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Chemical Weapons

Effort to eliminate chemical weapons gets budget amid difficult talks

Tense debates and a lack of consensus at chemical weapons conferences in the Hague

by Laura Howes
December 3, 2018

Photo of U.S. ambassador Kenneth Ward standing at a lectern with the OPCW logo.
Credit: OPCW
"No one should think that they can develop, retain, use, or transfer chemical weapons and get away with it," said Kenneth D. Ward, U.S. ambassador to the OPCW.

The reemergence of chemical weapons use has inevitably posed challenges and heightened tensions for members of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). In November, diplomats from across the world met in the Netherlands to discuss their progress in eliminating chemical weapons. Heated debate sometimes ensued as government representatives discussed how to eliminate threat of chemical warfare worldwide.

The OPCW implements provisions of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. Over the last two decades, 96% of declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been destroyed, the OPCW says.

But “the world has changed and the OPCW must adapt to a new environment and to new threats and challenges,” says a joint declaration by 57 OPCW member states, including the US and UK, published Nov. 30. The statement urges strengthening of OPCW activities. The OPCW has a total of 193 member states.

The meetings in the Netherlands involved two back-to-back conferences. One was the Conference of the States Parties, which occurs annually to oversee implementation of the Convention.

That conference passed the OPCW’s 2019 budget, with funding included for a new team in Syria to determine who carries out chemical weapons attacks. The body that had previously attributed responsibility for chemical weapons use, the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism, ceased operations last year after Russia blocked extending its UN Security Council mandate. The attribution team in Syria will be funded by voluntary contributions from member states.

Other voluntary contributions will help fund the OPCW’s new Centre for Chemistry and Technology in the Netherlands. Most of the OPCW’s just under €70 million ($79 million) budget comes from mandated contributions from member states.

The Conferences of the States Parties also eventually adopted a consensus report, although that report came several days late.

The second meeting was the Review Conference, which occurs every five years to review operations and set a strategic direction for the OPCW. Delegates to the Review Conference could not reach consensus and the OPCW published a chairperson’s report instead.


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