Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
Expert Panel Seeks Evolving Role for Chemical Weapons Watchdog
WASHINGTON -- A new expert report finds that the international organization charged with overseeing the global elimination of chemical weapons must prepare for new threats as an increasing number of nations finish off their arsenals (see GSN, Sept. 7, 2010).
“With the finalization of the destruction of existing chemical weapons stockpiles … attention must be directed towards the potential spread of chemical weapons capabilities to governmental and nongovernmental actors,” according to the Advisory Panel on Future Priorities of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The 14-member panel of arms control specialists issued its report in July. The 30-page document was made public last week.
It addresses some issues that have faced the agency for years, such as efforts to draw a final handful of nations into the chemical nonproliferation regime to help ensure that no secret stockpiles remain.
The paper is largely forward-looking, though, noting the potential dangers posed by developments in science and technology and urging the organization to prepare for the day when its emphasis is on nonproliferation rather than disarmament.
“It is my hope that the detailed scrutiny by the participants and the many specific proposals developed in that process … will serve as something of a reform agenda for the participating states when they have to consider the future of the OPCW,” panel Chairman Rolf Ekéus said in a cover letter to the report.
The Hague, Netherlands-based organization verifies compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits member states from developing, producing, stockpiling or using materials such as sarin nerve agent or mustard gas.
Among the agency’s primary responsibilities are verifying the storage and disposal of chemical arms held by a handful of CWC member nations and inspecting industrial facilities to ensure their operations are not being turned toward weapons development.
More than 60 percent of the 71,194 metric tons of chemical warfare materials known to be held by a number of states has been eliminated, and member nations’ demilitarization efforts could be completed within a decade, though well beyond the April 2012 final deadline set by the convention.
Russia has pledged to finish off by 2015 its stockpile -- the world’s largest such arsenal -- with the United States set to follow around 2021. Iraq and Libya still hold far smaller stocks, while Albania, India and South Korea have eliminated their chemical arms (see related GSN story, today). Also awaiting disposal is a large number of Japanese weapons abandoned in China after World War II.
Panel members, according to the report, “stressed that determined and relentless efforts needed to be made by the possessor state parties to rectify the [demilitarization] situation at the earliest possible date.”
There are now eight U.N.-recognized nations that have yet to join the convention -- Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and the newly formed South Sudan. Several of those nations are suspected of holding undeclared chemical weapons, with suspicions tilted particularly toward Damascus and Pyongyang.
The experts urged the organization to take “all possible avenues (bilateral, regional, international)” to achieve full membership in the convention. A comprehensive assessment of each country’s situation is called for, and OPCW chief Ahmet Üzümcü could offer recommendations to promote the goal and select a special representative to support universality efforts, the report says.
It seems possible that the dedication of financial resources and diplomatic outreach could bring some outlier nations into the convention, according to issue expert Paul Walker, who did not serve on the panel. However, he noted the challenges posed by Somalia’s lack of a working government, North Korea’s general intransigence, and the complicated relationship between Middle Eastern peace efforts and nonproliferation regimes.
“None of us are terribly optimistic that those countries will come in very soon until all the political dilemmas in the Middle East are worked out, and that could be a few lifetimes away,” said Walker, security and sustainability chief at the environmental organization Global Green USA. “No one is terribly optimistic on North Korea, either. North Korea has refused to have discussions with the OPCW in any way.”
Despite the schedule-busting national efforts to destroy chemical stockpiles, and the potential for declaration of additional state arsenals, the panel experts said the organization must look increasingly toward heading off use of chemical agents for military or terrorist purposes.
“It is now time for states parties and the OPCW collectively to begin addressing this transition. The reduction in the number of chemical weapons destruction facilities in operation and the related drop in verification activity that is anticipated in coming years will pose serious challenges for the OPCW,” the report says. “Adjustments of program priorities, staffing structure, as well as institutional capabilities will be inevitable. This should be change by design, not by default.”
The focus of inspection activities to date has leaned heavily on overseeing national stockpile efforts, with only 15 percent of work days used for monitoring industry, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan said. It will be up to the organization’s member nations to set inspection priorities for the future, he told Global Security Newswire by e-mail.
“The capacity of the [OPCW] Technical Secretariat to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons will likely become more important in the future as new threats relating to the deliberate release of toxic chemicals emerge,” according to the report.
Industrial chemical production technology is becoming increasingly dispersed around the world, even as the facilities themselves are becoming smaller and more able to convert quickly to produce distinct materials, the experts found.
Those developments could increase the threat of diversion of chemical materials or production technologies for extremist ends. A crude chemical weapon would be significantly easier to produce than an improvised nuclear or biological device, so “attention must be directed towards the potential spread of chemical weapons capabilities to governmental and nongovernmental actors,” the specialists said.
Another growing concern, the report says, is the increasing interrelationship between chemistry and biology. The potential now exists for chemical production of viruses and scientists are pursuing the same capabilities for production of bacteria. These developments begin to blur the distinction between biological and chemical agents.
Scientific and technological advances offer both threats and benefits, from novel ways to misuse chemical agents to stronger measures for defending against such dangers, the experts found. They warned against exaggerating the threat but also called for establishing a position or team at the international organization to track developments in this sector.
Dealing with today’s challenges and those that are emerging will require the organization to maintain its staff of trained and experienced personnel, the experts stressed several times in the report.
To do this, Walker said, the agency must make exceptions for or simply do away with the tenure rule that limits the number of years staffers can work at certain international institutions. Member nations must also resist the urge to enact budget reductions that could force out highly trained personnel, he added.
The OPCW budget is already smaller than that of other nonproliferation groups such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, according to Walker. Spending levels have been flat for several years, nearing $110 million this year, and might be facing a $3 million reduction for 2012, he said.
“Without a fair budget, some countries will feel the OPCW is becoming increasingly irrelevant to global security and counterterrorism and nonproliferation, which it clearly is not,” Walker said. “It’s extremely relevant and more relevant all the time.”
Luhan said the tenure policy is being discussed by member nations, adding that the OPCW director general today has “limited flexibility” on the rule to ensure operational continuity. The upcoming budget could see a “modest reduction” after years of zero growth, he added.
Üzümcü is planning an unofficial meeting with diplomats from OPCW member states to discuss the report’s recommendations. Some of the urged changes are already being instituted, while others could be put into place at the organization’s discretion; certain measures must be approved by the agency's membership, Luhan said.
Nov. 8, 2013
This report is part of a collection examining implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to implement measures aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring NBC weapons, related materials, and their means of delivery. It details implementation efforts in Central America, South America and the Caribbean to-date.
Oct. 31, 2013
This CNS issue brief examines the lessons learned from dismantling Libya and Iraq's chemical weapons programs and what these two cases presage for disarmament in Syria. In particular, this article explores the challenges relating to ensuring material and physical security for both inspectors and the chemical weapons stockpile itself; verifying the accuracy and completeness of disclosed inventories; and developing effective monitoring and verification regimes for the long-term. The conclusion examines recommendations stemming from this analysis.