Field Report: Chemical Weapons Convention 2012

The international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the most successful abolition regime banning a whole class of weapons of mass destruction, will celebrate its fifteenth anniversary this year since its entry into force in 1997. In preparation for this important and historic milestone, as well as for its Five-Year Review Conference next year, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) invited a few representatives of non-governmental organizations to meet for two days at OPCW headquarters in The Hague, The Netherlands, to advise its Technical Secretariat and the Open-Ended Working Group on the RevCon on public diplomacy. I was fortunate to be included in this "Track 1.5" (governmental and non-governmental) dialogue this week and was pleased to be able to meet with the OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu and other senior officials on how best to strengthen the chemical weapons regime. The CWC currently has 188 States Parties and has verified the safe and irreversible elimination of over 55,000 metric tons of deadly chemical agents in six possessor states (Albania, India, Libya, Russia, South Korea, and the United States) since 1997.

The main goals of the OPCW and CWC: the total, verified elimination of all chemical weapons, the prevention of the re-emergence of chemical weapons, and the promotion of peaceful, commercial uses of chemistry. Both Russia and the U.S. -- with more than 95% of declared chemical weapon stockpiles -- have led the way with the destruction of arsenals to date (62% for Russian, 90% for the U.S.). Albania, India, and South Korea have all eliminated their much smaller stockpiles in the last five years. Libya is in process of completing its destruction program.  And Iraq, a seventh possessor state, is working on destroying its legacy chemicals from the Saddam Hussein era.

The two-day dialogue focused on how best to involve civil society -- NGOs, academia, industry, and other expert think tanks -- in helping support a world free of chemical weapons and the universality of the Convention. Eight countries still remain outside of the CWC -- Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria -- and civil society is an essential part of bringing these important countries on board the regime. More than 100 States Parties have also failed to fully implement the treaty nationally -- that is, to establish legislation to criminalize use of chemical agents as weapons.

It was very gratifying to see how supportive Ambassador Uzumcu and his staff are in encouraging the active participation of civil society and in promoting transparency in the verification regime. Also encouraging was seeing how committed the whole organization is to improving global security and peace. The CWC has become a model for verified abolition of weapons of mass destruction, and has no doubt had an important impact on strengthening the other WMD-related regimes, including the Biological Weapons Convention and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.