A Decade Of Chemical Disarmament | April 2, 2007 Issue - Vol. 85 Issue 14 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 85 Issue 14 | p. 14 | News of The Week
Issue Date: April 2, 2007

A Decade Of Chemical Disarmament

Head of watchdog group touts successes, warns of chemical terrorism
Department: Government & Policy
Pfirter
Credit: OPCW
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Pfirter
Credit: OPCW

AS THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY of the Chemical Weapons Convention approaches on April 29, the world watches in dismay as Iraqi insurgents increasingly use terrorist tactics, blowing up tanks of chlorine gas to kill and injure unprotected civilians.

In a keynote address given on March 29 at a forum on the treaty's achievements and challenges, sponsored by Global Green USA, Rogelio Pfirter underscored the treaty's utility as the world's only legal instrument to prevent the use and spread of chemical weapons.

"This treaty, like no other, has moved forward in a way that demonstrates that through multilateral efforts, enhancement of peace and security are possible," he said. And he urged universal adherence to the treaty in order to safeguard civilians from what he calls "chemical terrorism."

Pfirter, director-general of the treaty's implementing group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), has repeatedly condemned the chlorine gas attacks in Iraq. At the forum, he talked about the role compliance with the treaty can play in preventing terrorists from gaining access to dangerous chemicals.

Toxic chemicals are globally distributed, and there is growing evidence that terrorists might focus increasingly on the chemical industry, Pfirter said. OPCW inspectors must beef up the number of inspections at industrial facilities producing large-scale, dual-use chemicals, he said. "In the near future, I intend to introduce a modification of the process for selecting sites for inspection and will try to bias the selection process to those countries with the largest number of facilities," he said.

"OPCW is not an antiterrorist organization," Pfirter said, but it can contribute to global antiterrorism. The more countries that take part in the treaty, the fewer safe havens terrorists have. Destroying stockpiles of chemical warfare agents also reduces potential terrorist targets and prevents diversion of the weapons.

The treaty is functioning successfully as a disarmament regime-one that is able to verify the destruction of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD). Pfirter noted that the treaty, which receives broad support from the chemical industry, is approaching universal adherence: 182 nations are now members. Only 13 nations, including Iraq and others believed to have chemical weapons, such as Syria, Egypt, Israel, and North Korea, have not signed on to the treaty.

Six countries—Albania, India, Libya, Russia, South Korea, and the U.S.—have declared a total of 71,000 metric tons of chemical weapons. Pfirter said nearly 25% of this known global arsenal has been eliminated.

But, he warned, the pace has to pick up to meet the treaty's 2012 deadline for the complete destruction of these weapons. Twelve destruction facilities are now operating worldwide, but seven more have yet to be built.

Albania is expected to destroy its small stockpile shortly after April 29. Holders of the largest stockpiles, the U.S. and Russia, are not expected to meet the 2012 deadline.

"Only with full global membership and complete elimination of declared chemical agents will we be successful in making a whole class of WMDs taboo," says Paul F. Walker, director of Global Green USA's legacy program, which facilitates the safe and timely elimination of chemical weapons.

 
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