Volume 89 | Issue 48 |November 28, 2011 |
Chemical Weapons Checkpoint
Diplomats grapple with inability of U.S. and Russia to meet 2012
By Glenn Hess
Rules Of Disarmament
SOURCE: U.S. Department of State
The U.S. and Russia have reaffirmed their pledge to eliminate, as soon as
But Üzümcü noted that the two countries in early October reaffirmed their
The U.S. has eliminated chemical weapons stockpiles held at five of eight continental military installations, as well as one at the
U.S.-owned Johnson Atoll in the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii. Disposal facilities under construction at military installations at Blue
Grass Army Depot, in Kentucky, and in Pueblo, Colo., have had their timetables delayed by political and public opposition to the
Russia is also doing its part to rid the world of chemical weapons, according to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We will
continue to put maximum effort into the fulfillment of this labor-intensive and technically complex task in as short time as possible,”
Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s minister of foreign affairs, said in a statement on Oct. 3.
At the same time, Lavrov added, there is “still a large amount of work on destruction of remaining chemical weapons arsenals
ahead of us, and for that purpose we are continuing to increase the capacity of existing destruction facilities ... and search for
additional resources.” Russia has built six chemical weapons destruction plants across the country.
The American and Russian statements of support for the CWC were issued, at least in part, to counter criticism by Iran, one of the
41 members of OPCW’s policy-making executive council. Iran has repeatedly slammed the U.S. and Russia for their inability to
meet the 2012 destruction deadline.
At an executive council meeting in The Hague last month, Kazem Gharib Abadi, Iran’s envoy to OPCW, urged the organization
to impose sanctions against the two countries for their “noncompliance” and to send the matter to the UN for possible further
“Given the fact that the U.S. and Russia, as major owners of chemical weapons, have officially declared that they cannot eradicate
their chemical weapons within the specified deadline, this organization should inform the UN Security Council and the General
Assembly of their case,” Gharib Abadi said.
CWC member nations could strip the U.S. and Russia of their voting rights within the organization or even ask them to resign. But
that’s highly unlikely, said Paul F. Walker, director of the Security & Sustainability Program at Global Green USA, an environmental
“I don’t think anyone is talking about punitive measures,” Walker told C&EN. “Iran, it appears, is interested in trying to embarrass
the Americans, and indirectly the Russians, in any sort of public forum. And that has been the case now for several years,” he
To justify its position, Iran points out that thousands of its citizens were exposed to chemical weapons during the eight-year war with
Iraq in the 1980s and claims that at least 100,000 are still living with severe respiratory problems and other serious health
Iran is “really a lone wolf in this fight” to force sanctions on the U.S. and Russia, Walker said. There is widespread recognition that
Moscow and Washington, D.C., are working “very hard to destroy their stockpiles in a safe, environmentally sound way,” he
remarked. Eliminating the weapons has proven to be a much more complex, time-consuming, and expensive task than negotiators
realized when they were hammering out the treaty, Walker added.
“We have encouraged OPCW to bring larger delegations to site visits in both Russia and the U.S. to let people see the enormity of
the projects and better understand the burden of these commitments,” Walker noted. “It shouldn’t be surprising at all that it has
taken this long.”
Over the past year, CWC delegations have been working with Peter Goosen, the South African chairman of the OPCW executive
council, to come up with a diplomatic solution in the form of a policy statement. In his October address to the UN, Üzümcü signaled
that the council would not seek to penalize Russia or the U.S.
“The gist of the emerging approach,” the OPCW ambassador stated, “is to enable the two possessor states to complete their
destruction programs while they, on their part, agree to implement an enhanced package of transparency and confidence-building
The policy statement will not use the terms “noncompliance” or “illegal violation,” nor will it refer the matter to the UN, said Walker,
who is familiar with the draft text. “What it will say is that both Russia and the U.S. have to be responsible, accountable, and
The statement, he said, is likely to call for continued on-site inspections of weapons disposal sites by OPCW to verify ongoing
destruction, as well as annual high-level OPCW visits to both countries to confirm that “they remain fully committed and are doing
all they can to expeditiously eliminate the remaining weapons in a safe and efficient manner.”
Iranian opposition could prevent the conference from adopting a consensus policy statement. But in the long run, Walker said, it’s
not going to make any difference for the demilitarization programs in either the U.S. or Russia. “They are both moving forward pretty
well,” he said. “The key is we don’t want to hurt OPCW in this extremely important historic treaty eliminating a whole class of
weapons of mass destruction. In the end, I just hope that nobody damages the treaty in any serious way.”
At the conference, CWC member nations are also expected to discuss the disclosure by Libya’s new leaders that the recently
toppled Moammar Gadhafi regime had kept a secret cache of chemical arms.
In 2004, Gadhafi tried to restore relations with Western governments by agreeing to dismantle all of his chemical weapons. Libya
declared that it had 25 metric tons of mustard blister agent and 1,400 metric tons of precursor chemicals. It also declared more than
3,500 unloaded munitions designed for use with chemical warfare agents and three chemical weapons production facilities.
When the rebellion against Gadhafi began in February 2011, OPCW inspectors had verified that the country had destroyed 55% of
its mustard blister agent and 40% of the precursor chemicals. But on Nov. 1, Libya’s interim government reported the discovery of
two previously undeclared chemical weapons storage sites.
“In accordance with the convention, Libya will provide OPCW with a new declaration in the very near future,” OPCW said in a Nov.
4 statement. The organization added that it will work with the Libyan authorities “to verify and destroy any newly declared stocks.”
OPCW also said a team of inspectors determined that none of Gadhafi’s known chemical arsenal was disturbed during the civil war.
“The inspectors also took further measures to ensure the integrity of the stockpiles until destruction operations can resume under
OPCW verification,” OPCW said.
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