Second Review Conference

The Second Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention took place on April 7-18, 2008 in The Hague.

The agenda for the Conference and other information relating to the Conference are available through OPCW, including a report on the conference. A full list of publications and reports on the Second Review Conference can be found in the Document Archive.

Some of the issues which were discussed during the Review Conference were:

Ensuring the Universality of the Convention
As of the Second Review Conference, the CWC includes 184 nations, over 98% of the world’s population, and over 98% of the worldwide chemical industry. It is one of the most successful multilateral arms control agreements in history, but the OPCW still has not reached its goal of including all nations. In addition, less than half of the CWC member nations have passed CWC implementing legislation that criminalizes the acquisition and use of chemical weapons in their own countries. Therefore, the issue of how to ensure the universality of the CWC and bring all nations fully under it in order to rid the world of the threat of chemical weapons will be discussed at the Review Conference.


Destruction of Chemical Weapons Stockpiles
The Chemical Weapons Convention stipulated that all chemical weapons stockpiles and munitions would be eliminated and all chemical weapons production facilities would be inactivated within its first 10 years. In total 6 nations; Albania, India, Libya, Russia, South Korea, and the United States have declared over 71,000 metric tons of chemical weapon stockpiles. At this time only about one third of all declared weapons stockpiles have been confirmed destroyed, with Albania the only nation to have its entire stockpile of 16 metric tons destroyed (confirmed July 11, 2007). All of the remaining declared CW nations have been granted extensions by OPCW. Both the U.S. and Russia have been granted the maximum extension of April 29, 2012, but based on the large stockpiles that each nation still has, it is unlikely that either will meet this deadline. The U.S. estimates that its CW destruction will not be complete until 2023, though an increase in 2008 defense appropriations has been added to speed completion to Dec. 30, 2017.

Weapons destruction may be a contentious issue at the Review Conference, since Iran would like to have failure to meet the 2012 deadline dealt with as noncompliance, a severe violation of the treaty that requires a response. The U.S. position is that as long as they are actively destroying chemical stockpiles, even if the deadline for full compliance is not met, they are not undermining the basic purpose of the treaty to rid the world of chemical weapons. The next regular review conference will occur in 2013, after the 5 year extension deadline has passed. According to Arms Control Today, Ambassador Donald Mahley, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Threat Reduction, suggests that the U.S. will propose that the review conference establish a working group to “set the groundwork for a work program to be able to find constructive ways to address the 2012 question before we get to 2012.”


Scientific and Technical Advances
One of the most difficult and important issues that will be discussed at the Second Review Conference are new scientific and technical advances that may affect the CWC. In order for the CWC to stay useful, relevant, and effective it is widely recognized that it must be adapted to new advances in chemistry.

In the past the CWC has focused strictly on chemicals, however, the constantly blurring line between chemistry and biology makes this an extremely difficult. New developments in biotechnology, nanotechnology and proteomics have all contributed to a convergence of these fields. The Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention covers many biological weapons, but does not include a Verification Protocol similar to the CWC. In spite of the verification differences, it is important that the conventions overlap where appropriate so that agents which could be categorized as biological or chemical weapons do not fall through the cracks.

Technological advances have also changed catalytic processes, allowing for more flexible synthesis setups. This type of technology allows a manufacturing plant to change the chemicals it is producing very quickly and with minimal effort. In addition, advances with microreactors allow for safer work with very hazardous chemicals, but greatly reduces the footprint of chemical synthesis, making it much harder for a covert CW program to be detected. There will be debate about how to adapt the treaty to detect and monitor these new technologies, as well as how to take advantage of them to strengthen OPCW inspection and verification methods.


Use of Non-Lethal and Riot Control Agents
The issue of non-lethal or incapacitating agents and Riot Control Agents has historically caused problems between CWC member nations. The language in the convention allowing for use of Riot Control Agents for domestic law enforcement or other purposes is sufficiently vague and somewhat open to interpretation. In 2002 Russia deployed the incapacitating agent fentanyl into a theater in Moscow where Chechan militants were holding 800 hostages. Even though 117 of the hostages died as a result Russia argued that its actions did not violate the CWC. The U.S. military and private contractors have used CS gas in Iraq on several occasions, and claimed that this is not a violation of the CWC. Other nations disagree and have expressed concern over recent U.S. actions. This hot-button issue is not likely to be discussed explicitly at the conference, though it may be brought up in the context of scientific and technical advances or as part of the agenda item “activities not prohibited under the convention.”


Inspections and Verification
The “general purpose criterion” of the CWC ensures that any toxic chemical that is intended to be used for hostile purposes, and regardless of its method of production, is covered under the treaty. Even chemicals that are not specifically listed in Schedules 1-3 of the treaty are included in the CWC because of this criterion, however, inspections are generally only carried out for agents that are listed.

During the first 10 years of the CWC, inspections and verification focused on CW stockpiles, monitoring their destruction, and disabling CW production facilities. In fact, the extensions for destruction of stockpile granted to the U.S., Russia and other nations means that their chemical weapons will need to continue to be monitored and inspected, taking up a large percentage of OPCW inspector’s time and resources. In order for the CWC to stay relevant and useful, its verification focus and needs to be able to shift away from current stockpile destruction to monitoring chemical manufacturing facilities in order to ensure that no new chemical weapons are created.

As the stockpiles continue to decrease, inspections will increasingly shift toward the chemical industry and preventing the production of new chemical weapons. To accompany this transition, there is a push to include inspections at “Other Chemical Production Facilities”, or OCPFs, which produce many chemicals not listed on the schedules, but employ technologies or dual-use chemicals that could easily be adapted to CW production. Nearly all of the OCPFs are located in developing nations that have previously not born the burden of CWC mandated inspections and do not want to. To complicate the issue there is suspicion amongst the developing nations that the developed nations view them as untrustworthy and will use OCPF inspections as a means to spy on them.


For in-depth analysis of each of these issues links to several reports are provided in the Second Review Conference section of the Document Archive.