Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 1 to approve a document that reaffirms the importance of the treaty’s April 2012 deadline for destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles but does not say countries that failed to meet the deadline would be violating the terms of the pact.
Under the CWC, possessors of chemical weapons must eliminate their stockpiles by April 29, 2012, which marks the 15th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force. However, Russia and the United States, whose chemical stockpiles are by far the world’s largest, have acknowledged they will not be able to meet the deadline.
The decision on the 2012 deadline also includes Libya, which recently told the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) it would not be able to complete its destruction by April. (See ACT, December 2011.) The OPCW is the international body that implements the CWC.
The Dec. 1 decision document notes statements by the three countries of their “unequivocal commitment” to their treaty obligations and “tak[es] note that the inability to fully meet the final extended deadline” is “due to reasons that are unrelated to the commitment of these States Parties to the[ir] General Obligations” under the CWC.
In comments last May on the Russian and U.S. stockpiles, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü cited the “massive” size of those stocks and said that “[t]he efforts and resources required for their elimination in conditions of safety and environmental sensitivity were no less daunting and perhaps underestimated at the time when the convention was drafted.”
The December document says that if the possessor states fail to meet the deadline, they should complete the destruction “in the shortest time possible.” According to the document, each state should “submit a detailed plan” that “specif[ies] the planned completion date by which the destruction of its remaining chemical weapons is to be completed.” The document also spells out reporting and monitoring requirements for the ongoing destruction work.
The vote, which came during the week-long annual meeting of CWC parties in The Hague, was 101-1. Decisions on the CWC generally have been made by consensus, but there have been a few previous exceptions.
Iran was the “no” vote. For months, there has been near unanimity on the approach represented by the document, with only Iran opposing it. (See ACT, October 2011.) In the days before the vote, Iran and the United States engaged in a sharp rhetorical exchange over the 2012 deadline.
In his opening statement at the meeting, Iranian Ambassador to the OPCW Kazem Gharib Abadi said, “It is unfortunate that the United States has explicitly stated that it cannot meet the deadline, which is a clear-cut case of non-compliance.” Washington “has set a bad precedent,” “has never committed itself to non-use” of weapons of mass destruction, and “is determined to establish another discriminatory system in the international organizations,” he said. He did not mention Russia.
In his Nov. 29 response, Robert Mikulak, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, decried the “patently false” rhetoric in Iran’s “political rant.”
In a Dec. 19 interview, Sergey Batsanov, former chief Soviet and Russian negotiator during talks on the CWC and later director of special projects for the OPCW, said the language of the decision indicates the parties’ desire to say that “things [with regard to the deadline] are not going as the convention demanded” and that “such things do not go unnoticed.” Nevertheless, the document shows that the parties had little desire to punish Moscow and Washington or impose additional conditions; rather, the two countries are being “allowed and encouraged to do their job, the sooner the better,” he said.
Although the best outcome would have been for all chemical weapons possessors to have destroyed their entire stockpiles by the deadline, the solution was a good one “under the circumstances,” said Batsanov, who now is director of the Geneva office of International Pugwash. It reflects a “mature attitude” by a wide variety of countries with “different degrees of love and hate” for Russia and the United States, he said.
As for Iran’s dissent, he said it seemed to have much more to do with the controversy over Tehran’s nuclear program than with any chemical weapons issues. Although it would have been better to have had a consensus decision, it ultimately does not make a big difference for the CWC regime, he said, adding that the Iranians’ actions were “not very productive from their own perspective.”
Extension for Libya
Batsanov said he would have thought the parties’ decision could have focused on Russia and the United States without bringing in Libya, whose circumstances were somewhat different. However, he said, the decision is “fine.”
Libya had begun destroying its sulfur mustard stocks in October 2010 and was moving ahead with that work until a heating component of the neutralization unit malfunctioned in February 2011. The unrest in Libya that began around the same time prevented resumption of the work, in part because a UN embargo imposed on the country blocked delivery of the needed replacement part. The embargo no longer is in effect.
In late November, the new Libyan government updated its original CWC declaration to include chemical weapons materials at two previously undisclosed sites. Libya joined the CWC in 2004 under the regime of Moammar Gaddafi.