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Chemical Weapons

Novichok nerve agents may be added to Chemical Weapons Convention

Chemicals would be the first added to the treaty since it came into force

by Laura Howes
January 17, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 3


Two families of nerve agents known as “Novichok” compounds may be added to the Chemical Weapons Convention this year. If the process is completed, this would be the first time new chemicals have been added since the arms-control treaty came into force in 1997.

The governing body of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is charged with implementing the convention, agreed to the proposed addition on Jan. 14.

Chemical structure of the Novichock nerve agent known as A-320.
The Novichok nerve agent known as A-230 is among those proposed to be strictly controlled under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

US, Canadian, and Dutch delegations to the OPCW made the proposal as a direct result of the use of a nerve agent in the UK in an assassination attempt last year. Independent analysis by the OPCW confirmed the identity of the agent used as an organophosphate-based Novichok compound but the full details of the identified chemical remain classified.

The Chemical Weapons Convention generally prohibits using chemicals to cause death or harm, but delegates to the OPCW say that their proposal closes a perceived loophole. Chemicals listed on OPCW’s Schedule 1 have few purposes outside of warfare and thus have tight limits on their production as well as use.

The countries that proposed adding Novichok compounds to the schedule wanted them listed “to make them subject to controls and verification,” says Sumita Dixit, part of the Canadian delegation to the OPCW. “They have no other use for purposes not prohibited by the Convention.” Dixit also says that adding new chemicals shows that the convention can adapt to new developments.

The OPCW’s Executive Council decision has now been shared with all the countries that are party to the convention. The countries have 90 days to object. If no one objects, then the chemicals will be added to the OPCW as proposed. But if anyone objects, then the decision will go to the next Conference of the States Parties, planned for Nov. 25–29.


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