Abolishing Chemical Weapons: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities

Paul F. Walker

From November 29 to December 3, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will host its 15th annual conference of states-parties in The Hague to review recent progress in the global elimination of chemical weapons. As the international implementing agency for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the OPCW has overseen the safe and verified demilitarization of more than 43,000 metric tons of deadly chemical agents in almost four million weapons and containers since the convention’s entry into force in April 1997.

As the key institutional elements of the most successful multilateral arms control and disarmament regime to date, the CWC and OPCW serve as models for long-term, verified, and cooperative nonproliferation, threat reduction, and global security regimes.[1]

However, this successful and ongoing elimination of a whole class of weapons of mass destruction has not been without its own challenges and hurdles, including choosing the safest and most environmentally sound destruction technologies; paying the high costs of demilitarizing dangerous liquid agents, propellants, explosives, and other pollutants; meeting legally binding weapons destruction deadlines with little if any relationship to planning, engineering, construction, and operational schedules; bringing all countries under the OPCW inspection regime; encouraging all states-parties to fully implement the convention domestically; shifting the CWC from a demilitarization to a nonproliferation and anti-terrorist regime; and encouraging full cooperation, consensus building, and transparency from all members and stakeholders.

Although more than 60 percent of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been successfully eliminated over the past two decades in five of the seven declared chemical weapons possessor states, almost 30,000 metric tons still await destruction, and several suspected possessor states remain outside the CWC regime. Meanwhile, terrorist organizations have reiterated their intention to obtain weapons of mass destruction—nuclear, chemical, and biological—raising the stakes over the past decade to secure and eliminate chemical weapons stockpiles as quickly as possible and strengthen the CWC nonproliferation and inspection regime.

This article will review the history of establishing and implementing a global ban on a whole class of weapons of mass destruction; explain the progress to date in destroying large and dangerous Cold War arsenals of chemical weapons; address current and future challenges to completing this process; and draw conclusions for the abolition regime and other global arms control efforts.

The full article can be found here.