What you didn’t know about the Chemical Weapons Convention

The 16-year-old Chemical Weapons Convention has been in the spotlight since Syria decided to join in an apparent bid to avoid US-led military intervention over the government’s alleged use of chemical weapons. But here are some lesser known facts about the origins of the treaty, whom it covers, what it covers – and who has complied with its obligations…

Between April 1997, when the convention came into force, and July 2013, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – which polices the convention – conducted more than 5,000 inspections in 86 out of the 189 countries that are party to the convention. But the OPCW can’t do much to enforce compliance, outside recommending measures to states or referring matters to the UN General Assembly or Security Council.

Seven state parties have declared chemical weapons stockpiles totalling over 70,000 tonnes, and so far some 80% of this has been destroyed…But only three countries – Albania, India and a third party widely believed to be South Korea – have destroyed all their stockpiles.

The countries with the biggest declared stockpiles, the United States and Russia, failed to meet deadlines for their total destruction in April 2007 and April 2012. The deadlines have now been extended once again…

The US currently has a stockpile of some 3,000 tonnes of chemical agents – three times the amount Western powers say Syria possesses.

There are some contentious exclusions from the CWC, such as white phosphorus – which if used as smoke (to camouflage movement) is not considered a chemical weapon despite its potential toxic effects. Napalm and dynamite are excluded because their primary destructive effects are considered to be incendiary and not chemical.

The CWC’s remit also does not include biological weapons – weaponisable bio-agents such as bacteria, viruses or fungi – which is covered by the Biological Weapons Convention.

Because of foot-dragging by the US and the Soviet Union, it took a couple decades for the proposed treaty to make it to reality in 1997. All the breast-beating we still hear from our elected officials about the plastic halo they think we deserve for starting to destroy our chemical weapons, we remain responsible for most of the nuclear arsenal remaining in the world, a significant chunk of land mines.

Los Alamos National Labs avoided most of the effects of the sequester stupidity because they – and the nuclear welfare program at Pantex in Amarillo, Texas – are busy upgrading the triggers on our nuclear stockpile of death and destruction.

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