No Chemical Weapons Use by Anyone: An Interview with OPCW Director-General Ahmet ÜZümcü

Article excerpt

Ahmet Üzümcü took office as directorgeneral of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on July 25, 2010. Immediately prior to that appointment, he served as the permanent representative of Turkey to the UN Office at Geneva. His previous career included two postings at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Üzümcü spoke with Arms Control Today by telephone on December 19 from his office in The Hague. A large part of the interview dealt with concerns over Syria's reportedly large arsenal of chemical weapons, the prospect that those weapons would be used, and the OPCW's responsibilities, capabilities, and constraints with regard to that situation. The interview also covered issues that are likely to receive considerable attention at the upcoming review conference for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), scheduled for April 8-19.

The interview was transcribed by Marcus Taylor. It has been edited for length and clarity. The text of the full interview is available at http://www.armscontrol.org/interviews.

ACT: The CWC has now been in force for 15 years. In just a few words, could you summarize the ways in which you think the CWC regime has succeeded and the ways in which the potential of the treaty has not yet been realized?

Üzümcü: The implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention over the past 15 years has been successful, especially in the field of demilitarization. The level of destruction of declared chemical weapons stockpiles has reached the level of 78 percent under the verification of the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW. I think this is a significant achievement, which needs to be acknowledged. It has required the allocation of a lot of resources by possessor states-parties, as well as by the organization itself.

Nevertheless, the deadline-the final extended deadline of April 29, 2012-was not met. But a decision by the conference of states-parties in November 2011 enabled the possessor states to continue the destruction activities with greater transparency and reporting.1 So I think this decision was somehow a manifestation of the culture of cooperation and dialogue that has been developed over the past 15 years.

The decision was nearly by consensus, with one exception. I think the fact that the organization was able to take its decisions by consensus over the past 15 years with a few exceptions has been a clear demonstration of the evolving global cooperation on an important security issue, the destruction of chemical weapons, as well as the prevention of re-emergence [of chemical weapons]. This also shows to a great extent the strong political will that exists on the part of the states-parties to get rid of those chemical weapons for good and to collectively prevent their re-emergence through nonproliferation activities.

That in and of itself, I believe, is a big achievement. There are other areas in which we should do more, such as Article VI inspections, verification of the chemical industry, improvements in our on-site inspections and monitoring capabilities. I think the verification mechanism can be improved by selecting the most relevant sites to be inspected and making the inspections more consistent.

There are still discrepancies on import and export data provided by statesparties, which we try to reconcile. This requires a lot of effort. The states-parties as well as the Technical Secretariat should step up their efforts in this domain so that we can ensure a more effective nonproliferation or verification mechanism with a view to preventing the diversion-the possible diversion-of chemical activities.

On the assistance and protection activities under Article X, I think we have been focusing so far on building activities at the national level with individual states-parties. For the past one or two years, we have focused more on regional activities; from now on, we are encouraging states-parties to build regional training centers for that purpose. …