Africa’s statement, on behalf of the Africa Group, “associate[d] itself” with the NAM-China statement, but struck a different tone in some respects. Although it expressed “concern” about the size of the stockpiles remaining to be destroyed, it “commend[ed]” the possessor states for their efforts and said, “[W]e do not currently have any grounds to believe that the difficulties that we are being forced to confront are symptoms of any bad faith or any attempt to circumvent the basic objective of the Convention (namely the elimination of all chemical weapons).”

Participants said South Africa introduced language for the report’s section on the destruction deadlines; that section says that “issues in this regard should be dealt with faithfully in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention.” The United States and other countries rejected the initial proposal by arguing that all provisions of the treaty must be observed faithfully and that if specific language was added to the section on the destruction deadlines, it should be added to the other sections on the treaty’s implementation. As a result, the language recurs throughout the implementation section of the report.

In noting in his opening statement to the conference that the Russian and U.S. efforts “might be prolonged” beyond the treaty deadline of April 29, 2012, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü said, “Notwithstanding the complex technical and financial challenges posed by the destruction of their large stockpiles, both these countries have demonstrated over the years their firm resolve to abide by their solemn obligations under the Convention and to complete the destruction of their stockpiles at the earliest possible date.” Üzümcü’s predecessor, Rogelio Pfirter, had made similar statements.

In his statement, Üzümcü said Russia had destroyed about 49 percent of its declared stockpile and the United States 81 percent as of the end of October. He also noted that Russia had begun initial destruction activities at its Pochep facility Nov. 26.

The State Department official praised the Pochep startup as “another step toward destroying stockpiles” in Russia. However, he noted that, as with other chemical weapons destruction facilities, Russia was bringing Pochep online “in stages.” In addition to the plants that are not yet at full capacity, the Kizner plant, Russia’s seventh and final destruction facility, has yet to start up, and that facility is planned to be larger than the Shchuch’ye plant, he said.

The Shchuch’ye facility started initial operations in March 2009, but work on its second destruction building has not yet been completed.

Russia faces “some real challenges” in completing the destruction of its declared stockpile by the end of 2015, the State Department official said.

In a different debate over destruction, Iran accused the United Kingdom and the United States of violating the CWC when the two powers discovered and destroyed chemical weapons in Iraq after the March 2003 invasion of that country and did not notify the OPCW’s Technical Secretariat or Executive Council. The British and U.S. responses strongly denied the charge, saying that the circumstances surrounding that destruction were exceptional and not contemplated by the treaty.

The United States said the first recovered item was destroyed in May 2004 and that the U.S. government “informally apprised” the secretariat staff but “concluded that the situation in Iraq had not reached the appropriate level of security and stability to release detailed information regarding chemical weapons recovery prior to destruction.” The United States notified the secretariat in 2006, the U.S. response said. The British statement said its government’s actions “were in full accordance not only with our international obligations, but also with the fundamental object and purpose of the Convention—to rid the world of chemical weapons—taking account of the need to ensure the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq.”

Iran said that “further appropriate measures will be taken in the framework of the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Expert Panel

At the meeting, Üzümcü announced he had established a panel of independent experts “to review the implementation of the Convention and to make recommendations for future OPCW activities.” The chairman of the panel is Rolf Ekéus of Sweden, whose nonproliferation posts included the chairmanship of the UN Special Commission on Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The panel of 14 experts, which includes senior current and former nonproliferation officials from a range of countries, held its first meeting Dec. 14-15. The group is scheduled to deliver its final report in June, Üzümcü said.

Delegates said they supported the initiative, which, they said, came from Üzümcü rather than the member states. The OPCW is “really at a transition point” after devoting most of its attention to chemical weapons destruction in the years since the CWC entered into force in 1997, the State Department official said. The panel should help the OPCW answer questions such as, “What security concerns do countries have, and how do we address them?” he said. One issue that increasingly has been raised over the past few years is chemical terrorism, he said.

Some observers have said the OPCW is undergoing a change in its mission, from destruction to nonproliferation. However, in the interview, Lomónaco said the debate over the identity of the organization is a “false debate” or, at best, “premature.” Casting the OPCW as having either one mission or the other oversimplifies the debate and ignores the complexities and “beauties” of the treaty and the organization, he said.