"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Hanoi Summit Ends Abruptly: What's Next? | North Korean Denuclearization Digest, March 6, 2019

Hanoi Summit Ends Abruptly: What’s Next? The second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump ended abruptly on day two without any interim agreement and without clarity about the next steps to advance denuclearization and peacebuilding on the Korean peninsula. Nonetheless, both leaders appear confident that negotiations will continue. U.S. and North Korean officials offered different explanations for why the two leaders were unable to make any announcements during the Feb. 27-28 Hanoi meetings, which originally included a scheduled signing ceremony. The...

OPCW Moves to Update Banned Chemicals List

March 2019
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Reacting to the use of a lethal nerve agent in the United Kingdom in March 2018, the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) agreed on Jan. 14 to expand the list of banned chemicals defined by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). It was the first time a change to the treaty’s Schedule 1 list of the most dangerous chemicals has been approved since the 193-nation pact prohibiting chemical weapons entered into force in 1997.

The change followed a chemical attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom in March 2018, and the OPCW’s subsequent confirmation that the chemical was a type of Novichok, a family of nerve agents. The United States and many other nations have accused Russia’s GRU intelligence agency of conducting the attack. (See ACT, April 2018.)

Novichok-related chemicals were not listed in the treaty’s Schedule 1, although the pact bans the use of any toxic chemical as a weapon, even if it is not included on that list.

Adding Novichok chemicals to Schedule 1 will strengthen the treaty by subjecting those chemicals to declaration and verification under the treaty, Canadian Ambassador to the Netherlands Sabine Nolke said on Jan. 14. The Russian mission to the Netherlands denounced the proposal as politically motivated.

Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States first proposed adding the chemicals to the treaty’s list in October 2018, and the 41-member OPCW Executive Council approved the proposal by consensus in January despite Russia’s reported disassociation with the decision. The treaty allows any party to object to the change within 90 days, and such an objection would lead to a vote by all treaty parties. If there is no objection, the change will enter into force 180 days following the January decision.

Russia submitted a proposal in late November to add five chemicals to the Schedule 1 list, but the council rejected the proposed change on Feb. 25. The OPCW Technical Secretariat determined that four of the five chemicals met its guidelines, but that the fifth may not. Russia refused to remove the fifth chemical from its proposal, according to Sumita Dixit, Canada’s deputy permanent representative to the OPCW. The Russian Embassy in the Netherlands blamed the rejection of its proposal on “politicized causes” in a Feb. 26 press briefing. Nolke tweeted the same day that Russia wanted to distract from the use of Novichok.

EU Sanctions

In the meantime, the European Union and the United States have taken their own steps to penalize the perpetrators of the UK chemical weapons attack.

On Jan. 21, the European Council imposed sanctions on the Russian agents allegedly responsible for the Novichok attack, as well as on the leader of the GRU.

On a separate chemical weapons matter, the council also sanctioned a Syrian research center and five individuals involved in Syrian chemical weapons use. The new sanctions bar travel to the European Union and freeze assets, and EU persons and entities are prohibited from doing business with the sanctioned targets.

“This sends a clear message that the world condemns chemical weapons use wherever it occurs,” said UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt the day the sanctions were announced.

The sanctions are the first taken under a new regime adopted by the European Council in October 2018, intending to penalize those nations involved with the development or use of chemical weapons regardless of nationality or location. (See ACT, November 2018.)

In December 2018, under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, the United States added the two GRU agents allegedly responsible for carrying out the Novichok attack to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list, blocking their assets and generally prohibiting U.S. persons from conducting financial transactions with them.

Last August, the United States banned national security-related exports to Russia under the 1991 Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act. (See ACT, September 2018.) The law stipulates that the United States must impose a still harsher second round of sanctions on Russia because U.S. President Donald Trump did not certify to Congress in November that Russia provided reliable assurances that it is no longer using chemical weapons.


Nerve agent attacks have led Chemical Weapons Convention parties to update the treaty's list ofmost dangerous chemicals.

The P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, Feb. 25, 2019

Pence Calls on Europeans to Leave JCPOA U.S. Vice President Mike Pence explicitly called on “our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal” in remarks at the Feb. 13-14 Warsaw summit on peace and security in the Middle East and at the Munich Security Conference Feb. 16. Pence’s criticism of the Iran deal did not appear to gain any traction with the major European powers, some of whom put forward a robust defense of their Iran policy and the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In separate remarks at the Munich conference, German Minister...

How Can Norway, Sweden and Switzerland Stay Engaged with the TPNW?

Reports commissioned by Norway , Sweden * and Switzerland each recommended against signing and ratifying the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). These government-mandated inquiries may advise against ratification, but that should not be the end of each country’s engagement with the TPNW. The reports requested by Norway, Sweden and Switzerland rejected ratification of the TPNW in part because of a concern that ratifying would prevent them from continuing to play a bridge-building role between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states, largely due to nuclear-...

U.S. Global Summit on Iran Faces Pushback | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert

U.S. Global Summit on Iran Faces Pushback The United States and Poland are co-hosting a summit on Middle East stability with a particular focus on countering Iran, although several European foreign ministers are planning to skip the event. The ministerial-level meeting is scheduled for Feb. 13-14 in Warsaw. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News Jan. 11 that the summit will “focus on Middle East stability and peace, freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence." The Polish Ministry of...

President Trump, Stop Using Tear Gas on Asylum Seekers

The U.S. decision to fire tear gas at men, women and children seeking asylum at the U.S./Mexican border may be legally dubious, but the brazen immorality of using a terrifying and indiscriminate weapon on a vulnerable crowd is undeniable. U.S. border patrol agents fired CS gas, a form of tear gas, into crowds of migrant men, women and children over the border with Mexico near San Diego and Tijuana on Jan. 1 and Nov. 25. The impact was horrific. Tear gas causes eye pain, coughing, burning sensations in the throat and nose and can lead to vomiting, fainting and even temporary vision loss. “I...

North Korea Denuclearization Digest, January 11, 2019

Kim Calls for U.S. Actions to Advance Talks North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in his annual New Year’s address that he is willing to meet U.S. President Donald Trump “anytime,” but said that Pyongyang is waiting for Washington to take the next steps to advance negotiations on denuclearization and peace. Kim said that if the United States responds to North Korea’s “proactive, prior efforts with trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions” it could lead to “more definite and epochal measures.” The failure to make progress, however, may compel North Korea to “find a new way for...

Russia Blocks Consensus at CWC Conference

January/February 2019
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

When states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) gathered in The Hague in late November to review the treaty, their work to uphold the norm against chemical weapons amid repeated use in Syria was challenged by a country that had played a leading role in negotiating the accord.

A sign points the way for delegates to the Chemical Weapons Convention conference sessions at The Hague in November 2018. (Photo: Alicia Sanders-Zakre/Arms Control Association)Russia, now seeking to cover for a Middle Eastern ally, tried largely unsuccessfully to thwart international efforts to investigate chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime. Moscow’s actions defied the international consensus that has undergirded the legal prohibitions on the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons.

Together with the United States, Russia had worked to secure the adoption of the 1997 chemical weapons ban and for many years played a constructive role in upholding the treaty. In 2013, Russia forged a deal to eliminate more than 1,300 metric tons of Syrian chemical weapons. In 2015 it agreed to a United Nations-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to investigate chemical weapons users in Syria.

Over the past several years, however, Russian behavior regarding chemical weapons shifted dramatically. In March, Russia blatantly violated the convention by using a nerve agent in the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom. (See ACT, April 2018.)

It has also worked more subtly to weaken or eliminate the chemical weapons investigations it had once helped to construct. In November 2017, Russia vetoed the extension of the JIM mandate. (See ACT, December 2017.) Russia had increasingly belittled the reports that found that the Syrian military uses chemical weapons against rebels and civilians.

With Russia exercising its Security Council veto to block efforts to restart investigations, a special session of CWC states-parties sought to get around Russia by voting in June 2018 to create a new investigative body through the OPCW. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

The dispute spilled over to the sessions of the CWC annual conference of states-parties and the five-year review conference held Nov. 21–30, where Russia sought to obstruct implementation of the June decision.

At the start of the conference, Russia, joined by China, introduced a draft decision that would have postponed the beginning of investigations until after an open-ended working group had reviewed the decision to start investigations. The Russian effort failed by a vote of 82–30.

Russia and Iran then fought to amend and vote down the 2019 OPCW program and budget. The program and budget is typically agreed by consensus in the OPCW Executive Council meeting preceding the conference of states-parties.

This year, however, Russia refused to accept the proposed budget that included funding for an investigative mechanism to attribute chemical weapons attacks, and so the budget was brought to a vote at the conference. The budget passed by a vote of 99 to 27, after rejections of Russian and Iranian amendments that would have gutted the budget’s allocated funds for the investigations.

States-parties did succeed in adopting a final conference report, but only after a delay due to difficulty in agreeing on final report language. As a result of the dispute, however, states-parties for the first time in CWC history failed to reach consensus on a final document at the subsequent treaty review conference.

Russia’s success in blocking a consensus review conference document and forcing the OPCW budget to a vote undercut what was otherwise near-universal international support for the norms represented by the CWC.

“We should be under no illusion as to why we have not reached consensus,” the United Kingdom said in a statement Nov. 30. “A very small minority who have used, or defended those that use, chemical weapons have obstructed our efforts.”

For its part, Russia accused the West of breaking consensus. Russia has repeatedly denied that it is seeking to obstruct the chemical weapons ban. “Our critics may rest easy: we are not trying to ‘kill’ the budget of the organization thus paralyzing the implementation of the tasks of the convention. Quite the opposite: we are trying to find the only possible consensus-based variant of the budget,” Georgy Kalamanov, Russian deputy minister of industry and trade, told the conference of states-parties on Nov. 19.

Some analysts now wonder what Russia’s next move will be to undermine the new investigative body, which it has repeatedly characterized as “illegitimate.” Jean Pascal Zanders, an independent disarmament researcher who runs The Trench website, told Arms Control Today in a Dec. 17 interview that Russian and Syrian actions immediately following the approval of the OPCW budget could be indicative of their future strategy.

On Nov. 24, Russia and Syria announced a chlorine gas attack that it attributed to rebel groups in northwestern Aleppo, which analysts and Western governments have since denounced as staged or inaccurate. Syria formally requested that the OPCW investigate the attack.

“It is likely that this was either a staged incident intended to frame the opposition, or an operation which went wrong and from which Russia and the regime sought to take advantage,” the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office wrote in a press release on Dec. 7. The United States alleged in a State Department press release on the same day that Syrian and Russian personnel likely used tear gas against civilians on Nov. 24. Local reports have not shown any indication of chlorine gas, Zanders said.

Furthermore, the United States expressed concern that Syrian forces retained control of the site where the attack occurred, “allowing them to potentially fabricate samples and contaminate the site before a proper investigation” by the OPCW.

Russia and Syria have failed to block investigations, but they could attempt to prevent investigations from operating effectively, by actions such as seeking to waste limited OPCW resources with investigations of staged incidents or providing tampered evidence to investigators. “You can see how this is a trap that could be sprung,” said Zanders.


Tensions are evident over international efforts to investigate chemical weapons use in Syria.

Europeans Advance Alternative Payment System for Iran | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert

Europeans Advance Alternative Payment System for Iran Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that Iran will give the European Union more time to work out the details of its Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), destined to facilitate trade with Iran, but said that Tehran will not “wait forever.” While Iran remains in compliance with the multilateral nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iranian officials have repeatedly stated that Tehran will abandon the agreement if it is no longer in the country’s best interest. The SPV, announced by EU foreign policy...

Covering the CWC Conference of States Parties and 4th Review Conference

Through the following blog series, Arms Control Association research assistant Alicia Sanders-Zakre will be providing ongoing reports and analysis from the Chemical Weapons Convention Conference of States Parties and Review Conference from November 21-30. States Fail to Agree to Final Review Conference Document December 3, 2018 States-parties to the Fourth Review Conference were unable to agree to a final consensus document by the end of the conference due to disagreements over language around Syrian chemical weapons use, the joint-investigative mechanism and attribution for chemical weapons...


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