Field Report: CW Abolition Conference in Glasgow

paul_CWD2012_Paul_Horst I've just returned from the annual Chemical Weapons Demilitarization (CWD) 2012 international conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Some 200 colleagues from around the globe met for five days to discuss progress, successes, and challenges in completing the safe and irreversible destruction of more than 70,000 metric tons of declared chemical weapons (CW) stockpiles in seven countries, plus innumerable buried and sea-dumped munitions.

Of the seven countries which have declared chemical weapons stockpiles, three have now completed their elimination --Albania, India, and South Korea. Three more -- Libya, Russia, and the U.S. -- continue to work on destruction, and one, Iraq, has yet to begin its destruction program. Many speakers from both government and multilateral organizations emphasized the continued threat of terrorist use of deadly chemical agents, and the ongoing need to sustain high security on existing stockpile sites and to move forward in a timely way with safe destruction.

All declared possessor states were bound to complete their destruction of CW stockpiles by April 29, 2012 under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The U.S. had announced in 2006 that it would not be able to meet that legally binding deadline, and both Russia and Libya followed suit in 2011. An agreement was reached last December at the annual international CWC conference in The Hague on enhanced reporting and accountability by these three States Parties; Libya has now declared that it will finish destruction of its CW stockpile by 2013, Russia by 2015, and the U.S. by 2023. Libya has about 13 metric tons (50%) remaining, Russia about 15,000 tons (38%), and the U.S. about 2,800 tons (10%).

The good news, as reported by Ambassador Ahmet Uzumcu, Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which manages implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, was that almost 75% of declared CW stockpiles -- more than 52,000 metric tons and millions of munitions – have been safely destroyed since the CWC entered into force in 1997.  The U.S. had already destroyed over 1,400 metric tons at its first facility on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean which began operating in 1990.

Another important subject of discussion at CWD 2012 was the progress being made by Japan and China in excavating old World War II chemical weapons abandoned and buried in China by Japan. Japan reported that it had discovered almost 50,000 chemical munitions to date, had destroyed more than 35,000 of them since October 2010, but still had hundreds of thousands at dozens of suspected sites to explore and handle. They estimate that this will take another decade or more.

The Environmental Security and Sustainability (ESS) Program of Green Cross and Global Green has been very fortunate to be able to help facilitate this historic abolition program, having managed a dozen local Public Outreach and Information Offices in Russia at CW stockpile sites, having facilitated the non-incineration programs of the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA) program in the U.S., and having established the international CWC Coalition at the OPCW in The Hague to promote full implementation of the treaty regime.

The emphasis of my two presentations in Glasgow was that a key goal is to bring in the final eight outstanding countries -- Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria -- that do not yet belong to the CWC. Only with true universality of the treaty regime will we all be able to celebrate a world free of chemical weapons.