Tag Archives: chemical weapons

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


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

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