'Chemical Weapons Convention Unique Test Case.'

By Holtzer, Dafna | UN Chronicle, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

'Chemical Weapons Convention Unique Test Case.'


Holtzer, Dafna, UN Chronicle


On 29 April 1997, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction--the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)--entered into force. Responsible for implementing the Convention is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which has been established in The Hague, The Netherlands. Dafna Holtzer interviewed the first Director-General of the Organisation, Mr Jose M. Bustani of Brazil, for the UN Chronicle.

"The Convention has a clear purpose--to eliminate one whole category of weapons of mass destruction. It is a brand new type of Convention, a brand new type of organization. It has the necessary measures to ensure that new chemical weapons are not built and that existing weapons are destroyed. It can also support the development of the chemical industry for peaceful purposes. I hope that we can succeed because this could serve as a model for future treaties and future organizations," he said.

The Convention is the first multilateral disarmament agreement to provide for the elimination of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction under universally-applied international control. "The Convention is a unique test case in the field of multilateral disarmament. It is important that the CWC is adhered to by all States which possess chemical weapons or have the capabilities to develop them, as well as by States with an important chemical industry," Mr Bustani said. In July, already 97 countries had ratified or acceded to the Convention and an additional 70 countries had signed, but had not yet deposited their instruments of ratification. "Nobody really expected the Convention to come forth so quickly, particularly because it seemed, until the very last hour, that the United States might not ratify it. And if the United States--being one of the most important contributors and a major declared possessor of chemical weapons--would not ratify, it is difficult for one to imagine that the Organisation could have moved forward."

The United States deposited its instrument of ratification just before the entry into force of the Convention. The other significant declared possessor of chemical weapons--the Russian Federation--has also signed the Convention but has yet to ratify it. "Russia is maybe the greatest problem that we have. It is a major possessor of chemical weapons. According to the Convention, those who have these weapons bear the cost of their destruction and the supervision of this process by the Organisation. To have the Russian arsenal destroyed, the country needs an enormous amount of money," Mr. Bustani explained. It is estimated that the Russian Federation will require at least $3.7 billion to destroy its 40,000 tons of chemical weapons. So one does have there a real, financial obstacle.

"I believe that there is no significant political stance against ratification of the Convention on the part of the Duma, and the administration of the Russian Federation stands solidly behind this goal. I think that in the long run the - political advantages of ratifying the Convention will prevail. The State Duma is considering the ratification procedures already and hopefully will open the way for ratification by autumn of this year. The United States and the European countries have pledged money to assist the Russian Federation with the destruction. In the end, it is in the interest not only of the Russian people, but also of the whole world, that the Russian chemical weapons are destroyed," the Director-General told the UN Chronicle.

Reporting and routine inspection requirements

Many of the chemicals that can be used to produce chemical weapons can also be used for peaceful purposes. For instance, thiodiglycol is both an ingredient in ball-point pen ink and a precursor of mustard gas. It might be possible to convert equipment in some chemical industry facilities to produce chemical weapons or their precursors. …

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