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former IAEA Director-General

Chemical Weapons

Russian Vetoes End Syria CW Probe

Russian Vetoes End Syria CW Probe

The group charged with determining the party or parties responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria was forced to discontinue its work Nov. 17 after several failed attempts to extend its mandate. The UN Security Council authorized the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in August 2015 with the support of Russia and the United States. Recently, Russia has rejected the legitimacy of the JIM’s findings, which placed some blame on Russia’s Syrian government allies, and argued the process must be substantially reformed if its investigations are to continue.

Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Nonproliferation and Arms Control Department, and other officials hold a press conference in Moscow November 2 to dispute the report by UN investigators which blamed a sarin gas attack in Syria's Khan Sheikhoun on the Syrian government. (Photo credit: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)The council on Nov. 16 failed to pass a resolution to extend the JIM’s mandate. Russia vetoed the U.S.-sponsored measure, which received 11 votes in favor out of 15. The Russian-backed alternative received four votes, far short of nine required for adoption. Japan’s last-minute resolution on Nov. 17 for a 30-day extension also was vetoed by Russia. When Russia vetoed another council resolution Oct. 24, it left open the possibility of changing its position depending on the results of the outcome of the JIM’s work, which subsequently cited the Syrian government for a major sarin gas attack. (See ACT, November 2017.)

“Russia’s actions today and in recent weeks have been designed to delay, to distract, and ultimately, to defeat the effort to secure accountability for chemical weapons attacks in Syria,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Nov. 17. The president of the Security Council in November, Sebastiano Cardi of Italy, claimed that the body will try to find a compromise to continue the JIM’s work. Even so, the disruption in the organization’s operation could lead to substantial delays for resumed investigations.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: December 1, 2017

Timeline of Syrian Chemical Weapons Activity, 2012-2017

November 2017

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

November 2017

In July 2012, Syria publicly acknowledged that it possesses chemical weapons. For a number of years preceding this announcement, the United States intelligence community assessed that Syria has a stockpile of chemical weapons, including mustard gas, blister agents, and nerve agents such as sarin and VX. Syria has the capability to deliver these agents using aerial bombs, ballistic missiles, and artillery rockets.

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

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 governmen 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.

alternate text

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 miltiary 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 miltiary 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 equiptment 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 Secreatary-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 transer 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 Dannish 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 transfered 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 committeed 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 an be accomplished more quickly. The 100 day extension also will not allow the 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 oposition 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 cholorine 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 neutranlized on the Cape Ray. Operations to neutralize the blister agent sulfer 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 Righs Watch estimated that over 200 were killed by recent chloring 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 investiagtive 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 chemcial weapons attack using chlorine gas in Aleppo.

August 24, 2016: The third report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was realeased, 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 Investigate Mechanism issued a report finding that the Syrian regime was responsible for a third attach 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 seperate 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 exend it failed. The resolution sponsored by the United States recieved 11 votes in favor, 2 against and 2 abstentions and failed because Russia vetoed it. The Russian resolution recieved 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. 

-Researched by Yuta Kawashima, updated by Alicia Sanders-Zakre

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Posted: November 17, 2017

Russia Destroys Last Chemical Weapons

Moscow had world’s largest chemical-weapons arsenal.


November 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Russia finished destroying its chemical weapons arsenal, once the largest in the world at nearly 40,000 metric tons, and criticized the United States for its delays in doing likewise.

Ahmet Üzümcü, director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, speaks at a ceremony October 11 following the completion of the destruction of Russia’s chemical weapons. The event was held at the residence of Ambassador Alexander Shulgin, the permanent representative of the Russian Federation to the OPCW. (Photo credit: OPCW)Russia was mandated under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to destroy its chemical weapons by 2007, although it received several extensions, most recently to 2020. Similarly, the United States originally had a 2007 deadline, which was pushed to 2012 and then 2023. (See ACT, July/August 2009.)

The CWC, which entered into force in 1997, has 192 states-parties. It is implemented by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which to date has verified the destruction of 96.3 percent of declared chemical weapons stockpiles of states-parties worldwide.

Russia’s chemical weapons destruction, completed Sept. 27, was “a momentous occasion” and a “historic milestone,” said OPCW Deputy Director-General Hamid Ali Rao at a commemorative ceremony. Russia declared an arsenal of 39,967 metric tons of chemical agents, including lewisite, mustard, phosgene, sarin, soman, and VX when it signed the CWC in 1993. It established its first on-site destruction facility in 2002, eliminating about 30 percent of its arsenal by 2009 and 85 percent by 2015.

Russia eliminated its arsenal by neutralizing the chemicals. Paul Walker, director of Green Cross International’s Environmental Security and Sustainability program, described the technique in an Oct. 19 email to Arms Control Today as “a wet-chemistry process of draining all weapons and storage tanks of chemical agents, and then mixing the agents with hot water and caustic reagents such as sodium hydroxide to destroy the deadly toxic nature of the agents.”

Russia operated a total of five chemical weapons destruction facilities. All but the facility in the town of Kizner, about 620 miles east of Moscow, had finished destruction and been closed by 2015.

Russia’s method of chemical destruction produced as a byproduct large quantities of toxic waste. Russia will treat the waste in the future at chemical destruction facilities in Kambarka, Gorny, and Shchuch’ye, according to Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov, who addressed the issue in remarks at the commemorative ceremony held at Kizner. He asserted that Russia would decontaminate all chemical weapons destruction facilities.

Although Russia spent more than $5 billion to destroy its chemical weapons, according to Russian state media, it also benefited from significant international assistance. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in remarks Sept. 27, credited more than 15 countries with cooperation. Vladimir Yermakov, deputy head of the foreign ministry’s Department for Weapons Control and Non-Proliferation, thanked the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Poland, and France specifically for their financial help. Some of the U.S. funding and technical assistance was provided though the 1991 Cooperative Threat Reduction program, also known as the Nunn-Lugar program.

Other States’ Destruction

With the elimination of Russia’s chemical weapons, the burden falls on the two remaining CWC member states who have yet to complete destruction of their declared arsenals: Iraq and the United States.

The size and quality of Iraq’s chemical weapons arsenal is unknown, and ongoing conflict in the Middle East presents challenges for safe removal and neutralization. Planning is reportedly underway to begin elimination.

The United States has been destroying its declared arsenal of 28,000 metric tons of chemical agents, second in size to Russia’s, since the 1990s. It has destroyed about 90 percent and is scheduled to complete destruction by 2023. The United States, which has completed destruction of five of its stockpiles, currently operates a chemical weapons destruction facility in Colorado and plans to open one in Kentucky in a few years.

The United States has destroyed its chemical weapons at rate nearly one-third of Russia’s due in part to differences between the two countries’ stockpiles, according to Walker. Russian chemical agents were stored in large tanks without explosives or propellants, but U.S. chemical weapons stockpiles include more explosive components, requiring technically difficult and time-consuming destruction.

Since completing its chemical weapons destruction, Russia has criticized the United States for lagging. Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at the Valdai International Discussion Club on Oct. 19, noted the U.S. delay to 2023, which “does not look proper for a nation that claims to be a champion of nonproliferation and control.”

The United States considers that it is operating in compliance with CWC requirements. “We remain on track to meet our planned completion date,” Kenneth Ward, U.S. permanent representative to the OPCW, said in an Oct. 10 statement to the OPCW Executive Council.

New Phase for CWC

With Russia’s chemical weapons elimination and the revised U.S. destruction deadline six years away, experts say that the CWC will soon be moving into a “post-chemical-weapons-destruction” phase.

John Hart, head of the Chemical and Biological Security Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, outlined possible futures for the OPCW in a Sept. 29 blog post. “At least two visions may be realized: the first in which the OPCW is focused on chemical-weapon threats with most resources allocated accordingly, the second in which the OPCW serves as a model of international outreach and capacity building for the peaceful uses of chemistry.”

“Now the goal of a chemical-weapons-free-world is much nearer,” declared Sergio Duarte, president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and a former UN high representative for disarmament affairs, in a Sept. 27 statement. He laid out several steps for the CWC regime to pursue. “It is necessary…to ensure the 100 percent universality of the Chemical Weapons Convention and to further improve safeguards against any re-emergence of chemical weapons on the basis of traditional and new technologies and against any attempts by any actors to get hold of or to use these prohibited weapons.”—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: November 1, 2017

OPCW Council Selects New Leader

OPCW Council Selects New Leader

The Executive Council of the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Oct. 12 selected Fernando Arias to become the organization’s next director-general. Arias is Spain’s permanent representative to the OPCW and previously served as Spain’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

The 41-member Executive Council will recommend the Spanish ambassador to the larger OPCW conference of states-parties, which meets from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1. Once formally elected at that session, Arias’ four-year term leading the OPCW, the implementing organization of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, will begin on July 25, 2018.

Ambassador Fernando Arias (Photo credit: OPCW)

Arias was selected from a pool of seven candidates, including arms control notables such as Kim Won-soo, former UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, and Tibor Tóth, former executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. (See ACT, September 2017.) Arias has said his vision for the OPCW includes preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons, incorporating new technology, fighting terrorism, and engaging in public outreach.

The field of candidates narrowed over several months as individuals withdrew their names following poor showings in a series of informal straw polls conducted within the Executive Council. By Oct. 7, only two candidates remained: Vaidotas Verba, a former Ukrainian ambassador to the OPCW, and Arias.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: November 1, 2017

Panel Cites Syrian Regime in Sarin Attack

Panel Cites Syrian Regime in Sarin Attack

The Syrian government is responsible for the April 4 sarin nerve-gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed almost 100 people, including many women and children, international investigators concluded in a report sent Oct. 26 to the UN Security Council. Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia casts a veto of a UN Security Council resolution to extend investigations into who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, on October 24 at the United Nations.  (Photo credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)The report went to the council two days after Russia vetoed renewal of the mandate for the international investigative group that produced it. The authorization for the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), unanimously created by the council in 2015 and renewed in 2016, is due to expire in mid-November. Russia left open the possibility that it would reconsider its position, depending on the outcome of the report on Khan Sheikhoun. Russia, which supports Syria’s Assad regime, has frequently tried to deflect blame to anti-government forces. Last year, the JIM found that the Syrian government was responsible for at least three attacks involving chlorine gas and the Islamic State group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas. The new JIM report also concluded that Islamic State militants had carried out an attack using sulfur mustard agent in Um-Housh, in Aleppo Province, on Sept. 16, 2016.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: November 1, 2017

Russian Veto Threatens Chemical Weapons Accountability in Syria

Russia’s dangerous disregard for holding Syria accountable for using chemical weapons reached a new high Tuesday as Russia’s permanent representative to the UN vetoed a resolution to extend the mandate of the independent investigative body charged with assigning blame to parties that use chemical agents in Syria. The body, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), is a United Nations – Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons partnership forged in August 2015 to bring accountability to chemical weapons attacks in Syria . Thus far, it has found the Assad government guilty...

Russia needs to get tough on chemical weapons

While Russia completing the destruction of its once 40,000-metric-ton chemical weapons arsenal last week is cause for celebration, its continued denial of the Assad regime’s use of deadly chemical weapons in Syria is most certainly not. Russia, which destroyed all of its chemical weapons due to its obligation as a state-party to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), nevertheless still shields the deliberate and inexcusable violation of the CWC by another state-party, Syria. Syria joined the CWC after international outrage erupted following a brutal chemical attack in a Damascus suburb...

Chemical Weapons: Frequently Asked Questions

September 2017

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

Updated: September 2017

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 battle field, 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 Novemeber 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.

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 October 2016, the fourth report of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) found that the Syrian government was responsible for chlorine gas attacks in April 2014, March 2015 and March 2016 and that the Islamic State was responsible for a sulfur mustard attack in August 2015. .

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. 

Syria reportedly used chemical weapons, most like sarin or a sarin-type agent, most recently in an April 4, 2017 attack in Khan Shaykhum in the northern Idlib province, killing around 80 people. For a timeline of Syrian chemical weapon use see Timeline of Syrian Chemical Weapons Activity, 2012-2017.

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 192 members. 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. Non-members of the United Nations, such as Palestine and Taiwan, also remain outside of 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 understakes 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, 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.

Iraq’s chemical weapons are largely concentrated in debris in two bunkers in the Fallujah region bombed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and their contents remain somewhat unknown. In July 2014, the Islamic State gained control over one of the bunkers, which the United States claimed contained no in tact chemical weapons. Iraq had committed to destroy these remnants by 2014, but due to an unstable security situation was unable to fulfill these obligations in 2014 or 2015, according to a 2016 OPCW report.

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.  The processing of these precursor chemicals in Germany remains ongoing in mid-2017.

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. No decision has been made concerning the final disposition of these bunkers, but there is ongoing discussion at the OPCW with Iraqi officials about methods to evaluate the bunkers, possible costs of destruction, and options for further sealing the bunkers and improving local security.

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

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Posted: September 27, 2017

Chemical and Biological Weapons Status at a Glance

September 2017

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

Updated: September 2017

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 179 states parties to the BWC 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 and BWC Signatories and States-Parties.

There are 192 states parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Israel has signed but 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, CWC Signatories and States-Parties 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.

Other information:  Iraq possesses an unknown quantity of chemical agents stored in Bunkers 13 and 41 at the Muthanna State Establishment. Bunker 13 is the main concern, and may contain up to 15,000 liters of Sarin in different munitions in various states of decay. Bombing in the Gulf War (1990 to 1991) significantly damaged the bunker, making it too dangerous for U.N. inspectors to enter after the war. A second bunker, Number 41, was used to store chemical munitions left over after the post-war destruction effort. Due to the dangerous state of these two facilities, they were concreted over by Iraqi personnel working under the supervision of U.N. personnel. The chemical agents will have decayed in the past 16 years since being secured, but still present a formidable hazard and disposal challenge.

Iraq originally committed to destroy these chemical weapons remnants by 2014, but due to an unstable security situation, Iraq was unable to fulfill these obligations in 2014 or 2015, according to a 2016 OPCW report.

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.

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 this 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. 

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. An October 2016 UN-OPCW report found that the Syrian government was responsible for chlorine gas attacks in April 2014, March 2015 and March 2016 and that the Islamic State was responsible for a sulfur mustard attack in August 2015.

For more information about Syrian chemical weapon use see Timeline of Syrian Chemical Weapons Activity, 2012-2017

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: September 27, 2017

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) at a Glance

September 2017

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

Updated: September 2017

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 192 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).

For a complete listing of states-parties and signatories, please see Chemical Weapons Convention Signatories and States-Parties.

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 scheule 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 Decemeber 2015, 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

Unknown

Uncertain – many difficulties are faced in destruction of chemical stockpiles

Libya

24.7 metric tons*

Sulfur Mustard

None

Completed destruction on August 27, 2016

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 stocpkile has been eliminated but undeclared chemicals still exisit

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 Decemeber 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

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Posted: July 12, 2017

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