Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Defense: Progress on a Chemical Weapons-free World

Source: ISS

Progress on a Chemical Weapons-free World

Amelia Broodryk, Researcher, Arms Management Programme, ISS Pretoria Office

From 28 November to 3 December, States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction or Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) will meet for the 16th annual Conference of States Parties (CSP) in The Hague. The CWC was adopted in 1992 and is the only convention in the world today that eliminates an entire category of weapons of mass destruction.

African participation in the CWC is high, with 50 States Parties representing the continent and only three states (Angola, Egypt and Somalia) that are still non-signatories. The high level of participation can be attributed to the active involvement of the Convention’s implementation body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the formation of the ‘African Group’. The OPCW Technical Secretariat engages with African States Parties through its Programme for Africa, which focuses on promoting economic, scientific, and technological development through its various projects, particularly in the field of international co-operation. The future of the Africa Programme has been included as a main agenda item for the 2011 CSP.

Another important issue for African States Parties that will be considered at the CSP is the destruction of chemical stockpiles, old chemical weapons and abandoned chemical weapons. According to an African Group statement at the 66th Session of the OPCW Executive Council, the destruction of all chemical weapons remains “one of the core objectives of this Organisation” and that the “continued existence of chemical weapons is a threat to international peace and security”. It is unlikely that States Parties that still possess these weapons will be able to meet the extended destruction deadline of 29 April 2012. Other priority areas for African States Parties include the implementation of Article X, which provides for assistance and protection against chemical weapons to States Parties and Article XI, which provides for international co-operation between States Parties.

In support of the goal of an Africa free of chemical weapons, and in accordance with the CWC, Libya had to destroy approximately 9.5 metric tons of mustard agent by 15 May 2011, and a quantity of precursor materials by 31 December 2011. However, events in Libya over the last few months have led the OPCW’s Executive Council to publicly express its concern and to remind Libya of its obligation to ensure the security of its remaining stockpile whilst continuing with destruction within the established deadlines. Throughout the crisis, Libyan authorities have maintained communication with the OPCW, and in October 2011, the Libyan delegation informed the Executive Council that chemical weapons storage sites in Ruwagha were secure and under the control and protection of the Libyan National Transitional Council forces. In addition, Libya has requested that the Technical Secretariat send inspectors to verify the safety of the chemical stockpiles as well as develop a way forward on destruction of these stockpiles. The situation in Libya remains precarious, and the 16th CSP will have to consider measures that should be implemented to ensure the safe storage and eventual destruction of chemicals in that country. It is important to note that Libya is not the only country that will not meet its destruction deadline, and continued dialogue between States Parties and the OPCW is vital in order to manage the destruction process beyond April 2012.

Although States Parties remain the key drivers of the CWC, the OPCW places great value on the participation of other stakeholders, including the chemical industry, regional and sub-regional bodies, as well as civil society, in implementation and operationalisation of the Convention. To this end, the OPCW provides civil society with the space to host the NGO Open Forum, a meeting where civil society can address delegations and other interested stakeholders on issues of particular relevance to civil society. This year, the Forum will focus on the 2012 chemical weapons destruction deadline and the future of the OPCW, including a presentation on the regulation of riot control agent munitions and means of delivery jointly prepared by the ISS, the University of Bradford and the Omega Research Foundation. In addition, a much-needed African perspective on OPCW priorities will be presented with a particular focus on the strengths and weaknesses of Africa’s engagement in the CWC framework. Civil society will also be hosting the third annual meeting of the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition (CWCC), which will include a presentation by the Director General of the OPCW, Ahmet Uzumcu.

The OPCW has geared much of its work towards achieving the goal of universal implementation of the CWC, but it cannot accomplish this without the co-operation of other stakeholders, including the chemical industry, regional and sub-regional bodies, and civil society. The near-universalisation of the CWC in Africa is a testament to the continent’s commitment to ensuring that the misuse of dangerous chemicals does not happen either in Africa. The 16th CSP is another opportunity for States Parties to recommit themselves to implementation of the CWC, and African States Parties, both individually and through the African Group, have an important voice, especially on issues related to international co-operation, the peaceful use of chemicals and the future direction of the OPCW.