Six-Year-Old CWC Passes Some Tests and Fails Others

By Boyd, Kerry | Arms Control Today, April 2003 | Go to article overview

Six-Year-Old CWC Passes Some Tests and Fails Others


Boyd, Kerry, Arms Control Today


THE UNITED STATES deposited its instrument of ratification for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on April 25, 1997, following months of wrangling over the treaty between the Clinton administration and Republican lawmakers. Opponents' concerns included the possibility that violations might be undetectable, states with chemical weapons would remain outside the regime, the financial costs might be high, and inspections might threaten legitimate U.S. industry. Proponents countered that the world would be a safer place without at least 70,000 tonnes of toxic gas lying around, creating an environmental nightmare and increasing the risk of chemical weapons proliferation and warfare.

More than five years later, as CWC states-parties prepare for the treaty's first review conference starting April 28, those arguments are at the crux of the ongoing debate over the accord's progress.

The CWC bans chemical weapons and requires their destruction within a specified period of time. The treaty, which entered into force April 29,1997, contains verification measures and penalties to ensure compliance. It currently has 151 member states, and another 25 states have signed but not yet ratified the treaty. Eighteen states have not signed.

By some measures, the CWC has been a successful treaty. The vast majority of the world has agreed to abide by the treaty's terms. Four states-India, Russia, South Korea, and the United States-that have declared chemical weapons stockpiles are working to destroy them. The deadline for destroying all their Category 1-the most dangerous-chemical weapons is April 2007, although states can request an extension until April 2012.

Russia, with the largest chemical weapons stockpile, began destroying its Category 1 weapons at Gorny in the Saratov region in December 2002. The United States has destroyed 22.9 percent of its Category 1 weapons under the treaty. India had destroyed 20 percent of its Category 1 arsenal by the end of 2001 and appeared to be on schedule to meet the final CWC deadline, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). South Korea finished destroying 1 percent of its Category 1 weapons in 2000, and the OPCW granted the country an extension on the 20 percent deadline until April 2003.

As of late February 2003, the OPCW had conducted 1,359 total inspections in 51 states-parties, including inspections of chemical weapons production and destruction facilities, abandoned chemical weapons, old chemical weapons, and chemical weapons storage facilities. Around 6, 700 tonnes of chemical agent have been destroyed, according to the OPCW.

By other standards, however, the CWC has encountered many problems. Although many states have joined the regime, 18 states have neither signed nor ratified the treaty. Several of these states, including Iraq, Libya, Syria, and North Korea, are considered threats to U.S. security. Several Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, have refused to sign the treaty until Israel signs the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

In addition to the states outside the treaty's restrictions, U.S. officials have indicated that some CWC states-parties, such as Iran, are violating the treaty and developing chemical weapons. …

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Six-Year-Old CWC Passes Some Tests and Fails Others
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