The Chemical Weapons Convention at a Glance

Arms Control Today, April 2003 | Go to article overview

The Chemical Weapons Convention at a Glance


The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is a multilateral treaty that bans chemical weapons and requires their destruction within a specified period of time. The treaty is of unlimited duration and is far more comprehensive than any prior international agreement on chemical weapons. (The 1925 Geneva Protocol, for instance, only outlaws the use of chemical weapons.)

CWC negotiations started in 1980 in the UN Conference on Disarmament.1 The convention opened for signature on January 13,1993, and entered into force on April 29,1997.

The CWC is implemented by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is headquartered in The Hague with about 500 employees. The OPCW receives states-parties' declarations, which detail chemical weapons-related activities or materials and relevant industrial activities. After receiving declarations, the OPCW inspects and monitors states-parties' facilities and activities that are relevant to the convention, aiming to ensure compliance.

The CWC is open to any country and currently has 151 states-parties. Twenty-five signatories have yet to ratify the convention, including Israel. Key nonsignatories include Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Syria-all of which CIA Director George Tenet identified in March 2000 as countries that "now either possess or are actively pursuing" chemical weapons capabilities.2

The first Review Conference of the CWC will take place in The Hague from April 28 to May 9, 2003. The CWC calls on the states-parties to meet every five years to review "the operation" of the convention, including "any relevant scientific and technological developments."

Prohibitions

The Chemical Weapons Convention bans:

* Developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, or retaining chemical weapons.

* The direct or indirect transfer of chemical weapons.

* Chemical weapons use or military preparation for use.

* Assisting, encouraging, or inducing other states to engage in CWC-prohibited activity.

* The use of riot control agents "as a method of warfare."

Declaration Requirements

The CWC requires states-parties to declare in writing to the OPCW their chemical weapons stockpiles, chemical weapons production facilities (CWPFs), relevant chemical industry facilities, and other weapons-related information. This must be done within 30 days of the convention's entry into force for the states-parties.

Chemical Weapons Stockpiles-States-parties must declare all their chemical weapons. Chemical weapons stockpiles are broken down into three "categories":

* Category 1 chemical weapons, which are based on Schedule 1 chemicals. Examples include VX and sarin. (See below for an explanation of "scheduled" chemicals.)

* Category 2 chemical weapons, which are based on non-Schedule 1 chemicals. An example is phosgene.

* Category 3 chemical weapons, which include unfilled munitions and devices and equipment designed specifically to employ chemical weapons.

Other weapons-related declarations states-parties must make include:

* Chemical weapons production facilities on their territories since January 1,1946.

* Facilities (such as laboratories and test sites) designed, constructed, or used primarily for chemical weapons development since January 1,1946.

* "Old" chemical weapons on their territories (chemical weapons manufactured before 1925 or those produced between 1925 and 1946 that have deteriorated to such an extent that they are no longer useable).

* "Abandoned" chemical weapons (those abandoned without consent on their territories after January 1, 1925, by another state).

* Chemical weapons they have abandoned on other states' territories.

* Plans for destroying weapons and facilities.

* All transfers or receipts of chemical weapons or chemical weapons-production equipment since January 1,1946.

* All riot control agents in their possession. …

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