Abolishing Chemical Weapons: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities

By Walker, Paul F. | Arms Control Today, November 2010 | Go to article overview

Abolishing Chemical Weapons: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities


Walker, Paul F., Arms Control Today


From November 29 to December 3, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will host its 15th annual conference of states-parties in The Hague to review recent progress in the global elimination of chemical weapons. As the international implementing agency for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the OPCW has overseen the safe and verified demilitarization of more than 43,000 metric tons of deadly chemical agents in almost four million weapons and containers since the convention's entry into force in April 1997.

As the key institutional elements of the most successful multilateral arms control and disarmament regime to date, the CWC and OPCW serve as models for long-term, verified, and cooperative nonproliferation, threat reduction, and global security regimes.1

However, this successful and ongoing elimination of a whole class of weapons of mass destruction has not been without ils own challenges and hurdles, including choosing the safest and most environmentally sound destruction technologies; paying the high costs of demilitarizing dangerous liquid agents, propellants, explosives, and other pollutants; meeting legally binding weapons destruction deadlines with little if any relationship to planning, engineering, construction, and operational schedules; bringing all countries under the OPGW inspection regime: encouraging all states-parlies to fully implement the convention domestically: shifting the CVVC from a demilitarization to a nonproliferation and anti-terrorist regime; and encouraging full cooperation, consensus building, and transparency from all members anil stakeholders.

Although more than 60 percent of the world's declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been successfully eliminated over the past two decades in five of the seven declared chemical weapons possessor states, almost 30,000 metric tons still await destruction, ami several suspected possessor states remain outside the CWC regime. Meanwhile, terrorist organizations have reiterated their intention to obtain weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical, and biological - raising the stakes over the past decade to secure and eliminale chemical weapons stockpiles as quickly as possible and strengthen the (VVt; nonproliferation and inspection regime.

This article will review the history of establishing and implementing a global ban on a whole class ot weapons of mass destruction; explain the progress to date in destroying large and dangerous Cold War arsenals of chemical weapons; address current and future challenges to completing this process; and draw conclusions for the abolition regime and other global arms control efforts.

The Chemical Weapons Convention

Article IX of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention includes a commitment by states-parties to work toward an international ban on chemical weapons.2 International negotiations on the CWC began in earnest in April 1984, one month after a UN report on Iraqi chemical weapons attacks, when U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush introduced a draft chemical weapons treaty at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. This was a decade after the Soviet Union and the United States announced bilateral discussions on reducing chemical weapons stockpiles. By 1989 these U. S. -Soviet negotiations produced a bilateral memorandum of understanding concerning verification and data exchange. In 1990 the two countries' leaders, Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, signed an "Agreement. ..on Destruction and Non-production of Chemical Weapons and on Measures to Facilitate the Multi-lateral Convention on Banning Chemical Weapons." Finally, on September 3, 1992, after years of negotiations, the CTi adopted a final report on an international convention on chemical weapons. The treaty was opened for signature by UN SecretaryGeneral Boutros Boutros-Ghali in Paris on January 13, 1993. It required 65 ratifications for entry into force.

Hungary became the 65th country to deposit its instrument of ratification on October 31, 1996; the CWC entered into force 180 days later, on April 29, 1997. …

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Abolishing Chemical Weapons: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities
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