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On April 9, the 2015 ASIL Annual Meeting concluded a successful day with a session about the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). This session was organized as a series of questions and answers, creating an interactive discussion among the audience, the moderator Dr. Abiodun Williams (President of The Hague Institute for Global Justice), and the keynote speaker, H.E. Mr. Ahmet Üzümcü, the Director-General of OPCW.
After introducing Ambassador Üzümcü, Dr. Williams noted that the OPCW was publicly recognized for its success in eliminating chemical weapons when it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013. Dr Williams asked why the CWC had succeeded in the disarmament process when other instruments had failed.
Ambassador Üzümcü responded that the OPCW and CWC’s success was driven by the political will of the States parties to eliminate chemical weapons. He named three distinguishing features of the CWC that may have contributed to its success. First, the three Annexes to the CWC are very comprehensive and detailed, particularly the Verification Regime. Second, the CWC places a global ban on chemical weapons. Consequently, even powerful States are destroying their stockpiles of chemical weapons. Third, the CWC enjoys a very large membership, with over 190 Member States. Only six countries are not yet members, but three (Myanmar, Angola and South Sudan) are expected to accede to the CWC in the foreseeable future. Not only does this mean that most countries in the world have committed to the CWC, but it also makes it more difficult for non-Member States to secretly develop an active program of chemical weapons because Member States can monitor such activities. The success enjoyed by the OPCW and CWC makes them a good model of effective multilateralism and a source of inspiration for other disarmament efforts, particularly of nuclear weapons.
Ambassador Üzümcü added that the OPCW’s work is not yet complete. İndeed, the OPCW is now in a transition phase, shifting focus away from the destruction of existing stockpiles of chemical weapons to prevention and non-proliferation efforts. For example, the OPCW is working with Member States to implement the CWC in their national systems. Approximately 70 Member States have not yet enacted national legislation to implement the CWC, and do not consider it a priority because they do not have chemical weapons. However, there must be broad implementation of the CWC to strengthen its enforceability worldwide.
Dr. Williams next asked how the OPCW balanced the political and legal aspects of its work as an organization charged with implementing the CWC.
Ambassador Üzümcü remarked that the OPCW has adopted practical alternative approaches to overcome legal challenges not addressed in the CWC. For example, the CWC does not provide for extension of the deadline to destroy chemical weapons stockpiles, but Member States have de facto been granted extensions, so long as they submit regular reports to the OPCW explaining the reasons for delay. Another example is the case of Syria. Under the CWC, chemical weapons typically would be destroyed within the territory of the State in possession of such weapons, but this approach was not feasible in Syria. Therefore, OPCW arranged for the chemical weapons to be transported out of Syria and destroyed elsewhere. The OPCW established the Syria Trust Fund to fund this mission, and contracted with private companies to transport the chemical weapons to Latakia. The OPCW also designed a system for destroying these chemical weapons at sea, working with NGOs to assuage environmenta concerns. As a result of the OPCW’s ability to adapt to the particular circumstances of Syria, all chemical weapons in Syria were destroyed in less than one year.
Dr. Williams followed up on the discussion about Syria, stating that there were reports of the use of chemical weapons by ISIS in the region. He asked Ambassador Üzümcü how serious the threat of chemical terrorism was, and what role law played to address this threat.
Ambassador Üzümcü acknowledged that the threat of chemical terrorism is real. The use of chemical weapons by non-State actors is increasing. This underscores the need for Member States to develop legislation so that they can address the use of chemical weapons within their territory, especially because the CWC does not address the obligations of non-State actors. States and international organizations must also work together to prevent the use of chemical weapons as tools of terrorism.
Dr. Williams asked what lessons could be learned from the OPCW’s work in adapting to rapid changes in the world.
Ambassador Üzümcü stated that it is necessary for the OPCW to be flexible in interpreting and implementing the CWC. There have been significant developments in technology and science, and the security environment has also changed greatly. The OPCW has attempted to respond to these developments in a number of ways. For example, the OPCW has created an Advisory Board comprising 25 scientists to monitor scientific developments and make recommendations to the OPCW. The OPCW is also reviewing the verification regime to make it more effective in the face of the threat of terrorism. Lastly, in recognition of the fact that civil society has become very active, the OPCW is giving a more prominent role to NGOs by allowing them to participate in OPCW’s annual Conference of the States Parties.
Z.J. Jennifer Lim is an associate in the New York office of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.