Economic Meltdown Could Hamper Chemical Weapons Disarmament, OPCW Chief Says

(Feb. 25) -Global financial turmoil could slow efforts to destroy chemical weapons such as these at Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah (Reagan Frey/Getty Images).
(Feb. 25) -Global financial turmoil could slow efforts to destroy chemical weapons such as these at Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah (Reagan Frey/Getty Images).

Nations might find it more difficult amid the global economic meltdown to provide the funding needed to meet the international deadline for chemical weapons disarmament, the head of the organization that monitors compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention said yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 20).

"The financial crisis certainly doesn’t help,” said Rogelio Pfirter, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. “The dismantlement challenge is enormous.”

Russia and the United States possess more than 90 percent of the known global stocks of chemical weapons and have pledged to eliminate their arsenals by April 2012, Bloomberg reported. Washington will need to spend "tens of billions" of dollars to finish off its arsenal, while the price tag for Russia is likely to be "several billion," Pfirter said.

Washington has acknowledged that it will miss the deadline by several years, while observers have questioned Moscow's assertion that it can stay on schedule (see GSN, Dec. 4, 2008).

“There is evidence that both Russia and the U.S. are strongly committed to the convention,” Pfirter said. “It’s a very tall order and I remain hopeful that they’ll do the best to destroy the material before the deadline.”

Roughly 43 percent of the 70,000 metric tons of identified chemical warfare materials around the world have been destroyed to date. Treaty states Albania and an anonymous nation widely accepted to be South Korea have eliminated their stockpiles, while India is nearly finished with its operation (see GSN, Oct. 17, 2008). Disposal operations have not begun in Libya, nor for chemical munitions abandoned in China by the Japanese military at the end of World War II.

Costs are heightened by legal matters and dismantlement of disposal plants, Pfirter said.

“You don’t only destroy the chemical, you destroy the metal parts where the chemical was contained and you need to raze the facilities so that nothing which has been in touch with a chemical remains standing,” he said. “The reason that the destruction became so expensive is because it creates all sorts of environmental concerns and challenges" (Jonathan Tirone, Bloomberg, Feb. 24).

He also noted that destroying each weapon individually, which is safer than bulk disposal, drives up the price tag, Reuters reported (Mark Heinrich, Reuters, Feb. 24).

February 25, 2009
About

Nations might find it more difficult amid the global economic meltdown to provide the funding needed to meet the international deadline for chemical weapons disarmament, the head of the organization that monitors compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention said yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 20).