Conference on Disarmament: Hope for Chemical Weapons Ban in 1992

UN Chronicle, December 1991 | Go to article overview

Conference on Disarmament: Hope for Chemical Weapons Ban in 1992


A final agreement in 1992 on an international convention banning chemical weapons was predicted at the conclusion of this year's session of the Conference on Disarmament.

"Our work has acquired a qualitatively new content, and negotiations have now entered a final stage", said Serguei Batsanov, outgoing Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Chemical Weapons. The scope of the future convention had been expanded to include such a fundamental obligation as the prohibition of use of chemical weapons. Moreover, the Committee had been mandated to intensify the negotiations "with the view to striving to achieve a final agreement on the Convention by 1992", he added.

This new hope was largely attributable to a United States proposal announced in May, dealing with two key obstacles in the negotiations. In a message to the Conference, United States President George Bush said his country would drop its insistence on a right of retaliation with chemical weapons and on keeping 2 per cent of its chemical weapons arsenal until all chemical weapons-capable States had signed the convention.

Concluding the session on 4 September, the Conference adopted its annual report to the General Assembly's forty-sixth session, which contains the reports of its five Ad Hoc Committees on chemical weapons, a nuclear-test ban, the prevention of an arms race in outer space, on radiological weapons and on security assurances for non-nuclear-weapon States. It also received a report from the expert group on seismic events.

During the seven-month session, which began on 22 January and was held in three parts, the Conference also considered other disarmament issues: cessation of a nuclear-arms race and nuclear disarmament, disarmament and prevention of nuclear war, including all related matters. Agreement on an organizational framework for consideration of the item dealing with the comprehensive programme of disarmament still eluded the Conference.

The Conference is a multilateral negotiating body on disarmament consisting of the five nuclear-weapon States (China, France, USSR, United Kingdom and United States) and 34 other countries. Non-members are invited, upon their request, to participate in its work.

Breakthrough reported

Although the United States proposal was considered a "breakthrough" by some delegates, many felt that remaining problems surrounding a chemical weapons ban should not be underestimated. Discussions on challenge inspection, for example, hinted at major difficulties, according to Adolf Ritter von Wagner, the new Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Chemical Weapons. A cost-effective and practicable system of verification of the chemical industry, while balancing breadth of coverage with protection of legitimate industrial activity, must be found, he added.

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Conference on Disarmament: Hope for Chemical Weapons Ban in 1992
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