OPCW. September 24, 2008. By: Dr Paul F. Walker, Legacy Program Director, Global Green USA
The successful, verified elimination of some 40% of the six declared chemical weapons stockpiles in the first 11 years of the Chemical Weapons Convention represents a major achievement for the treaty regime and its implementing body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The primary goal of the Convention – the total elimination of existing chemical weapons stockpiles – is well on the way to being met in the foreseeable future.
Of the current 184 States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, six countries have declared chemical weapons stockpiles. Two of these, the United States and the Russian Federation, possessed about 94% of the total declared stockpiles of 71,315 metric tonnes (MT). The remaining four declared possessor States – Albania, India, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, and another country which has requested anonymity – held some 4,200 MT.
Over the past 11 and one half years, about 40% of these enormous and deadly arsenals – 28,575 MT – have been eliminated. The U.S., which has been actively demilitarising its chemical weapons arsenal for some 18 years now, has destroyed over 16,000 MT of which some 1,435 MT were destroyed at the first chemical weapons incinerator on Johnston Atoll before the 1997 CWC entry into force (EIF). Since then the U.S. has destroyed an additional 14,567 MT through both incineration and neutralisation at seven of its nine declared stockpile sites. Johnston Atoll completed incinerator operations in 2000, and two other sites – Aberdeen, Maryland and Newport, Indiana – have also now completed their neutralisation operations. Four incinerators continue to operate, while two neutralisation facilities remain in early construction.
Russia has neutralised over 11,000 MT – about 29% of its stockpile – since its first chemical weapons destruction facility (CWDF) began operating in late 2002 at Gorny in the Saratov Oblast. The Gorny facility finished its neutralisation process in 2005, and two additional facilities at Kambarka in the Udmurt Republic and at Maradykovsky in the Kirov Oblast are currently neutralising lewisite and nerve agents respectively. This leaves four additional Russian sites currently in various phases of construction.
The first country to finish its demilitarisation programme was Albania, which incinerated its relatively small stockpile of 16 MT during the first six months of 2007. Libya has not yet begun the destruction of some 23 MT of mustard agent but successfully eliminated its unfilled munitions bodies – 3,563 aerial bombs – in 2004. India declared a chemical weapons stockpile of over 1,000 MT and had successfully incinerated some 97% of this by mid-2008.
The successful, verified elimination of some 40% of the six declared chemical weapons stockpiles in the first 11 years of the Chemical Weapons Convention represents a major achievement for the treaty regime and its implementing body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The primary goal of the Convention – the total elimination of existing chemical weapons stockpiles – is well on the way to being met in the foreseeable future. The sizeable tonnage eliminated to date includes almost three million munitions and containers filled with deadly chemical agents which could theoretically have proliferated into dangerous hands. Also not to be overlooked is the destruction or conversion to date of 61 of 65 former chemical weapons production facilities (CWPFs) declared in 12 countries; the institutionalisation of on-site verification activities by the OPCW, which has conducted almost 3,400 inspections in 81 countries; and the fact that all declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been fully inventoried by the OPCW, something that was dangerously absent a decade ago.
And yet, in spite of all its important successes over the past decade, the OPCW still faces formidable challenges for completing its primary goal of complete global elimination of chemical weapons. Five of these interrelated challenges, amongst many others, are noted below.