The Third Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)

17 Apr

For the last two weeks (9-18 April 2013), states parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) have been meeting at The Hague for the third 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 multilateral disarmament standard. In particular, the CWC’s robust verification regime implemented through the Technical Secretariat of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been identified as the type of verification measure that should be required for all comprehensive and universal disarmament measures, namely a similar convention on nuclear weapons.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was on hand to deliver opening remarks to the Review Conference and urged complete chemical weapons disarmament before the next meeting scheduled for 2018. Also noteworthy, non-governmental organizations addressed a CWC Review Conference for the first time in an official plenary setting.

The previous two CWC Review Conferences (Rev Con), as well as the current third session, are mandated by the Treaty itself to “undertake reviews of the operation of this Convention. Such reviews shall take into account any relevant scientific or technological developments.” This Rev Con, covered capably by colleagues at The Hague (see: cbw-events.org.uk for up-to-date and current analysis and summary), has seen the emergence of some several themes, some more contentious than others. As reported by colleagues present at the Rev Con, some of the important issues arising from the current debate include

Syria

As expected, the issue of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria has been treated at the Rev Con. The government of Syria, which is not a CWC state party, has requested that the Secretary-General investigate allegations of use by the rebel groups. The Syrian government submitted allegations of chemical weapons use by rebel groups on 20 May. However, the investigation has not yet taken place nor the investigating team dispatched to Syria. Allegations concerning both parties in the conflict have ultimately complicated and delayed the investigation. States parties have been debating how precisely to treat this issue in the forthcoming Final Document. It remains to be seen how this current issue will appear in the document.

Post-Destruction Era

As set forth in the Convention, all chemical weapons were to be destroyed within ten years of entry-into-force of the Treaty (29 April 2007) with a possible extension of five years. This original deadline has not been met. A “Final Extended Deadline of 29 April 2012” taken by the Conference of States Parties (CSP) in 2011 refers to the states parties Libya, Russia, and the United States that have not yet fully destroyed their remaining stockpiles. This decision requires that these possessor states report (albeit in closed sessions) to each regular session of the Executive Council on measures undertaken to accelerate progress or overcome problems related to destruction programs. As these issues of destruction are particularly sensitive, these discussions have been challenging to engage. Nevertheless, it has been argued by some NGO colleagues that it is not a lack of political will that has been inhibiting destruction and that states parties with existing stocks have, in fact, been working towards destruction. Rather, technical and economic reasons have been identified as the main contributors to the delay in destruction activities.

Furthermore, given that stakeholders are now discussing a ‘post-destruction era’, the future role of the OPCW is being debated. The responsibilities of verification, consultation, and cooperation will inevitably be shifted as universal destruction of all existing chemical weapons is fully realized over the next (hopefully) few years.

Advancements in Science and Technology

Article XI of the Convention concerning economic and technological development has also been addressed. Wide recognition that the CWC must keep pace with scientific and technological developments is clear and the work of the Scientific Advisory Board has been specifically underscored. Such “future-proofing” of the CWC is an important component of its long-term success in maintaining a world free of chemical weapons.

The CWC in the Context of Multilateral Disarmament Failures

The success of the chemical weapons regime is encouraging in the broader disarmament field that often struggles with a lack of consensus and a deficit of political will necessary to eliminate such egregious weapons of mass destruction. It is clear that elimination of an entire category of WMD is possible through universal participation and robust verification. This helpful and successful strategy must be vigorously pursued in other disarmament contexts.

The current stalemate that seems almost endemic to various parts of the UN disarmament machinery—the UN Disarmament Commission and the Conference on Disarmament—as well as other perceived failures in multilateral disarmament such as the slow progress made in implementing the 2010 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Action Plan and the failure to convene a 2012 conference on a Middle Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction have made so-called “successes” in disarmament difficult to come by. Nevertheless, the hope is that the CWC will be just the first of many future multilateral disarmament instruments that strengthen the rule of law and eliminate such heinous weapons with the potential to wreak unthinkable havoc on humanity.

 

–Katherine Prizeman

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