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former IAEA Director-General

Chemical Weapons

North Korea’s Other Weapons of Mass Destruction

Why Pyongyang’s chemical weapons also require attention.


September 2018
By Cristina Varriale

Although its nuclear and missile programs are frequently in the headlines, North Korea’s other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and their role in Pyongyang’s security strategies draw less discussion and analysis.

A South Korean rescue team wearing chemical protective suits participates in an anti-terror drill as part of a disaster management exercise at the COEX shopping and exhibition center in Seoul on May 20, 2016. (Photo: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)Expanding analysis to include a consideration of North Korea’s chemical weapons capabilities allows for a better understanding of the doctrine around its unconventional weapons and thus for development of more tailored policies to deal with the WMD threats and risks they pose.

North Korea has never confirmed publicly that it maintains a chemical weapons stockpile, although the U.S. government and others have long assessed that Pyongyang has a variety of lethal chemical agents and related missile and artillery delivery systems. In 1989, Pyongyang signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons in warfare but does not ban production or stockpiling. North Korea signed that accord with reservations, outlining its right to dismiss the protocol in the case of another party that violates the use prohibition. North Korea has not joined the more comprehensive 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which extends the prohibition to include production and stockpiling.

In considering North Korea’s strategic drivers, three main elements are common throughout its history: deterrence and reunification, which are recognized as supporting the principal goal of protecting national sovereignty, and survival.1 There has been much debate on the role of nuclear weapons in this context but much less focus on the role of chemical weapons.

By developing a long-range nuclear capability and maintaining regional WMD assets, Pyongyang is able to take advantage of a difference between the United States and South Korea in calculation of strategic risks. A key South Korean security concern, as it relates to North Korea, is the use of conventional and WMD capabilities with regional ranges. U.S. officials, as North Korea’s long-range missile program develops, will have an increasing interest in protecting the continental United States, which may include a lessened desire to retaliate on behalf of South Korea. Such a divergence of strategic interests could weaken the U.S.-South Korean alliance and thus reduce the adversarial risk to Pyongyang, a motivation for North Korea to pursue capabilities that can achieve this result.

North Korea’s strategic goals have also been shaped by founder Kim Il Sung’s vision of leadership over a unified Korea and the use of military force to achieve it.2 This thinking is often used to understand the role of nuclear weapons under Kim Jong Un, the late Kim’s now-ruling grandson. Such a goal could be pursued through military actions or coercion under the shadow of nuclear weapons. Although the latter is not explicitly referenced in current North Korean discourse,3 it should not be assumed to be absent from the regime’s internal thinking.

Yet, the goal of reunification in the South Korean soldiers take part in a chemical weapons drill during a military exercise in Seoul on July 28, 2010. (Photo: Park Ji-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images)short term likely has declined. The same may be true of the long-term vision, although reunification remains imbedded in North Korea’s Constitution and the North Korean psyche. At the same time, given the economic and military buildup in South Korea and increased U.S. military presence in the region, the North’s worry about a potential territorial attack has increased, likely elevating deterrence for regime survival above reunification. This does not equate to a renunciation of reunification but does suggest a shift in strategic priorities, especially in the short to medium term, that prioritizes nuclear weapons.

The two overarching elements of North Korean strategic thinking—deterrence and reunification—are used to support the enduring goal of regime survival. Beyond repelling external efforts to remove the regime, it also encompasses the elimination of internal threats, economic development, and, secondarily, reunification.4 The three strategic priorities are interlinked; deterring adversaries helps preserve the regime, which is key for any possibility of reunification.

These strategic motivations have driven consecutive North Korean leaders to pursue asymmetric military assets. Given the great asymmetric value of nuclear weapons in relation to conventional military threats on the peninsula and the option of balancing perceived nuclear threats from the United States, these capabilities have visibly taken priority.

Understanding strategic goals in the context of North Korean priorities in the past, present, and future is important for understanding the role played by weapons of mass destruction. As the nuclear capability has advanced, it is worthwhile to consider what this means, if anything, for North Korea’s chemical weapons capabilities.

History of Chemical Weapons

Although North Korea’s chemical capabilities briefly hit the headlines in 2017 following the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of Kim Jong Un, there has been concern for decades about North Korean chemical weapons efforts.

In 1961, Kim Il Sung’s “declaration of chemicalization” formally initiated a dual-use chemical industry in North Korea.5 The declaration came at a time when the North was attempting to recover from the Korean War, investing heavily in agricultural and industrial development,6 as well as seeking to expand military capabilities to support opportunities for reunification by force and to defend against similar attempts from the South.

By 1979, a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency assessment reported that North Korea had acquired a defensive chemical capability.7 This assessment coincided with a 1980 statement reportedly made by Kim Il Sung to the Korean Worker's Party Central Military Committee that “poison gas” would be effective for use in combat,8 boasting that North Korea had “succeeded in producing poisonous gas and bacterial weapons through our own efforts supported by Soviet scientists in the field.”9

Information on how such activities have continued to evolve is sparse. Assessments relating to the North’s chemical weapons stockpile suggest that Pyongyang has developed chemical capabilities across a spectrum—vesicants, nerve, cyanogen, and choking agents.10 Arguably the most publicly visible of these has been nerve agents, not only appearing in the Kim Jong Nam assassination but also featuring in Chinese media reports that suggested a detected leak of sarin.11 Defector testimonies have also included accounts of prisoners being victims of chemical testing.12 Such defector accounts should be read with caution in terms of reliability, but not disregarded.

Amid evidence that chemical weapons capability exists, stockpile estimates vary, with a range of 2,000 to 5,000 tons of agent. A 2009 report noted that there had been no indication of growing storage facilities that would be necessary in the case of an expanding chemical arsenal and estimated that 2,000 to 3,000 tons of agent would be sufficient to significantly impact a war with the South.13 The South Korean Ministry of National Defense has cited similar stockpile estimates since 2008, with a relatively consistent but broad range of 2,500 to 5,000 tons of agent.14 It is widely assumed that North Korea can deliver chemical weapons via a range of systems, including artillery, multiple rocket launchers, ballistic missiles, and aircraft.

Although there is little doubt that North Korea has produced chemical weapons, a comprehensive and public understanding of the current condition of inventories and infrastructure is limited, with some analysts citing the capability as aging and rudimentary.

In his 2015 New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un highlighted the chemical industry as an area of potential for North Korean growth and independence. In 2017 and 2018, he referenced the chemical industry as successful and expanding. Given the dual-use nature of chemical production, assessing the facilities for weapons production through open sources is challenging.

There is a widespread belief that North Korea was behind the 2017 assassination of Kim Jong Nam at a Malaysian airport by attackers using VX, an extremely potent nerve agent. The nature of the attack challenges the assumption that North Korea is technically limited to producing rudimentary unitary munitions; two perpetrators used cloths to smear a substance on Kim Jong Nam’s face. It is unclear whether both cloths contained the same substance, providing a double dose for increased lethality, but each cloth may have been dowsed with a corresponding binary agent. (With a binary agent, the two components become lethal only when combined.)

Nerve agents are especially sensitive to impurities and thus prone to instability. The higher the quality, the more stable and thus the longer the shelf life. Applying this to the Kim Jong Nam case, the agent used was produced relatively recently or was of a high quality. Either of these possibilities would refute claims that North Korea only possesses degraded or rudimentary chemical capabilities.

A recent U.S. Department of Defense report on North Korea states that although the investigation of the assassination is ongoing, evidence supporting North Korea’s role would demonstrate that North Korea has a chemical weapons stockpile from a long-standing chemical weapons program.15 This case alone cannot confirm whether this agent was syphoned from a military-scale program or stockpile or was produced in a small quantity for this specific act. The agent used may not have been produced via the same program that supports a broader military chemical weapons development. The assassination was likely orchestrated by special operations personnel, potentially requiring separate production of the nerve agent in a small quantity.

Role of Chemical Weapons

Despite the focus on the nuclear weapons program to strengthen deterrence and support regime survival, chemical weapons likely continue to have value for the Kim regime. Historically, chemical weapons most likely filled a deterrence gap prior to the development of an adequate nuclear capability.16 Some scholars have observed that the threat of U.S. nuclear use in the Korean War helped drive the desire for a chemical capability; although acquisition of nuclear weapons was probably a long-term aspiration for Kim Il Sung, chemical weapons were recognized as a weapon of mass destruction that could provide deterrence as well.17

With the Korean War still very much in recent memory, Kim Il Sung focused on bolstering the military capabilities necessary for reunification of the peninsula. There have been allegations that the United States during the war used biochemical weapons against the North. To be able at least to respond in kind to such capabilities in any future military conflict, the Kim Il Sung regime believed it would need to develop WMD capabilities to successfully reunify the peninsula. With the military alliance of the United States and South Korea developing at a rate that North Korea could not match conventionally, chemical weapons could have provided an appropriate asymmetric capability less costly than nuclear weapons and that could be developed quickly with help from allies such as the Soviet Union, China, and East Germany.

A key change came in the early 1990s, following the U.S. Operation Desert Storm against Iraq. Pyongyang likely concluded from observing that event that chemical weapons could not sufficiently deter U.S. military intervention, something only a nuclear arsenal could achieve. This shift has resulted in nuclear weapons becoming North Korea’s main tool of deterrence today.

Still, chemical weapons have not become redundant or irrelevant for North Korean deterrence or its strategic thinking more broadly. Such weapons contribute to asymmetric capabilities, especially early in a conflict where a move to nuclear weapons use might be too rapid an escalation, but asymmetric tactics are required for defensive protection or offensive gain.

It has been Kim Jong Un’s intention to strengthen the asymmetric strategy of North Korea,18 and chemical weapons continue to act as a conventional-force multiplier. Chemical weapons likely would be used to hinder the movement in war of the adversary’s conventional land forces. Despite much superior conventional strength, South Korean and U.S. armed forces would be hindered for three reasons. First, chemical weapons use could deny or delay access to key areas crucial for the forward movement of on-peninsula forces, as well as to key ports needed for incoming support. Second, it would slow hostile forces by forcing them to operate in chemical protection suits. Third, it would add complexity to the military engagement because it would be impossible to distinguish between incoming conventional and chemical warheads.

The deterrence role of chemical weapons persists given the uncertainty about North Korea’s military capabilities. The ambiguity can play to North Korea’s favor by complicating an adversary’s calculus. Chemical weapons continue to back up North Korea’s conventional capabilities and underpin the nuclear deterrent through increasing the risks associated with military action to overthrow the regime. By complicating how a military scenario on the Korean peninsula could play out, chemical weapons increase the risks associated with military action and contribute to calculus against this option, thus assisting in the preservation of the regime.

Further, chemical weapons have a role for the regime in sustaining international relationships and revenue generation. Maintaining a chemical program allows North Korea to retain marketable proliferation skills and assets. A recent notable example was the 2016 visit of a North Korean technical delegation to Syria. The visit included the transfer of special resistance valves and thermometers that are known for use in chemical weapons programs.19

Although this is likely a secondary benefit of chemical weapons capabilities, it brings added value and justification for maintaining chemical weapons even as the nuclear program has grown. Proliferation of chemical weapons-related equipment and know-how will continue to be a valuable asset for North Korea, particularly if the international norms against use of such weapons continue to erode, as seen in Syria.

Despite recent diplomatic developments, North Korea has not moved formally to rollback its nuclear capability. The prospect of complete North Korean nuclear disarmament seems implausible. For North Korea’s leadership, chemical weapons alone do not have a strong enough deterrent value to provide assurance of regime survival. Nuclear weapons have not made a military chemical weapons capability redundant; a military chemical weapons program will likely continue to be maintained at least as an insurance policy against attack by superior conventional forces.

Asymmetric Advantages

Arms control discussions that focus on just one of these capabilities might not be able to lead to the removal of other types of weapons of mass destruction. Given the differing but complimentary roles of chemical and nuclear capabilities, approaching North Korea with the idea of limiting or removing these capabilities together, as some U.S. officials have proposed,20 likely would not produce fruitful results. An approach to remove both or signal an intent to remove one and then the other without significant shifts in the security context would make North Korea reluctant to engage.

Even if the current dialogue around the nuclear program can produce tangible results in at least capping the nuclear program, the opportunity for including chemical weapons will be low. North Korea has consistently maintained that it does not possess a chemical weapons program and to shift to a position of acknowledgment and a willingness to limit these capabilities will only be possible with a dramatic shift in the security environment in which North Korea sees itself and as part of a much longer-term strategy.

To limit the threat from the possession of chemical weapons in the more immediate term, policymakers must focus on two main areas. First, a priority should be to continue to engage with North Korea to reduce hostilities, thus weakening the potential for military action on the peninsula. This is where risk reduction of chemical and nuclear weapons indirectly ties together. It is widely acknowledged that any conflict on the Korean peninsula would be devastating, but inclusion of chemical weapons use would have broad implications for the international nonuse norms that have been built since the opening for signature of the CWC. Making sure the nonuse norm does not have another arena for degradation will be vital.

Second, the international community should work to ensure the chemical norm does not further erode outside of the Korean peninsula and should attempt to restore it in light of events in Syria. Getting Pyongyang to agree and explicitly commit to no onward proliferation for chemical weapons is unlikely. If the premise is accepted that much of North Korea’s onward proliferation is driven economically at least in part, reinstating the norm against chemical weapons could help reduce the risks of North Korea’s chemical program by stemming the demand side of the equation. Recent initiatives to expand the scope of investigations by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons should be the start of the normative shift back toward nonuse.
 

ENDNOTES

1.  Victor D. Cha, “North Korea’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: Badges, Shields or Swords?” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 2 (2002): 214.

2. Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, U.S. Department of Defense, “North Korea Country Handbook,” MCIA-2630-NK-016-97, May 1997, p. 43.

3. Léonie Allard, Mathieu Duchâtel, and François Godement, “Pre-empting Defeat: In Search of North Korea’s Nuclear Doctrine,” European Council on Foreign Relations, 2017, p. 5.

4. See Choi Kang and Kim Gibum, “A Thought on North Korea’s Nuclear Doctrine,” The Korean Journal of Defence Analysis, Vol. 29, No. 4 (December 2017): 495-511; Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., “North Korea’s Development of a Nuclear Weapons Strategy,” North Korea’s Nuclear Futures Series, 2015, p. 8, https://www.38north.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/NKNF_Nuclear-Weapons-Strategy_Bermudez.pdf. See also Joel S. Wit and Sun Young Ahn, “North Korea’s Nuclear Futures: Technology and Strategy,” North Korea’s Nuclear Futures Series, 2015, https://38north.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/NKNF-NK-Nuclear-Futures-Wit-0215.pdf.

5. “North Korea’s Chemical and Biological Weapons Programs,” Asia Report, No. 167 (June 18, 2009), p. 5.

6. Bermudez, “North Korea’s Development of a Nuclear Weapons Strategy,” p. 9.

7. “North Korea’s Chemical and Biological Weapons Programs,” p. 6.

8. Ibid., pp. 5–6. The germ weapons reference here refers to North Korea’s biological weapons program, although this capability is not being covered here.

9. “North Korean Security Challenges, A Net Assessment,” IISS Strategic Dossier, July 2011, p. 162.

10. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, “Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 July Through to 31 December 2006,” n.d., https://www.odni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Reports%20and%20Pubs/Acquisition_Technology_Report_030308.pdf; “Chemical Weapons Program,” Globalsecurity.org, n.d., https://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/dprk/cw.htm; Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., “North Korea’s Chemical Warfare Capabilities,” 38 North, October 10, 2013, https://www.38north.org/2013/10/jbermudez101013/.

11. “China Detects Nerve Gas at Its North Korean Border,” The Epoch Times, October 10, 2009.

12. For example, see “Testimony of Ms. Soon Ok Lee,” June 21, 2002, https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/lee_testimony_06_21_02.pdf (before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration hearing titled “Examining the Plight of Refugees: The Case of North Korea”).

13. “North Korea’s Chemical and Biological Weapons Programs,” p. 7.

14. Although these estimates explicitly refer to chemical weapons stockpiles, the information may be skewed by the inclusion of biochemical capabilities.

15. U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: Report to Congress,” 9-6009878, 2017.

16. Bermudez, “North Korea’s Development of a Nuclear Weapons Strategy,” pp. 9–10; Wit and Ahn, “North Korea’s Nuclear Futures,” p. 11.

17. Bermudez, “North Korea’s Development of a Nuclear Weapons Strategy,” p. 10.

18. Seong-Yong Park, “North Korea’s Military Policy Under the Kim Jong-un Regime,” Journal of Asian Public Policy, Vol. 9, No. 1 (2016): 71.

19. UN Security Council, S/2018/171, March 5, 2018.

20.  John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, floated that idea on a CBS “Face the Nation” broadcast July 1, 2018. Hyonhee Shin and Doina Chiacu, “U.S. Has Plan to Dismantle North Korea Nuclear Program Within a Year: Bolton,” Reuters, July 1, 2018.


Cristina Varriale is a research analyst in proliferation and nuclear policy at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.

Posted: September 1, 2018

U.S. Sanctions Russia for CW Use

Russia denies the charge and threatens “countermeasures.”


September 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

U.S. sanctions on Russia for its use of the nerve agent Novichok in an alleged UK assassination attempt took effect in late August, and the Trump administration faces a legal deadline to impose still harsher measures in November.

Yulia Skripal, who was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok along with her father, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, speaks to journalists May 23 in London. The UK and United States blame Russia for the assassination attempt using a banned chemical weapon. (Photo: Dylan Martinez/AFP/Getty Images)U.S. exports to Russia related to national security are banned under the initial sanctions, including gas turbine engines, electronics, integrated circuits, and testing and calibration equipment that were previously allowed on a case-by-case basis. Waivers may be issued for some exports related to space flights and commercial passenger safety.

The United States and United Kingdom say Moscow was behind the poisoning in March of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with the Russian chemical agent in Salisbury in March. (See ACT, April 2018.) “The attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury on March 4, was a reckless display of contempt for the universally held norm against chemical weapons,” said a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, according to Reuters.

The sanctions were triggered by the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Elimination Act of 1991, which stipulates that the United States must apply sanctions within 60 days of determining a country has used chemical weapons. The Trump administration initially missed the act’s deadline. The act has been invoked twice previously, in response to Syria’s chemical weapons use in 2013 and a fatal 2017 chemical poisoning in Malaysia attributed to North Korea. (See ACT, April 2017.)

Many of the goods sanctioned in August were already banned by military- and security-related sanctions, but the United States in November likely will impose more powerful sanctions. Under the law, Russia will face additional penalties unless it provides reliable assurances that it is no longer using chemical weapons, will not do so in the future, and will allow international inspectors to verify its assurances.

Russia is unlikely to comply with these demands given its repeated denial of use or recent possession of chemical weapons. Some options for additional sanctions include targeting multilateral bank assistance to Russia, U.S. bank loans to the Russian government, or aircraft landing rights.

In an Aug. 10 phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov again denied his country’s use of chemical weapons and rejected the sanctions, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. Russia will “consider countermeasures to this most recent unfriendly move by Washington,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Aug. 9.

 

Posted: September 1, 2018

Timeline of Syrian Chemical Weapons Activity, 2012-2018

June 2018

Contact: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, 202-463-8270 x107; Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, 202-463-8270 x102.

Updated: June 2018

In July 2012, Syria publicly acknowledged that it possesses chemical weapons. For a number of years preceding this announcement, the U.S. intelligence community assessed that Syria has a stockpile of chemical weapons, including blister agents such as mustard gas, and nerve agents such as sarin and VX. Syria has the capability to deliver these agents using aerial bombs, ballistic missiles, and artillery rockets. An Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN joint investigative team found Syria and the Islamic State responsible for numerous chemical weapons attacks in Syria over the past several years.

Below is a timeline of significant events related to Syria’s chemical weapons program from July 2012 to the present.

Skip to: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018

2012

July 23, 2012: Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi confirmed for the first time that Syria has chemical weapons, stating that these weapons would never be used against the Syrian people, but only against “external aggression.”

August 20, 2012: President Barack Obama articulated his red-line regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Obama said his calculations on a military response would change significantly if the United States sees “a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”

August 23, 2012: An official in the State Department confirmed that “Syria has a stockpile composed of nerve agents and mustard gas” and that the U.S. government monitors Syria’s chemical weapons activities “very closely.”

December 23, 2012: The first allegation of  chemical weapons use was reported. Seven people were allegedly killed in Homs by a “poisonous gas” used by the Assad regime. The coverage included the report of side effects such as nausea, relaxed muscles, blurred vision, and breathing difficulties.

2013

January 15, 2013: A secret State Department cable from the U.S. consul general in Istanbul said there was compelling evidence that the Syrian military had used a chemical weapon known as Agent 15 in Homs on December 23, 2012.

January 16, 2013: Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said that the alleged incident of chemical weapons use in December was not consistent with information that the White House has about Syria’s chemical weapons program.

March 19, 2013: Alleged chemical weapons attacks were reported in Syria’s two main cities, the Khan al-Assel neighborhood of Aleppo and the Damascus suburb of al-Atebeh. About 25 people reportedly were killed and dozens more injured. The Assad regime claimed that Syrian opposition forces used chemical weapons in the fighting there.

March 20, 2013: The Syrian government requested the United Nations conduct an investigation of the March 19 attack on Aleppo, claiming that opposition forces used chemical weapons and killed 25 people.

President Obama said in a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that “the use of chemical weapons is a game changer,” in Syria.

March 21, 2013: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the United Nations will conduct an investigation on the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Prior to the announcement, France and the United Kingdom sent letters to the Secretary-General, calling for investigations into three alleged incidents of the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

March 24, 2013: Syrian opposition activists reported that Syrian forces used chemical weapons from multiple rocket launchers at the town of Adra, northeast of Damascus, alleging two deaths and 23 injuries. Doctors described that the weapons used were phosphorus bombs that harm the nervous system and induce imbalance and loss of consciousness.

April 13, 2013: Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that the Syrian army dropped two gas bombs on rebel-controlled Aleppo, killing two people and wounding 12. Opponents of the Syrian government accused the army of using chemical weapons.

April 17, 2013: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that Syria has impeded the UN investigation by failing to agree to the scope of the UN inquiry on chemical weapons use.

April 25, 2013: A letter sent to Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) from the U.S. intelligence community said that the Assad regime may have used the nerve agent sarin “on a small scale” in Syria, but that the United States needs more evidence to provide “some degree of certainty” for any decision-making on further action. The letter also said that the Assad regime maintains custody of the chemical weapons in Syria.

April 26, 2013: President Obama remarked that the United States and the international community will work together to gain “strong evidence” of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.

April 29, 2013: A helicopter dropped canisters allegedly containing chemical weapons on the town of Saraqeb. Eight people claimed symptoms such as nausea and breathing problems, and one of them later died.

June 4, 2013: French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius asserted that there was “no doubt” that the Syrian regime used sarin in multiple cases. Fabius said that the French government confirmed the use of sarin by testing specimen taken from Syria. A UN report also said that there are “reasonable grounds” to have confidence in Syria’s use of chemical weapons four times in March and April, although the report cannot specify the chemical agents or verify who used them.

June 13, 2013: The White House said that the U.S. intelligence community has “high confidence” that the Assad regime attacked opposition forces by using chemical weapons multiple times over the past year. In the statement, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said that physiological samples from multiple sources show exposure to chemical weapons. The evidence of use is recognized as “credible” in the statement.

August 14, 2013: Assad agreed to allow the UN inspection team into Syria to investigate three possible uses of chemical weapons. The team’s mandate only allows it to establish whether or not chemical weapons were used, not who used them.

August 21, 2013: Syrian opposition activists claimed that a large-scale chemical weapons attack occurred at the suburbs of the Ghouta region, where Syrian forces had been attempting to expel rebel force. Reports said that thousands of victims of the attack have been counted in the Damascus suburbs, whose symptoms were typically body convulsion, forming from mouths, blurry vision and suffocation. Although the number of victims has not been clarified yet, it is estimated to exceed 1,000 people, many of whom were non-combatant.

The United Nations Security Council also held an emergency meeting regarding the attack. The meeting produced a statement demanding further clarity of the incident.

August 23, 2013: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson expressed the intention of the UN to conduct “a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation” on the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria on August 21.

The OPCW Director General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, expressed grave concerns about the latest attack in Syria, and said that the OPCW experts were already in Syria with the UN investigation team.

August 25, 2013: The Syrian regime announced that it will let the UN inspection team investigating past incidents of chemical weapons use visit the Damascus sites in the following days.

August 26, 2013: The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in his press briefing that all information the U.S. has, including reports of the number of victims, their symptoms, and the firsthand accounts from humanitarian organizations, strongly indicate that chemical weapons were used in Syria. He also said that Syria attempted to cover-up the incident in the days following the attack.

Syrian President Bashar Assad announced that his army did not use chemical weapons in the August 21 attack in Damascus. Assad recognized the allegation of his use of chemical weapons as “politically motivated," in his meeting with Russia's Izvestia daily.

A convoy transporting the UN investigation team of chemical weapons was attacked by snipers in Syria. No UN personnel were injured, but they were unable to visit all of the sites affected by the attack.

August 28, 2013: The United States has concluded that the Assad regime conducted chemical weapons attacks against civilians, President Obama said in “PBS NewsHour.” Obama said he had not yet made a decision whether to take a military action in Syria.

A second UN Security Council meeting was held.

August 29, 2013: The British Parliament voted against supporting military action in Syria. Before the vote, a report from the Joint Intelligence Committee released a report which stated that chemical weapons were used in the August 21 attach, and that it was "highly likely" that the Assad regime was responsible.

August 30, 2013: The White House released the U.S. Government Assessment on the use of chemical weapons in Syria on August 21. The report says that the intelligence community has "high confidence" that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against the opposition elements in Damascus. Secretary Kerry, in an address, also said that the regime used chemical weapons "multiple times" over the past year. Kerry said discussions on military action are underway. The U.S. Government Assessment included this map of Damascus and the areas impacted by the alleged August 21 chemical weapons attack.

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August 31, 2013: President Obama made a statement saying that he would seek an authorization for the use of force from Congress for a limited military strike in Syria. Given the evidence of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime in the August 21 attack, Obama said he supported limited action in order to deter further chemical weapons use and uphold international norms.

September 2, 2013: France released its declassified intelligence assessment, which concluded that the Assad regime used Sarin gas in the August 21 attack, and in two earlier attacks in April. The report also said France assessed that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime violated the 1925 Geneva Protocol.

September 9, 2013: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced a Russian proposition whereby Syria would agree to place its chemical weapons under international control and dismantle them and the United States would agree not to conduct a military strike on the country. Prior to the Russian announcement, Secretary of State Kerry, speaking in the United Kingdom, suggested that if the Assad regime turned over all of its chemical weapons to the international community "without delay", a military strike could be averted. Speaking to media outlets after Secretary Kerry, President Barack Obama said that the United States would consider the plan.

September 10, 2013: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said that the Assad regime welcomed discussion on Russia's plan to give up Syria's chemical weapons and join the Chemical Weapons Convention. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, and British Prime Minister David Cameron discussed how to implement the plan through the UN Security Council, with France beginning to draft a resolution based on the Russian proposal, but with stipulations that force be authorized if Assad fails to implement the provisions of the resolution.

President Obama, in an address to the nation, also requested that Congress postpone a vote on the use of force while the diplomatic path proposed by the Russians is pursued in the UN Security Council. However, he also reiterated his commitment to pursue military action if a deal on securing Syria's chemical weapons is not reached.

September 12, 2013: The Assad regime sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary General which said that Assad signed a legislative decree providing the accession of Syria to the Chemical Weapons Convention. In the letter, Assad said Syria would observe its CWC obligations immediately, as opposed to 30 days from the date of accession, as stipulated in the treaty.

In Geneva, Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, to begin discussions of the Russian proposal for securing the Assad regime's chemical weapons.

September 14, 2013: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached an agreement on a detailed plan for the accounting, inspection, control, and elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons. The plan requires Syria to provide a full declaration of its stockpile “within a week” and provide the OPCW and the UN access to all chemical weapons sites in Syria. The plan calls for the OPCW inspectors  to complete their initial inspections by November and calls for the destruction of the stockpile of chemical weapons and chemical agents by the first half of 2014. The United States and Russia secured approval of the plan by the OPCW executive council and then a UN Security Council resolution. The agreement outlined states that “in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

September 16, 2013: UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon delivered a report on the UN investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The report concluded that chemical weapons were used against on August 21 on a "relatively large scale", and that the victims included civilians. The report cited evidence of the nerve agent sarin both in the environment and present in victims of the attack. It was outside of the report's mandate to assign blame for who used the chemical weapons.

September 20, 2013: In accordance with the terms of the agreement negotiated by the United States and Russia, Syria submitted a declaration of its stockpiles of chemical weapons to the OPCW.

September 27, 2013: The Executive Council of the OPCW adopted a timeline for destroying Syria's chemical weapons. Hours later, the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution that endorses the OPCW timeline for destroying Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. The Security Council Resolution says that the body will impose measures under Chapter VII of its charter if Syria does not comply with the resolution, or uses or authorizes the transfer of any chemical agents.

October 1, 2013: A joint team of OPCW and UN officials arrived in Syria to begin destruction of the country's chemical weapons stockpiles and facilities.

October 6, 2013: Officials from the OPCW and UN team said that destruction of Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons began. The officials confirmed that the Syrians will actually complete the destruction work, while the UN and OPCW team will monitor and verify the activities.

October 27, 2013: Syria submitted the details of its plans for "total and verified destruction" of its chemical weapons stockpile and production facilities to the OPCW. This declaration follows an initial declaration submitted on Sept. 20.

October 31, 2013: The OPCW confirmed that Syria destroyed, or rendered inoperable, all of its declared facilities for mixing and producing chemical weapons. The OPCW was able to inspect 21 of the 23 sites where these facilities were housed. The remaining two sites could not be visited due to security concerns, but inspectors said that the equipment was moved out of these sites and destroyed.

November 15, 2013: The OPCW Executive Council approved a plan for the elimination of Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons. The plan call for transporting the weapons outside of Syria and destruction of the chemical agents in a country that has yet to be identified. The "most critical" chemicals are to be transported out of Syria by December 31, 2013 and the remainder by February 5, 2014. The plan calls for the destruction no later than June 30, 2014, and the destruction of certain priority chemicals by March 15, 2014.

The Executive Council also announced that the OPCW was able to verify that 60 percent of Syrian declared, unfilled, munitions for chemical weapons delivery had been destroyed. Syria committed to destroying all of its unfilled munitions by January 31, 2014.

November 30, 2013: The OPCW announced that Syria's chemical weapons will be destroyed on a U.S. ship using hydrolysis. Hydrolysis is a process that breaks down chemical agents using hot water and other compounds to neutralize the agents.

December 12, 2013: The UN team led by Ake Sellstrom investigating incidents of chemical weapons use in Syria issued its final report to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. The report found that chemical weapons were likely used in five of the seven attacks investigated. The nerve agent sarin was likely used in four of the attacks, one of which was the large scale attack on a Damascus suburb in August.

December 31, 2013: Syria missed the deadline for sending all of its chemical weapons out of the country. This deadline was set by a UN Security Council Resolution approved in September.

2014

January 7, 2014: Syria delivered the first load of chemical weapons to its port city Latakia. The chemical weapons were then loaded on a Danish ship that sailed out into international waters. China and Russia are providing protection for the ship, which will eventually transfer the cargo to the US ship, the MV Cape Ray, to be neutralized using hydrolysis.

January 9, 2014: The German government announced its willingness to assist in the disposal of the chemical waste byproduct that will be created from the hydrolysis process.

January 16, 2014: Italian Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said that Gioa Tauro, a port in southern Italy, will be used to transfer Syrian chemical weapons to the US ship, the Cape Ray, that will neutralize the chemicals using hydrolysis.

January 27, 2014: A second shipment of Syrian chemical weapons was loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships at the Syrian port of Lattakia. The U.S. ship that will receive the chemical weapons and then neutralize them using hydrolysis, the Cape Ray, left port. The chemicals will be transferred to the Cape Ray at the Italian port Gioa Tauro.

February 6, 2014: Sigrid Kaag, head of the UN/OPCW mission for destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, addressed the UN Security Council a day after Syria missed a second deadline for handing over its critical chemicals and said that she did not believe that the Assad regime was deliberately stalling the removal process. However, she urged Syria to speed up the shipments in order to meet the destruction deadline of June 30.

February 10, 2014: A third shipment of Syrian chemical weapons was loaded on a Norwegian cargo ship. In total, 11 percent of Syria's chemical weapons were shipped out of Syria.

February 14, 2014: The OPCW announced that two companies, one in Finland (Ekokem OY AB) and one in Texas (Veolia), were awarded contracts to dispose of the effluent created during the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons.

February 21, 2014: The OPCW executive committed met to consider the Assad regime's new proposal for shipping out its chemical weapons. After failing to meet a Feb. 5 deadline to remove all of its chemical weapons and precursor chemicals out of the country, the regime proposed a 100 day extension. The OPCW executive committee, however, said that it can be accomplished more quickly. The 100 day extension also will not allow the Cape Ray enough time to destroy the chemical weapons by the June 30 UN Security Council deadline.

February 25, 2014: The Assad regime delivered a shipment of mustard gas to the Syrian port of Latakia to be loaded onto ships.

March 4, 2014: The Assad regime submitted a revised proposal to remove its chemical weapons from Syria by the end of April 2014. Two additional shipments of chemical weapons also reached the port of Latakia and were loaded onto ships. In total, more than 35% of the country's chemical weapons have been removed.

March 7, 2014: The Executive Council concluded its 75th Session and noted in its report the “increasing pace” of removal of Syria’s chemical stockpile and requested the Syria continue “systematic, predictable and substantial movements” to complete the shipments.

Another shipment of priority 1 chemicals was reached the port of Latakia, bringing the total amount of chemical agents removed from Syria to 29 percent of the total stockpile.

March 19, 2014: The OPCW said that two additional shipments of Priority 1 and Priority 2 chemicals were delivered to the port of Latakia and loaded onto cargo vessels during the past week. Syria has now shipped out more than 45 percent of its stockpile.

April 4, 2014: The 12th shipment of Syrian chemical weapons reached the port of Latakia, according to the OPCW.

April 11, 2014: Reports emerged of an attack using chlorine-gas bombs in Kafr Zita, a village controlled by opposition forces in northwestern Syria.

April 14, 2014: The Syrian government delivered its 13th consignment of chemicals to Latakia, which was removed today from the port on cargo ships. As of this delivery, the OPCW said that the Assad regime has shipped out 65 percent of its total stockpile of chemical weapons, including 57 percent of the Priority 1 chemicals.

April 18, 2014: Additional shipments of chemical weapons reached the port of Latakia between April 14-18. The OPWC said in an April 18 statement that in total, the 16 shipments constitute about 80 percent of Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons.

April 22, 2014: Another shipment reached Latakia port, bringing the total of the chemical weapons stockpile removed from Syria to 86 percent.

April 24, 2014: An additional shipment to Latakia brings the total to 92 percent.

April 29, 2014: The OPCW announced that it would send a team to investigate the April 11 attacks that the Assad regime used chlorine gas.

May 1, 2014: Syria missed the revised deadline to remove all of its chemical weapons stockpile from the country by the end of April. Approximately 8 percent of the stockpile, largely sarin precursor chemicals, remains in Damascus.

June 8, 2014: The Norwegian ship Taiko departed for Finland and the United States to deliver Syrian chemical weapons for destruction.

June 17, 2014: The OPCW's fact finding mission in Syria to investigate the use of chlorine gas concluded that it was used in earlier attacks. The team was unable to visit all of the locations due security issues.

Click image to enlarge.

June 23, 2014: OPCW Director General Uzumcu announced that the last 8 percent of Syria's chemical weapons was shipped out of the country from the port of Latakia on the Danish ship Ark Futura. Uzumcu says the chemicals should be destroyed within four months.

July 2, 2014: Over 600 metric tons of chemical weapons were loaded on to the Cape Ray at the port of Gioia Tauro in Italy.

July 21, 2014: The OPCW announced that all of the chemical weapons have reached the various facilities in Finland, the United States, the United Kingdom, or the Cape Ray for destruction. At the time of the announcement nearly 32 percent of the total stockpiles had been destroyed.

July 24, 2014: The executive council of the OPCW also announced that seven hangars in Syria that were part of the country's chemical weapons will be destroyed and five bunkers will be permanently sealed.

August 13, 2014: The OPCW announced that 581 metric tonnes of a precursor chemical for sarin gas have been neutralized on the Cape Ray. Operations to neutralize the blister agent sulfur mustard have now begun.

August 19, 2014: The Cape Ray completed destruction of 600 metric tons of Syrian chemical weapons and precursor chemicals. The OPCW announced that the ship will now transport the effluent to Finland and Germany for disposal at land-based facilities.

September 10, 2014: The OPCW confirmed that chlorine gas is being used in Syria. While the OPCW did not assign blame for the attacks, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the use of helicopters to drops the chlorine gas "strongly points" to the Assad regime as the perpetrator.

2015

March 6, 2015: The UN Security Council adopted a resolution March 6 condemning the use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria’s civil war and threatening action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if chemical arms are used again.

April 16, 2015: Doctors testified at the UN Security Council about recent chlorine gas attacks in Syria. Human Rights Watch estimated that over 200 were killed by recent chlorine attacks.

May 8, 2015: Reuters reported that the OPCW confirms traces of sarin and VX gas at a military facility in Syria that were not declared. The samples were taken in December and January.

August 7, 2015: Security Council Resolution 2235 was adopted, creating an investigative unit to determine the responsible parties for reported chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

2016

November 6, 2015: A press release from the OPCW fact-finding team claimed with "the utmost confidence" that the Islamic State used sulfur mustard in an attack on August 21, 2015 in Marea, in northern Syria.

January 4, 2016: The OPCW announced in a press release that the last of the Syrian chemical weapons material, 75 cylinders of hydrogen fluoride, had been destroyed by Veolia Environmental Services Technical Solutions.

August 10, 2016: Hospital officials reported a chemical weapons attack using chlorine gas in Aleppo.

August 24, 2016: The third report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was released, finding that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Talmenes in April 2014 and in Sarmin in March 2015. The report found that the Islamic State was responsible for an attack using sulfur mustard in Marea in August 2015.

September 7, 2016: Allegations were made that toxic chemicals, likely chlorine gas, were used in Aleppo. 

October 21, 2016: The OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism issued a report finding that the Syrian regime was responsible for a third attack using chlorine gas in Idlib province on March 16, 2015. 

November 11, 2016: The OPCW Executive Council adopted a decision that condemns the use of chemical weapons in Syria and calls upon parties responsible for use, as identified in the OPCW-UN Joint Investigate Mechanism reports, to desist from further attacks using chemicals. The decision called for additional investigations at Syria at sites identified by the UN-OPCW reports and inspection of facilities in Syria. 

December 13, 2016: Allegations were made that chemical weapons were used in the Islamic State controlled areas of the Hama Governate, northwest of Palmyra. 

2017

April 4, 2017: Chemical weapons were used in an attack that killed dozens of people in Syria's northern Idlib province. Initial reports suggest the attack used sarin gas, a nerve agent. The attack is believed to have been perpetrated by the Syrian government, due to the type of aircraft in the area at the time. The OPCW announced that it is investigating the reports. Syria denied it was responsible. 

April 5, 2017: The UN Security Council called an emergency meeting to discuss the chemical weapons attack in Idlib. 

April 6, 2017: The United States used Tomahawk cruise missiles to target an air base in Syria. The Assad regime is believed to have conducted the April 4 chemical weapons attack from that base.  

April 11, 2017: The United States released a declassified report that confirmed victims were exposed to sarin in the April 4 attack. 

April 12, 2017: Russia vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution that condemned the April 4 chemical attack, called upon Syria to provide full access to investigators, and expressed determination to hold perpetrators accountable. Russia said that blame for the April 4 attack was prematurely attributed to the Assad regime. 

April 19, 2017: The OPCW said there was "incontrovertible" evidence that the April 4 attacks used sarin or a sarin-like substance. 

June 26, 2017: The White House issued a release saying it identified "possible preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime." The statement said that Assad will "pay a heavy price" if he conducts an attack using chemical weapons. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said in a separate statement that by supporting the Assad regime, Russia and Iran would also be accountable for any further use of chemical weapons. 

June 30, 2017: The OPCW-UN fact-finding mechanism confirmed that sarin was used in a chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017.

October 24, 2017: The UN Security Council failed to adopt a resolution to extend the mandate of the OPCW-UN JIM for another year before it expires on November 17. Eleven members voted in favor of the resolution, China and Kazakhstan abstained and Boliva and Russia voted against it. The resolution did not pass because of Russia's veto.

October 26, 2017: The seventh report of the OPCW-UN joint investigative mechanism found the Assad regime guilty of using sarin nerve agent in the April 4 attack in Khan Sheikhoun and the Islamic State responsible for the use of sulfur mustard at Umm Hawsh in September 2016.

November 6, 2017: The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission reported that sarin was more than likely used as a chemical weapon on March 30, 2017 in the south of Ltamenah.

November 8, 2017: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel released a joint statement condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria as described in the seventh JIM report and calling on the UN Security Council to act to continue the investigations. 

November 16, 2017: The mandate of the OPCW-UN JIM, responsible for determining the culpable actor for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, expired after both resolutions introduced at the UN Security Council to extend it failed. The resolution sponsored by the United States received 11 votes in favor, 2 against and 2 abstentions and failed because Russia vetoed it. The Russian resolution received 4 votes in favor, 7 against and 4 abstentions.

November 17, 2017: A UN Security Council resolution introduced by Japan to extend the JIM's mandate for 30 days received 12 votes in favor but failed because of a Russian veto. 

2018

January 23, 2018: France launched the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, a new initiative that seeks to increase information sharing about reported chemical weapons attacks and publically lists individuals and entities sanctioned for their involvement in chemical weapons use. Russia then called a last minute UN Security Council meeting, introducing a new proposal to extend the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM). The United States rebuked the proposal on the grounds that it was merely intended as a distraction from the launch of the new partnership.

February 1, 2018: The third chemical weapon attack in 2018 in Douma, Damascus is reported. The two earlier attacks were reported on January 13 and January 22. Reports assess that chlorine gas was used in all attacks. At a UN Security Council briefing on February 5, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu stated that reports from the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission on these alleged attacks are pending.

April 7, 2018: Reports surfaced of a major chemical weapons attack in Douma, a suburb outside of Damascus, Syria, killing at least several dozen civilians. This followed smaller chlorine gas attacks that were reported in Douma on March 7 and 11. Human Rights Watch has documented 85 chemical weapons attacks since 2013 in Syria. The OPCW announced that its Fact Finding Mission is investigating the incident to determine which chemical weapons may have been used.

April 10, 2018: The UN Security Council voted on three resolutions to address chemical weapons use in Syria. Russia vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution which would have created a UN Independent Mechanism of Investigation with a one-year mandate to investigate the responsible actors for chemical weapons use in Syria. A Russian resolution which would have created a similar body but would have allowed the UN Security Council, not the investigative body, to ultimately determine accountability failed to receive enough votes to pass. A second Russian resolution, which urged the OPCW Fact Finding Mission to investigate the incident and offered Russian military protection for investigators, also failed to receive enough votes to pass. The OPCW had already announced earlier that day that it was planning to deploy a Fact-Finding Mission to Douma. 

April 13, 2018: The UN Security Council met for the fourth time that week to discuss chemical weapons use in Syria. Russia and Bolivia continued to urge the United States against taking unilateral military action as the United States, France and the United Kingdom seemed to make the case for a strike. "Should the United States and our allies decide to act in Syria, it will be in defense of a principle on which we all agree, U.S. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said.

France, the United Kingdom and the United States launched precision strikes on three Syrian chemical weapons facilities. In a televised address to the nation, President Trump explained that the purpose of the strike was to "establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons." He continued "To Iran and Russia, I ask: What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?" Syrian state television reported that its air defense system had shot down 13 of the missiles, although the United States later denied that any missiles had been engaged. Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said in a statement shortly after the announcement of the strike: "We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences."

April 14, 2018: The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission was in Syria investigating the April 7 chemical weapons attack to verify that the attack occurred and to identify which chemical agent was used. 

France released its national assessment of the April 7 chemical weapons attack, concluding that "(i) beyond possible doubt, a chemical attack was carried out against civilians at Douma on 7 April 2018; and (ii) that there is no plausible scenario other than that of an attack by Syrian armed forces as part of a wider offensive in the Eastern Ghouta enclave."

The UN Security Council met to discuss the situation in Syria. The United Kingdom stated that the legal basis for its joint strike was humanitarian intervention. Russia and Bolivia condemned the strike, which they asserted was a violation of the UN Charter. Russia also introduced a draft resolution which condemned "aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic by the US and its allies," but it only received three votes and failed to pass. France, the United Kingdom and the United States announced their intention to introduce a draft resolution on political and humanitarian tracks to resolve the conflict.

April 21, 2018: The OPCW Fact-Finding mission team visited one of the sites in Douma to collect samples for analysis in connection with the April 7 attack. 

May 16, 2018: The OPCW Fact-Finding mission reported that "chlorine, released from cylinders through mechanical impact, was likely used as a chemical weapon on 4 February 2018 in the Al Talil neighborhood of Saraqib."

June 13, 2018: The OPCW Fact-Finding mission reported that sarin was "very likely used as a chemcial weapon" in Ltamenah, Syria on March 24, 2017 and that chlorine was "very likely used as a chemical weapon" at and around Ltamenah Hospital on March 25, 2017.

June 27, 2018: A special session of the OPCW conference of states-parties voted to grant the OPCW the mandate to investigate and attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria confirmed by the Fact-Finding Mission.

Updated by Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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Posted: August 17, 2018

OPCW Granted Mandate to Place Blame

The action seeks to get around Russia’s roadblock at the UN Security Council involving chemical weapons use in Syria.


July/August 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will begin investigating and attributing responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria following an 82–24 vote at a special meeting of OPCW member states on June 26–27 in The Hague.

Ahmet Üzümcü, director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, speaks January 23 in Paris during a French-led meeting of diplomats from countries seeking to identify and punish those responsible for the prohibited use chemical weapons. (Photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images)The United Kingdom and 11 other countries requested the special session in a May 29 letter, and more than 64 countries approved the request in early June. The special session was only the fourth in the organization’s 21-year history. A French-led coalition of 34 countries, which seeks to increase accountability for chemical weapons use, first called for the special session during its May 18 meeting in Paris.

Although the OPCW has been investigating suspected chemical weapons use in Syria through an investigative body called the Fact-Finding Mission, it was not previously mandated to assign blame for attacks. The body that had attributed responsibility, the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), ceased operations after Russia blocked a proposed extension of its UN Security Council mandate last November. (See ACT, December 2017.)

The OPCW mission released a report June 13 determining that chlorine and sarin were very likely used as chemical weapons in Ltamenah, Syria, on March 24 and 25, 2017. “This OPCW report underscores the urgency of establishing, as swiftly as possible, a new mechanism to determine those responsible for these attacks,” the French Foreign Ministry stated in a June 13 press release. A mission report on the use of chemical weapons in an early April 2018 attack in Douma that killed dozens is expected imminently.

Since the breakdown of the JIM, confirmed uses of chemical weapons in Syria have not been attributed. Several attempts in the Security Council to restart independent investigations to assign blame were blocked by Russian vetoes. (See ACT, April 2018.)

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü called the lack of attribution for chemical weapons attacks a “major gap” in a June speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. and earlier in May voiced his support for the OPCW to assume an attribution role.

“Today, there might be good reasons actually to clarify the role of the OPCW itself in terms of attribution once it has the necessary information at its disposal,” he said in a speech in London. “Willful defiance of a valued norm should not be allowed to go unchallenged.”

Once granted the mandate to conduct attribution investigations, the OPCW can transmit its technical findings to the UN Security Council and the OPCW Executive Council for those bodies to take further action to hold perpetrators accountable, Üzümcü said in Washington.

Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s UN ambassador, opposed the decision. “The only legitimate way to re-establish an attribution mechanism is an agreement within the Security Council,” he told reporters on June 13, calling attempts through other forums “illegitimate.”

 

Posted: July 1, 2018

Syria’s CD Presidency Sparks Boycotts

Syria’s CD Presidency Sparks Boycotts

Syria took the helm of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on May 28 under the four-week presidency rotation among member states, sparking boycotts and threatening to unravel recent progress in the long-stalled forum. Syria’s presidency drew anger due to its repeated use of chemical weapons and its past suspected covert nuclear weapons program.

U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood walks out during a statement by Syria at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on May 29 in protest of Syria’s four-week presidency of the body. (Photo: Eric Bridiers/U.S. Mission)The United States attended the plenary meetings, but skipped in protest meetings of the body’s subsidiary bodies and informal consultations called by Syria during its presidency. Some other delegations participated on a reduced level, by sending low-level officials or only listening to the proceedings. The European Union, while stating it regretted Syria’s presidency, stated it still would participate fully in the disarmament body so as not to hamper its work.

Work in the consensus-based CD has been stalled for decades, but there has been recent movement. On Feb. 16, it created five subsidiary bodies to advance different disarmament topics, such as negative security assurances and risk reduction measures. (See ACT, April 2018.)
—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: July 1, 2018

Chemical Weapons: Frequently Asked Questions

June 2018

Contact: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, 202-463-8270 ext. 107; Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, 202-463-8270 ext. 102.

Updated: June 2018

The use and possession of chemical weapons is prohibited under international law. However, several nations continue to maintain active chemical weapons programs, despite a prevailing norm against the use of chemical weapons and international efforts to destroy existing stockpiles.

The following are basic answers to frequently asked questions regarding the different types of chemical weapons and delivery systems, the history of chemical weapons use, international legal regimes that seek to curb the use and stockpiling of chemical weapons, and current efforts to verifiably destroy chemical weapons arsenals.

I. What are chemical weapons?
II. How are chemical weapons delivered?
III.  When have chemical weapons been used?
IV. Are chemical weapons prohibited?
V. Who has chemical weapons?
VI. How are chemical weapons destroyed?

I. What are chemical weapons?

A chemical weapon is any toxic chemical that can cause death, injury, incapacitation, and sensory irritation, deployed via a delivery system, such as an artillery shell, rocket, or ballistic missile. Chemical weapons are considered weapons of mass destruction and their use in armed conflict is a violation of international law.

Primary forms of chemical weapons include nerve agents, blister agents, choking agents, and blood agents. These agents are categorized based on how they affect the human body.

Nerve agents. Generally considered the most deadly of the different categories of chemical weapons, nerve agents – in liquid or gas form - can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Nerve agents inhibit the body’s respiratory and cardiovascular capability by causing severe damage to the central nervous system, and can result in death. The most common nerve agents include Sarin, Soman, and VX.

Blister agents.  Blister agents can come in forms of gas, aerosol, or liquid and cause severe burns and blistering of the skin. They can also cause complications to the respiratory system if inhaled and digestive tract if ingested. Common forms of blister agents include Sulfur Mustard, Nitrogen Mustard, Lewisite and Phosgene Oximine.

Choking agents. Choking agents are chemical toxins that directly attack the body’s respiratory system when inhaled and cause respiratory failure. Common forms of choking agents include phosgene, chlorine, and chloropicrin.

Blood agents. Blood agents interfere with the body’s ability to use and transfer oxygen through the blood stream. Blood agents are generally inhaled and then absorbed into the blood stream. Common forms of blood agents include Hydrogen Chloride and Cyanogen Chloride.

Riot control agents, such as tear gas, are considered chemical weapons if used as a method of warfare. States can legitimately possess riot control agents and use them for domestic law enforcement purposes, but states that are members of the Chemical Weapons Convention must declare what type of riot agents they possess.

II. How are chemical weapons delivered?

A chemical weapon attack occurs in two phases: delivery and dissemination. The delivery phase refers to the launching of the rocket, bomb, or artillery shell. The dissemination phase involves the dispersal of the chemical agent from the weapon.

Chemical weapons can be delivered via a variety of mechanisms including but not limited to; ballistic missiles, air dropped gravity bombs, rockets, artillery shells, aerosol canisters, land mines, and mortars.

Artillery shells are conventional shells that have been converted to disperse chemical weapons. The most traditional delivery vehicle of chemical agents, dispersion occurs through an explosive charge that expels the chemical agent laterally.

Air delivered systems can be deployed via gravity bombs, spray tank, or rockets. Ground detonated and airburst gravity bombs are generally delivered through fixed wing aircraft, while helicopters have been traditionally deployed with spray tanks and rockets.

Ballistic missiles carrying chemical weapons – via a fill tank or sub munitions - utilize an airburst to disperse chemical agents over a broad area.  The use of sub munitions increases the area in which chemical agents can be dispersed. Compared to other delivery systems, ballistic missiles expand the range of targets that combatants can target with chemical weapons. However, the use of explosives to disperse the chemical agent reduces the potency of the weapon in combat situations.

Cruise missiles. Unlike ballistic missiles, which utilize explosives to discharge the agent, cruise missiles can disperse chemical agents in a gradual and controlled fashion.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs are another platform that combatants may utilize to disperse chemical agents. Like cruise missiles, UAVs are ideal platforms for slower dissemination due to controllable speeds, and dispersal over a wide area. UAVs can fly below radar detection and change directions, allowing them to be retargeted during flight.

Dissemination is the most critical phase of a chemical weapon and generally determines its effectiveness. Generally, dissemination has been done via explosives that expel the agent laterally. Other forms of dissemination include aerodynamic dissemination, a non-explosive delivery mechanism that deploys the chemical agent through dispersion lines.

III.  When have chemical weapons been used?

The use of harmful chemicals in warfare, personal attacks, and assassinations dates back centuries, but the rise of industrial production of chemicals in the late 19th century opened the door to more massive use of chemical agents in combat. The first major use of chemicals on the battlefield was in World War I when Germany released chlorine gas from pressurized cylinders in April 1915 at Ypres, Belgium. Ironically, this attack did not technically violate the 1899 Hague Peace Conference Declaration, the first international attempt to limit chemical agents in warfare, which banned only “the use of projectiles the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases.” Historians estimate that, with the introduction of mustard gases in 1917, chemical weapons and agents injured some one million soldiers and killed 100,000 during the 1914-1918 war.

The 1925 Geneva Protocol sought to ban the use of biological and chemical weapons, but many of its signers joined with major reservations. China, France, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom all joined in the 1920s, but Japan did not join until 1970 and the United States until 1975. Between the two world wars, there were a number of reports of use of chemical weapons in regional conflicts: Morocco in 1923-1926, Tripolitania (Libya) in 1930, Sinkiang (China) in 1934, Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935-1940, and Manchuria (China) in 1937-1942. World War II saw no major use of chemical weapons on the battlefield, with the exception of the Sino-Japanese conflict, and both President Franklin Roosevelt and German leader Adolf Hitler had stated publicly that they were personally against the first use of chemical weapons. Germany, however, did use deadly chemicals in the gas chambers of the Holocaust.

Most of the major powers in World War II developed, produced, and stockpiled large amounts of chemical weapons during the war. Since the end of the war in 1945, there have been only sporadic reports of limited use of chemical weapons, including in the Yemen war of 1963-1967 when Egypt bombed Yemeni villages, killing some 1,500 people. The United States heavily used herbicides such as Agent Orange and tear gas in the Vietnam War in the 1960s; although such chemicals are not covered under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), some observers saw this as chemical warfare. Iraq used chemical weapons in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war and against the Kurds in Halabja in 1988. These two cases provoked widespread public opposition to the horrors and indiscriminate nature of deadly chemical agents and certainly helped advance CWC negotiations, which had begun in the early 1980s, to their conclusion in 1992.

For more on the history of chemical weapon use see “Abolishing Chemical Weapons: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities” in November 2010 Arms Control Today.

The use of the nerve agent sarin by the Japanese terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo in June 1994 in Matsumoto, Japan, and again on March 20, 1995, in the Tokyo subway system, killing 19 people and injuring some 5,000, suddenly brought to light the potential threat of nonstate actors intent on using weapons of mass destruction. The first official on-site inspection by the United States of a Russian chemical weapons stockpile in the Kurgan Oblast along the border of Kazakhstan in July 1994 illustrated that Russian chemical weapons arsenals left much to be desired regarding security against theft, diversion, and terrorism.

Iraqi insurgents in recent years have combined tanks of chlorine gas with improvised explosive devices, but with little success. There were reports of the possible limited use of chemical agents by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and by Turkish troops against Kurdish rebels in eastern Turkey, but these allegations remain unproven. In public statements, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda threatened to use nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological weapons.

In Syria, intelligence reports by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France assess that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against opposition forces on numerous occasions since 2012, including an August 2013 attack in Ghouta, outside of Damascus, that killed more than 1,400 people. The UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) has found the Syrian government responsible for numerous chemical weapons attacks, including in April 2014, March 2015, March 2016 and April 2017 and the Islamic State responsible for chemical weapons attacks in August 2015 and September 2016. Reports of chemical weapons use in Syria continue to surface. For a complete timeline of Syrian chemical weapons use see Timeline of Syrian Chemical Weapons Activity, 2012-2018. 

Kurdish and Iraqi military forces claim the Islamic State used chlorine gas in attacks in December 2014 and March 2015 in Iraq, but these accounts have not been verified by the OPCW. 

In February 2017, North Korean agents used VX, a nerve agent, to assassinate Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 

In March 2018, the UK accused Russia of using a Novichok agent to assassinate a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, in the UK.

IV. Are chemical weapons prohibited?

Yes. The horrendous and widespread use of chemical weapons in World War I prompted international efforts to curb the use and production of chemical agents.

The two major protocols that target chemical weapons are the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The former provides the initial international legal framework for controls on the use of chemical weapons, while the latter establishes comprehensive international standards that ban the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, use, transfer, or retention of chemical weapons for all CWC state parties.

1925 Geneva ProtocolSigned in 1925, the Geneva Protocol was drafted and signed at the Conference for the Supervision of the International Trade in Arms and Ammunition, and prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons in the field of conflict.  While it prohibits the use of chemical weapons, the Geneva Protocol does not regulate the production, research or stockpiling of these weapons. It allows nations to reserve the right to retaliate with chemical weapons should it be subject to an adversarial chemical attack. It also does not regulate the use of chemical weapons for internal conflicts. However, over time, through customary international law, it is widely considered applicable to these conflicts as well. Interest in verifiable elimination of existing stockpiles of chemical weapons fueled the push for the more robust CWC in 1993.

Chemical Weapons Convention: The Chemical Weapons Convention is a multilateral treaty that bans the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons and requires all possessor states to destroy their stockpiles safely. Opened for signature in Paris on January 13, 1993, the CWC entered into force in April 29, 1997 and has 193 members, including Palestine. Currently one nation– Israel– has signed but not ratified the treaty, while three nations (Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan) have neither signed nor acceded to the CWC. 

The CWC requires universal adherence to its protocols, and establishes verification regimes that assure the destruction of member nations' chemical weapon stockpiles. The CWC requires member nations to declare all chemical weapons and chemical weapons sites, including research, development, and testing sites, to be subject to on-site inspection. According to Article VI of the treaty, destruction of a state party’s declared chemical weapons arsenal should begin no later than two years after the state joins the treaty and should finish no more than ten years after it has joined, although the treaty does allow a deadline extension of up to five years from that date. Verification is implemented through the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), located in The Hague, Netherlands, and involves routine on-site inspections and reporting. The CWC also promotes multilateral cooperation on peaceful uses of chemistry and undertakes over 400 on-site inspections of the chemical industry annually.

For more information on the CWC, see Chemical Weapons Convention at a Glance.

V. Who has chemical weapons?

Eight countries declared chemical weapons stockpiles when they joined the CWC: Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Syria, the United States, Russia and an anonymous state widely believed to be South Korea. Of those eight countries, Albania, South Korea, India, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Russia have completed destruction of their declared arsenals. Syria, however, may not have declared its entire stockpile. The United States plans to complete the destruction of its chemical weapons by 2023.

When Russia, the United States, and Libya declared that they would be unable to meet their final destruction deadlines in 2012, CWC state parties agreed to extend the deadlines with increased national reporting and transparency.

Russia declared the largest stockpile with approximately 40,000 metric tons at seven arsenals in six regions of Russia. The United States declared 28,577 metric tons at nine stockpiles in eight states and on Johnston Atoll west of Hawaii. Albania and Libya declared the smallest stockpiles, with 16 and 23 metric tons respectively. India and South Korea declared stockpiles in the 500-1,000 metric ton range but maintained a high degree of secrecy around the size, location, composition, and destruction of their weapons.

Syria admitted that it had chemical weapons in July 2012. It joined the CWC on September 12, 2013, declaring its chemical weapons stockpile and determining a plan for its elimination soon after. The OPCW announced that the entirety of Syria’s declared stockpile of 1,308 metric tons of sulfur mustard agent and precursor chemicals had been destroyed by January 2016.  The destruction processes were carried out on board the US Merchant Marine ship, Cape Ray, and in four countries – Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. However, reports continue to surface of chemical weapon use in Syria, raising questions about the accuracy of its initial declaration.

North Korea, a non-signatory to the CWC, is widely reported to possess a large arsenal of chemical weapons, likely over 5,000 metric tons, including mustard, phosgene, and nerve agents. The use of VX nerve agent in the 2017 assassination in Kuala Lumpur strongly indicates that VX is part of North Korea’s chemical arsenal.

For more information, see Chemical and Biological Weapons Status at a Glance

VI. How are chemical weapons destroyed?

The United States: The United States began construction of its first prototype incinerator on Johnston Atoll in the 1980s. In 1990, it began burning 1,842 metric tons of chemical weapons, which had been secretly shipped from forward deployment in Germany and Okinawa many years earlier. When the CWC entered into force in 1997, the United States was already operating its first two incinerators on Johnston Atoll and in Tooele, Utah, which was the largest U.S. chemical weapons stockpile with 12,353 metric tons. The U.S. Army burned 1,436 metric tons, about 5 percent of the total chemical stockpile, at the two sites before the April 1997 entry into force.

The U.S. Army initially planned to construct three centralized incinerators to destroy the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile, and early schedules optimistically showed the United States completing operations in 1994. Congress subsequently banned transportation of chemical munitions on safety and security grounds, necessitating the current plan for a destruction facility at each of the nine U.S. sites at which chemical weapons are stored.

When the U.S. Senate finally approved the CWC, on April 25, 1997, after a long and contentious debate, the articles of ratification specified, among many other conditions, that the president place the highest priority on protection of public health and the environment and that the Army undertake the development and demonstration of nonincineration technologies for chemical weapons destruction.

Today the United States has constructed and operated five large incinerators: on Johnston Atoll and in Tooele, Utah, as previously noted; in Umatilla, Oregon; in Anniston, Alabama; and in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The Johnston Atoll incinerator finished operations in 2000; the other four completed operations in 2012. In addition, neutralization facilities were built in Newport, Indiana, and Edgewood, Maryland; they chemically treated and destroyed bulk VX nerve agent and mustard agent. The remaining two chemical weapons stockpiles in Pueblo, Colorado, and Blue Grass, Kentucky, will each be destroyed by chemical neutralization, followed by second-stage treatments of bioremediation and super-critical water oxidation (SCWO).  The Pueblo facility began operations in 2016, and Blue Grass is scheduled to open in 2020.

A 2016 OPCW report declared that the United States had destroyed approximately 90 percent - 24,972 metric tons - of the chemical weapons stockpile it had declared as the CWC entered into force; nearly 25,000 metric tons of the declared total of 27,770. The United States has destroyed all of Category 2 and Category 3 weapons. The United States is projected to complete destruction by 2023.

Russia: Russian officials made it clear in 1997, when they ratified the CWC, that they would need technical and financial support from other CWC members to meet its treaty deadlines. During the 1994 U.S. visit to Russia, Russian military officials and the chairman of the Duma defense committee rejected a U.S. offer made by the assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs to construct an incinerator at the Shchuch’ye chemical weapons stockpile. Russian officials wanted to determine their own technologies for demilitarization and were very wary of incineration as too complex, too expensive, too dangerous, and too politically contentious.

The first Russian chemical weapons demilitarization facility, built and funded as a prototype facility by Germany for neutralizing lewisite, an older, arsenic-based chemical agent, opened in 2002 at Gorny in the Saratov Oblast. Since then, Russia has been able to open five more destruction facilities, the last at Kizner in the Udmurt Republic.

Most of these facilities have been supported financially by the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, founded by the Group of Eight at its summit meeting in Kananaskis, Canada, in 2002. As of 2010, the United States through the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR or Nunn-Lugar) program committed more than $1 billion since the mid-1990s to the planning and construction of the neutralization facility at Shchuch’ye, while Germany has committed $475 million (340 million euros) to construction at Gorny, Kambarka, and Pochep. Canada and the United Kingdom have contributed some $82 million and $39 million, respectively, while at least another 10 additional countries have contributed some $25 million.

On September 27, 2017, the OPCW announced that Russia had completed destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal.

Libya: Libya joined the CWC in 2004 and, in its submittal at the time, declared 23 metric tons of mustard agent in bulk containers. In addition, it declared one inactivated chemical weapons production facility, two chemical weapons storage sites, 1,300 metric tons of precursor chemicals, and 3,563 unfilled aerial bombs. It first planned on eliminating its chemical agent stockpile by the 2007 deadline.

However, after aborted attempts at U.S. and Italian partnerships in its demilitarization program, it asked for several OPCW deadline extensions. Destruction of the stockpile was halted in February 2011 due to the armed uprising that resulted in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime. At that time, 11.5 metric tons of chemical weapons remained in Libya’s declared stockpiles.

Libya subsequently declared an additional chemical weapons stockpile and completed the destruction of its Category 1 chemical weapons in January 2014. With assistance from the OPCW and other member states including Canada and Denmark, Libya removed all of the remaining precursor chemicals from its territory for destruction in August 2016. The Syria case, which set the precedent for destroying chemical weapons outside of the country of origin, paved the way for shipping the remaining chemicals out of Libya for destruction in Germany. Libya completed the destruction of all its chemical weapons in January 2018.

For more information on the destruction of Libya’s chemical weapons see Chronology of Libya’s Disarmament and Relations with the United States

Iraq: Iraq joined the CWC in early 2009 and declared two large, sealed "Al Muthana" bunkers in the Fallujah region with chemical weapons and related equipment and debris from the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Because at least one of these bunkers had been hit by aerial bombs in the war, there is no final inventory of weapons and agents, nor a thorough evaluation of the possible risks of open agents or unexploded ordnance in the bunkers. The OPCW declared Iraq's destruction complete in March 2018.

Albania:  Albania was the first possessor state to destroy its stockpile. Although it joined the CWC in 1994, it did not acknowledge its possession of 16 metric tons of mustard agent (as well as small quantities of lewisite and other chemicals) until 2003. The OPCW declared Albania’s destruction complete in July 2007.

South Korea:  South Korea refused to acknowledge its stockpile in any public presentations, including the annual speeches by its ambassador to the OPCW, and has claimed full confidentiality (“highly protected information”) under the Confidentiality Annex of the CWC; all OPCW delegations and staff therefore refer to it as “A State Party” in reference to declared possessor states. South Korea completed the destruction of its chemical weapons in 2008.

India:  India declared a stockpile of 1,044 tons of sulfur mustard in 1997 after ratifying the CWC in 1996. India completed the destruction of its entire chemical weapons stockpile in 2009. 

-Research Assistance by Eric Wey

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Subject Resources:

Fact Sheet Categories:

Posted: June 22, 2018

Chemical Weapons Convention Signatories and States-Parties

June 2018 

Contact: Daryl KimballExecutive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

Updated: June 2018

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) entered into force on April 29, 1997 and currently has 193 states-parties. One state has signed but not ratified (Israel). Three states have neither signed nor ratified (Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan).

For a guide to the convention, see The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) at a Glance.

 

Country

Signature

Ratification/Accession

Afghanistan1/14/93
9/24/03
Albania1/14/93
5/11/94
Algeria1/13/93
8/14/95
Andorra2/27/03
Angola9/16/15
Antigua & Barbuda8/29/05
Argentina1/13/93
10/2/95
Armenia3/19/93
1/27/95
Australia1/13/93
5/6/94
Austria1/13/93
8/17/95
Azerbaijan1/13/93
2/29/00
Bahamas3/2/94
4/21/09
Bahrain2/24/93
4/28/97
Bangladesh1/14/93
4/25/97
Barbados
3/7/07
Belarus1/14/93
7/11/96
Belgium1/13/93
1/27/97
Belize12/1/03
Benin1/14/93
5/14/98
Bhutan4/23/97
8/18/05
Bolivia1/14/93
8/14/98
Bosnia and Herzegovina1/16/97
2/25/97
Botswana
8/31/98
Brazil1/13/93
3/13/96
Brunei Darussalem1/13/93
7/28/97
Bulgaria1/13/93
8/10/94
Burkina Faso1/14/93
7/8/97
Burundi1/15/93
9/4/98
Cambodia1/15/93
7/19/05
Cameroon1/14/93
9/16/96
Canada1/13/93
9/26/95
Cape Verde1/15/93
10/10/03
Central African Republic1/14/93
9/20/06
Chad10/11/94
2/13/04
Chile1/14/93
7/12/96
China1/13/93
4/25/97
Colombia1/13/93
4/5/00
Comoros1/13/93
9/17/06
Congo1/15/93
12/4/07
Cook Islands1/14/93
7/15/94
Costa Rica1/14/93
5/31/96
Côte d'Ivoire1/13/93
12/18/95
Croatia1/13/93
5/23/95
Cuba1/13/93
4/29/97
Cyprus1/13/93
8/28/98
Czech Republic1/14/93
3/6/96
Democratic Republic of Congo1/14/93
10/12/05
Denmark1/14/93
7/13/95
Djibouti9/28/93
1/25/06
Dominica8/2/93
2/12/01
Dominican Republic1/13/93
3/26/09
Ecuador1/14/93
9/6/95
El Salvador1/14/93
10/30/95
Egypt  
Equatorial Guinea1/14/93
4/25/97
Eritrea
2/14/00
Estonia1/14/93
5/26/99
Ethiopia1/14/93
5/13/96
Fiji1/14/93
1/20/93
Finland1/14/93
2/7/95
France1/13/93
3/2/95
Gabon1/13/93
9/8/00
Gambia1/13/93
5/19/98
Georgia1/14/93
11/27/95
Germany1/13/93
8/12/94
Ghana1/14/93
7/9/97
Greece1/13/93
12/22/94
Grenada4/9/97
6/3/05
Guatemala1/14/93
2/12/03
Guinea1/14/93
6/9/97
Guinea-Bissau1/14/93
6/19/08
Guyana10/6/93
9/12/97
Haiti1/14/93
2/22/06
Holy See1/14/93
5/12/99
Honduras1/13/93
8/29/05
Hungary1/13/93
10/31/96
Iceland1/13/93
4/28/97
India1/14/93
9/3/96
Indonesia1/13/93
11/12/98
Iran1/13/93
11/3/97
Iraq1/13/09
Ireland1/14/93
6/24/96
Israel1/13/93
Italy1/13/93
12/8/95
Jamaica4/18/97
9/8/00
Japan1/13/93
9/15/95
Jordan
10/29/97
Kazakhstan1/14/93
3/23/00
Kenya1/15/93
4/25/97
Kiribati
9/7/00
Kuwait1/27/93
5/28/97
Kyrgyzstan2/22/93
9/29/03
Laos5/13/93
2/25/97
Latvia5/6/93
7/23/96
Lebanon11/20/08
Lesotho12/7/94
12/7/94
Liberia1/15/93
3/25/06
Libya1/6/04
Liechtenstein7/21/93
11/24/99
Lithuania1/13/93
4/15/98
Luxembourg1/13/93
4/15/97
Macedonia
6/20/97
Madagascar1/15/93
10/20/04
Malawi1/14/93
6/11/98
Malaysia1/13/93
4/20/00
Maldives10/1/93
5/31/94
Mali1/13/93
4/28/97
Malta1/13/93
4/28/97
Marshall Islands1/13/93
5/19/04
Mauritania1/13/93
2/9/98
Mauritius1/14/93
2/9/93
Mexico1/13/93
8/29/94
Micronesia1/13/93
6/21/99
Moldova1/13/93
7/8/96
Monaco1/13/93
6/1/95
Mongolia1/14/93
1/17/95
Montenegro
10/23/06
Morocco1/13/93
12/28/95
Mozambique
8/15/00
Myanmar1/14/9308/07/15
Namibia1/13/93
11/27/95
Nauru1/13/93
11/12/01
Nepal1/19/93
11/18/97
Netherlands1/14/93
6/30/95
New Zealand1/14/93
7/15/96
Nicaragua3/9/93
11/5/99
Niger1/14/93
4/9/97
Nigeria1/13/93
5/20/99
Niue
4/21/05
North Korea  
Norway1/13/93
4/7/94
Oman2/2/93
2/8/95
Pakistan1/13/93
10/28/97
Palau2/3/03
Palestine5/17/18
Panama6/16/93
10/7/98
Papua New Guinea1/14/93
4/17/96
Paraguay1/14/93
12/1/94
Peru1/14/93
7/20/95
Philippines1/13/93
12/11/96
Poland1/13/93
8/23/95
Portugal1/13/93
9/10/96
Qatar2/1/93
9/3/97
Romania1/13/93
2/15/95
Russia1/13/93
11/5/97
Rwanda5/17/93
3/31/04
St. Kitts & Nevis3/16/94
5/21/04
St. Lucia3/29/93
4/9/97
St. Vincent & the Grenadines9/20/93
9/18/02
Samoa1/14/93
9/27/02
San Marino1/13/93
12/10/99
Sao Tome and Principe9/9/03
Saudi Arabia1/20/93
8/9/96
Senegal1/13/93
7/20/98
Serbia4/20/00
Seychelles1/15/93
4/7/93
Sierra Leone1/15/93
9/30/04
Singapore1/14/93
5/21/97
Slovak Republic1/14/93
10/27/95
Slovenia1/14/93
6/11/97
Solomon Islands
9/23/04
Somalia5/29/13
South Africa1/14/93
9/13/95
South Korea1/14/93
4/28/97
South Sudan  
Spain1/13/93
8/3/94
Sri Lanka1/14/93
8/19/94
Sudan
5/24/99
Suriname4/28/97
4/28/97
Swaziland9/23/93
11/20/96
Sweden1/13/93
6/17/93
Switzerland1/14/93
3/10/95
Syria 9/12/13*
Tajikistan1/14/93
1/11/95
Tanzania2/25/94
6/25/98
Thailand1/14/93
12/10/02
Timor Leste5/7/03
Togo1/13/93
4/23/97
Tonga5/29/03
Trinidad & Tobago
6/24/97
Tunisia1/13/93
4/15/97
Turkey1/14/93
5/12/97
Turkmenistan10/12/93
9/29/94
Tuvalu
1/19/04
Uganda1/14/93
11/30/01
Ukraine1/13/93
10/16/98
United Arab Emirates2/2/93
11/28/00
United Kingdom1/13/93
5/13/96
United States1/13/93
4/25/97
Uruguay1/15/93
10/6/94
Uzbekistan11/24/95
7/23/96
Vanuatu
9/16/05
Venezuela1/14/93
12/3/97
Vietnam1/13/93
9/30/98
Yemen2/8/93
10/2/00
Zambia1/13/93
2/9/01
Zimbabwe1/13/93
4/25/97

*Syria sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary General which said that Assad signed a legislative decree providing the accession of Syria to the Chemical Weapons Convention. In the letter, Assad said Syria would observe its CWC obligations immediately, as opposed to 30 days from the date of accession, as stipulated in the treaty.

    Source: Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

    Chemical/Biological Arms Control

    Subject Resources:

    Posted: June 22, 2018

    The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) at a Glance

    June 2018

    Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, 202-463-8270 x 107

    Updated: June 2018

    The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is a multilateral treaty that bans chemical weapons and requires their destruction within a specified period of time. The treaty is of unlimited duration and is far more comprehensive than the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which outlaws the use but not the possession of chemical weapons.

    CWC negotiations started in 1980 in the UN Conference on Disarmament.  The convention opened for signature on January 13, 1993, and entered into force on April 29, 1997.

    The CWC is implemented by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is headquartered in The Hague with about 500 employees. The OPCW receives states-parties’ declarations detailing chemical weapons-related activities or materials and relevant industrial activities. After receiving declarations, the OPCW inspects and monitors states-parties’ facilities and activities that are relevant to the convention, to ensure compliance.

    The CWC is open to all nations and currently has 193 states-parties. Israel has signed but has yet to ratify the convention. Three states have neither signed nor ratified the convention (Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan).

    Prohibitions

    The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits:

    • Developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, or retaining chemical weapons.
    • The direct or indirect transfer of chemical weapons.
    • Chemical weapons use or military preparation for use.
    • Assisting, encouraging, or inducing other states to engage in CWC-prohibited activity.
    • The use of riot control agents “as a method of warfare.”

    Declaration Requirements

    The CWC requires states-parties to declare in writing to the OPCW their chemical weapons stockpiles, chemical weapons production facilities (CWPFs), relevant chemical industry facilities, and other weapons-related information. This must be done within 30 days of the convention's entry into force for each member state.

    Chemical Weapons Stockpiles—States-parties must declare all chemical weapons stockpiles, which are broken down into three categories:

    • Category 1: chemical weapons based on Schedule 1 chemicals, including VX and sarin. (See below for an explanation of “scheduled” chemicals.)
    • Category 2: chemical weapons based on non-Schedule 1 chemicals, such as phosgene.
    • Category 3: chemical weapons including unfilled munitions, devices and equipment designed specifically to employ chemical weapons.

    Other weapons-related declarations states-parties must make include:

    • Chemical weapons production facilities on their territories since January 1, 1946.
    • Facilities (such as laboratories and test sites) designed, constructed, or used primarily for chemical weapons development since January 1, 1946.
    • “Old” chemical weapons on their territories (chemical weapons manufactured before 1925 or those produced between 1925 and 1946 that have deteriorated to such an extent that they are no longer useable).
    • “Abandoned” chemical weapons (abandoned by another state without consent on or after January 1, 1925).
    • Plans for destroying weapons and facilities.
    • All transfers or receipts of chemical weapons or chemical weapons-production equipment since January 1, 1946.
    • All riot control agents in their possession.

    Chemical Industry—The CWC requires states-parties to declare chemical industry facilities that produce or use chemicals of concern to the convention. These chemicals are grouped into “schedules,” based on the risk they pose to the convention. A facility producing a Schedule 1 chemical is considered a Schedule 1 facility.

    • Schedule 1 chemicals and precursors pose a “high risk” to the convention and are rarely used for peaceful purposes. States-parties may not retain these chemicals except in small quantities for research, medical, pharmaceutical, or defensive use. Many Schedule 1 chemicals have been stockpiled as chemical weapons.
    • Schedule 2 chemicals are toxic chemicals that pose a “significant risk” to the convention and are precursors to the production of Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 chemicals. These chemicals are not produced in large quantities for commercial or other peaceful purposes.
    • Schedule 3 chemicals are usually produced in large quantities for purposes not prohibited by the CWC but still pose a risk to the convention. Some of these chemicals have been stockpiled as chemical weapons.

    The CWC also requires the declaration of facilities that produce certain nonscheduled chemicals.

    Destruction Requirements

    The convention requires states-parties to destroy:

    • All chemical weapons under their jurisdiction or control.
    • All chemical weapons production facilities under their jurisdiction or control.
    • Chemical weapons abandoned on other states’ territories.
    • Old chemical weapons.

    Category 1 chemical weapons destruction must start within two years after the CWC enters into force for a state-party. States-parties must destroy 1 percent within three years of the CWC's entry into force, 20 percent within five years, 45 percent within seven years, and 100 percent within 10 years. States parties that signed the treaty when it entered into force in 1997 were supposed to complete destruction of category 1 chemicals by April 29, 2007.

    States-parties that signed the treaty when it entered into force were supposed to destroy their entire stockpiles by April 29, 2012. However, the OPCW may extend these deadlines due to “exceptional circumstances,” and in December 2006, the OPCW Executive Council granted nearly all possessors extensions of differing lengths. The only exception was Albania, which was the sole state-party nearing the complete destruction of its stockpile at that time,

    Category 2 and 3 chemical weapons destruction must start within one year after the CWC enters into force for a state-party.

    Destruction of CWPFs capable of producing Schedule 1 chemicals must start within one year after the CWC enters into force for a state-party. States-parties that signed the treaty when it originally entered into force had to complete of CWPFs producing schedule 1 chemicals by April 29, 2007.

    Destruction of other CWPFs must start within one year after the CWC enters into force for a state-party. States-parties that signed the treaty when it originally entered into force had to complete destruction by April 29, 2002.

    States-parties may request to convert CWPFs to facilities that they can use for nonprohibited purposes. Once their requests are approved, states-parties that signed the treaty when it originally entered into force were supposed to complete conversion by April 29, 2003.

    As of December 2016, 90 of the 97 CWPFs declared to the OPCW have either been destroyed (67) or converted for peaceful purposes (23).

    On-Site Activity

    The convention establishes three types of on-site activities that aim to generate confidence in states-parties’ CWC compliance. These include:

    • “Routine inspections” of chemical weapons-related facilities and chemical industry facilities to verify the content of declarations and to confirm that activities are consistent with CWC obligations.
    • “Challenge inspections” which can be conducted at any facility or location in states-parties to clarify questions of possible noncompliance. (To prevent abuse of this measure, the OPCW’s executive body can vote by a three-quarters majority to stop a challenge inspection from going forward.)
    • Investigations of alleged use of chemical weapons.

    Trade

    The convention encourages trade among states-parties, calling upon them not to maintain restrictions on one another that would hamper the trade of chemical-related items to be used for peaceful purposes. The convention does restrict trade with non-states-parties, outlawing the transfer of Schedule 1 and 2 chemicals.  To ensure that Schedule 3 transfers to non-states-parties are not used for purposes prohibited by the convention, the CWC requires exporting states-parties to obtain an end-use certificate from importing states.

    Penalties for Noncompliance

    If states-parties are found to have engaged in prohibited actions that could result in “serious damage” to the convention, the OPCW could recommend collective punitive measures to other states-parties. In cases of “particular gravity,” the OPCW could bring the issue before the UN Security Council and General Assembly.

    States-parties must take measures to address questions raised about their compliance with the CWC. If they do not, the OPCW may, inter alia, restrict or suspend their CWC-related rights and privileges (such as voting and trade rights).


    Sources: Arms Control Association, OPCW (http://www.opcw.org/news-publications/publications/facts-and-figures/)


    Possessor States' Category I Destruction Implementation

     

    Declared Category 1 Stockpile
    Declared Agents
    Remaining Stockpile
    Projection
    Albania

    16 metric tons

    Mustard

    None

    Completed destruction on July 11, 2007.

    India

    1,044 metric tons

    Sulfur Mustard

    None

    Completed destruction on March 16, 2009.

    Iraq

    Unknown Quantity

    Unknown

    None

    The OPCW announced the destruction of Iraq's chemical weapons remnants on March 13, 2018.

    Libya

    24.7 metric tons*

    Sulfur Mustard

    None

    Completed destruction of Category 1 chemicals on May 4, 2013

    Russia

    40,000 metric tons

    Lewisite, Mustard, Phosgene, Sarin, Soman, VX

    None

    Completed destruction on September 27, 2017.

    South Korea

    605 metric tons

    Unknown

    None

    Completed destruction on July 10, 2008.

    Syria

    1,308 metric tons

    Sulfur Mustard

    Declared stockpile has been eliminated but undeclared chemicals still exist

    No projected timeline for destruction of undecared chemicals.

    United States

    27,771 metric tons

    Binary nerve agents, Lewisite, Mustard, Sarin, Soman, VX

    2770 metric tons as of December 2015.

    Will not meet deadline; U.S. estimates 2023.

    *Libya's official 2004 declaration was 24.7 metric tons. Libya declared additional CW stocks in November 2011 and February 2012, bringing the total to 26.3 metric tons.

    Chemical/Biological Arms Control

    Subject Resources:

    Fact Sheet Categories:

    Posted: June 22, 2018

    Chemical and Biological Weapons Status at a Glance

    June 2018

    Contact: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

    Updated: June 2018

    Despite the progress made by international conventions, biological weapons (BW) and chemical weapons (CW) still pose a threat.

    More progress has been made by Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) states-parties and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the destruction of declared CW stockpiles. Progress on the implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), however, has been slower due to the lack of a formal verification mechanism.

    There are 180 states parties to the BWC, including Palestine, and six signatories (Central African Republic, Egypt, Haiti, Somalia, Syria, and Tanzania). Eleven states have neither signed nor ratified the BWC (Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Israel, Kiribati, Micronesia, Namibia, Niue, South Sudan and Tuvalu).

    For more information about the BWC, please see BWC at a Glance.

    There are 193 states parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Israel has signed but not ratified the convention and Egypt, North Korea, South Sudan have neither signed nor ratified the CWC.

    For more information about the CWC, please see CWC at a Glance and Chemical Weapons: Frequently Asked Questions

    Below is a list of states believed to currently possess or have once possessed biological and/or chemical weapons and their current status. Some states have officially declared BW or CW programs, while other programs have been alleged to exist by other states. Therefore, both official declarations and unofficial allegations of chemical and biological weapons programs are included below.

    ALBANIA

    Chemical Weapons

    State declaration: Although it joined the CWC in 1994, Albania did not acknowledge its possession of 16 metric tons of mustard agent (as well as small quantities of lewisite and other chemicals) until 2003. The OPCW declared Albania’s destruction complete in July 2007.

    CHINA

    Biological Weapons

    State declaration: China states that it is in compliance with its BWC obligations and that it has never had an active BW program.

    Allegations: According to the United States, China’s BW activities have been extensive and a 1993 State Department Compliance Report alleged that activities continued after China joined the BWC. The 2010 report indicates that little information is known about China’s activities, and that recent dual-use activities may have breached the BWC. Existing infrastructure would allow it to develop, produce, and weaponize agents. The 2017 report does not discuss China’s BWC compliance or noncompliance.

    Chemical Weapons

    State declaration: China states that it is in compliance with the CWC. China declared in 1997 that it had a small offensive CW program that has now been dismantled, which has been verified by over 400 inspections  by the OPCW as of 2016. 

    Allegations: The U.S. alleged in 2003 that China has an “advanced chemical weapons research and development program.” However, these allegations have decreased in magnitude in recent years and the State Department’s 2017 report on compliance with the CWC cited no such concerns.

    Other information: Approximately 350,000 chemical munitions were left on Chinese soil by Japan during the Second World War. Work with Japan to dispose of these is ongoing.

    CUBA

    Biological Weapons

    State declaration: Cuba denies any BW research efforts.

    Allegations: A 2003 State Department Compliance Report indicated that Cuba had “at least a limited developmental offensive biological warfare research and development effort.” The 2010 report claimed that “available information did not indicate Cuba’s dual-use activities during the reporting period involved activities prohibited by the BWC.” The 2017 report did not mention any problems with Cuba’s compliance with BWC.

    Allegations of BW programs have been made by Cuban defectors in the past.

    Other information: Cuba has a relatively advanced biotechnology industrial capabilities.

    EGYPT

    Biological Weapons

    State declaration: Two vague statements alluding to a BW capability were made by President Saddat and one of his ministers in 1972, but Egypt has not officially declared a biological weapons stockpile.

    Allegations: There have been various allegations that Egypt possesses biological weapons. Some argue that Egypt’s reluctance to ratify the BWC signals that it does possess biological weapons. The 2014 State Department compliance report notes that Egypt has "continued to improve its biotechnology infrastructure" over the past three years, including through research and development activities involving genetic engineering, as of 2013's end, "available information did not indicate that Egypt is engaged in activities prohibited by the BWC." The 2017 State Department report does not mention any problems with Egypt’s compliance with the BWC.

    Chemical Weapons

    Allegations: There is strong evidence that Egypt employed bombs and artillery shells filled with phosgene and mustard agents during the Yemen Civil War from (1963 – 1967) but it is unclear if Egypt currently possesses chemical weapons. In 1989, the United States and Switzerland alleged that Egypt was producing chemical weapons in a plant north of Cairo. As a non-party to the CWC, Egypt has not had to issue any formal declarations about CW programs and capabilities. 

    INDIA

    Chemical Weapons

    State declaration: India declared in June 1997 that it possessed a CW stockpile of 1,044 metric tons of mustard agent. India completed destruction of its stockpile in 2009.

    IRAN

    Biological Weapons

    State declaration: Iran has publicly denounced BW.

    Allegations: The Defense Intelligence Agency alleged in 2009 that Iran’s BW efforts “may have evolved beyond agent R&D, and we believe Iran likely has the capability to produce small quantities of BW agents but may only have a limited ability to weaponize them.” 

    The 2010 report assesses that there is evidence showing Iran continues dual-use activities, but there is no conclusive evidence showing BWC violations. The 2017 State Department report on compliance with the BWC does not mention any problems with Iran’s compliance with the BWC.

    Chemical Weapons

    State declaration: Iran has denounced the possession and use of CW in international forums.

    Allegations: Pre-2003 U.S. intelligence assessments alleged that Iran had a stockpile of CW. This stockpile is thought to have included blister, blood, and choking agents and probably nerve agents. After 2003, however, the United States stopped making such allegations. The United States claimed it was unable to ascertain if Iran is meeting its obligations under the CWC, according to a State Department 2017 report on compliance with the CWC. 

    Other information: Iran suffered tens of thousands of casualties from Iraqi use of chemical weapons during the1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. Iran’s CW program is believed to have been started after Iraqi CW use. There are no known credible allegations that Iran used any chemical weapons against Iraq in response.

    IRAQ

    Biological Weapons

    State declaration: Iraq admitted to testing and stockpiling BW in the mid-1990s. These stockpiles appear to have been destroyed prior to the 2003 invasion. There have been no declarations about BW after 2003.

    Chemical Weapons

    State declaration: Iraq had an extensive chemical weapons program before the Persian Gulf War dating back to the 1960s under which it produced and stockpiled mustard, tabun, sarin, and VX. Iraq delivered chemical agents against Iranian forces during the Iran-Iraq War using aerial bombs, artillery, rocket launchers, tactical rockets, and helicopter-mounted sprayers and it also used chemical weapons against its Kurdish population in 1988. Its program was largely dismantled by United Nations weapons inspectors in the 1990s.

    Iraq declared in August 1998 that it had dismantled all of its chemical weapons in partnership with the UN Special Commission established for that purpose.

    Iraq then submitted an additional declaration to the OPCW of an unknown quantity of chemical weapons remnants contained in two storage bunkers in March 2009. Destruction activities were delayed due to an unstable security situation, but began in 2017. On March 13, 2018, the OPCW announced that all of Iraq's chemical weapons had been destroyed.

    ISRAEL

    Biological Weapons

    State declaration: Israel has revealed little in terms of its biological weapons capabilities or programs.

    Allegations: There is belief that Israel has had an offensive BW program in the past. It is unclear if this is still the case.

    Chemical Weapons

    Allegations: Some allege that Israel had an offensive CW program in the past. It is unclear if Israel maintains an ongoing program.

    LIBYA

    Biological Weapons

    State declaration: Libya announced in December 2003 that it would eliminate its BW program.

    Allegations: Between 1982 and 2003 there were many allegations of a Libyan biological weapons program, although later inspections failed to reveal any evidence to support these claims. 

    Chemical Weapons

    State declaration: In 2003, Libya announced it would be abandoning its CW program and in 2004 it declared possession of chemical agents and facilities. Libya declared 24.7 metric tons of mustard agent in bulk containers. In addition, it declared one inactivated chemical weapons production facility, two chemical weapons storage sites, 1,300 metric tons of precursor chemicals, and 3,563 unfilled aerial bombs. Libya completed the destruction of its Category 1 chemical weapons in January 2014. With assistance from the OPCW and other member states, Libya removed all of the remaining chemical weapons from its territory for destruction in August 2016. In January 2018, the OPCW declared that Libya's entire chemical weapons arsenal had been destroyed.

    For more information on Libya's disarmament see Chronology of Libya's Disarmament and Relations with the United States.

    NORTH KOREA

    Biological Weapons

    Allegations: The 2010 State Department report on compliance with the BWC remarks that North Korea may “still consider the use of biological weapons as a military option.” In a 2012 Ministry of National Defense White Paper, South Korea asserted that “North Korea likely has the capability to produce[…] anthrax, smallpox, pest, francisella tularensis, and hemorrhagic fever viruses.”

    Chemical Weapons

    Allegations: North Korea is widely believed to possess a large chemical stockpile including nerve, blister, choking, and blood agents. The 2012 unclassified intelligence assessment provided to Congress states that North Korea has a "long standing CW program" and "possesses a large stockpile of agents." In February 2017, North Korean agents used VX, a nerve agent, to assassinate Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of Kim Jong Un in Malaysia. 

    RUSSIA

    Biological Weapons

    State declaration: In January 1992, Boris Yeltsin acknowledged that the Soviet Union had pursued an extensive and offensive BW program throughout the 1970s and 1980s. However, since joining the BWC in 1992, Russia has repeatedly expressed its commitment to the destruction of its biological weapons.

    Allegations: The Soviet Union’s extensive offensive germ program included weaponized tularemia, typhus, Q fever, smallpox, plague, anthrax, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, glanders, brucellosis, and Marburg. The Soviet Union also researched numerous other agents and toxins that can attack humans, plants, and livestock.

    The United States has repeatedly expressed concern about Russia’s inherited biological weapons program and uncertainty about Russia’s compliance with the BWC.

    The 2010 State Department report on compliance with the BWC details that Russia continues to engage in dual-use biological research activities, yet there is no evidence that such work is inconsistent with BWC obligations. It assesses that it remains unclear whether Russia has fulfilled its obligations under Article I of the convention. The 2017 report states that “Russia’s annual BWC CBM submissions since 1992 have not satisfactorily documented whether the BW items under these programs were destroyed or diverted to peaceful purposes, as required by Article II of the BWC.” 

    Chemical Weapons

    State declaration: Russia possessed the world’s largest chemical weapons stockpile: approximately 40,000 metric tons of chemical agent, including VX, sarin, soman, mustard, lewisite, mustard-lewisite mixtures, and phosgene.

    Russia has declared its arsenal to the OPCW and commenced destruction. Along with the United States, Russia received an extension when it was unable to complete destruction by the 2012 deadline imposed by the CWC. A 2016 OPCW report indicated that as of 2015, Russia had destroyed about 92 percent of its stockpile (around 36,7500 metric tons). On September 27, 2017, the OPCW announced that Russia completed destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal.

    Allegations: The U.S. has some reservations about Russian compliance with the CWC, as expressed in the 2017 State Department report on CWC compliance which stated “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. 

    The UK accused Russia of assassinating a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, in the UK using the chemical agent Novichok on March 4, 2018.

    SOUTH KOREA

    Chemical Weapons

    State declaration: South Korea declared a chemical weapons stockpile of unspecified agents when it joined the CWC in 1997 and completed destruction of its declared arsenal on July 10, 2008. It does not admit publically that it possessed chemical weapons and was noted in OPCW materials as a “state party.”

    SUDAN

    Chemical Weapons

    State declaration: After acceding to the CWC in 1999, Sudan declared only a small selection of unspecified riot control agents.

    Allegations: There are unconfirmed reports that Sudan developed and used CW in the past. The U.S. bombed an alleged CW factory in 1998. There have been no serious allegations in recent years. Sudan was not included in the 2017 State Department report on compliance with the CWC.

    SYRIA

    Biological Weapons

    State declaration: In July 2012, a spokesman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the country possesses biological warfare materials, but little is known about the extent of the arsenal. On July 14, 2014, Syria declared the existence of production facilities and stockpiles of purified ricin, although little is known about the continued existence of such facilities in 2017.

    Chemical Weapons

    State declaration: On September 20, 2013, Syria submitted a declaration of its chemical weapons and facilities to the OPCW after years of denying the program's existence. The OPCW announced that the entirety of Syria’s declared stockpile of 1,308 metric tons of sulfur mustard agent and precursor chemicals had been destroyed in January 2016. However, reports continue to surface of chemical weapon use in Syria, raising questions about the accuracy of its initial declaration.

    Allegations: Syria had an extensive program producing a variety of agents, including nerve agents such as sarin and VX, and blistering agents, according to governments and media sources. There were also some allegations of deployed CWs on SCUD missiles. Several UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) reports have found that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, including in April 2014, March 2015, March 2016, and April 2017 and that the Islamic State was responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria in August 2015 and September 2016. 

    For more information about Syrian chemical weapon use see Timeline of Syrian Chemical Weapons Activity, 2012-2018

    TAIWAN

    Chemical Weapons

    State declaration: Taiwan has declared that it possesses small quantities of CW for research but denies any weapons possession.

    THE UNITED STATES

    Biological Weapons

    State declaration: The United States unilaterally gave up its biological weapons program in 1969. The destruction of all offensive BW agents occurred between 1971 and 1973. The United States currently conducts research as part of its biodefense program.

    Allegations: According to a compliance report published by the Russian government in August 2010, the United States is undertaking research on Smallpox which is prohibited by the World Health Organization. Russia also accused the United States of undertaking BW research in order to improve defenses against bio-terror attacks which is “especially questionable from the standpoint of Article I of the BTWC.”

    Chemical Weapons

    State declaration: The United States declared a large chemical arsenal of 27,770 metric tons to the OPCW after the CWC came into force in 1997. Along with Russia, the United States received an extension when it was unable to complete destruction of its chemical stockpiles by 2012. A 2016 OPCW report declared that the United States had destroyed approximately 90 percent of the chemical weapons stockpile it had declared as the CWC entered into force; nearly 25,000 metric tons of the declared total of 27,770. The United States has destroyed all of Category 2 and Category 3 weapons and is projected to complete destruction of its Category 1 weapons by 2023.

    Allegations: A 2010 Russian report alleged that the United States has legislation which could inhibit inspections and investigations of U.S. chemical facilities. Russia has also accused the United States of not fully reporting chemical agents removed from Iraq between 2003 and 2008 and sent to the United States for testing and subsequent destruction.

    Chemical/Biological Arms Control

    Fact Sheet Categories:

    Posted: June 22, 2018

    Ex-Spy Survives Nerve Agent Poisoning

    Ex-Spy Survives Nerve Agent Poisoning


    Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was diYulia Skripal, who was poisoned along with her father, Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal, speaks to news media representatives in London on May 23. (Photo: Dylan Martinez/AFP/Getty Images)scharged from a UK hospital, two months after being poisoned with a nerve agent on March 4. His daughter Yulia, also poisoned, was discharged in early April and moved to a secure location. Although Russia has denied responsibility, UK officials have blamed Moscow for the use of a toxin known as Novichok against the Skripals. At a May 18 news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin disputed UK allegations, saying that “if, as our British colleagues have insisted, a military-grade poison had been used, the man would have died right away.” Noting his hospital discharge, Putin wished Skripal “good health.”—TERRY ATLAS

     

    Posted: June 1, 2018

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