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Former IAEA Director-General
Leanne Quinn

Ukraine Seeks Protection Against Possible Chemical Attack


May 2022
By Leanne Quinn

Ukraine, preparing to defend against Russian capabilities, has requested bilateral assistance and protection against chemical weapons from the members of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the international treaty that bans the use of chemical weapons.

Among those responding to Ukrainian requests for help to protect against possible Russian chemical weapons attacks is Direct Relief, a California-based humanitarian organization. The group has sent more than 220,000 vials of atropine, which can counter the effects of nerve agents. (Photo by Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Western officials have repeatedly voiced concerns about the potential for a chemical incident or attack in Ukraine. (See ACT, April 2022.)

Ukraine on March 18 submitted a letter to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international chemical weapons watchdog requesting bilateral assistance from CWC states-parties to protect Ukraine against chemical weapons.

Article X of the CWC provides that any member state can request assistance and protection against the use or threat of use of chemical weapons, including riot control agents.

The letter directed states-parties to contact the Embassy of Ukraine in The Hague to coordinate the provision of assistance and detection equipment, alarm systems, protective equipment, decontamination equipment, medical antidotes and treatments, and advice on protective measures.

In a March 24 joint statement, NATO heads of state promised that the allies would “continue to provide assistance [to Ukraine] in such areas as cybersecurity and protection against threats of a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear nature.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed on April 4 that the United States is providing Ukraine with “lifesaving equipment and supplies that could be deployed in the event of Russian use of a chemical or biological weapon against Ukraine.”

That same day, the United States confirmed it had contributed $250,000 to the OPCW Trust Fund for Implementation of Article X and earmarked the money to provide protection and assistance to Ukraine should chemical weapons be used in the conflict. France contributed $949,000 to the trust fund.

Direct Relief, a California-based humanitarian organization, announced on April 8 that it had fulfilled a request from the Ukrainian Ministry of Health for vials of atropine, a drug that can counter the effects of nerve agents such as sarin. More than 220,000 vials of the drug were delivered to Ukraine from a Direct Relief distribution warehouse in Santa Barbara.

Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said during an April 7 press briefing that the organization was making contingency plans for “all scenarios” that could impact Ukrainians, from “treatment of mass casualties to chemical assaults.”

During that same briefing, Heather Papowitz, a WHO incident manager in Ukraine, said that WHO has trained more than 1,500 health workers and partners in Ukraine on how to respond to chemical hazards and has provided guidelines and supplies.

That same day, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven countries and the EU high representative issued a joint statement starkly warning Russia to refrain from using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

“We warn against any threat of use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. We recall Russia’s obligations under international treaties of which it is a party, and which protect us all. Any use by Russia of such weapons should be unacceptable and result in severe consequences,” the statement said.

 

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Western officials have voiced concern about the potential for a chemical incident or attack in the war-torn country.

Success of 25-Year-Old Chemical Weapons Prohibition Treaty Cannot Be Taken for Granted, Experts Caution

Body: 

For Immediate Release: April 28, 2022

Media Contacts: Paul Walker, coordinator of the CWC Coalition, (617) 201-0565; Leanne Quinn, CWC Coalition Program Assistant, (202) 463-8270 x 106

(Washington, D.C.) - April 29 marks the 25th anniversary of the 1997 entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which outlaws the development, production, and use of deadly chemical weapons and requires the verifiable destruction of remaining stockpiles. 

“The CWC has solidified the global taboo against chemical weapons and has evolved to become a sophisticated, resilient, and effective disarmament regime. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2013, has been tremendously successful in overseeing the demilitarization of vast chemical weapons stockpiles,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

The CWC enjoys almost universal global support with 193 States Parties. To date, 99% of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been safely and irreversibly destroyed, and there have been thousands of on-site inspections of chemical weapons facilities and chemical industrial facilities to ensure treaty compliance.

“But the work of eliminating prohibited chemical weapons stockpiles is not yet complete and the global taboo against chemical weapons possession, production, and use cannot be taken for granted.” Kimball cautioned.

The use, and threat of use, of chemical weapons has not completely abated. Chemical weapons were used in Syria and Iraq numerous times in the last decade, questions about Syria’s undeclared chemical weapons capacity linger, and nerve agents have been used in assassination attempts in Malaysia, Russia, and the United Kingdom; and there are serious concerns about the potential use of chemical weapons by Russia in Ukraine.

“In the coming months and years, all states that support the CWC have a responsibility to actively uphold and enforce the norms established by the treaty,” Kimball said.

On April 13, more than 35 chemical weapons experts signed on to a joint statement organized by the CWC Coalition, a special project of the Arms Control Association, expressing concern about the threat of use of chemical weapons in Ukraine.

“We call upon Russia, in the strongest possible terms, to respect its solemn obligations under the Geneva Protocol and the CWC not to contemplate, let alone use or threaten to use, these globally banned weapons of mass terror,” the statement said.

The CWC regime faces other challenges, as well. Egypt, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan remain outside of the treaty, and only 62% of states parties have enacted domestic laws to fully implement treaty provisions. Chemicals and technologies that can be used to create these weapons are often dual use, and chemical security must be a continued priority to prevent chemical terrorism.

“Ensuring continued prohibition of these weapons, and verified treaty compliance among all states-parties, should be a core international security interest of all nations. Achievements must be safeguarded, and violators must be investigated and held to account,” said Leanne Quinn, program assistant for the CWC Coalition.

Out of the 193 states-parties to the CWC, eight had or still have declared chemical weapons stockpiles. Of those eight countries, Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Russia, South Korea, and Syria have completed destruction of their declared arsenals.

“The United States is scheduled to complete chemical weapons stockpile elimination efforts in September 2023. Technical challenges at the two remaining chemical weapons destruction sites remain formidable and meeting that goal is not assured. We call on the United States to make every effort possible to safely finish destroying the last vestiges of its chemical weapons stockpile by the treaty-mandated deadline,” said Paul Walker, vice-chair of the Arms Control Association and coordinator of the CWC Coalition.

The fifth review conference of the CWC will take place next year and member states must dedicate themselves to the ongoing task of ensuring treaty obligations are fully implemented and that the CWC and the OPCW can adapt to meet new challenges.

“To help the OPCW in that mission, governments and nongovernmental actors have a responsibility to ensure the chemical weapons prohibition regime has the necessary political and public support, and technical and financial resources to verify compliance – and hold accountable those who may violate the chemical weapons taboo,” stated Walker.

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On the 25th anniversary of the CWC's entry into force, experts caution that despite the CWC's numerous achievements, the global taboo against chemical weapons possession, production, and use cannot be taken for granted.

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The U.S. Cold War-Era Chemical Weapons Stockpile

Contact: Leanne Quinn, Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition Program Assistant, (202) 463-8270 x106

In 1990, on the heels of the Cold War, the United States possessed the world's second largest chemical weapons arsenal after Russia, consisting of more than 31,500 U.S. tons (28,577 MT) of lethal chemical agents and munitions.

Following years of bilateral talks with Russia and multilateral negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on chemical weapons disarmament, the United States decided in 1986 to take unilateral action to begin the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile. The demilitarization effort was prompted by Congressional legislation (Public Law 99-145) calling for the safe destruction of the United States’ stockpile of nonbinary lethal chemical agents and related facilities.

Since transport of chemical weapons was highly contentious - and was later outright banned by Congress in 1994 (50 U.S. Code 1512a) -  the U.S. Army's chemical weapons destruction plan relied on destruction facilities located at the nine U.S. chemical weapons depots in Anniston, Alabama; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Pueblo, Colorado; Newport, Indiana; Richmond, Kentucky; Edgewood, Maryland; Umatilla, Oregon; Tooele, Utah; and Johnston Atoll. Dustruction efforts began at the first destruction facility, Johnston Atoll, in 1990.  

By 1997, when the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (also known as the Chemical Weapons Convention or the CWC) entered into force, the United States had destroyed only 1,434 MTs of its chemical agents and munitions. As a member state of the CWC, the United States committed to the destruction of its remaining chemical weapons inventory.

The chart below summarizes the types and quanties of chemical weapons that were once in the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile, including the agents and munitions that have already been destroyed. To date, all chemical agents and munitions stored at Aberdeen, Anniston, Johnston Atoll, Newport, Pine Bluff, and Tooele have been eliminated; the Pueblo (Colorado) and Blue Grass (Kentucky) destruction facilities are still operational.

The data are drawn from the records published by the Program Manager for Chemical Demilitarization and the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency in 1996, 2000, 2011, and 2012.

As of April 15 2022, there are 646.7 U.S. tons of chemical agents and munitions left to be destroyed. Official updates on the effort to complete the destruction process at the Pueblo and Blue Grass destruction facilities are available online here.

Under the provisions of the CWC, the United States must finish destroying its remaining chemical weapons by Sept. 30, 2023.

Agent Type Key:

GA – nerve agent, also known as Tabun
GB – nerve agent, also known as Sarin
HD – blister agent, sulfur mustard (nearly pure)
H – blister agent, sulfur mustard (20%-30% impurities
HT – blister agent, sulfur mustard (60% HD and 40% agent T)
Lewisite – blister agent, the central atom is arsenic
VX – nerve agent

Quantity and Type of Former U.S. Chemical Agents and Munitions by Stockpile Location

Storage Site Agent Type Munitions Quantity
(number of munitions)
Destruction
Start Date
Destruction
End Date
Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland HD ton containers 1,818 Apr 23, 2003 Feb 2006
Anniston Army Depot, Alabama HT 4.2-inch cartridges 183,552 Aug 9, 2003 Sep 22, 2011
HD 4.2-inch cartridges 75,360
HD 105mm cartridges 23,064
HD 155mm projectiles 17,643
HD ton containers 108
GB 105mm cartridges 74,014
GB 105mm projectiles 26
GB 155mm projectiles 9,600
GB 8-inch projectiles 16,026
GB M55 rockets 44,738
GB M56 rocket warheads 260
VX 155mm projectiles 139,581
VX mines 44,131
VX M55 rockets 35,662
Blue Grass Army Depot, Kentucky HD 155mm projectiles 15,492 Jun 7, 2019 Sept 30, 2023
GB 8-inch projectiles 3,977
GB M55 rockets 51,740
VX 155mm projectiles 12,816
VX M55 rockets 17,739
Johnston Atoll HD 155mm projectiles 5,779 Jun 30, 1990 Nov 29, 2000
HD 105mm projectiles 46
HD M60 projectiles 45,108
HD 4.2-inch mortars 43,600
HD ton containers 68
GB M55 rockets 58,353
GB 155mm projectiles 107,197
GB 105mm projectiles 49,360
GB 8-inch projectiles 13,020
GB MC-1 bombs 3,047
GB MK 94 bombs 2,570
GB ton containers 66
VX M55 rockets 13,889
VX 155mm projectiles 42,682
VX 8-inch projectiles 14,519
VX land mines 13,302
VX ton containers 66
Newport Chemical Depot, Indiana VX ton containers 1,690 May 5, 2005 Aug 8, 2008
Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas HT ton containers 3,591 Mar 28, 2005 Nov 12, 2010
HD ton containers 107
GB M55 rockets 90,231
GB M56 rocket warheads 178
VX M55 rockets 19,582
VX M56 rocket warheads 26
VX mines 9,378
Pueblo Army Depot, Colorado HT 4.2-inch cartridges 20,384 Sep 7, 2016 Sept 30, 2023
HD 4.2-inch cartridges 76,722
HD 105mm cartridges 383,418
HD 155mm projectiles 299,554
Tooele Army Depot, Utah H 155mm projectiles 54,663 Aug 22, 1996 Jan 21, 2012
HT 4.2-inch cartridges 62,590
HD 4.2-inch mortar 976
HD ton container 6,398
GB 105mm projectiles 798,703
GB ton containers 5,709
GB MC-1 bombs 4,463
GB M55 rockets 28,945
GB M56 rocket warheads 1,056
GB 155 mm projectiles 89,142
GB Weteye bomb 888
VX M55 rockets 3,966
VX M56 rocket warheads 3,560
VX ton containers 640
VX 155mm projectiles 53,216
VX 8-inch projectiles 1
VX spray tanks 862
VX landmines 22,690
GA ton containers 4
Lewisite ton containers 10
Umatilla Depot Activity, Oregon H ton containers 2,635 Sep 7, 2004 Oct 25, 2011
GB 155mm projectiles 47,406
GB 8-inch projectiles 14,246
GB M55 rockets 91,442
GB 500-lb bombs 27
GB 750-lb bombs 2,418
VX 155mm projectiles 32,313
VX 8-inch projectiles 3,752
VX mines 11,685
VX M55 rockets 14,519
VX spray tanks 156

The data on this chart was sourced from the archived websites of the Program Manager for Chemical Demilitarization (June 24, 1997, Oct. 1, 2000) and the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency (Sept. 22, 2011; Feb. 6, 2012).

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U.S. Mulls Options if Russia Uses WMD


April 2022
By Leanne Quinn

Amid growing concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin could use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Ukraine, the Biden administration has gathered behind the scenes a group of national security officials to prepare potential responses should chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons be deployed.

World leaders confer March 24 on the sidelines of meetings of NATO and the G7 in Brussels to discuss the Russian war in Ukraine, L to R: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, U.S. President Joe Biden, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.  (Photo by Henry Nicholls - Pool/Getty Images)Dubbed the Tiger Team, the group also is brainstorming options for the United States and NATO if Russian forces go beyond the Ukrainian border and attack a NATO member in a strike against a convoy carrying weapons and aid to Ukraine. The team meets three times a week in classified sessions, according to a March 23 report by The New York Times.

U.S. President Joe Biden has said that, desperate over Russia’s failure to dominate in the war against Ukraine, Putin could be preparing to use chemical or biological weapons in battle.

Putin's "back is against the wall, and now he's talking about new false flags he's setting up, including asserting that we in America have biological as well as chemical weapons in Europe. Simply not true," Biden said on March 21 at a Business Roundtable event.

"They are also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. That's a clear sign he's considering using both of those," he said.

Ahead of an emergency meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels on March 24, Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg put the focus on growing evidence that Russia was preparing to use chemical weapons. Stoltenberg said NATO would give Ukraine special equipment to help protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.

Their comments came as Russian forces struggled to make progress in their increasingly brutal assault on Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24.

Russia is a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and to the Biological Weapons Convention, which outlaw those armaments. As recently as January, Russia joined the United States and other major nuclear-weapon states in declaring that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Speaking at a U.S. Senate hearing on March 10, CIA Director William Burns stated that Russia’s use of chemical weapons “either as a false flag operation or against Ukrainians” is a possibility. The Russians have “used those weapons against their own citizens, they’ve at least encouraged their use in Syria and elsewhere, so it’s something we take very seriously,” Burns said.

Russia could potentially employ chemical weapons in a variety of ways. Russia could use a chemical weapon
“for assassinations against military and political leadership, … to clear buildings, [or] on the military battlefield. They could use it to go after bomb shelters because chemical agents can penetrate into buildings,” Andrew Weber, a top nonproliferation official in the Obama administration, said during an MSNBC interview.

Biden stated on March 11 that “Russia would pay a severe price if they used chemical weapons.”

When asked at a March 14 press briefing what those consequences could entail, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki responded, “[T]that would be a conversation that we would have with our partners around the world.” She predicted there would be a “severe reaction from the global community.”

In a March 16 telephone call, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan delivered a similar warning to Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, about the “consequences and implications” of any possible Russian decision to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.

The United States and Russia have been publicly trading allegations about chemical and biological weapons across multiple international forums.

In December 2021, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that U.S. military contractors were secretly smuggling chemical weapons components into Ukraine for mercenaries to use. Russia did not provide any evidence to back up its claim, which the United States and Ukraine have categorically denied.

Pushing the issue further, Russia called for a special meeting of the UN Security Council on March 11 to discuss Russian claims that Ukraine was attempting to “clean up” traces of a military biological program funded by the United States. Vasily Nebenzya, Russian ambassador to the United Nations, charged that the United States operates at least 30 biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine.

At the UN, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield insisted “there are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories supported by the United States, not near Russia’s border or anywhere.” She confirmed that the United States has supported Ukraine’s public health laboratory infrastructure, which played an important role in assisting Ukraine’s COVID-19 response, but said none of these labs has anything to do with biological weapons.

Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, also dismissed the Russian claims. “The United Nations is not aware of any biological weapons programs” in Ukraine, she told the Security Council meeting.

During a meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Executive Council on March 8–11, the United States and 48 other nations sponsored a joint statement condemning Russian disinformation about chemical weapons in Ukraine.

Joseph Manso, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, called Russia’s allegations against the United States “preposterous” and said Russia’s disinformation campaign was “a means to distract from its transgressions and aggressions.” In an attempt to underscore the U.S. commitment to the CWC, Manso announced that the United States would host a virtual chemical demilitarization transparency event on March 22 for OPCW delegates. That meeting, led by Bonnie Jenkins, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, highlighted the progress the United States has made in destroying its chemical weapons stockpile and reaffirmed that the destruction efforts would be finished by the treaty-mandated deadline of September 2023.

As a member state of the CWC, the international treaty that bans the use or stockpiling of chemical weapons, Russia was obligated to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal. The OPCW verified that Russia finished destroying its declared stockpile of 40,000 metric tons in September 2017.

Despite this, the U.S. State Department said in April 2021 it “cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations for its complete declarations” of its chemical weapons production and development facilities and stockpiles. The United States and other Western governments have accused Russia of the attempted assassination of Russian defector Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in 2018 and of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s leading opposition leader, in 2020. A chemical nerve agent called Novichok was used in both cases.

Amid concerns that Russia could use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Ukraine, a group of U.S. national security officials is mulling potential responses.

Timeline of Chemical and Biological Weapons Developments During Russia's 2022 Invasion of Ukraine

Contact: Leanne Quinn, Program Assistant for the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, there have been a number of accusations and concerns regarding chemical and biological weapons. The following is a chronological summary of key events and quotes related to chemical and biological weapons developments during the conflict. The timeline will be updated as necessary. 

2021

December 21: Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, alleged that American military contractors are secretly smuggling “tanks filled with unidentified chemical components” into Ukraine “for the purpose of carrying out acts of provocation.” 

2022

February 17: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken went before the U.N. Security Council to warn that Russia could stage a “false flag” incident as a pretext for an invasion, including a chemical weapons attack.

February 27: Ukraine submitted Note Verbal No. 61219/30-196/50-3 to the OPCW, raising the concern that Russian armed forces might be preparing a “false flag” incident using chemicals, such as the explosion of industrial tanks filled with chemicals (Document page 20). 

March 8: During the 99th Executive Council session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Ukrainian delegation condemned Russian misinformation and re-affirmed Ukraine’s compliance with and support for the Chemical Weapons Convention. Ukrainian Amb. Maksym Kononenko made it clear that, should a chemical incident occur in Ukraine, Ukraine will invoke Article X of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which calls for the delivery of “Assistance and Protection Against Chemical Weapons” by other States Parties to the CWC.  

Forty-nine nations submitted a joint statement to the OPCW condemning Russia’s disinformation campaign, particularly Russian Defense Minister Shoigu’s December 21 statements (see Dec. 21 in timeline). 

March 9: Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that Russia “has documents showing evidence that the US had supported a bioweapons program in Ukraine,” and that “Ukrainian nationalists” were preparing a chemical weapons “provocation” (The Guardian). The State Department and White House categorically denied the claims. 

March 9: White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki warned that Russia could “possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them.” 

March 10: Russia submitted a “non-paper” to the U.N. Security Council “on several scenarios of false-flag chemical provocations by Ukrainians” and alleged that the U.S. and private military companies are assisting Ukraine in this effort. 

March 10: Russia submitted a National Document to the OPCW entitled “About the possible chemical provocations in Ukraine” repeating its claim that American “special services” have provided Ukraine chemicals for “various types of provocations” (Document page 13). The document outlined several possible ways a chemical attack could take place. 

March 10: Appearing before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats to the U.S., CIA Director William Burns stated: “Whether it’s the potential for the use of chemical weapons either as a false flag operation or against the Ukrainians, this is something that all of you know is very much a part of Russia’s playbook. They’ve used those weapons against their own citizens, they’ve at least encouraged their use in Syria and elsewhere, so it’s something we take very seriously.”

March 11: The Russian Mission to the U.N. called for a U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss its accusations that the United States is funding a network of military biological laboratories. The United States Delegate, Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, responded: “There are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories supported by the United States – not near Russia’s border or anywhere.” U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, dismissed the claims, saying “the United Nations is not aware of a biological weapons program” in Ukraine.

March 11: Biden warned that “Russia would pay a severe price if they use chemical weapons.” 

March 16: U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with General Nikolay Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council, over the phone. Mr. Sullivan warned “about the consequences and implications of any possible Russian decision to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.” 

March 18: The Russian Mission to the U.N. called for a second U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss its accusations that the United States is funding a network of military biological laboratories. U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu once again stated that the U.N. “is not aware of any such biological weapons programs,” and further stated that “the United Nations currently has neither the mandate nor the technical or operational capacity to investigate this information.” 

March 18: Ukraine submitted a request to the OPCW for “bilateral assistance from States Parties in order to protect against chemical weapons,” invoking Article X of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The letter specifically requested: assistance and detection equipment and alarm systems; protective equipment; decontamination equipment and decontaminants; medical antidotes and treatments; and advice on any of these protective measures. Ukraine also stated concern that the “Russian Federation is going to launch a massive chemical attack on the territory of Ukraine, in the capital of Ukraine city of Kyiv and Kyiv region as well as in temporarily occupied Donetsk using tanks with ammonia and central nervous system acting chemicals.” 

March 21: An ammonia leak occurred at a Sumykhimprom chemical facility in Sumy, Ukraine. The factory produces fertilizers. The Associated Press first reported on the 21st that the cause of the leak was unknown. Sumy regional governor, Dmytro Zhvytsky said that the leak was caused by Russian shelling. Russia has accused Ukraine of staging a “chemical false flag.” 

March 22: Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior U.S. defense official commented that the U.S. is closely monitoring intelligence for indications of a Russian chemical or biological weapons attack in Ukraine. He further stated: “There’s no indication that there’s something imminent in that regard right now” (Reuters).

March 21: Speaking at a Business Roundtable, U.S. President Joe Biden stated that Putin’s “back is against the wall. And he’s – now he’s talking about new false flags he’s setting up, including he’s asserting that, we, in America, have biological as well as chemical weapons in Europe – simply not true. I guarantee you.” He followed this statement with: “They’re also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. That’s a clear sign he is considering using both of those. He’s already used chemical weapons in the past.” 

March 21: In an effort to “demonstrate its commitment to cooperation and transparency,” the United States held a virtual “U.S. Chemical Demilitarization Transparency Event” for OPCW regional officials. Led by Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins, the event “highlighted the progress the U.S. has made in destroying the last of the chemical weapons stockpile” and re-affirmed that the U.S. will finish destroying the final 3% of its stockpile by September 2023. 

March 24: In a joint statement, NATO countries promised to “continue to provide assistance in such areas as cybersecurity and protection against threats of a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear nature” during a meeting of the NATO Heads of State and Government. The statement also warned that “Any use by Russia of a chemical or biological weapons would be unacceptable and result in severe consequences.” 

March 24: While at the NATO summit in Brussels, U.S. President Joe Biden said that if Russia uses chemical weapons, “We would respond.” He added, “The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use.” 

April 1: White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that the United States “is providing the government of Ukraine with lifesaving equipment and supplies that could be deployed in the event of Russian use of a chemical or biological weapons against Ukraine.”

April 4: A reporter asked U.S. White House press secretary Jen Psaki about the delivery status of the equipment described during the April 1 press briefing (see above). Psaki replied that U.S. government was trying to deliver the equipment in an “expedited manner” and that she would do a status check to see if the “equipment has been delivered, or is in process.” 

April 4: U.S. announced it has allocated $250,000 of its voluntary OPCW contribution to the OPCW Trust Fund for Implementation of Article X. The money is earmarked for “the provision of assistance and protection to Ukraine in the event of the use or threat of use of chemical weapons.” 

April 4-11: The second session of the Preparatory Committee for the Ninth Review Conference for the Biological Weapons Convention convened in Geneva to prepare for the upcoming Conference, which is scheduled to take place 28 November - 16 December 2022. Russia distributed a note verbale to BWC states regarding its allegations of US-funded facilities in Ukraine. While the document is not yet publicly available, the allegations mentioned in the document were reportedly similar to the allegations expressed by Russia during the March UN meetings (see: March 11, March 18).

April 7: The G7 foreign ministers and the high representative of the European Union issued a joint statement "On Russia's War of Aggression Against Ukraine." The statement included the following: "We warn against any threat or use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. We recall Russia’s obligations under international treaties of which it is a party, and which protect us all. Any use by Russia of such a weapon would be unacceptable and result in severe consequences. We condemn Russia’s unsubstantiated claims and false allegations against Ukraine, a respected member of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention that is in compliance with its legal obligations under those instruments."

April 8: The humanitarian organization DirectRelief confirmed that it had delivered 220,000 vials of atropine, a drug which can mitigate the effects of sarin and other chemical agents, to Ukraine.

April 11: A message was posted on Telegram by the Azov Regiment, an "ultra-nationalist part of the Ukrainian National Guard," alleging that Russian forces had used "a poisonous substance of unkown origin." (Source: CNBC) There has been no official statement from any government body confirming that a chemical attack took place. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Twitter that the UK is urgently working to verify details of the incident. This story will be updated as more details emerge. 

April 19: Japan’s defense minister, Nobuo Kishi, announced that Japan was sending “anti-chemical-warfare equipment” to Ukraine, including gas masks, hazmat suits, and drones.

April 20: White House spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked for an update on U.S. assessments of the alleged chemical incident in Mariupol (see April 11). Psaki replied that "there's no new assessment." She added that because the U.S. doesn't have a team on the ground, the situation is "difficult to assess," but that the U.S. will continue to work on investigating the incident. 

April 23: According to Russian news agency Tass, Russian military officials are warning that the U.S. could conduct a false-flag "provocation" in order to accuse Moscow of using a weapon of mass destruction (chemical, biological, or nuclear weapon). 

April 26: During a press conference at the Rossiya Segodnya information agency, Russian Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Alexander Shulgin stated: "When Ukraine joined the chemical convention, it did not declare the presence of chemical weapons on its territory, but I think that, one way or another, the Ukrainians will play this card. I already spoke about encroachments regarding chemical provocations against our country."  

April 29: In a statement marking the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "We will also continue our efforts to hold the Kremlin accountable for its noncompliance with the CWC, repeated use of chemical weapons, and ongoing efforts to shield the Assad regime from accountability for its CW use.  Further, we have made very clear that the Russian government would face profound consequences were it to use chemical weapons in Ukraine."

May 13: Russia called a third UN Security Council meeting to discuss its allegations that the United States is carrying out dangerous biological projects in Ukraine-based laboratories.

UN Disarmament Director and Deputy High Representative Thomas Markham briefed the UN Security Council and stated, "I wish to note that Under-Secretary-General Nakamitsu informed the Council in her respective briefings on 11 and 18 March 2022, that the United Nations was not aware of any biological weapons programmes in Ukraine. This remains the case." Markham advised any nation that still has compliance concerns to use procedures available under the Biological Weapons Convention to settle those concerns. 

May 16: Sergei Ryabkov, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, announced that Russia is planning to "move forward with the launching of the official investigation by the UN Security Council" into allegations about biological laboratory activities in Ukraine. 

Chemical/Biological Arms Control

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The Final Push for U.S. Chemical Weapons Demilitarization

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Volume 14, Issue 4, March 14, 2022

For more than a century, chemical weapons have been recognized as one of the most horrific, inhumane, and militarily dubious instruments of war. These realities led to nearly universal support for the ratification and entry into force of the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (CWC), including support from Russia and the United States—which were at that time the possessors of the world’s two largest chemical weapon arsenals.

Negotiated at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, the CWC prohibits all signatories from developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, or retaining chemical weapons. It also bans the direct or indirect transfer of chemical weapons, and the assisting, encouraging, or inducing of other states to engage in CWC-prohibited activity. Since its ratification, the main mission of the CWC has been the verified and irreversible destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles.

Photographed on Nov. 23, 2021, palletized 105mm projectiles at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant await eventual destruction outside of the explosive containment room in the Enhanced Reconfiguration Building. (Photo credit: PEO ACWA)When the United States ratified the CWC on April 25th, 1997, it accepted the treaty mandate to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpile and related facilities completely and verifiably by April 29, 2007, with the possibility of a five-year extension until 2012.

But both the 2007 and 2012 deadlines proved to be severe underestimates of the time and effort needed to safely demilitarize all nine declared U.S. chemical weapons stockpiles. The United States requested and received two additional deadline extensions from the international chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Now, the United States is pushing hard to finish destroying the last vestiges of its once-massive Cold War-era chemical weapons stockpile by Sept. 30, 2023.1

Current Status of the U.S. Chemical Demilitarization Effort

Despite the delays in its campaign to eliminate chemical weapons, the United States has achieved tremendous progress toward the destruction of its massive and highly toxic chemical weapons arsenal. According to the OPCW’s annual report for 2022, the OPCW confirmed that the United States has verifiably destroyed a total of 26,606.252 metric tons of priority Category 1 chemical weapons, which is 95.81% of the total U.S. declared stockpile.2 The United States has destroyed all of its Category 2 chemical weapons, such as phosgene, and Category 3 weapons, including unfilled munitions, devices, and equipment designed specifically to employ chemical weapons.

As of March 2022, 418.4 metric tons of mustard agent remain at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Colorado and just under 300 metric tons of VX nerve agent are left to be destroyed at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant in Kentucky.3

With only a year and a half left to finish its chemical weapons demilitarization mission - an effort started nearly 40 years ago – the United States government must commit the necessary resources and funding to ensure it meets its treaty-mandated deadline of Sept. 30, 2023.

Congressional authorization of sufficient funding for chemical agents and munitions destruction this year will help ensure the work is done on time and according to stringent safety and environmental standards. Congress and the Biden administration must prioritize finally finishing destruction activities to maintain our standing as a dependable and influential member of the international disarmament community.

The Fiscal Year 2022 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, introduced to the House in July 2021, set aside $1,094,352,000 for the Army to make the final push in the chemical agents and munitions destruction mission.4 Of the total amount proposed, $995,011,000 is designated for the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA) program, the Army organization that oversees operations at the last two U.S. chemical weapons destruction facilities in Colorado and Kentucky. The remaining sum is distributed amongst operations/maintenance and the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP).

By the end of this fiscal year, the United States will have spent more than $41.7 billion (adjusted for inflation) since 1986 on chemical weapons stockpile elimination efforts.5

Why It Is Vital to Meet the 2023 Deadline

As a leader in upholding the norm against the possession and use of chemical weapons, the United States owes it to our international partners, and our local communities, to demonstrate our commitment to ridding the world of these inhumane weapons once and for all by meeting the 2023 stockpile elimination deadline.

U.S. credibility and leadership are on the line. Countries such as Russia and Iran have attempted to use the United States missed chemical weapons destruction deadlines to discredit U.S. commitment to the CWC, at a critical time in which the United States seeks to have a leadership role in holding countries like Syria and Russia accountable for their failure to comply with the CWC.

During a June 30, 2021, public meeting of the Colorado Citizens’ Advisory Commission, U.S. National Authority for the Chemical Weapons Convention and acting Deputy Secretary Assistant at the State Department, Laura Gross, emphasized the diplomatic importance of completing stockpile elimination.

“From our perspective at the State Department, we want to be able to […] demonstrate the commitment that the United States has against the use of chemical weapons,” Gross said. “That’s why it’s so important to be able to maintain that commitment to the timeline […] because we have adversaries in Russia, China, Iran, and Syria, who are using or developing chemical weapons for potential use, and we really want to be working at the OPCW to deter them.”

“We don’t want these countries to have the opportunity to use potential delays against us,” Gross added later in the meeting.

Domestically, the U.S. government owes it to the communities surrounding chemical weapons stockpiles and destruction facilities to finally finish eliminating these dangerous weapons. For well over 50 years, at least 9 states have had to deal with the health and environmental risks that come with the storage and destruction of chemical munitions and agents.

While U.S. President Joe Biden has not publicly commented on the importance of meeting the 2023 deadline, other government officials including Dr. Brandi Vann, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense, and the newly appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Threat Reduction and Arms Control, Kingston Reif, have reiterated the United States’ commitment to meeting the deadline.6

History of the U.S. Chemical Weapons Demilitarization

Throughout the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union amassed enormous stockpiles of these dangerous weapons: by 1990, the United States had 31,500 U.S. tons (63,000,000 pounds) of chemical agents, and the Soviet Union had 39,967 metric tons (88,112,152 pounds).7 Highly toxic nerve agents, such as sarin, are lethal at as little as 100 mg.

The United States’ effort to eliminate its massive chemical weapons arsenal began before the end of the Cold War and well before the entry into force of the CWC in 1997. In 1986, Congress passed Public Law 99-145, which called for the safe destruction of the United States’ stockpile of nonbinary lethal chemical agents and related facilities by Sept. 30, 1994.8

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Russia and the United States held several rounds of talks on chemical weapons disarmament and signed the 1990 Bilateral Destruction Agreement. However, faced with internal funding issues, Russia did not begin stockpile destruction efforts until 2000.9 The 1986 Congressional decision to begin stockpile destruction without reciprocal action by Russia demonstrated early on the United States’ commitment to chemical weapons disarmament.

Under this new congressional mandate, the U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC) (which was later renamed Chemical Materials Agency (CMA) in 1992) began construction of the Johnston Atoll prototype high-temperature incineration facility in 1988. Originally, the Army planned to build three centralized incinerators at 3 chemical weapons stockpile depots – one on Johnston Atoll, one in Utah, and one in either Alabama or Arkansas – and transport chemical weapons from the other 6 stockpile locations for destruction.10

However, the transport of these dangerous weapons was highly contentious and was later outright banned by Congress (50 U.S. Code 1512a, 1994). Instead of three centralized incinerators, the Army announced in 1988 that it would build 8 disposal facilities at each of the 8 chemical munition storage sites on the continental United States.11,12 In September of that same year, Congress extended the deadline to eliminate the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile to April 30, 1997, as the new approach was going to take far more time, planning, and resources.13

After multiple mechanical problems and several rounds of testing, the Johnston Atoll facility began burning agents in 1990 that had been previously stored by the U.S. military in Okinawa and Germany. These chemical munitions had been secretly relocated to Johnston Atoll in the 70s and 90s respectively.14 Construction for the second incineration facility began in Tooele, Utah in 1989.

As the U.S. chemical weapons demilitarization process got underway, civil society organizations including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Chemical Weapons Working Group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, as well as Native American communities and local grassroots organizations, were actively researching and raising serious concerns about the impact of incineration of chemical warfare agents on the environment and the health of local communities.

The U.S. Army released a draft environmental impact statement in 1990 that concluded the incineration process would have a minimal environmental impact, and the commander of the U.S. demilitarization program, Colonel Walter Busbee, said that fears about pollution were overblown.15

Despite the promises from the Army, sites for incineration facilities were beset by litigation and protests over environmental and public health concerns regarding the danger of potential leakages and emissions during incineration. The Environmental Protection Agency fined the Army for a nerve agent stack release in March 1994, a group of civil society organizations sued the Army in June 2000 over the potential release of MC-1 Sarin nerve gas during the processing of a bomb, and the Pine Bluff citizens’ group filed an appeal with the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission in September 2000 over whether future emissions would constitute as “pollution” under Arkansas law.

Throughout the 1990s, citizen activists and non-governmental research organizations continued to press the government to investigate and pursue alternatives to incineration. Preceding the construction of each U.S. incineration destruction facility were lengthy public hearings and environmental impact reports.

As early as June 1990, the U.S. Army confirmed that it expected to miss the 1997 deadline set by Congress. A GAO report attributed the expected delay to “(a) stringent environmental regulation of the operation of the first U.S. continental incineration plant, (b) program budget cuts, and (c) operational delays in testing the first disposal plant on Johnston Atoll.”16

By 1991, Congress pushed back the deadline for U.S. chemical weapons stockpile elimination further. During a December 1991 testimony in front of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, Assistant Secretary of the Army, Susan Livingstone, said, “I wish to state candidly that schedule will not be a primary driver for this program. We have always stated that safety is the paramount consideration in making decisions for this program.”17 Construction of additional incineration facilities began in Anniston, Alabama in 1991, Umatilla, Oregon in 1996, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 2002.

The concerns of communities surrounding chemical weapons destruction sites were echoed by key members of Congress. As part of the Senate resolution on advice and consent for ratification of the CWC, policymakers included a set of conditions, including a mandate that the president and the Army explore alternative, non-incineration technologies for the destruction of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile “to ensure that the United States has the safest, most effective and environmentally sound plans for programs for meeting its obligations under the Convention for the destruction of chemical weapons.”18

Per the Congressional conditions, the U.S. Army’s Assembled Chemical Weapons Assessment (ACWA) program was established to investigate and test alternative methods to baseline incineration to dispose of chemical weapons. In 2001, the Army announced that six alternative technologies for chemical weapons destruction had been identified and tested, with neutralization/biotreatment and neutralization/supercritical water oxidation (SCWO) progressing to the engineer design phase.19

The CWC required the United States to destroy its remaining 27,200 metric tons of chemical warfare agents within 10 years.20 However, due to delays attributed to the search for environmentally preferred alternatives to incineration, the treaty-mandated destruction deadline was pushed back from April 29, 2007, to April 29, 2012, with the approval of the other CWC States Parties.

While asking for the United States’ first deadline extension request, former U.S. permanent representative to the OPCW, Ambassador Eric Javits, explained that the U.S. would be unable to meet the 2007 deadline due to setbacks and delays caused by difficulties in constructing facilities, obtaining permits, and addressing safety and environmental concerns. He candidly noted that the United States was asking for the April 2012 deadline “as our extended deadline because that is the latest date the treaty allows us to ask for,” but that “based on our current projections, we do not expect to be able to meet that deadline.”21

In addition to the five incineration facilities, the U.S. Army CMA constructed and operated two neutralization facilities in Edgewood, Maryland and Newport, Indiana. Those two sites finished operations in 2007 and 2010 respectively. The Maryland bulk mustard agent storage site, located outdoors with limited protection, was expedited primarily due to security concerns after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

While the U.S. Army CMA was responsible for the first seven stockpile destruction facilities, the last two remaining chemical weapons destruction facilities, located in Pueblo, Colorado, and Blue Grass, Kentucky, are overseen by the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA). Both sites feature alternative destruction processes to incineration.

At the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (PCAPP), most of the mustard projectiles stored there are being destroyed in a two-step process: neutralization followed by biotreatment. Three Static Detonation Chambers (SDCs) are also being employed to destroy “problematic munitions,” including the stockpile of 4.2-inch mortar rounds.

At the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP), the majority of the nerve agents (including GB/Sarin and VX) are being destroyed through neutralization. Like the PCAPP process, several “problematic” munitions, mainly 155mm mustard projectiles, were destroyed by SDCs. The site’s remaining M55 rockets are also slated to be destroyed by the SDCs.

The Final Push to Eliminate What Remains

As of March 4, 2022, the United States has 418.4 metric tons of mustard in 105mm projectiles and mustard 4.2-inch mortar rounds left at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Colorado. There are 296.6 metric tons of VX nerve agent in M55 rockets and GB nerve agent in M55 rockets left to destroy at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant in Kentucky.

Walton Levi, site manager for the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant, confirmed that the facility is still on target to meet the September 2023 deadline in a recent interview with KUNC.22

Crews at the two remaining facilities have continued to work diligently throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and their dedication to helping the United States meet its treaty mandated deadline in such uncertain circumstances is truly commendable.

Following a public comment and testing period, the Pueblo, Colorado facility was granted an environmental permit to use Static Detonation Chambers to finish eliminating the remaining mustard munitions. 23

CWC Outlier States

The completion of the long campaign to eliminate the U.S. chemical weapons arsenal will also put more pressure on the remaining CWC hold-out states to join and meet their commitments.

Four countries remain outside the CWC: Egypt, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan. North Korea is estimated to possess a stockpile of approximately 5,000 metric tons of agent. The status of Taiwan, prohibited from joining all multilateral treaties by China, must also be resolved, especially given its large chemical industry. Syria, which joined the CWC in 2013 under intense international pressure and agreed to the elimination of the bulk of its former stockpile of some 1,300 metric tons of prohibited chemical agents, has failed to provide a full accounting of its stockpiles to the OPCW.24

Russia—which once possessed the world’s largest chemical weapons stockpile consisting of approximately 40,000 metric tons of chemical agent, including VX, sarin, soman, mustard, lewisite, mustard-lewisite mixtures, and phosgene—officially completed the destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal in 2017.

Like the United States, Russia received an extension of the original chemical weapons destruction deadline when it was unable to complete the task by the 2012 deadline set by the CWC. Russia’s destruction program benefited from technical assistance and funding through the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. Finally, the OPCW announced Sept. 27, 2017 that Russia completed the destruction of its declared chemical weapons stockpile.

However, Russia still retains some chemical weapons capacity. In March 2018, Russia used the advanced chemical agent Novichok to assassinate a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, in the UK. In a 2021 State Department report on compliance with the CWC, the United States accused Russia of non-compliance with the CWC for its alleged use of Novichok. The report also noted that “The United States cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations" under the Convention and asserted that Russia had not made a complete declaration of its stockpile.

Conclusion

As we enter the final year and a half of demilitarization efforts, the United States government must recommit to prioritizing its chemical weapons stockpile elimination efforts, while, at the same time, continuing to protect the security and safety of local communities. The active involvement of local communities, state regulators and authorities, environmental and public health experts and activities, and other interested stakeholders has been an excellent example of democratic and transparent decision-making.

Leaders in Washington, D.C. must provide the leadership and support necessary to meet international treaty commitments and maintain the United States’ standing as a responsible and influential leader in the global disarmament community.

When the United States does eliminate the last of its deadly chemical weapons, it will be a critical step in strengthening the taboo against chemical weapons and a strong boost for the CWC and the OPCW at a critical juncture in the long fight against these inhumane weapons.—LEANNE QUINN, Chemical Weapons Coalition Program Assistant

ENDNOTES

1. The 8 nations that have declared chemical weapons stockpiles to the OPCW are Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Russia, South Korea, Syria, and the United States.

2. Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, “Report of the OPCW on the Implementation of the Convention in 2020,” 1 Dec. 2021, https://www.opcw.org/sites/default/files/documents/2021/12/c2603%28e%29.pdf

3. ‘US Chemical Weapons Stockpile Destruction Progress,” Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives, 4 March 2022, https://www.peoacwa.army.mil/destruction-progress/

4. “H.R.4432 - Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2022,” Congress.gov, 15 July 2021, https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/4432/text

5. This number was calculated by finding the sum of all congressional appropriations under the section “Chemical Agents and Munitions Destruction” since 1986. Each number was adjusted for inflation in relation to 2021. We have submitted a FOIA request for an official estimate and will update this issue brief when we receive a response.

6. See: Recording of “US Chemical Weapons Stockpile Elimination: Progress Update” webinar at https://www.cwccoalition.org/us_cw_demilitarization_webinar/

7. Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), “Report of the OPCW on the Implementation of the Convention in 2017,” 19 Nov. 2018, https://www.opcw.org/sites/default/files/documents/2018/11/c2304%28e%29.pdf

8. “Public Law 99-145-Nov. 8, 1985,” GovInfo.gov, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-99/pdf/STATUTE-99-Pg583.pdf, see: Sec. 1412 Destruction of Existing Stockpile of Lethal Chemical Agents and Munitions

9. Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), “Report of the OPCW on the Implementation of the Convention in 2000,” 17 May 2001, https://www.opcw.org/sites/default/files/documents/CSP/C-VI/en/C-VI_5-EN.pdf, page 10

10. Paul Walker, “Three Decades of Chemical Weapons Elimination: More Challenges Ahead,” Arms Control Association, December 2019, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2019-12/features/three-decades-chemical-weapons-elimination-more-challenges-ahead

11. “50 U.S. Code § 1512a – Transportation of chemical munitions,” Cornell Law School, n.d., https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/50/1512a

12. CMA also oversaw stockpile destruction activities of the chemical weapons stored at Deseret Chemical Depot, Utah; Umatilla Chemical Depot, Oregon; Anniston Chemical Activity, Alabama; Pine Bluff Chemical Activity, Arkansas; Newport Chemical Depot, Indiana; Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; and Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Basin.[12][12]

13. “Public Law 100-456-Sept. 29, 1988,” US Code House, n.d., https://uscode.house.gov/statviewer.htm?volume=102&page=1934

14. “CMA Milestones in U.S. Chemical Weapons History,” U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity, n.d., https://www.cma.army.mil/wp-content/uploads/2021_02_05_CMA_FS_CMA-MILESTONES.pdf

15. Arms Control Reporter: A Chronicle of Treaties, Negotiations, Proposals, Weapons & Policy, 1990. Chalmers Hardenbergh (Brookline, MA: Institute for Defense & Disarmament Studies, 1990), page 704.E-1.

16. Arms Control Reporter: A Chronicle of Treaties, Negotiations, Proposals, Weapons & Policy, 1990, Chalmers Hardenbergh (Brookline, MA: Institute for Defense & Disarmament Studies, 1990), page 704.E-1.5.

17. Arms Control Reporter: A Chronicle of Treaties, Negotiations, Proposals, Weapons & Policy, 1991, Chalmers Hardenbergh (Brookline, MA: Institute for Defense & Disarmament Studies, 1991), page 704.E-1.18.

18. “U.S. Senate’s Conditions to Ratification of the CWC,” United States Chemical Weapons Convention Web Site, 24 April 1997, https://www.cwc.gov/cwc_authority_ratification_text.html

19. Arms Control Reporter: A Chronicle of Treaties, Negotiations, Proposals, Weapons & Policy 2001, John Clearwater (Brookline, MA: Institute for Defense & Disarmament Studies, 1991), page 704.E-1.1

20. “Closing U.S. Chemical Warfare Agent Disposal Facilities,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d., https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/demil/closing_facilities.htm

21. “Statement Concerning Request to Extend the United States’ Destruction Deadline Under the Chemical Weapons Convention,” U.S. Department of States Archive, 20 April 2006, https://2001-2009.state.gov/t/isn/rls/rm/64878.htm

22. Michael de Yoanna, “Static detonation chambers likely to be used to destroy Colorado’s final chemical weapons,” NPR for Northern Colorado, 18 Jan. 2022, https://www.kunc.org/news/2022-01-18/static-detonation-chambers-likely-to-be-used-to-destroy-colorados-final-chemical-weapons

23. Michael de Yoanna, “Static detonation chambers likely to be used to destroy Colorado’s final chemical weapons,” NPR for Northern Colorado, 18 Jan. 2022, https://www.kunc.org/news/2022-01-18/static-detonation-chambers-likely-to-be-used-to-destroy-colorados-final-chemical-weapons

24. “Syria’s Declaration of Compliance with Chemical Weapons Convention Still Inaccurate Due to Persisting Gaps, Inconsistencies, Top Disarmament Official Tells Security Council,” United Nations: Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, 5 January 2022, https://www.un.org/press/en/2022/sc14760.doc.htm

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When the United States ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, it accepted the treaty mandate to eliminate its chemical weapons within a decade. But several extensions have come and gone, and the government is pushing hard to finish destroying the last vestiges of its once-massive Cold War-era stockpile by 2023.

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OPCW Confirms Two Chemical Incidents in Syria


March 2022
By Leanne Quinn

The international chemical weapons watchdog agency has confirmed two occasions of chemical weapons use in Syria, in 2015 and 2016. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission concluded in two recent reports that a blister agent and industrial chlorine were used as chemical weapons during the two attacks in Syria’s ongoing civil war.

A protection mask used by experts with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a UN agency that for two decades has been central to eliminating the world's toxic arms stockpiles. (Photo by John Thys/AFP via Getty Images)Established in 2014, the mission has a mandate to determine whether chemical weapons or toxic chemicals have been used as weapons in Syria. It is not permitted to identify who is responsible for the incidents.

After an extensive investigation of environmental samples, digital evidence, and witness interviews, the mission concluded in its Jan. 26 report that a blister agent from Schedule 1.A.04 of the Chemical Weapons Convention was used as a weapon in Marea, Syria, on Sept. 1, 2015. According to testimonials from victims and medical staff, approximately 50 individuals developed symptoms indicative of exposure to a blister agent during the attack.

A second incident in Marea on Sept. 3, 2015, was also investigated, but insufficient evidence prevented the mission from reaching a conclusion about whether chemical agents were used as a weapon.

In its Feb. 1 report, the mission concluded that industrial chlorine was used as a chemical weapon on Oct. 1, 2016, in an agricultural field in Kafr Zeita, Syria. As part of its investigation, the OPCW obtained an industrial chlorine cylinder “from the location of the incident and was able to link it” to use in October 2016. Through laboratory analysis and digital simulations, the mission concluded that the “cylinder ruptured as a result of mechanical force and released a toxic irritant substance.”

The report said that approximately 20 individuals suffered from suffocation and breathing difficulties as a result of the chemical incident.

Although the reports do not attribute blame for the attacks, previous reports by the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) about similar incidents that occurred around the same time as the Marea and Kafr Zeita chemical attacks provide some additional context.

Established in 2015, the JIM was an independent body tasked with identifying the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks confirmed by fact-finding missions. In 2016 the JIM released a report that determined that the Islamic State group was responsible for an Aug. 21, 2015, sulfur mustard chemical attack in Marea. The group was also implicated in a separate blister agent chemical attack in Umm Hawsh on Sept. 15 and 16, 2016.

Of the other chemical incidents that the JIM investigated, Syrian armed forces were found responsible for dropping barrel bombs from aircraft that released chlorine gas in Tamenes in April 2014 and Sarmin and Qmenas in March 2015. The Syrian military was also found responsible for dropping munitions that released sarin gas in Khan Shaykhun in 2017.

Although no action has been taken by the United States or the OPCW in light of the findings, the results of the two reports are likely to dominate the discussion at the 99th executive council meeting of the OPCW in March.

The attacks occurred in Marea in September 2015 and in Kafr Zeita in October 2016 during the Syrian civil war.

Ten Years of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria: A Look Back and A Look Ahead

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Feb 22, 2022
10:00 AM Eastern Time

In July 2012, the Syrian government publicly acknowledged for the first time what had long been suspected: that Syria possessed an arsenal of chemical weapons stockpile. A year later, in August 2013, Syrian military forces launched a large-scale Sarin gas attack outside Damascus where Syrian forces had been attempting to expel rebel forces, killing more than 1,000 people. The attack prompted international condemnation and led to international pressure for Syria to abandon its chemical weapons program.

Under pressure, Syria agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention and the bulk of its chemical arsenal was removed and neutralized.

Since then, inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) report that Syria has not fully declared all of its chemical weapons elimination and that chemical attacks have occurred.

Our expert panel assessed the progress that has been achieved to eliminate Syria’s chemical arsenal, what is left to be done, and how to ensure chemical weapons are never used again.

Opening Remarks: 

  • H.E. Fernando Arias, Director-General of the OPCW

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A decade ago, credible reports began to surface about the use of chemical weapons by combatants involved in the brutal civil war in Syria. Our expert panel will assessed the progress that has been achieved to eliminate Syria’s chemical arsenal, what is left to be done, and how to ensure chemical weapons are never used again.

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Arias Appointed for Second Term at OPCW


January/February 2022
By Leanne Quinn

The member states of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have decided to renew the appointment of Fernando Arias as the organization’s director-general. His second term will run until July 2026.

Fernando Arias (L), recently appointed to a second term as director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are shown meeting in Moscow in 2019.  (Photo by Vladimir Gerdo\TASS via Getty Images)“In the next few years, I understand that my main mission will be to contribute to build up consensus; to preserve the values of the verification regime, cooperation, and assistance; and to continue modernizing the tools of the secretariat to keep on working in an efficient manner,” Arias said during his acceptance speech on Dec. 1.

Although Russia formally disassociated itself from the decision, it did not call for a vote, and the reappointment was approved by consensus. Prior to serving as director-general, Arias was Spain’s permanent representative to the OPCW.

Following the decision, many delegates expressed firm support for Arias’ professionalism and integrity and confidence in his ability to lead the organization for the next four years. The delegates also voiced concern over the challenges facing Arias and the OPCW in the years ahead.

“There is no shortage of challenges ahead,” said Brazilian delegate Paulo Roberto Caminha de Castilhos França. “To name some of the key ones: the ongoing pandemic and its impact on work of the OPCW; the search for ways to reduce the stifling polarization, which undermines trust in this organization; the need to promote equitable geographic representation in order to render the organization more fit for its purpose; and a gradual steering of the OPCW into a new terrain, in which chemical weapons will have finally been eliminated.”

Arias’ election was one of several decisions that took place during the 26th conference of states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which convened in The Hague from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3.

One issue involved the aerosolized use of central nervous system-acting chemicals by law enforcement. When used under controlled medical conditions, chemicals that modify these functions, such as the opioid fentanyl, are considered safe. In a 2018 report, the OPCW’s Scientific Advisory Board recognized that these chemicals “can have a very low safety margin when delivered as an aerosol” and that their use has “resulted in permanent harm and death.”

The only large-scale use to date occurred in October 2002 when Russian special forces deployed aerosolized central nervous system-acting chemicals to end an armed siege of the Moscow Dubrovka Theater. Although hostages were freed, 125 individuals died as a result of the effects of the chemicals.

The OPCW conference adopted an understanding that the aerosolized use of these chemicals for law enforcement purposes should not be permitted under the CWC. The decision was passed with 85 member states in favor; 10, including China and Russia, against; and 33 member states abstaining. It also called for continued research on these chemicals by the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board.

The United States, a co-sponsor of the initiative, lauded the vote in a State Department press release, noting that “this decision sends a clear signal that countries cannot hide their work to advance an offensive capability for the aerosolized use of central nervous system-acting chemicals under the guise of doing so for law enforcement.” While welcoming the conference decision, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Bradford University have called for the prohibition to also cover law enforcement weapons employing these chemicals delivered by non-aerosolized means and to cover toxic chemicals that act on other human physiological systems.

No resolution was reached regarding the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. (See ACT, November 2021.) Fifty-five member states produced a joint statement once again calling on Russia to cooperate fully with the OPCW in a thorough and transparent investigation of the incident, including negotiating a technical assistance visit with the OPCW.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) members reappointed Fernando Arias as director-general.

45 OPCW States Demand Answers About Navalny


November 2021
By Leanne Quinn

Forty-five nations have demanded that Russia clarify and resolve unanswered questions regarding its handling of the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of poisoning him, remains imprisoned in Moscow. (Photo by Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)The action was taken last month during a meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Executive Council. The UK-led joint statement invoked Article XI of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which allows states to request clarification of any matter relating to the implementation of the convention. Russia was given 10 days to clarify what steps it has taken and plans to take to address the Navalny incident. Russia was also instructed to explain why it has not negotiated a technical assistance visit with the OPCW, the global chemical weapons watchdog, to investigate the incident.

Supporters of the joint statement included the European Union, Australia, Canada, and the United States, among others. Speaking for the 45 states-parties, Krassimir Kostov, the Bulgarian representative to the OPCW, explained why clarification from Russia was needed.

“The Russian Federation has not yet provided a credible explanation of the incident that took place on its soil. We have no knowledge of any internal investigations taking place in the Russian Federation, nor do we know what, if anything, the Russian Federation will do to prevent future uses of chemical weapons on its territory,” Kostov said.

After falling ill on a domestic flight in Russia on Aug. 20, 2020, Navalny received emergency medical treatment at a hospital in Omsk, Russia. He was moved from Omsk to the Charite Hospital in Berlin on Aug. 22. By Sept. 3, German experts had determined that Navalny was poisoned by a “nerve agent from the so-called Novichok group.”

Germany submitted a request for a technical assistance visit from the OPCW to confirm the identity of the chemical agent. An OPCW team traveled to Germany on Sept. 4 and collected biomedical samples from Navalny. Analysis of the samples by the OPCW laboratory near The Hague, as well as OPCW-certified laboratories in France and Sweden, confirmed Germany’s findings.

On Oct. 1, 2020, Russia reached out to the OPCW regarding a possible technical assistance visit to “cooperate with Russian experts in studying the results of Alexey Navalny’s tests to determine signs of a possible crime on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

But Russia did not agree to the terms of the visit proposed by the OPCW, and talks reached a stalemate. Last month’s OPCW joint statement called on Russia to answer “why the Russian Federation has been unable to accept the standard modalities for such a visit.”

Russia responded on Oct. 7 with its own set of questions for France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the OPCW, along with a 230-plus-page note verbale containing mostly German and Russian official OPCW correspondence about the Navalny incident.

“Today, effectively two days ahead of the deadline, Russia provided its worthy and legally calibrated response to the request of the 45 states,” Alexander Shulgin, Russian representative to the OPCW, said during an interview with the Russian news agency TASS.

“Simultaneously, we have initiated a request of our own. On the record and in attendance of all members of the OPCW Executive Council, we once again handed over an entire list of questions to Germany, France, and Sweden regarding this muddy story and their role in the spectacle they have staged themselves,” Shulgin added.

Germany responded that Russia’s note verbale “does not contain any answers to the set of questions” asked by the 45 states-parties and rejected Russia’s “attempts to discredit other states-parties as well as to question the impartiality and professionalism” of the OPCW.

One Russian question asked why the formula for the Novichok nerve agent identified by the OPCW, French, German, and Swedish laboratories was being “hidden” from Russian experts. Russia insists that the biomedical samples taken from Navalny while he was in the Omsk hospital do not show any evidence of the nerve agent.

The UK responded that Russia “had full access to the patient, affording the opportunity to recover biomedical samples of the kind which five separate laboratories used to establish the presence of a cholinesterase inhibitor structurally similar” to Novichok.

Several other questions focused on Maria Pevchikh, one of Navalny’s colleagues. Russia asked why there “were traces of some kind of chemicals found on the water bottle [Pevchikh] bought in the airport departure area.” It also asked why her role “in the whole affair [was] so carefully concealed.”

Germany countered that “the traces found by German experts on the water bottle which had been collected from Mr. Navalny’s hotel room are identical with the traces found in the biomedical samples taken from Mr. Navalny” and called on Russia “to investigate the events that took place on Russian territory.” The UK responded that “media reports have documented [Pevchikh’s] role in Mr. Navalny’s anti-corruption organization.”

It was clear from this exchange that the two sides disagree on the basic facts of the case.

If the UK deems Russia’s clarification to be inadequate or Russia deems the clarifications of France, Germany, Sweden, the UK, and the OPCW to be inadequate, the requesting parties can call on the OPCW director-general to “establish a group of experts from the Technical Secretariat…to examine all available information” and report its findings. If the parties are still not satisfied, they could call for a special session of the OPCW Executive Council to consider the matter and recommend an appropriate solution. The Navalny incident is likely to remain a matter of contention at the annual conference of CWC states-parties in November.

Forty-five nations have demanded that Russia clarify and resolve unanswered questions regarding its handling of the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

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