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India Completes Chemical Weapons Disposal; Iraq Declares Stockpile

By Chris Schneidmiller

Global Security Newswire

(Apr. 27) -A U.N. inspector examines Iraqi chemical munitions in 1992. Iraq last month declared itself as a chemical weapons possessor state (U.N. photo). (Apr. 27) -A U.N. inspector examines Iraqi chemical munitions in 1992. Iraq last month declared itself as a chemical weapons possessor state (U.N. photo).

WASHINGTON -- India has become the third nation to eliminate its known stockpile of chemical weapons, the organization that monitors adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention announced last week (see GSN, Jan. 22, 2008).

India on March 26 notified the Technical Secretariat to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that it had completed operations, according to OPCW Director General Rogelio Pfirter.

"I wish to sincerely, warmly, and emphatically congratulate India on this laudable achievement, which is the result of a consistent and unwavering commitment shown by India since entry into force of the convention," he told the agency's Executive Council. "This attainment further strengthens the convention as an effective instrument for promoting the objectives of peace and security."

All member nations to the convention are prohibited from developing, producing, stockpiling, using or transferring chemical warfare materials such as mustard blister agent or sarin and VX nerve agents.

Albania and another nation that remains officially anonymous but is widely accepted to be South Korea have already disposed of their chemical arsenals (see GSN, July 12, 2007, and Oct. 17, 2008).

India joined the pact in 1996 and declared its stockpile of banned warfare materials the next year. It is believed to have held 1,000 tons of mustard agent, destroyed through incineration, according to the environmental organization Global Green USA.

The other declared chemical weapons possessor states are Libya, Russia, the United States and, as of last month, Iraq.

"Iraq submitted its initial declaration on 12 March 2009, and has declared two bunkers with filled and unfilled chemical weapons munitions, some precursors, as well as five former chemical weapons production facilities," Pfirter said last week.

Iraq's history with chemical weapons is well known. The Hussein regime developed blister and nerve agents, and then used them against Iran and Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s. Tens of thousands of munitions and nearly 700 metric tons of warfare materials were destroyed in the years after the first Gulf War, but suspicions in Washington persisted that Baghdad had not fully dismantled its arsenal, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

The U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq was justified partly on the threat posed by the regime's alleged WMD activities. No indications of existing unconventional weapons operations were found after the war (see GSN, March 20). Iraq joined the Chemical Weapons Convention earlier this year.

The declaration contained no surprises, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan indicated. The production facilities were "put out of commission" by airstrikes during the 1991 conflict, while U.N. personnel afterward secured the chemical munitions in the bunkers, he said.

"These are legacy weapons, remnants," Luhan told Global Security Newswire today. He declined to discuss how many weapons were stored in the bunkers or what materials they contained. The weapons are not believed to be in a usable state.

The bunkers were damaged during the 2003 campaign. The OPCW Technical Secretariat must now consider how to safely access the sites to verify Iraq's declaration, Luhan said. Eventually, all production facilities will have to be fully dismantled and the weapons destroyed.

More than 43 percent of the declared global stocks of Category 1 chemical weapons, materials that have little if any peaceful application and pose a "high risk" to the convention, have been destroyed, along with nearly 52 percent of Category 2 materials, which create a "significant risk" but also have commercial uses, Pfirter said. All least-dangerous Category 3 weapons have been eliminated.

By the end of March, Russia had destroyed 12,065 metric tons of chemical warfare materials, roughly 30 percent of the world's-largest stockpile that once stood at 40,000 tons. The United States had eliminated roughly 16,466 metric tons, nearly 60 percent of its original arsenal of more than 28,500 tons.

Both nations have until April 2012 to complete operations. The United States has acknowledged that it will miss that deadline by a number of years, while some observers are skeptical about Russia's claims that it will meet its obligation (see GSN, Dec. 4, 2008).

Libya continues to prepare its destruction facility for elimination of an estimated 23 metric tons of banned material, Luhan said.

Work also continues to recover tens of thousands of munitions abandoned by the Japanese military in China at the end of World War II.

"The current work on the draft detailed plan for verification and facility arrangement for mobile destruction facilities is progressing. It is our hope to have these documents near completion by the end of this year, in time for the anticipated beginning of destruction operations scheduled for the second half of 2010," Pfirter said.

A total of 188 nations have joined the convention, leaving just seven on the outside -- Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia and Syria. Angola is likely to be the next nation to join, Luhan said (see GSN, April 24).

He acknowledged that the others are likely to prove harder cases, with membership in the pact tied to regional and global concerns and other nonproliferation and disarmament issues. At least two of the nations, North Korea and Syria, are widely suspected of maintaining chemical weapons arsenals.

"The closer we get to [treaty universality] ... the steeper it gets," Luhan said. "The rest are going to be difficult."

However, the organization will continue to focus on the matter. The revived push for global nuclear disarmament could also provide momentum for worldwide elimination of chemical weapons, Luhan said (see GSN, April 24).

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