The Chemical Weapons Convention: Setting a High Multilateral Disarmament Standard

2 Oct

On Monday 1 October, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) celebrated fifteen years of serving as the custodian of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (CWC). The Ministerial Meeting was held on the final day of the UN General Assembly’s high-level segment and featured a slew of statements from member states as well as the Secretary-General and the Director-General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat that resides in The Hague, Netherlands. The CWC, as noted by several delegations on Monday afternoon, is an example of the success that can be achieved in the field of multilateral disarmament. The purpose of this meeting was to both generate support for the long-term objectives of the Convention and also to provide impetus to the Third Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties to Review the Operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, scheduled to be convened in April 2013.

With 188 states parties, the CWC confirms that it is, indeed, possible to eliminate an entire category of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) through nearly universal adoption of a legally-binding convention. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the eight member states that remain outside of the CWC, namely those that are non-states parties including Angola, Egypt, the DPRK, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria, as well as Israel and Myanmar that have signed the CWC but not yet ratified it, to accede to the Treaty and join the international community’s commitment to destroy all existing chemical weapons stockpiles. In addition to its near universal participation, the CW’s twin pillars of eliminating existing stockpiles and preventing the emergence of new types of chemical weapons are significant commitments to WMD non-proliferation and disarmament.  As the UK Ambassador reminded the attendees, as of August 2012, 75 percent of all declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been verifiably destroyed.

Among the issues highlighted, several member states underscored the importance of the peaceful uses of chemistry including the delegate of Iran, the newly appointed Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), who noted the importance of chemistry to overall economic development. Cooperation with the chemical industry was a topic also of interest to states parties; in particular the delegate of Japan called for closer cooperation between the OPCW and relevant industry stakeholders. Also encouraged was victims’ assistance. The Iranian delegate, on behalf of NAM, called for an international support network and a voluntary trust fund.

Moreover, the robust verification regime of the CWC was highlighted as an important and unique contribution to multilateral disarmament. The Cuban delegate rightly stated that the total, verifiable elimination of weapons within a specified time frame is a fundamental pillar of disarmament. The Mexican delegate also noted that the exemplary verification regime of the CWC sets a high standard for multilateral disarmament writ large. The specifics of the CWC example illustrate how robust verification is imperative to comprehensive and universal disarmament measures. The CWC Verification Regime is split into two operational units of the Technical Secretariat—the Verification Division and the Inspectorate Division. The Verification Annex to the Convention provides a comprehensive regime for verifying all chemical weapons-related activities, as well as routine monitoring of the chemical industry through on-site inspections. The Verification Annex is by far the most extensive portion of the CWC. (More detailed information on the OPCW’s verification activities can be found here.)

Some delegations also made pointed comments on the recent statements by Syrian officials regarding the government’s possession of chemical weapons. The delegations of the EU, Norway, France, and the Secretary-General all expressed concern over the admission of Syrian officials of the government’s possession and possible use of chemical weapons. The Director-General of the OPCW has echoed the Secretary-General’s concerns and has stated that the OPCW continues to “monitor developments there closely.” The widespread outrage over such claims that the Syrian government possesses and, even more, would contemplate use of such weapons is indicative of the well-established and common international norm that use of chemical weapons is entirely unacceptable.

The success of the chemical weapons regime is encouraging in a field that often struggles with a lack of consensus and a deficit of political will necessary to eliminate such egregious weapons. As noted by the Turkish delegate, attention must also be paid to nuclear and biological weapons, in particular nuclear disarmament through a regional approach in light of the forthcoming Conference on a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East. Elimination of an entire category of WMD is possible through universal participation and robust verification—such an important goal must be vigorously pursued in other disarmament contexts.



—Katherine Prizeman

One Response to “The Chemical Weapons Convention: Setting a High Multilateral Disarmament Standard”


  1. The Third Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) | gapwblog - April 17, 2013

    […] CWC Review Conference. The CWC, adopted in 1993 and now comprised of 188 states parties, has been hailed a success by many disarmament civil society advocates and member states alike for setting a high […]

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