What to Expect at the Eighth Conference of State Parties to the CWC

What to Expect at the Eighth Conference of State Parties to the CWC

Want to dive deeper?

Visit the Education Center

Holly M. Dragoo

Intern, OPCW, International Organizations and Nonproliferation Program (IONP)


The Eighth Conference of State Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) will be held October 20-24, 2003 in The Hague, the Netherlands. Several important issues will dominate the Conference agenda this year. Discussions on how to best implement national legislation obligations, requests to extend chemical weapon destruction deadlines, and approval of the 2004 draft budget are expected to be the primary concerns. Most of these issues were addressed at the First Review Conference (April 28-May 9, 2003) and at the 34th Session of the Executive Council (September 23-26, 2003), but were left for further discussion and approval at the Conference of State Parties.

The Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force in April 1997, simultaneously creating the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), based in The Hague. The OPCW was designed to verify adherence to the tenets of the Convention, advise State Parties on legal aspects of the CWC, monitor verification and compliance with the CWC, and also foster scientific cooperation and technical assistance among State Parties. The Conference of State Parties is the primary policymaking organ of the Organisation, intended to provide an arena for practical concerns to be aired and resolved.

National Legislation Issues (Article VII)

The obligation to create national implementation laws (Article VII) is fundamental to the effectiveness of the treaty, as it ensures global coordination of State policies and procedures as they relate to the transfer of chemicals, administration of chemical weapon facilities and stockpiles, and chemical industry research and development. Despite OPCW efforts, only 47 percent of State Parties have fulfilled this obligation. Without such legislation in national governments, the CWC is difficult to enforce and confidence in the Convention is undermined. Having been discussed at the previous four Executive Council sessions, this issue is sure to be a subject for discussion at the Conference—in the form of a request for increased support from the OPCW in the form of training for the National Authorities, sponsored legal workshops, and provision of model legislation to States in need.

Demilitarization Deadlines

Under Article IV of the CWC, all states must destroy their chemical stockpiles and convert production facilities by the tenth year after accession to the CWC. Given the size and continued deterioration of various facilities and armaments, the task is progressing at a slower pace than had been anticipated. While the CWC allows State Parties to request up to a five-year deadline extension, States are reluctant to grant extensions without benchmark verification tools and confidence-instilling measures.

Earlier this year, the United States made the long anticipated request for an extension of its deadline for 45 percent of its chemical weapons stockpile destruction, shifting the date from April 2004 to 2007. This request comes fairly close to the original deadline, despite public acknowledgement (although not at the OPCW) of the impending difficulties of destruction for over two years. Citing “unresolved political and operational issues that forced shutdown or postponed start-up dates,” in a statement dated September 3, 2003, the United States is now facing difficulties, albeit on a different scale, akin to the Russian Federation. Environmental regulations, plant safety matters, escalating destruction costs, and communities located near facilities voicing their concerns have all been alluded to as reasons for this postponement request.

The request by the Russian Federation for an extension of its two intermediate destruction deadlines (of 20 and 45 percent of stockpiles) has been up for consideration since the 27th session of the Executive Council (2001), but has met with no success. It will be interesting to see the effects of the U.S. request in the General Debate of the Conference, as the United States and its allies have been the primary objectors to allowing the deadline extensions for Russia. However, Russia is expected to stand in support of the U.S. extension request in empathy of the difficulties facing safe armament destruction.

To date, the Russian Federation has destroyed only 1.25 percent of its Category 1 chemical weapons (weapons with the most deadly agents), while the United States has destroyed over 25 percent of its stockpile.

Budget 2004

Always a flash point at the Conference of State Parties, the 2004 draft budget will also be up for debate. Every year, the budget is allowed an increase in funding to adjust for inflation, sunk costs, and tenured positions. The Conference is often hard pressed to reach consensus on increases in real terms, as the emphasis shifts from the question of “how much do we increase it?” to “where will it all be allocated?” Last year’s quibble over whether to give more money to verification costs or to cooperation and assistance programs held up agreement on the Conference conclusions for some time. This year, however, plans for both a real increase in the budget and for cuts in the budget will be proposed in the event that a similar slow-down should occur. There seems to be no feeling as to what route or what amounts will be deemed acceptable and adopted by the Conference.


The accession of 12 states since the 2002 Conference has brought the total States Parties to the CWC to 157, the latest being Kyrgyzstan, which has highlighted universality as a continued goal of the CWC. It would seem logical to expect a discussion on how best to engage the provisional Iraqi government in acceding to the CWC, given the events of the past year. However, the chances of this are slight due to expected changes in the Iraqi governing council and priority status given to other agenda items at the Conference. Other States not party to the CWC, such as North Korea, Egypt, Libya, and Syria, have not yet signed the treaty and many Signatory States have not yet ratified, such as Israel. This will likely be raised by many States as an issue of concern, but not as a top priority.

Other Issues

Remnants of the controversial April 2002 dismissal of the former Director-General Mr. Jose M. Bustani still linger in the air as the legal ramifications continue to unfold. The recent judgement in favour of Mr. Bustani’s claim at the International Labour Organization (ILO) cited “extremely vague” justification given by the OPCW, declared the removal of the Director-General illegal, allocated an assessment of damages, and denied the possibility of future appeals. Funding for recompense will be difficult to negotiate given an already tight budget. How the Conference will respond to this judgement as recourse for appeal is not clear.

Stay Informed

Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest on nuclear and biological threats.

Sign Up


My Resources