Interview with British Ambassador Lyn Parker, chair of open-ended working group preparing for the 2008 CWC Review Conference

Interviewed by Oliver Meier

Representatives of states-parties to 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention will gather April 7-18, 2008 in The Hague for the second review conference of the chemical weapons ban. The conference will have to take stock of developments since the last review in 2003 and will discuss measures to adapt the treaty to current and future scientific and political developments.

On Nov. 20, Arms Control Today International Correspondent Oliver Meier interviewed British Ambassador Lyn Parker who is chairing the open-ended working group (OEWG) that is charged with preparing the review conference. About 40 states-parties have participated in the group, which has been meeting since July 2006. Among other things, the working group aims to develop a draft of the chairman’s report document that will provide the basis for discussions on the final report of the review conference.

ACT: What has the working group achieved so far? What issues have been discussed and on what topics is there still disagreement among working group members?

Parker: The working group has been operating for just over a year now, working its way systematically through the main issues that arise from the convention. The group has been basing itself partially on the outcome of the last review conference, because that’s the starting point in terms of assessing what’s happened since then, but also looking at new issues which have arisen since then. The sort of things that we have covered include universality, general obligations under the convention, verification, chemical weapons and production facilities for them, activities that aren’t prohibited under the convention, national implementation, consultation, cooperation, fact-finding and related issues, assistance and protection, economic and technological development, scientific progress, the final articles of the convention related to procedural and structural issues, protection of confidential information, and the overall functioning of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). So, it’s quite a long shopping list. Basically we have been covering the main areas in which the convention operates in a fairly systematic manner.

You asked if we have consensus on these issues. We’ve collected a wide range of views from delegations, we’ve also had inputs from industry, from non-governmental organizations, both written and at the meeting on Nov. 19 at the OPCW[1], and from the Scientific Advisory Board[2], and we are awaiting and will receive shortly a substantial paper from the director-general and the [OPCW’s] secretariat, summing up their view of developments since 2003. I expect Director-General Rogelio Pfirter’s views on the sort of issues on which we should be focusing when we come to the conference itself. So there has been a wide range of inputs to the OEWG.

We’re not at the stage yet of seeking consensus in fine detail on exactly what might be said at the review conference. But it is fair to say that there is a high degree of common purpose, I think, among delegations on these issues. Inevitably, we have debates about the relative importance of different aspects of the convention, the different weight to attach to them, and in some areas there are long-running debates about exactly how we should tackle some of the trickier issues. These are reflected equally in our discussions in the working group. But overall, it’s a very positive atmosphere and a strong sense of common purpose.

ACT: At the first review conference, the atmosphere was somewhat charged because the director-general had been ousted the previous year.[3] Based on your discussions in the working group so far, what do you expect the atmosphere to be like in April next year?

Parker: Obviously I wasn’t around at the time of the previous review conference, so I have no benchmark for comparison personally, but I think it’s fair to say that the last few years have been ones of steady progress in the organization. Whatever may have been the case in 2003, there’s now a high degree of confidence in the leadership of the organization by the Director-General Rogelio Pfirter and in the quality and performance of the secretariat. Therefore, I think the atmosphere is a good one for the review conference and will enable us to focus on the issues of substance, which we should be focusing on.

ACT: Have states-parties already begun discussions on the final document?

Parker: Not yet. We’re at the end, if you like, of the information-gathering and views-gathering stage. We’re just a week or two away from the end of that rather protracted initial stage. But we should have all our major inputs by the middle of December and the drafting process will then begin and will run particularly intensively in January and February of 2008. So we hope that there will be a text available for states-parties to consider several weeks before we come to the review conference itself.

ACT: And what kind of products do you expect to come out of the review conference? The same type of document that the last review conference approved, or will it be different?

Parker: Well, we’re in the hands of delegations as far as this is concerned, but we have put around a draft outline for the main report, which we’ve had some comments on. But basically I think there’s broad support for this document, which would produce, if you like, the main detailed report in a rather similar way to last time. Like last time I envisage that there would be on top of this a political declaration which would be shorter and more sharply focused. So, a combination document, a two-part document, which would have the main messages up front in a political declaration, and then a more detailed document with more substance in it, but perhaps would take a bit longer to read.

ACT: Has there been a decision yet on how the review conference will operate? Will states-parties review the convention based on a thematic approach or article-by-article?

Parker: It’s kind of hybrid. The list I gave of issues more or less follows the sequence that we have followed and it is a hybrid of following the broad structure of the treaty, but not being tied down exactly to an article-by-article approach. It makes sense to pull together themes like verification, or like national implementation, or assistance and protection, and deal with them in groups. I leave it to the academics to decide whether we’re operating on an article-by-article or thematic approach. It’s really a hybrid of the two.

ACT: Turning toward the substance of discussions. Are there any issues that you expect to be more important during discussions than others? Will the conference be more backward-looking or more forward-looking? What’s your feeling based on discussions in the working group?

Parker: I think the assessment of performance and that the review conference does this part of its job thoroughly is important, but I don’t think that there will be a tremendous amount of argument about the record in the sense of what we have achieved.

The real question for the future is what more can we do and also how do the balances built into the convention change over time as we move towards the deadline for destruction of chemical weapons stocks and we start to look at what lies beyond the destruction of existing chemical weapons stocks. What kind of organization does this need to become? What are the balances between the traditional destruction and verification activities and some of the other activities such as cooperation, assistance, and protection, which are important to a lot of states-parties who are not themselves directly involved in the processes related to chemical weapons destruction?

ACT: But before we get to that stage, of course, destruction has to be completed and there is the problem that it seems unlikely that all states-parties will be able to meet their commitments related to chemical weapons destruction.[4] Given that this will be the last review conference before the extended deadlines expire, what is your sense how this question will be discussed at the review conference? Do you think that member states should already discuss this question or should they wait until 2012 when the deadlines expire?

Parker: We’ll have see what happens in the discussions themselves. Clearly this issue is in the mind of quite a few delegations. On the other hand, we are still some years out from 2012. Whether this will actually be the last conference, either a formal review conference or a special conference before that date, we don’t at this stage know. You’re right that on the five-year cycle the next one would actually come in 2013, but the convention provides for other possibilities, so it’s not impossible there could be discussion before 2012.[5]

Actually, in terms of performance at the moment the possessor states, particularly the two big possessor states, are actually doing well against their existing destruction targets. We’re not at this moment in difficulty. We’ll have to see what states-parties want to do in the discussion of this. But I think there’s a general feeling on the part of many delegations that although these are issues that we will need to confront and look at very seriously when we get nearer to the time, it is a little bit premature to try to work out now how they may be handled if and when the time comes, if there turns out to be a problem in 2012, because so much can happen between now and then. But, undoubtedly it’s an issue that will come up in the discussions and I’m sure it will be referred to in the conference when we get there.

ACT: At the last review conference, the United States in their opening statement accused a number of states-parties of being in violation of the CWC. Do you again expect similar accusations of noncompliance and how do you think the review conference can actually deal with the question of compliance?[6]

Parker: Well I can’t speak for the states-parties and what they may or may not do when we come to the conference. What we have in the convention is a set of procedures, which can be used in cases of doubt, starting with the possibility of consultations and then leading all the way, if necessary, to challenge inspection. The way in which these procedures might be used has been the subject of quite a lot of discussion, including in the review conference work so far. I’m sure that one element, for example, in the final outcome of the review conference will be a reflection of further discussion on challenge inspections. This year has been interesting. The Dutch government staged a mock challenge inspection so that everyone could see how it would work, and fortunately, did it close enough to The Hague for people actually to go along and be able to observe what happened if a challenge inspection was conducted. So these issues are live ones and under discussion, but for me at least, I think that it’s premature to judge what might happen when we get to the review conference itself.

ACT: You mentioned earlier that some of the real challenges lie in the future and lie in adapting the convention to some of the changing circumstances. One of the issues that a lot of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have highlighted is the threat coming from so-called non-lethal or incapacitating agents. At the last review conference, states-parties did not get into a debate on this issue.[7] Now, since 2003, a number of states have increased their efforts to develop and deploy such agents and many hope that this review conference will pick up the issue. Do you think this issue will be on the agenda and what kind of decisions could we expect from the review conference? Could the conference, for example, agree on a technical working group to discuss nonlethal or incapacitating agents?[8]

Parker: Again, I’m afraid it’s a bit early to say what the conference might ultimately discuss or agree. The issue has come up. It has been raised by one or two states-parties in the discussion and it is very much a live issue in the NGO community, where a number of NGOs have raised this in the inputs which they’ve made into the review conference process so far. What will happen when we get to next April, I hesitate to predict. It’s, of course, not a new issue. It’s an issue that’s been around for some time and this question of where the border, where the limits of the convention lie is a complex one, both in terms of what are called nonlethal weapons (not necessarily an ideal title for the kind of agents that people are talking about) and also the role of riot control agents (which are specifically covered in the convention). I think we’ll have to see how this debate plays out, and particularly how far states-parties pick up what is undoubtedly a very lively debate out in the NGO community.

ACT: You also already mentioned that there is a debate about the balance of the different components of the convention. Many observers expect discussions on international cooperation to be a potentially divisive issue. What’s your sense of how the review conference can address that issue and do you expect there again to be direct criticism of the Australia Group[9], for example?

Parker: The convention reflects a balance between the interests of the countries who at the time the convention was put together had major chemical industries. Some of whom were or had been chemical weapon-possessor states, and a wide range of other countries where chemical industries were less developed There’s a set of issues which were very much focused on promoting mutual trust and confidence and stability through the destruction of chemical weapons, and also the verification elements which were necessary to go alongside that. Then there are the states-parties’interests which have developed increasingly as we have pursued universality, very successfully I have to say. We now have a very large number of states-parties whose priorities are a bit different to those with traditionally strong chemical sectors. Obviously they attach importance to delivering the core original purpose of the convention, but aspects like cooperation, assistance, protection, and so on, are also particularly important for them. The question therefore for the organization is what is the right balance between these two aspects in terms of the activities of the organization and the secretariat and the resources we’ve got. How does that shift over time?

Your question about the Australia Group: there is, of course, a long-standing debate about the role of cooperative controls on trade in chemicals, just as there is in other areas of proliferation-sensitive materials. We will see what happens in the discussions. I can’t, at the moment, predict what conclusion might be reached about activities such as the Australia Group. It’s important to remember that those who are involved in these particular forms of cooperation see it as an important way of supporting the convention and supporting the disciplines which the convention tries to exercise on proliferation.

ACT: Do you think there will be a debate on provisions in the convention related to trade and dual-use? Do you expect, for example, that the conference will be debating measures to improve the capability of the technical secretariat to monitor such trade and also the issue of trade and Schedule 3 chemicals with non-states-parties?[10]

Parker: All these issues will come up, like the ones you just mentioned. With such a wide pool of states-parties, we have a number of very different interests operating simultaneously. The idea that the convention should be used to facilitate greater chemical development and, if you like, knowledge of the chemical industry in countries where this is not so strong at the moment, is one point of view. The questions about how you regulate trade are quite sensitive for a number of states-parties in both directions. There are those who regard this as an unreasonable restriction on their ability to trade. There are others who regard it as very important for nonproliferation reasons that, for example, trade in dual-use chemicals should be tightly controlled. It’s worth adding that the quality of the information we have about some of this trading is not as good as it, perhaps, could or should be. And there is another debate running about the range of information now available to the organization and how that can be improved.

ACT: There are a number of questions related to verification and adapting the verification regime to new challenges. These relate to rebalancing the inspection resources between monitoring destruction and proliferation[11]and then also within the industry verification regime, focusing more on other chemical production facilities (OCPFs).[12] What’s your sense of discussion on these issues in the open-ended working group? Do you expect substantive readjustments and what kind of guidance can be given to the technical secretariat on these questions?

Parker: Well, there is a debate on this with different points of view. Those who are concerned about the burdens of inspections on their chemical industries, and those who regard the main priority of the organization as being looking at the areas of highest traditional chemical weapons risk, have one point of view. On the other hand, other states-parties point to the very large scale now of OCPF plants around the world and the relatively small proportion of inspection resources which are devoted to them, and argue that we ought to be shifting the balance slowly but steadily to provide better assurance of what’s going on in OCPF sites. The director-general has made some moves in the direction of trying to make it possible for there to be better coverage incrementally of OCPFs in terms of site selection and so on.[13] It is within the normal business of the organization and a lively issue, which is subject to a lot of discussion. I’m sure it will be reflected in the review conference as well. We’ll have to see what emerges. But in logical terms, with the size of the global chemical industry, which is mostly not necessarily producing Schedule 1, 2 and 3 chemicals, there is a big disproportion at the moment between the inspection efforts devoted specifically to scheduled chemicals and the inspection effort devoted to OCPFs. We’ll have to see how this balance eventually comes out.

ACT: If you’re really optimistic, what actions do you think states-parties would be able to take at the review conference to strengthen the Chemical Weapons Convention? What’s your best-case assumption for the meeting? What would you like to see coming out of this?

Parker: Again, I hesitate to try and predict what a large number of states-parties will do. You have to also remember that the discussion so far in the open-ended working group are among a relatively limited number of states-parties, the ones who are routinely involved in the work of the convention. But when we come to the review conference itself, we have a much larger number of states-parties present, and certainly I lack the personal experience to judge what an influence that may have on the final outcome.

I hope that we will have, first of all, a relatively positive assessment of what has been achieved over the last five years. I think a lot of good work has been done. I think the extent to which we have moved toward universality over that period is quite remarkable and that although there is work still to be done there, we can see where the end of the road leads us, so to speak, and there will be further action in that area.

There is much still to be done in terms of national implementation, we’re all aware of that, but there too the record of the last few years has been one of steady improvement.[14] There is more to be done and perhaps more that can be done there to assist states-parties that need help with national implementation, either from the technical secretariat or bilateral assistance from other states-parties. We will need to look at some of the issues which relate to scientific and technical progress. I think there will be a lively debate about areas of cooperation, assistance and protection and those kinds of things. For the reasons we talked about when we discussed what might happen about 2012, I think that it would be easier to reach conclusions about managing 2012, however it turns out, nearer the time than now. We’ll have to see, obviously, what states-parties wish to do when we come to the conference itself.

I hope that we will also be able to look beyond whenever destruction takes place, hopefully by 2012, and look a little toward the longer-term future of the organization. We haven’t mentioned some other aspects like the part the organization can play in relation to the risks of terrorist and other uses of toxic chemicals, but that’s also a subject that’s under discussion and will definitely come up in the review conference. I hope that we will come out with a positive balance sheet about the past, and a number of forward-looking conclusions which will help move the organization forward over the next few years. There is a lot to be done in the next few years and it’s important that we have the focus and the resources to do it, and the commitment to do it. I don’t doubt, as I said at the beginning, the strong sense of common purpose there is in this organization to achieve what the treaty requires of us.

ACT: Thank you very much.


1. On Nov. 19, at a meeting hosted by OPCW, NGO representatives were able to present their recommendations for the second review conference to CWC states-parties. ACA’s presentation to that meeting can be found at

2. The Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) consists of 25 scientists, appointed by the director-general in consultation with states-parties. The SAB gives advice to states-parties and the OPCW on scientific and technologic developments relevant to the CWC.

3. In April 2002, OPCW Director-General José Bustani was voted out of office by CWC parties. The United States’ push for Bustani’s removal was based on mismanagement charges but the decision proved to politically divisive among CWC members. (See ACT, May 2002.)

4. The convention requires states-parties to destroy their chemical weapons by 2007, 10 years after the CWC’s entry into force. It is possible to request an extension of this destruction deadline by up to five years, until 2012. The conference of states-parties on December 8, 2006, approved requests for extensions of the final date for the destruction of the declared chemical weapons stockpiles. The following deadlines for complete destruction are now binding: India—April 28, 2009; Libya—December 31, 2010; Russia—April 29, 2012; South Korea—December, 31, 2008; the United States—April 29, 2012. Washington has recently admitted that complete destruction is unlikely to be completed before 2023, and it appears unlikely that Moscow can keep its promise to destroy its stocks by 2012. (See ACT, January/February 2007.)

5. Article VIII.12 of the CWC provides for the possibility of a special session of the conference of states-parties to be convened, outside the regular annual cycle of such meetings.

6. At the the first review conference, the United States asserted that more than a dozen countries possess or are actively pursuing chemical weapons. It voiced specific concerns about the compliance of Iran and Sudan, which are members of the CWC as well as non-members Libya, North Korea and Syria. The 2005 State Department report on “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments” raises compliance concerns regarding China, Iran, Russia, North Korea and Syria. Libya acceeded to the CWC in 2004, North Korea and Syria are non-signatories.

7. Article VI of the CWC gives states-parties the right to maintain toxic chemicals for purposes not prohibited under the convention, including “law enforcement, including domestic riot control.” Whether the CWC permits the development and use for domestic law enforcement purposes of incapacitating agents with long-lasting effects, in addition to riot-control agents with transient effects, such as CS tear gas, is a matter of intense debate (see next endnote).

8. Such a proposal for a working group that would report back to states-parties on the issue of non-lethal and incapacitating agents is made by Oliver Thränert and Jonathan B. Tucker, "Freeing the World of Chemical Weapons. The Chemical Weapons Convention at the Ten-Year Mark," SWP-Studie RP 8, Berlin: Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, July 2007. Others have proposed to change the CWC through an amendment or additional protocol in order to clarify which incapacitating agents are prohibited as riot control agents. See Kyle M. Ballard: “Convention in Peril? Riot Control Agents and the Chemical Weapons Ban”, Arms Control Today, September 2007.

9. Established in 1985, the Australia Group is a voluntary, informal, export-control arrangement through which 40 countries, as well as the European Commission, coordinate their national export controls to limit the supply of chemicals and biological agents as well as related equipment, technologies, and knowledge-to countries and nonstate entities suspected of pursuing chemical or biological weapons (CBW) capabilities.

10. Article VI of the CWC specifies a number of restrictions on trade, keyed to the treaty's three schedules of chemicals (see endnote 12). With the entry into force of the convention in April 1997, transfers to non-states-parties of the chemical warfare agents and precursors listed on Schedule 1 were banned immediately, and trade with non-states-parties in chemicals listed on Schedule 2 have been prohibited since April 2000. In 2003 the OPCW Conference of the States-Parties to the CWC considered a possible ban on exports to non-states-parties of Schedule 3 chemicals but could not agree by consensus. At present, the CWC allows exports of Schedule 3 chemicals to non-states-parties only if the recipient provides an end-use certificate clarifying the intended use and pledging not to make any further transfers. See Jonathan B. Tucker, "Strengthening the CWC Regime for Transfers of Dual-Use Chemicals," The CBW Conventions Bulletin, Vol. 75, March 2007, pp. 1-7.

11. In 2006, 57% of all inspections were related to chemical weapons destruction, the other 43% were industry inspections to confirm non-production of chemical weapons. “Report of the OPCW on the Implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction in 2006”, OPCW, Conference of States Parties, Twelfth Session, C-12/6, 5 – 9 November 2007, The Hague: 6 November 2007, p. 8.

12. The CWC verification system is based on three “schedules,” or lists of toxic chemicals and their precursors that have been developed and manufactured in the past for military purposes. Schedule 1 consists of chemical warfare agents and precursors that have no significant commercial applications, although they may be synthesized in small quantities for scientific research, pharmaceutical development, or chemical defense. Schedule 2 lists toxic chemicals and precursors that have commercial applications in small quantities. Schedule 3 contains toxic chemicals and precursors that have commercial applications in large quantities. The primary focus of routine inspections of the chemical industry under the CWC is on declared production facilities that manufacture the dual-use chemicals listed on Schedules 2 or 3. In recent years, however, the advent of small, multipurpose chemical-production facilities has made the batch synthesis of organic (carbon-based) compounds more automated and flexible. Such multipurpose plants, which constitute a fraction of the category of Other Chemical Production Facilities (OCPFs), are potentially easier to divert to chemical weapons production than large, inflexible facilities that produce specific scheduled chemicals. As of November 2006, 77 member states had declared a total of 5,225 OCPFs, or more than five times the number of declared facilities that produce Schedule 1, 2, and 3 chemicals. (See ACT, January/February 2007.)

13. The OPCW’s Technical Secretariat has recently modified the OCPF site-selection algorithm. The revised methodology will be applied as of January 1, 2008, in order to increase the number of inspections at OCPF’s.

14. More than 100 states-parties have not yet notified the OPCW of the actions taken to implement Article VII in order to incorporate the CWC prohibitions into national law.