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former IAEA Director-General

Chemical Weapons

Russia Charged With OPCW Hacking Attempt

Russia has denounced international agreement to empower watchdog to attribute blame for chemical weapons use.


November 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The European Union established a new mechanism for chemical weapons sanctions, days after several countries blamed Russian intelligence operatives for attempting to hack computers at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Four Russian intelligence agents were caught in April as they allegedly tried to hack into the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons using equipment in a car parked adjacent to the OPCW headquarters in The Hague. (Photo: OPCW)The sanctions framework approved by EU foreign ministers last month reflects an effort by the Europeans to bolster international norms against chemical weapons use at a time when the legal prohibition established by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) has been violated by Russia and Syria, both states-parties to the accord.

Russian efforts to compromise independent investigations into its own chemical weapons use and that of Syria will be a key issue when CWC states-parties gather for the treaty’s fourth review conference in November. Russia has denounced an agreement to strengthen the OPCW’s ability to investigate and attribute blame for chemical weapons use, and Western governments say Moscow has sought to interfere with the work of the OPCW.

The Dutch Defense Ministry announced on Oct. 4 that, in April, it had disrupted an attempted Russian cyberattack on the chemical weapons watchdog agency. Dutch authorities stated that four agents from Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency were spotted in a car filled with electronic equipment “installed for the purpose of infiltrating the OPCW’s network” parked adjacent to OPCW headquarters in The Hague. The Russian agents were detained and then expelled.

“Our exposure of this Russian operation is intended as an unambiguous message that the Russian Federation must refrain from such actions,” said Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld on Oct. 10.

At the time of the attempted breach, the OPCW was investigating a chemical weapons attack against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, United Kingdom, which the United Kingdom and other countries have accused Moscow of carrying out with use of the Russian nerve agent Novichok. (See ACT, April 2018.)

The UK seconded Dutch allegations of Russian efforts to hack into the OPCW and published additional accusations of attempted GRU cyberattacks to disrupt investigations of chemical weapons use.

The UK National Security Centre in an Oct. 4 statement identified a number of pseudonyms that GRU personnel used in cyberattacks around the world. Additional attempted Russian attacks included a so-called spear-phishing attack in March aimed at compromising UK Foreign and Commonwealth Offices and a similar May effort in which GRU agents impersonated Swiss federal authorities to target OPCW officials. Spear phishing refers to using deceptive emails that seem to be from a known or trusted sender in order to gain access to a computer or network.

“The GRU’s actions are reckless and indiscriminate,” UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Oct. 4. “This pattern of behavior demonstrates their desire to operate without regard to international law or established norms and to do so with a feeling of impunity and without consequences.”

Russia rejected the allegations, continuing a pattern of denial of chemical weapons use or possession.

“We are watching with regret how the U.S. authorities continue to poison the atmosphere of Russian-American relations by bringing ever new groundless accusations against Russia, which certain other NATO countries would hurry to repeat at the command from Washington,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov wrote on Oct. 4. “Russia is used to these U.S. methods but the purposeful fomenting of tensions in relations between nuclear powers and internationally is a dangerous path.”

The Europeans and the United States hastened to punish Russia for its alleged cybercrimes and chemical weapons use. On Oct. 4, a federal grand jury in Pennsylvania charged seven GRU agents with planning cyberattacks against various entities including the OPCW and the Spiez Swiss Chemical Laboratory, an OPCW-affiliated laboratory, which was analyzing Novichok agent, as well as U.S. and international anti-doping agencies and sports federations.

On Oct. 15, a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg adopted a new regime of restrictive measures against those who use or develop chemical weapons or those who assist to do so, regardless of nationality. The sanctions include a travel ban to the EU and an asset freeze, according to an Oct. 15 press release.

No individuals have been sanctioned under the new mechanism, although the two GRU individuals identified by the UK as responsible for the UK poisonings in Salisbury and nearby Amesbury will likely be considered.

Members of the OPCW Executive Council, who met shortly after the announcement about the attempted Russian hack into the chemical weapons watchdog, and all CWC states-parties, who are scheduled to meet at the Nov. 21–30 CWC review conference, face pressure to find measures to counter the erosion of the norm against chemical weapons use and attempted Russian meddling into international investigations.

At the Oct. 9–12 OPCW Executive Council meeting, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States proposed adding Novichok to the list of chemicals specifically prohibited by name by the CWC.

Several states also expressed support for OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias to create a new OPCW attribution mechanism approved at the June special session of CWC states-parties, which would investigate and assign blame for chemical weapons attacks. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

Russia, in a statement by the foreign ministry, denounced the decision to provide the OPCW with the attribution authority, calling it the result of “political manipulations, direct bribery of a number of delegations, and blatant blackmail.” The June 28 statement said the action was outside the limited authority established by the CWC and “jeopardizes the integrity of the CWC.”

The previous attribution mechanism for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism, was forced to shut down after Russia vetoed its continued operation at the UN Security Council. (See ACT, December 2017.) Subsequent attempts at the UN Security Council to restart attribution investigations were also blocked by Russia.

“The upcoming review conference provides an opportunity to reflect on the last five years of the work of this organization and set direction for the next five years,” Peter Wilson, UK ambassador to the Netherlands, said at the OPCW Executive Council meeting. “We must face up to the reality that our hard-won gains against the scourge of chemical weapons are being challenged like never before. We must stand together against chemical weapons use, and we must ensure that the OPCW and our new director-general have the tools they need to face the next five years.”

 

Posted: November 1, 2018

The Past, Present and Future of the Chemical Weapons Convention

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Remarks by Daryl Kimball to the Conference on Chemical Weapons, Armed Conflict and Humanitarian Law at Queens University, Kingston, Ontario on October 29, 2018 

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The Past, Present and Future of the Chemical Weapons Convention

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Conference on Chemical Weapons, Armed Conflict, and Humanitarian Law
Queens University, Kingston, Ontario
October 29, 2018

Good afternoon. Thanks to the Canadian Red Cross for inviting me here to Queens University to participate in this important and timely conference on one of the world’s most dangerous types of weapons.

Chemical weapons use has been outlawed worldwide for over 90 years and outlawed comprehensively through the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which bans all development, production, and deployment of deadly chemical arms and requires the verifiable destruction of remaining stockpiles.

Over the past twenty-plus years of the CWC’s existence, it has become a very sophisticated, resilient and effective disarmament regime. The OPCW has been tremendously successful in overseeing the demilitarization of vast chemical weapons stockpiles.

But the work of eliminating prohibited chemical weapons stockpiles is not quite over.

Not all states are party to the CWC, the use of chemical weapons has not completely abated, and the chemicals and technologies that can be used to create these weapons are still, all around us.

As the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Fernando Arias said in an interview last month:

“…our mission to verifiably destroy declared stockpiles has a conceivable end point. But our mission to prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons requires constant vigilance.”

Conferences like this one are a part of the ongoing work to reinforce the taboo against chemical weapons. In my talk today, I’m going to sketch out what the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention is and what it has accomplished. But to understand where we are, we need to consider where we have been. So, I want to begin with a brief review of the history surrounding the development, use, and reactions to chemical warfare. Then I will talk about the CWC itself, what it does and the challenges the regime faces today.

The Use of Chemical Weapons and the Evolution of the Norm Against Them

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 on the front lines near Ypres in 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” designed to diffuse poison gases.

Later, both sides would employ chemical weapons. And with the more widespread introduction of mustard gases in 1917, chemical weapons and agents injured some one million soldiers and killed approximately 100,000 during World War I.

In the United States and Canada, the public was particularly shocked by the prevalence of ailments suffered by returning veterans due to their exposure to chemical agents. That revulsion would, in turn, lead to the push for the Geneva Protocol of 1925 which sought to ban the use of biological and chemical weapons in the field of conflict.

However, 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 chemical attack.

Unfortunately, many of the countries that joined would join belatedly and with major reservations. China, France, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom all joined in the 1920s. Others would not join until much later. Japan did not join until 1970 and the United States until 1975. While limited, the Geneva Protocol helped to establish an international norm against CW use.

The taboo, however, was not strong enough.

Between the two world wars, there were a number of reports of use of chemical weapons in regional conflicts: 

  • Morocco in 1923-1926
  • Libya in 1930
  • China in 1934
  • Ethiopia in 1935-1940, and
  • Manchuria in 1937-1942

After the end of World War II in 1945, several states, particularly the United States and the Soviet Union build up chemical weapons stockpiles as part of their Cold War standoff.

And there were sporadic chemical weapons attacks in regional wars, including in the Yemen war of 1963-1967 when Egypt bombed Yemeni villages, killing some 1,500 people.

There were major uses of chemical weapons by Iraq in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war and in Saddam Hussein’s bombing of the Kurds in Halabja in 1988. Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks helped created a sense of urgency to the slow-moving CWC negotiations, which had begun in the early 1980s.

The failure of the United States in the 1980s to condemn the attacks against Iran undoubtedly emboldened Saddam Hussein. In response, other countries in the Middle East, particularly Syria, accelerated their chemical weapons programs.

Since the Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in 1997, the most significant cases of chemical weapons use have –of course – been in Syria during its brutal civil war.

Chemical Weapons Use Since 1997

The Assad regime launched chemical attacks against opposition forces on numerous occasions beginning in 2012, including a massive Sarin attack in August 2013 that killed more than 1,400 people.

The UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) found the Syrian government responsible for numerous other attacks, including in April 2014, March 2015, March 2016 and April 2017.

It also found the Islamic State responsible for chemical weapons attacks in August 2015 and September 2016.

Human rights observers continue to document further chemical weapons incidents in Syria.

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

In March 2018, the Russia agents used a Novichok to assassinate a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in the UK. These most recent incidents and attacks over the past six years have severely tested the chemical weapons prohibition regime.

The Path to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention

Today that regime is centered around the CWC. But the path to the CWC was not easy or quick.

And it was by no means a fate accompli.

In 1974, the Soviet Union and the United States commenced bilateral discussions on reducing chemical weapons stockpiles.

Formal, multilateral negotiation began at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in 1980.

The questions the negotiators had to grapple with were not simple, some of them included:

  • Should a new treaty just address certain American and Russian or Soviet stockpiles of nerve agents and mustard gas, or blister agents, as a first step towards a more comprehensive treaty?
  • Should it be a global treaty?
  • Should it ban just certain chemical agents and stockpiles that could be used for weapons or should it be a comprehensive ban? If so, what does that actually mean? How do you verify compliance?
  • Also, how do you establish criteria that would enable you to distinguish between the toxic chemicals that we need to prohibit and those that are needed for peaceful purposes that and or that we simply don't have to worry about it?

Through the 1980s there were no major breakthroughs. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union began developing even more dangerous agents, the Novichoks, and it expanded the production program of the traditional chemical warfare agents.

Nevertheless, under Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the Russians began to recognize and accept the need for mandatory onsite inspections as part of any global chemical weapons control regime.

Another important impetus was the engagement and support of the chemical industry. By the late-1980s, the industry had begun to realize that there might be a treaty and if so, they needed to get on board and make sure it would be something they could live with.

By 1989 these U.S.-Soviet negotiations produced a bilateral memorandum of understanding concerning verification and data exchange.

Finally, the CWC negotiations were concluded and the treaty was opened for signature in January 1993. The 65 ratifications needed for entry into force were achieved by April 1997.

The Chemical Weapons Convention

Today, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) current has 193 states party and is implemented by the 500-person strong Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) headquartered in The Hague.

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.

North Korea is perhaps the country of greatest concern. It has an estimated to possess a large arsenal of chemical weapons, likely over 5,000 metric tons, including mustard, phosgene, and nerve agents.

Syria is a party to the convention but is not in compliance.

The major work of the OPCW involves reviewing states-parties’ declarations detailing chemical weapons-related activities or materials and relevant industrial activities. After receiving declarations, the OPCW inspects and monitors, on an ongoing basis, states-parties’ facilities and activities that are relevant to the convention, to ensure compliance.

The Chemical Weapons Convention mandates several key obligations:

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

The CWC regulates chemical agents and the facilities that produce and store according to a set of categories and “schedules” listed in the treaty that based on the severity of risk they pose:

  • Schedule 1 chemicals and precursors pose a “high risk” to the convention and are rarely used for peaceful purposes. These include VX and sarin.
  • 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. One example is phosgene.
  • Schedule 3 chemicals are usually produced in large quantities for purposes not prohibited by the CWC but still pose a risk.

Destruction Requirements

The main result of the CWC over the past decade has been the verified destruction of the vast bulk of declared chemical weapons stockpiles and facilities. This has been an enormous undertaking.

Of the 193 states-parties to the CWC, eight had or still have declared chemical weapons stockpiles.

Of those eight countries, Albania, South Korea, India, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Russia have completed destruction of their declared arsenals.

As of December 2016, 90 of the 97 chemical weapons production facilities declared to the OPCW have either been destroyed or converted for peaceful purposes.

In addition, the OPCW has undertaken more than 5,000 inspections of more than 200 chemical weapons-related sites (stockpiles, former production facilities, and laboratories) and more than 1,100 chemical industry sites in 82 countries.

Russia and the United States

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

At the time the CWC was concluded, Russia had the largest declared stockpile with 40,000 metric tons at seven arsenals in six regions—oblasts and republics—of Russia.

The United States declared 28,577 metric tons at nine stockpiles in eight states and on Johnston Atoll west of Hawaii.

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.

These concerns over transportation of chemical weapons and over incineration as a method of disposal led to major changes in the U.S. demilitarization program, adding to cost and creating schedule delays. In my view, however, the changes were worthwhile from a public health standpoint.

The United States aims to complete the process by 2023. It will have cost around $45 billion to complete.

The Successful CW Removal and Destruction Operation in Syria

In 2012, the Syrian government finally admitted what had been long suspected: that it had chemical weapons. Then, in August 2013, the Assad regime launched a Sarin attack with rockets into the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, which led U.S. President Barack Obama to threaten the use of force to try to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal in August and September of 2013.

This threat prompted Moscow to work with Washington to help compel Assad to join the CWC on September 12, 2013 and declare its chemical weapons stockpile and agree to a plan for its elimination soon after.

This led to an ambitious operation that led to the verified removal and elimination of Syria’s massive arsenal of 1,308 metric tons of chemical agents, storage and production facilities, and associated equipment under the auspices of the OPCW—all in the middle of the ferocious Syrian civil war.

The complex, multinational disposal operation was a major milestone that effectively eliminated the threat of further large-scale chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime against the Syrian people and neighboring states.

The destruction processes were carried out through a remarkable operation on board the US Merchant Marine ship, Cape Ray, and in four countries – Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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.

However, reports continue to surface of chemical weapon use in Syria, raising questions about the accuracy of its initial declaration.

Current and Future Challenges to the CWC

CWC states parties and the OPCW have almost fulfilled the foundational goal of the CWC: the destruction of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles. More than 96% have been destroyed under OPCW supervision.

Unfinished Business: But despite the global ban and the successful destruction work, we are still seeing the ongoing use of chemical weapons by states and by some terrorist networks, the remaining U.S. stockpile must be destroyed, and four more states, Egypt, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan still need to join the convention.

  • Destruction of the remaining U.S. Stockpile by 2023
  • Universalization: North Korea and its est. stockpile of 5,000 tonnes of agent, and the Middle East
  • Noncompliance and accountability

National Implementation: Another challenge is ensuring compliance with the treaty’s provisions on national implementation, meaning efforts to put in place effective regulations and export control mechanisms for chemical agents.

Adapting Verification System: The CWC verification regime also needs to be adapted to match verification resources to CW proliferation challenges. More than half of all OPCW inspections are still related to disarmament, limiting the ability of the organization to detect and deter proliferation. There is an increasing number of chemical production facilities that pose proliferation risks, such as flexible, multipurpose production plants.

Closing the Loophole on Riot Control Agents: Article II.9(d) of the Chemical Weapons Convention designates law enforcement, including domestic riot control, as a potentially acceptable purpose for the use of certain toxic chemicals.

However, the range of potentially permissible chemicals has not been established. This provides a possible loophole for the use and development of ever-more sophisticated agents for such purposes would work against the prohibition of chemical weapons. There are 39 countries pushing to close this loophole.

Developing A New Attribution Mechanism

The war in Syria has put the issue of attribution in the spotlight, particularly in instances where CWC member-state Russia, which is Syria’s ally, has used its UN Security Council veto to thwart investigations.

The independent OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) has determined that chemical weapons were used by Syria and the Islamic State group, but Russia has blocked its renewal by the UN Security Council last year.

With new authority granted by CWC member-states earlier this year, Arias has said the OPCW is putting in place arrangements for the purpose of identifying entities responsible for chemical weapons use.

A special office for attribution will consist of a head of investigations and a few investigators and analysts who will be supported by existing Technical Secretariat expertise and structures.

“Those responsible [for chemical weapons attacks] should now have nowhere to hide and should be held accountable by the international community for breaking the global norm against chemical weapons,” Arias said last month in an interview with Arms Control Today.

The fourth review conference of the CWC will take place next month and member states will grapple with the ongoing task of ensuring that treaty obligations are fully implemented and that the CWC and the OPCW can be adapted in order to meet new challenges.

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

I want to thank you for the chance to speak to you today. I look forward to your questions.

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Posted: October 31, 2018

‘Everyone Has a Lot at Stake’: A Q&A with Fernando Arias, the new director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Fernando Arias, the new director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, discusses the challenges to the international chemical weapons ban and how the OPCW is responding.


October 2018

Fernando Arias, the new director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, discusses the challenges to the international chemical weapons ban and how the OPCW is responding.

Spanish diplomat Fernando Arias took office July 25 as the fourth director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), stepping into the leadership post at a time when the prohibition regime and international norms are being undermined by Syria’s open use of chemical weapons and by assassination plots using banned toxins blamed on Russia and North Korea.

Fernando Arias, the new director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, calls the re-emergence of chemical weapons, most notably in Syria, a “tragic reality” and says that the OPCW will act on its expanded mandate to identify violators of the Chemical Weapons Convention. (Photo: OPCW)In response to questions last month from Arms Control Today’s Alicia Sanders-Zakre, Arias discussed the challenges facing the OPCW, the actions underway to document violators of the chemical weapons ban more fully, and the measures he is employing to improve the transparency and responsiveness of the 193-member-state organization that is the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

The war in Syria has put the issue of attribution in the spotlight, particularly in instances where member-state Russia, Syria’s ally, has used its UN Security Council veto to thwart investigations. The independent OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) has determined that chemical weapons were used by Syria and the Islamic State group.

With new authority granted by CWC member-states, Arias said he is putting in place arrangements for the purpose of identifying entities responsible for chemical weapons use. A special office for attribution will consist of a head of investigations and a few investigators and analysts who will be supported by existing Technical Secretariat expertise and structures. “Those responsible [for chemical weapons attacks] should now have nowhere to hide and should be held accountable by the international community for breaking the global norm against chemical weapons,” Arias said.

Arias is a career diplomat who served as Spain’s UN ambassador from 2012 to 2013. Before becoming director-general, he served as Spain’s ambassador to the Netherlands and permanent representative to the OPCW from 2014 to 2018.

Congratulations on your election. What is your top goal as director-general?

I am committed to working with our member-states to protect, defend, and uphold the CWC. This means implementing the mandate given to the organization by the convention, as well as the decisions adopted by the executive council and the plenary body, the Conference of the States-Parties. I will also respect and develop the important work undertaken by my predecessors and their teams.

The OPCW is charged with verifiably eliminating chemical weapons, preventing their re-emergence, and promoting chemistry for economic and technological development. I am especially interested in shaping a balanced organization that ensures a stringent verification regime and offers cooperation and assistance in the very wide field of peaceful uses of chemistry, while addressing the growing threat of re-emergence of chemical weapons use.

Our organization has a track record of measurable results, and we will build on it. For instance, more than 96 percent of declared stockpiles have been eliminated. But there is ongoing work to verify the destruction of old chemical weapons that are a legacy of World War I and World War II and abandoned chemical weapons in China. Moving forward, we will have to evolve to meet the increasing needs of our member-states and the expectations of the international community. Doing so means good management of the organization and introducing the reforms necessary for keeping the OPCW fit for purpose and ready to face any new challenges.

What are currently the greatest threats to the CWC regime?

The main threat to the convention is the re-emergence of chemical weapons, which is no longer theoretical but rather a tragic reality. Despite the global ban, we have witnessed their ongoing use. What worries me is the proven willingness of governments, terrorists, and criminals to use chemicals as weapons indiscriminately. Chemical weapons belong in a history book, not on the front page of newspapers.

The OPCW has almost fulfilled its foundational goal, the destruction of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles. As mentioned, more than 96 percent of these stockpiles have been destroyed under the OPCW’s watchful eye. Although the remaining work is on track for completion by 2023, four more countries [Egypt, Israel (a signatory), North Korea, and South Sudan] need to join the convention before the world can have confidence that all chemical weapons stockpiles have been accounted for.

As the world’s chemical weapons watchdog, our mission to verifiably destroy declared stockpiles has a conceivable end point. But our mission to prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons requires constant vigilance in perpetuity. As we move into the postdestruction phase, our mission will be far from complete. In fact, it will only grow in significance and complexity.

Destroying chemical weapons is a relatively straightforward exercise; preventing their re-emergence is much more complex. Science and technology are constantly evolving, introducing new potential for misuse. The OPCW’s experience and expertise makes it the undisputed global authority on chemical weapons. In response to an evolving security landscape, OPCW member-states and the Technical Secretariat have become increasingly agile and resilient as we respond to threats. Even so, we must continually adapt and grow to contribute to global security.

This is especially crucial in an era of increasing competition for resources. Securing the resources the OPCW needs to uphold the global ban on chemical weapons requires the continued engagement of our member-states.

Are you concerned about the erosion of the norm against chemical weapons use due to repeated chemical attacks by Syria, a CWC state-party? If so, how will you address this problem?

Of course, I am concerned about any erosion of the norm. Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, and for any reason is unacceptable.

Chemical weapons use in Syria has been confirmed by both the OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission and the JIM. These findings and recommendations represent an opportunity to uphold the prohibition against chemical weapons and to ensure accountability for those who violate it. This prohibition is unequivocal. All are bound to never, under any circumstances, develop, produce, stockpile, transfer, or use chemical weapons.

Since April 2014, the OPCW has been investigating allegations of the use of toxic chemicals as weapons in Syria. Our technical teams of impartial, experienced, and expert chemists and inspectors seek to establish the facts. The facts confirm the use of chemical weapons, including sarin, chlorine, and sulfur mustard.

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons technicians on April 20, 2017 show the type of equipment worn by investigators in the UK poisoning case of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal. (Photo: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)The OPCW is making use of all of the legal tools at its disposal to clarify and resolve the remaining gaps, inconsistencies, and discrepancies with the Syrian declaration [of its stockpiles]. This will continue to take an investment of time and effort, and we are working with the Syrian authorities to ensure the convention’s rules are implemented. The nations that have committed themselves to the convention also have to take steps to protect the global prohibition enshrined within it.

What challenges remain for completing the destruction of all declared chemical weapons?

Verifiably destroying most of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles has been an unparalleled achievement of the CWC. This treaty has so far proven to be the most successful at eliminating an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. However, the convention has yet to achieve universal membership. Until we reach it, we cannot know with confidence what other stockpiles of weapons may exist. I encourage the four remaining countries to join with the rest of the world and take up the responsibilities of the convention.

The United States, which has the last remaining declared chemical weapons stockpile, is scheduled to complete its destruction by 2023. How will the OPCW’s role change once all declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been destroyed?

The OPCW has always had a multifaceted mission. When people think of the OPCW, destruction of chemical weapons most likely comes to mind. This is true, but it is not our sole mission. We also aim to prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons by working with governments, industry, and other international organizations. We have been working with our member-states to provide assistance and protection against chemical threats. In parallel, we strive to foster international cooperation to strengthen implementation of the convention and to promote the peaceful uses of chemistry.

When all declared stockpiles have been verifiably eliminated, the OPCW will still be actively pursuing these goals. The organization needs to retain the knowledge, expertise, and equipment to support any future destruction activities. This may come about with the OPCW gaining new members. The same goes with addressing the threat of chemical weapons use. We need to maintain and broaden the expertise we have gained across the years if we want to be successful in fulfilling this mission.

Eliminating chemical weapons in a way that is safe and secure and protects the environment, as mandated by the convention, is very expensive and very complex. Even once all declared stockpiles are destroyed, concerns will remain about the management and trade of chemicals. As long as there are those with malicious intent, the OPCW will continue its work with national authorities and the United Nations and other international organizations to reduce the risk of the diversion of chemicals in the fight against the harmful misuse of chemicals by anyone, anywhere, and under any circumstances.

Will you increase transparency and civil society engagement, as the past two directors-general have done?

Of course. Civil society has been a champion of the convention from even before its inception. The community of researchers, scientists, and nongovernmental organizations is essential for raising awareness of chemical weapons issues and keeping us all accountable. Over the last few years, there has been an emphasis on the role of education and outreach. I want to see this continue. The next generation of chemistry practitioners and decision-makers will play a critical role in ensuring that the global ban on chemical weapons remains strong.

I will continue to encourage civil society to engage with the OPCW and its member-states. Since the last review conference, in 2013, we are projected to more than double civil society participation for this upcoming review conference, in November. As our organization focuses more and more on preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons, we understand that achieving that goal will require the engagement of a much broader cross-section of society than before.

Transparency is important for organizations to thrive. For instance, one step I have already taken is to ensure senior leadership positions are recruited through a more open and transparent process. For the first time, recently we have publicly advertised director-level vacancies in an effort to find the best and brightest for these critical roles. As the organization faces new challenges, we need strong leadership and a good, independent, and professional team.

Another key to improved transparency is access to information. The OPCW has a new website that communicates with authority and trust while making information easy to find and use. This is part of an effort, initiated by my predecessor, to make the OPCW more engaging and accountable. This new website is a core part of our effort to use digital platforms such as social media to reach people all over the world.

Before leaving office, your predecessor, Ahmet Üzümcü, called the OPCW’s former lack of attribution power a “major gap.” What should be the role of the OPCW in assigning blame for chemical weapons attacks?

The international community has long placed its trust in the OPCW to rid the world of chemical weapons. Determining that a chemical weapon has been used is an essential step, but it is not enough. As of this past June and through the decision adopted by the Conference of States-Parties, the OPCW has been tasked with the mission to identify the perpetrators. So far, we have been detectives who could only say if a crime has happened; now we can identify who did it. But it is up to a court or others to determine the consequences. Attribution is not accountability.

Those responsible should now have nowhere to hide and should be held accountable by the international community for breaking the global norm against chemical weapons. Achieving justice involves a wider range of international institutions and mechanisms, but the OPCW will do its part in the process. Attribution will be our contribution.

How will you advance the recent decision in late June to give the OPCW the mandate to assign blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria?

To clarify, the decision adopted by the Conference of States-Parties addresses the threat of chemical weapons use. It is not only about Syria. Instead, the decision lays out several avenues for OPCW action to address the use of chemical weapons.

For instance, the OPCW has been tasked for the first time to investigate uses of chemical weapons for the purposes of attribution. We will take on this task in instances where the Fact-Finding Mission has determined chemical weapons were used or likely used in Syria. We would also do this if a member-state investigating possible chemical weapons use on its territory asks us for assistance.

Diplomats speak at the Fourth Special Session of the Conference of States-Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, held at The Hague on June 26. (Photo: OPCW)The OPCW will help with efforts to pursue justice by preserving and providing information to relevant UN investigatory entities. We have been asked to further assist our member-states in preventing chemical terrorism while helping them develop protection against a potential attack. Finally, per the request of the Conference of States-Parties, we will propose measures to strengthen the verification regime. I am confident that all of these measures, once identified and implemented, will help to make our world a safer place.

I have set up a task force that has been working swiftly and intensively to implement the decision. The task force has consulted with relevant international organizations and structures that deal with attribution issues. The Technical Secretariat currently has the capability to support this new mission, but we need additional and complementary expertise and skills in investigations, forensics, and related analysis. The task force has assessed the human, financial, and technological resources and organizational structures needed.

Taking on this new mission successfully requires adequate resourcing. I have faith that our member-states will grant the OPCW the means it needs to fulfill the mission they have given us.

In terms of chemical weapons use in Syria, we are creating a new office responsible for attribution that will report directly to me. This special office for attribution will consist of a head of investigations and a few investigators and analysts who will be supported by existing Technical Secretariat expertise and structures. As attribution can serve to deter the use of chemical weapons, this is one way that we are implementing our mandate to prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons. We need to take an integrated approach to this issue, using our current skills and recruiting new staff and resources to meet demands for specific skill sets.

The OPCW’s findings must hold up to technical and legal scrutiny. The design and implementation of the decision must be beyond reproach to ensure that those who are identified as responsible for the use of chemical weapons are ultimately held accountable, not by the OPCW but by the appropriate authorities.

What should states-parties do at the Fourth CWC Review Conference in November to strengthen the treaty?

The conference is a crucial yet narrow window of opportunity for our member- states to set the OPCW’s strategy and priorities for the next five years. Its outcomes may have a lasting impact on the tone and structure of the organization as we further transition into the postdestruction era.

The increasing focus on preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons and confronting the threat of chemical weapons use will mean changes for what we do and how we do it. Accordingly, the conference must consider how to match sustainable resources to the responsibilities and composition of the OPCW.

The time allocated for the review conference is short, but the stakes for the organization are high. Member-states have gathered to deliberate on the future priorities of the OPCW and the work of the conference. These deliberations are the foundations for what I hope will be a forward-looking and constructive outcome document.

For more than 20 years, these governments have invested in a global effort to verifiably eliminate declared stockpiles of chemical weapons, while preventing the re-emergence of such weapons and simultaneously promoting the peaceful uses of chemistry. In the face of today’s threats, everyone has a lot at stake to make sure the regime underpinned by the CWC continues to function and adapt as needed.

Banishing the scourge of chemical weapons depends on those who have built the international system to make full use of it. The senseless loss of life is a reminder that the protection promised by the convention is only as strong as those willing to uphold it.

Posted: October 1, 2018

UK Names Two Russians in Novichok Poisonings

The Skripal assassination attempt was “not a rogue operation,” says UK Prime Minister May.


October 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The United Kingdom charged two Russian nationals on Sept. 5 with the attempted murder in March of former spy Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia using the nerve agent Novichok, bolstering its case that the Russian government instigated the crime.

In a police photo released September 5, Novichok poisoning suspects are shown on CCTV in Salisbury, UK, March 4. The two men, Russian nationals using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are suspects in the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.  (Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images)According to the UK investigation, the two men, who traveled under the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are members of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. The accusation resulted from a months-long UK police investigation, including the analysis of more than 10,000 hours of CCTV videos.

The UK previously accused the Russian government, but had not identified individual suspects. (See ACT, April 2018.)

UK Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking in Parliament, said on Sept. 5 that the latest finding proves even more definitively Russian government culpability. She vowed to press for the creation of a new EU chemical weapons sanctions regime and to empower the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to “attribute chemical weapons to other states beyond Syria.” The OPCW was granted the mandate to investigate the responsible party for chemical attacks in Syria in June. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

European nations and the United States have taken steps in response to the attacks, which included expelling hundreds of Russian diplomats and enacting new sanctions. In November, the United States is expected to adopt still harsher sanctions against Russia for its chemical weapons use unless the government admits its guilt, forswears future use, and allows international inspectors to verify its assurances. (See ACT, September 2018.)

At a UN Security Council meeting on Sept. 9 called by the UK, several nations supported the UK’s conclusions and called for strengthening the Chemical Weapons Convention, the 1993 accord that bans chemical weapons. Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia dismissed the allegations a “crazy cocktail of unfounded lies,” continuing a pattern of denial of Russian and Syrian chemical weapons use.

In an interview on Russia’s government-funded news channel RT, the two suspects claimed they had visited Salisbury twice as tourists to see the city’s famous cathedral. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the men were civilians. “We, of course, checked who these people are. There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you,” Putin stated at an economic forum on Sept. 12.

UK newspapers have reported that a UK-based investigative website, Bellingcat, independently has obtained documentation showing that the names appear to be cover identities linked to the Russian security services and that plane tickets to the UK were bought at the last minute, not as part of a long-planned vacation, as the men claimed.

Laboratory tests by the OPCW confirmed on Sept. 4 the UK’s finding that Novichok was also the chemical agent that killed Dawn Sturgess and injured Charlie Rowley on June 30 in Amesbury. Sturgess and Rowley appear to have been poisoned accidentally by picking up a discarded perfume bottle that held the remains of the nerve agent used on the Skripals.

The two Russians are also “prime suspects” for the Amesbury incident given the link between the two events, May said in her Parliament remarks. The UK has issued Interpol red notices and domestic and European arrest warrants, although the men cannot be arrested and brought to trial as long as they remain in Russia.

Posted: October 1, 2018

UN Reports Syrian Chlorine Attacks

UN Reports Syrian Chlorine Attacks

A UN report found the Syrian government used chlorine as a weapon four times from January to July 2018, as the international community issued strong warnings against future chemical weapons attacks in a prospective Syrian assault on the Idlib province. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, established in 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council, has issued 15 other reports, finding that chemical weapons were used in 34 attacks in Syria as of January 2018, most of which were attributed to the Assad regime.

Syrians reportedly suffering from breathing difficulties following Syrian regime’s Feb. 4 air strikes on the northwestern town of Saraqeb rest around a stove at a field hospital. (Photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)The report blamed the Syrian government for weaponized chlorine use in Karm al-Rasas, near Douma, on Jan. 22 and Feb. 1; in Saraqeb on Feb. 4; and in Douma on April 7. Investigations of the April 7 attack are ongoing, and the report could not confirm if another agent in addition to chlorine was used. (See ACT, May 2018.) The Syrian American Medical Society and the investigative website Bellingcat reported five chemical weapons attacks in January and February and two in March. (See ACT, April 2018.)

France, the United Kingdom, and the United States publicly declared that they will launch airstrikes against governmental targets if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons in Idlib province, where about 3 million civilians are imperiled.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: October 1, 2018

What You Need to Know About Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

Why are chemical weapons attacks in Syria of so much concern to the international community? Over the course of the horrific five and a half years of the Syrian civil war, the government of Bashar al-Assad, his Russian allies, and extremist fighters, have committed numerous war crimes. Some 500,000 people have died, and more than 10 million have been displaced. There is no military solution to the conflict, yet the killing continues. Among the most heinous aspects of the war has been the repeated use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime since late 2012, including the massive August 2013...

North Korea’s Other Weapons of Mass Destruction

Why Pyongyang’s chemical weapons also require attention.


September 2018
By Cristina Varriale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of Chemical Weapons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Role of Chemical Weapons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asymmetric Advantages

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Posted: September 1, 2018

U.S. Sanctions Russia for CW Use

Russia denies the charge and threatens “countermeasures.”


September 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted: September 1, 2018

Timeline of Syrian Chemical Weapons Activity, 2012-2018

June 2018

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

Updated: June 2018

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

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

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

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2012

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

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

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

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

2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A second UN Security Council meeting was held.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015

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

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

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

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

2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated by Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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Posted: August 17, 2018

OPCW Granted Mandate to Place Blame

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


July/August 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted: July 1, 2018

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