No. 5 - Sept. 1996
Vol. 44 - pp. 16-20

Preparing for the entry
into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention

Serguei Batsanov
Director for External Relations,
Provisional Technical Secretariat,
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,
The Hague, the Netherlands

Serguei Batsanov
The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention is a unique global accord which will prohibit all chemical weapons, backed up by effective verification mechanisms. Implementation will begin following the requisite number of ratifications by signatory states and, in the interim, a great deal of preparatory work has been done in anticipation. The author argues that we are now at a critical juncture, where the major players which have not yet ratified the Convention should do so in order to ensure the success of this new approach to arms control and non-proliferation. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of his Organization.

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (CWC) is an unprecedented multilateral treaty in the area of disarmament and security in many respects: in its scope, negotiating history and verification system, to mention just a few. It was produced by the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, which gave its final approval to the text back in September 1992. The Convention, which has now been signed by 160 countries and ratified, at the time of writing, by 60 of these, will come into force 180 days after the deposit of the 65th instrument of ratification.

The Convention is comprehensive in scope. It prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer and use of chemical weapons (CW); as well as assistance, encouragement, or inducement to anyone to engage in prohibited activities. The Convention also requires all chemical weapons and related production facilities to be eliminated within ten years.

The CWC, moreover, provides for assistance to a State Party to the convention in the event of the use or threat of use of chemical weapons against it. This provision is intended to reduce incentives both to acquire CW potential against unprotected neighbours - the Convention will not leave them defenceless - or to go chemical to respond to real or perceived regional CW threats.

Powerful verification provisions

The elaborate verification system of the Convention is designed to enhance the security of States Parties and to limit the possibility of clandestine chemical weapons activities. It is based on a two-pronged approach: on the one hand, there is routine monitoring involving declarations, initial visits, systematic inspections of declared chemical weapons storage, production and destruction facilities, as well as routine inspections in the relevant civilian chemical industry facilities. On the other hand, the Convention puts in place for the first time, a potent regime of challenge inspections allowing each State Party to have an international inspection conducted at any facility or location in any other State Party at short notice. There is no right of refusal.

While the Convention is a disarmament and security treaty, its verification system encompasses not just military installations, but a wide segment of the commercial chemical industry as well. The reason is simple: a lot of chemicals in the legitimate production cycle have a dual use capability and the plants that produce or consume them in significant quantities have to be monitored. For the purposes of routine verification in industry, the relevant chemicals have been grouped into three lists, or schedules, on the basis of their relative danger and their usability for permitted purposes. However, no chemical is banned completely, nor does the convention overlook the possibility of developing chemical weapons using chemicals that have not been included in the schedules.

While no treaty can be 100 per cent verifiable, over time, through its declaration, routine inspection, fact finding, consultation and challenge inspection mechanisms, the verification regime of the Convention will surely prove to be effective.

An important point, which is sometimes overlooked or underestimated, is that the Convention is a powerful non-proliferation instrument. Firstly, the Convention imposes escalating limitations and restrictions on trade in chemicals with non-parties. Secondly, the provisions on protection against chemical weapons and on assistance reduce the incentives to acquire chemical deterrence. Thirdly, the verification mechanism of the Convention provides an adequate tool for monitoring situations around the world, including trade in chemicals, and activities in the chemical industry.

The implementation of the Convention, which will begin six months after the 65th state has ratified it, will be monitored by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), based in The Hague. The OPCW will consist of the Conference of States Parties, which will be the overall governing body composed of all States Parties; the 41-member Executive Council; and the Technical Secretariat, the international body responsible for conducting verification activities, including on-site inspections.

OPCW Preparatory Commission
Delegates attending a session of the OPCW Preparatory Commission.
(OPCW photo 38Kb)

Preparatory Commission for the OPCW

At the ceremony in Paris in January 1993, when the Convention was opened for signature, the 130 original signatory states adopted the Paris Resolution, which formally established the Preparatory Commission for the OPCW. The Commission faces three categories of tasks in preparing the groundwork for the OPCW. The first is to complete work on a number of detailed technical procedures which were left over from the Geneva negotiations on the Chemical Weapons Convention, such as the development of operational requirements, procedures for declarations, and the conduct of inspections. The second is to build the institutional structures of the new Organization, with a strong and cost-effective verification capability. The third is to help prepare for effective national implementation by States Parties.

Each state, upon signing the Convention, automatically becomes a member of the Commission. A Provisional Technical Secretariat was established to support the work of the Commission.

In terms of the first task of completing the technical details, important progress has been made involving a number of procedures for making declarations and for conducting inspections. Fundamental policies have been developed to guide OPCW activities in the areas of protection of confidential information, media and public relations, and health and safety measures. However, important work remains to be done.

Significant progress has been achieved in fulfilling the second task - that of building the Organization. The overall personnel requirements have been worked out, and the core staff of the Secretariat recruited. At present, 118 staff members, representing 48 nationalities, are working at the Secretariat and, within six months after entry into force, that number will increase to about 460-480, including inspectors. Extensive preparations and planning for the training and recruitment of inspectors have been accomplished and the selection process has progressed significantly. A list of inspection equipment has been agreed upon and procurement of the equipment is well under way. Unfortunately, no agreement has been reached concerning the terms of employment of OPCW personnel and on a number of issues of transfer of staff. Among other things, this problem complicates the recruitment of highly qualified staff, including inspectors.

In May this year, the beginning of construction of the OPCW building was inaugurated. Fit-up work for the Equipment Store and Laboratory, which will provide technical support for the OPCW, is nearing completion. The Laboratory will be used primarily for calibration and maintenance of analytical equipment used during inspections, training of inspectors who are specialists in analytical chemistry and coordination of the network of designated laboratories around the world.

OPCW Building
An architect's model of the new OPCW building now under construction in The Hague.
(OPCW photo 28Kb)
Since the Convention was opened for signature, many states have already moved far ahead in preparing themselves for the implementation of the chemical weapons ban. Many ratifying states have adopted national implementation legislation or are close to finalising its elaboration. National authorities are being set up in signatory states to coordinate preparatory work and to perform liaison functions with the Commission and, in future, with the OPCW.

These governmental bodies, whose institution is required by the Convention, are engaged in surveying national chemical industries with the view of identifying declarable and inspectable enterprises, developing draft legislation necessary to ensure access for inspectors to both private and governmental facilities, conducting national trial inspections, training personnel as inspector escorts and establishing proper coordination with other ministries and agencies that would be involved in the implementation, such as foreign affairs, defence, security, customs, immigration and law enforcement.

However, a number of ratifying countries have yet to complete their preparations for entry into force. The absence of necessary implementation legislation, well established national authorities and thorough preparation for declarations and inspections, might result in numerous cases of technical non-compliance - that is to say in a failure to act in accordance with requirements of the Convention without any ill-intent. This must be avoided as far as possible so that OPCW does not spend extra time and resources investigating situations where no real violation of the CW ban is involved. It is very important therefore that nations that have already done their 'homework' assist others in the preparatory activities.

The Provisional Technical Secretariat is also offering all possible help to assist member states in these preparations. It is bringing out occasional publications like the Newsletter, the OPCW Synthesis, and is organizing seminars on national implementation of the CWC, as well as specialized courses for national authorities' personnel.

Problems and lessons

The three-and-a-half-year period that has elapsed since the CWC opened for signature has revealed certain problems and difficulties. They are not so numerous as one might think when looking at the somewhat slow pace of work of the Preparatory Commission in resolving very technical issues, and most of them will not significantly impact on the OPCW's capability to monitor compliance. Some, however, are of a broader nature and worth noting.

  1. Political attention. When the CWC was signed, many governments concluded that, with the major political and security issues resolved, the remaining work was primarily technical and should be left to experts to do. Likewise, in many capitals, primary responsibility for instructing national delegations in The Hague moved from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence, to branches in the Ministries of Industry, Trade, etc. While there have been good reasons for this, the political profile of the Convention has declined as a result. Hence, the lower priority attached to the timely ratification of the Convention, at least in some countries, and the protracted debates in The Hague on a number of technical details. Furthermore, there emerged a risk of diluting, through development of technical details, the fundamental political and security concepts underpinning the verification regime.

  2. Entry into force and universality of the Convention. Given the complexity of the Convention, the number of ratifications already achieved - 60 - would rather inspire optimism. Quite encouraging also is the qualitative composition of the group of ratifiers: it includes major industrial states like Germany, Japan, France, the UK, Italy and Canada; there is wide geographical representation with such countries as Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Mexico, Morocco, Algeria, South Africa, Poland, New Zealand, Romania, Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovakia, Armenia, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Oman, and Sri Lanka. Many other countries like India, Portugal, Cameroon, and Belgium have come close to completing their ratification processes.

    Signatory states are increasingly concerned, however, that neither the United States nor Russia - the two major possessors of chemical weapons, have yet ratified the Convention. For example, the Organization of African Unity, in one of its recent resolutions adopted at its Yaoundé Summit in June, not only called upon signatory states in Africa to ratify the Convention, but also expressed concern about non-action by the US and Russia. There is little doubt that the Convention will lose much of its raison d'être without the timely adherence of these two countries. Furthermore, it is quite likely that other nations generally supportive of the Convention would be reluctant to open up their military and industrial facilities for inspections and bear other burdens of the CWC regime if it were not able to fulfil its main purpose - that of chemical weapons disarmament.

    The absence from the OPCW of Russia and/or the US would have serious operational consequences. One of the first decisions reached unanimously by the Preparatory Commission envisaged that all the groundwork should be done on the assumption that the US and Russia would be among the original parties to the Convention. Another assumption was that the Bilateral Agreement on the Destruction and Non-Production of Chemical Weapons between these two major CW possessors would be in the process of implementation by the time the CWC entered into force, thus significantly reducing the burden on OPCW in terms of inspection activities in Russia and in the US.

    The number of inspectors to be trained and recruited, the quantity of various types of inspection equipment to be procured before the entry into force - all these parameters were agreed upon and budgeted on the basis of these two assumptions. Should they prove to be wrong, a major review of all decisions would be required.

    Training facility
    A US army training facility for the destruction of chemical weapons.
    (US DoD 39Kb)
    Some delegations in The Hague have begun to wonder whether it would be politically wise to stimulate more ratifications in the absence of action by the major CW possessors or, alternatively, whether the Convention should still be brought into force in their absence, but without full implementation (if this were even possible from the legal point of view), or at least, without all elements of verification.

    The agreement reached in late June to hold a vote on ratification in the Senate by 14 September came as a long-awaited positive signal reviving the hope for timely US ratification which would make much of the "worst-case" speculation irrelevant. The time allocated for debate on this item being limited, no prolonged discussions are possible. Still, the agreement provides the possibility for the Republican leadership in the Senate to submit two amendments to the otherwise very positive and straightforward draft resolution adopted in April by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, creating a certain risk of an unexpected bump on the US road to ratification.

    Russia seems to be further away from ratification than the US. In Moscow, there is little open criticism against the CWC on military or security grounds; rather, the arguments about the economic consequences of implementation clearly dominate the debate. The programme for destruction of chemical weapons approved this spring by President Yeltsin and his government, estimates the cost at about US$3.7 billion. Assistance to destroy chemical weapons is clearly needed.

    While certain limited help is being provided by the US and Germany, wider international cooperation would be useful. An international conference convened by NATO and Germany and held near Bonn last May to address the dismantlement of nuclear, chemical and conventional weapons in the former Soviet Union, was a promising beginning. In this context, the recent decision of the Dutch government to join the efforts of assisting the Russian destruction programme is also particularly important.

    Still, it appears quite likely that the 65 ratifications could very well be achieved without either the US or Russia completing their ratification procedures, thus leaving open the question of whether they could do it within the remaining 180 days.

    There are by and large four categories of countries which have not yet signed the Convention. First of all, several Middle Eastern countries, immediate neighbours of Israel, have linked their participation in the Convention to Israel's accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The second category includes three countries which used to be parts of former Yugoslavia - Bosnia-Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro); the third is comprised of North Korea; the rest are mainly small island states, and several others whose difficult economic or political situations do not allow them to pay sufficient attention to the Convention.

    Kinkel & Solana
    German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel (right) and Secretary General Solana at the conference near Bonn last May which discussed worldwide efforts to destroy nuclear, chemical and conventional weapons.
    (German Press and Information Dept. Photo 26Kb)
    With the prospect of entry into force getting nearer, perhaps one should examine whether there are additional possibilities for expanding the geographical coverage of the Convention, thus contributing to its universality. While the Secretariat is making efforts in this direction, it needs more active political support from a number of signatory states.

  3. Fortune-teller needed? Another difficulty is the uncertainty about the date of deposit of the 65th instrument and, consequently, of the entry into force of the Convention. The nature of several critical projects that have to be undertaken during the six-month period immediately prior to entry into force is such that they require serious advance preparation which entails financial consequences. But it is risky to commit resources if one is uncertain as to when the goods are to be delivered.

    In short, the six-month period to be triggered by the deposit of the 65th instrument of ratification is too short, but it cannot be changed now since it was stipulated by the CWC itself.

    This raises the question of whether there is a need to regulate the exact date of the entry into force and, hence, of the trigger-point. For example, an arrangement could be negotiated under which each new ratifying state would officially declare its readiness to deposit the instrument of ratification, but withhold the instrument until a specific date, to be determined in advance, when all remaining instruments would be deposited together, thus triggering the mechanism of entry into force and thereby making advance planning much easier. However, a significant number of delegations are not enthusiastic about this idea, expressing concern that it could result in somewhat delaying the entry into force.

  4. Between The Hague and Brussels. Unfortunately, out of 160 signatory states, only about half have embassies in The Hague which enable them to participate in the work of the Commission. Most of the others have quite reasonably put this burden on their embassies in Brussels, which is 200 kilometres away. In some cases, these embassies are severely understaffed and financially strapped, making it difficult for them to send people regularly to The Hague. Therefore, they have found it difficult to follow the work of the Commission and advise their governments on issues relating to the Convention. This, in turn, poses a risk of inadequate preparation for implementation of the CWC and, subsequently, of technical non-compliance.

    To improve the situation, the Secretariat launched the so-called "Brussels Project", designed to facilitate the involvement of these embassies in the work of the Commission. This includes regular visits to Brussels by high-ranking Secretariat officials and experts, general and specialized briefings, workshops and frequent meetings with individual representatives. Valuable logistical support in this regard is being provided by NATO and the ACP House in Brussels (the venue for meetings of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries).

Time for action and political will

The work of the Preparatory Commission convincingly shows how difficult it is both politically and practically to transform agreed verification theory into functional arrangements supported by adequate financing, staffing and equipment.

This Convention, and the work presently done in The Hague, is an extremely interesting test case of a new approach towards non-proliferation and disarmament agreements based on transparency, cooperation and non-discrimination. Agreement on the CWC was made possible by a unique combination of political factors that existed at the end of the Cold War. The Convention is of very high value for the present post-Cold War period which is characterized by political uncertainty and new risks of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, the Convention is living through a critical period. The major players in the international arena have a historic opportunity to enhance global security by completing their ratification processes and triggering the implementation of this unprecedented accord. I sincerely hope they will seize this opportunity.

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