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April 23, 2001
Volume 79, Number 17
CENEAR 79 17 pp. 9
ISSN 0009-2347
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Experts chart challenges, solutions to implementing chemical arms accord


The first in-depth look at the first four years of implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention reveals few successes, several failures, and some sobering trends.

"It's a very mixed picture with some encouraging developments, but overall the balance is negative," says Jonathan B. Tucker, editor of the study to be released this week by the Monterey Institute of International Studies. "There are a number of disturbing trends that, if not corrected, could seriously undermine the treaty as an instrument of chemical disarmament and nonproliferation."

On the positive side, 143 countries have signed and ratified the treaty. Four countries--the U.S., Russia, India, and South Korea--have declared chemical weapons stockpiles. All but Russia have made progress in destroying these weapons. And Aleksander Pikayev of the Carnegie Moscow Center warns that Russia will not meet treaty deadlines for destroying its stocks--even with substantial foreign assistance.

Many countries have failed to pay their annual dues or to reimburse verification costs to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the treaty-implementing group. This has resulted in a financial crisis that severely threatens OPCW's operations.

A number of countries have reduced the intrusiveness of on-site inspections by reinterpreting the treaty's verification provisions. Amy E. Smithson, senior associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center, points to language in U.S. laws that ratify and implement the treaty but that undercut "the treaty's two major verification tools: sampling and challenge inspections." She says the Bush Administration can renew "these crucial monitoring tools so that they can be used to unmask countries that might be trying to hide prohibited chemical weapons capabilities."

Suspicions that some countries may be violating the treaty linger. But no country--including the U.S.--has sought challenge inspections to address compliance concerns, note Amy Sands and Jason Pate of the Monterey Institute. Some arms control experts worry that if challenge inspection is not used, its value as an instrument of compliance will atrophy and seriously undermine the credibility of the treaty.

Disturbing as well is the realization that "trends in the chemical industry are largely going to make it more difficult to ensure compliance," former DuPont scientist George W. Parshall says. He cites the development of automated microreactors--the size of a person's hand--that can run 24 hours, seven days a week to produce a ton of chemical warfare agent in one month.

Also looking to the future is Michael L. Moodie, president of the Chemical & Biological Arms Control Institute. He notes a gap between "the intent of those who negotiated the treaty and the interests of those who must implement it" and believes the treaty's first review conference in 2003 can begin to close it.

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