Chemical Weapons Convention: Achievements and Future Challenges

SSPC Research

The Chemical Weapons Convention which marked its tenth anniversary on April 29 bans the development, production, acquisition and use of chemical agents (e.g. Vesicants and nerve agents) and requires the destruction of existing stockpiles.

Chemical weapons, like the other weapons of mass destruction have all the inhumane features which represent a serious danger to mankind. Chemical warfare agents have been defined in a report authorized by the United Nations General Assembly as “chemical substances, whether gaseous, liquid, or solid, which might be employed because of their direct toxic effects on human, animals and plants.” These toxic chemical agents, which are extremely versatile, may be used to accomplish a wide variety of military missions and can be used by terrorists to perpetrate death and fear. Characterized as ‘search weapons’, they are able to penetrate shelters, buildings, trenches, bunkers and other types of fortifications; they are also capable of inflicting casualties over large areas. Chemical weapon agents are largely invisible and indiscriminate in their effects, and tend to undermine the body from within.

CWs offer a prospect of killing or incapacitating enemies and civilians without damaging vital economic and military structures. Above all, chemical weapons inspire more fear than conventional munitions; they could terrorize civilian populations and demoralize ill-trained or poorly protected combat units.

On the occasion of CWC’s tenth anniversary, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged countries including 182 State parties which possess the CWs to destroy them while observing that little more than 25 percent of declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been destroyed so far. He further stated that CWC has made important gains in eliminating an entire category of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), praising the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) under which treaty carrying out the ban and destruction.

The OPCW, based in The Hague, have reportedly completed over 2,800 inspections at more than 1,050 facilities (200 CW related and 850 industrial sites) on the territory of 77 States Parties since April 1997. The goal for the complete chemical disarmament has been set and expected to be achieved by April 2012, in the next five years.

Since its entry into force in 1997, the CWC has involved 182 Member States in its fold. At least six countries have confirmed the availability of chemical weapons that make the total 70,000 tonnes in the world with Russia topping the list with 40,000 tonnes and the United States with 27,000 tonnes of chemical weapons.

India, as it is well known now, has an advanced commercial chemical industry. Although India denied possession of CW for many years, in 1997, India declared possession of a CW stockpile and production facilities. These weapons and facilities were put under strict international supervision by the OPCW and presently in the process of being destroyed. One report suggests that India has declared around 1,044 metric tons of CW and till mid last year India managed to destroy at least 550 metric tons of CW, which is well above the fifty percent of stockpiles. Latest information indicated that one hundred percent of declared chemical weaponry facilities have been decommissioned and over 90% of them have been eliminated. The OPCW has controlled the disposal of nearly one-fourth of the world declared chemical weapons, which amount to approximately 71,000 metric tonnes of war agents.

The Second Review Conference of CWC scheduled to take place in The Hague from 7-18 April 2008. However, CWC’s noteworthy achievements aside, experts believe that there are more challenges in store for it in the coming years ahead. Some even pointed out that the problem areas are the lack of universal adherence, slower destruction CW stockpiles, emergence of novel chemical agents and last but not the least, ultimate threat posed by Non State actors( e.g. terrorists, criminal syndicates). The Sarin gas attacks by Aum Shinrikyo cult on the Tokyo Subway in March 1995 is still vivid in the memory of millions and has certainly raised public awareness of the threat posed by CWs. Nevertheless, it would be imperative for the State parties to see how OPCW’s significance (or for that matter CWC’s relevance) will increase in the face of these debilitating challenges in future.

Author Note
SSPC Research