U.S. Chemical Weapons Destruction News – May 27, 2008

In the past week the U.S. Chemical Weapons destruction effort has made several headlines. Here is the rundown:

The Anniston CW disposal site reached a milestone by completing the destruction of all the VX-filled artillery shells stored there. Overall this means that 50% of the Anniston stockpile has been destroyed and complete destruction is expected in 2013.

The Newport disposal site has passed the 90% destruction mark. Plans are now being made for cleanup and dismantling of buildings to facilitate the site’s closure in 2011.

Complete destruction of CW agents at the Pine Bluff Arsenal is expected in 2012, and the facility is looking to the future when its mission will be transitioned to meet current wartime demands.

News was not as good from the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility. It was shut down May 14 for repairs, but is expected to be functional again in early June. There also was a mustard agent leak detected at the facility, but it was contained inside the storage structures.

Work was suspended at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal after low levels of Lewisite agent were detected in the air at the facility.

Finally, there was a report on the construction of the Pueblo Chemical Depot. Construction may be underway, but the current time lines are well outside of the 2012 destruction deadline mandated by the CWC. The facility should be completed by 2013 and operational by 2015.

Dando Article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

This week the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published an article by Malcolm Dando called “Missed opportunities at the chemical weapons treaty meeting”. Dando discusses the contentious that has arisen becasue the CWC bans all chemical weapons, but exempts those used for “law enforcement, including domestic riot control purposes.”

For further discussion of incapacitating agents and the CWC check out the Bulletin’s Roundtable Forum, which I highlighted earlier this week. Also, Oliver Meier’s article in Arms Control Today talks about the “hidden debate” of incapacitating agents that took place at last months Review Conference.

Incapacitants Roundtable

I probably should have written about this earlier…

In response to Jonathan Tucker’s article “The Body’s Own Bioweapons” in the March/April issue, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is hosting a roundtable discussion on non-lethal and incapacitating agents. The participants are Jonathan Tucker, Alan Pearson, Paul Aas and Ralf Trapp and they have been contributing to the forum since early March. In many cases the discussion turns to the CWC and how these agents are and should be treated under the Convention.

Iran Chemical Weapons Victims Event

Yesterday Global Green USA and Physicians for Social Responsibility co-hosted an event featuring Iran NGO the Soceity for Chemical Weapons Victims Support. The event was supposed to feature Drs. Shahriar Khateri and Mohammadreza Soroush as well as 2 survivors of the CW attacks, however Dr. Khateri was ill and the survivors were unable to attend. Working with a translator, Dr. Soroush presented the details of chemical attacks by Iraq on Iranian civilians during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980′s. All together there were about 350 attacks, leaving more than 1 million people exposed to chemical agents. Iraq declared that it had used 1800 tonnes of mustard agent, 140 tonnes of tabun and over 600 tonnes of sarin during these attacks. Dr. Soroush also shared the ongoing medical problems of those who had survived the attacks, including scarring, severe respiratory problems and blindness. It is stunning to see images of the immediate and long-term damages caused by chemical warfare, especially since the victims are primarily civilians.

It is interesting to note that Dr. Soroush avoided expressing any political statements. He was asked a question about how other countries (specifically the U.S.) who played a role in assisting Saddam Hussein and Iraq during the war were viewed by Iran CW victims, and responded by saying that he didn’t think it was helpful to bring up the political issues and wanted to move away from them. SWCVS’s goals in sharing the survivor’s stories were to provide motivation for the world to completely destroy all chemical weapons so that this could never happen again. He wants to share Iran’s experience to the medical community around the world so that they may be prepared if they were to face a CW attack. Dr. Soroush also said instead of focusing on past political issues, he wants to improve relations between the Iranian and American people so that they may have friendly talks and free scientific exchange. This is a stark contrast to statement made by the Iranian Ambassador at the Second Review Conference of the CWC just a few weeks ago. In the statement Iran condemned the U.N. Security council for ignoring Saddam’s violation of the Geneva Protocol and that this “sent a loud and clear signal that grave violations of a significant treaty would be tolerated should one serve the interests of certain powers”. The statement continued by calling on “all those countries whose companies or individuals have been involved in helping Saddam to commit crimes against humanity” to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Since April 27 Dr. Soroush, Dr. Khateri and 2 survivors have been on a speaking tour sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility. Over the past 2 weeks they have given presentations in Boston, New York, Los Angeles and will conclude with a presentation today at George Washington University here in Washington DC.

May issue of Arms Control Today

The May issue of Arms Control Today is out. It contains an excellent article by Oliver Meier called CWC Review Conference Avoids Difficult Issues”.

Oliver highlights some of the difficulties in adopting final text for the declaration. He also brings up the relatively soft emphasis on CW destruction and makes the point that this was complicated by a fundamental debate between developed and developing nations about whether the CWC should be seen as a disarmament treaty or a nonproliferation treaty. Finally Oliver discusses the “hidden debate about incapacitants”. This issue was not specifically on the agenda, nor did it show up in the final declaration; but it did receive considerable debate during the Conference.

CWC News – May 6, 2008

Here is a brief round up of some of the chemical weapons related news this week.

On April 29, the Japanese news site The Daily Yomiuri Online published an article in response to the corruption scandal involving Japanese cleanup of ACW in China. It gives a time line and outline of Japan’s ACW removal efforts to date.

Also on April 29 there was a news report that “Russia Destroys One-Third of Its Chemical Weapons”. Not exactly a figure that hasn’t been reported previously… but the article does bring up the enormous (and skyrocketing) cost of CW destruction.

Finally, yesterday there was news in the U.S. proclaiming “Pine Bluff Arsenal destroys first VX-filled landmine”. Horray! Just a few thousand more tonnes to go…

Document of the Day – Letters From Scientists

I kicked off this site in the beginning of April with a Document of the Day post that featured a letter from Dick Cheney opposing U.S. ratification of the CWC. Now that the flurry of posts about the Second Review Conference has died down, I think its time to dig through the Archive and find a new item to highlight.

Today’s Document(s) of the Day are 148 letters from prominent scientists urging Senator Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) to bring the ratification of the CWC to a vote in the U.S. Senate before April 29, 1997. All of the 148 signatories were chemist and biochemist members of the U.S. National Academy of Science, 13 were Nobel Laureates at the time, and an additional 3 signatories have since been awarded a Nobel Prize. The letters were sent to Sen. Lott on Feb 24, 1997 by Dudley Herschbach and Matthew Meselson of Harvard University. Walter Kauzmann even added an extra note on his letter and expressed his disbelief of the situation by asking “Has the Senate no self respect?”

It is phenomenal to look back and see the academic science community coming together in support of an arms control treaty. Go here for more information on the events leading up to U.S. ratification of the CWC.