Chemical Weapons Convention

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Chemical Weapons Convention
Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction
CWC Participation.svg
Participation in the Chemical Weapons Convention
Drafted3 September 1992 [1]
Signed13 January 1993 [1]
LocationParis and New York [1]
Effective29 April 1997 [1]
ConditionRatification by 65 states [2]
Signatories165 [1]
Parties193 [1] (List of state parties)
Four UN states are not party: Egypt, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan.
Depositary UN Secretary-General [3]
LanguagesArabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish [4]

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), officially the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, is an arms control treaty administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an intergovernmental organization based in The Hague, The Netherlands. The treaty entered into force on 29 April 1997, and prohibits the large-scale use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of chemical weapons and their precursors, except for very limited purposes (research, medical, pharmaceutical or protective). The main obligation of member states under the convention is to effect this prohibition, as well as the destruction of all current chemical weapons. All destruction activities must take place under OPCW verification.


As of March 2021, 193 states have become parties to the CWC and accept its obligations. Israel has signed but not ratified the agreement, while three other UN member states (Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan) have neither signed nor acceded to the treaty. [1] [5] Most recently, the State of Palestine deposited its instrument of accession to the CWC on 17 May 2018. In September 2013, Syria acceded to the convention as part of an agreement for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. [6] [7]

As of February 2021, 98.39% of the world's declared chemical weapons stockpiles had been destroyed. [8] The convention has provisions for systematic evaluation of chemical production facilities, as well as for investigations of allegations of use and production of chemical weapons based on the intelligence of other state parties.

Some chemicals which have been used extensively in warfare but have numerous large-scale industrial uses (such as phosgene) are highly regulated; however, certain notable exceptions exist. Chlorine gas is highly toxic, but being a pure element and widely used for peaceful purposes, is not officially listed as a chemical weapon. Certain state-powers (e.g. the Assad regime of Syria) continue to regularly manufacture and implement such chemicals in combat munitions. [9] Although these chemicals are not specifically listed as controlled by the CWC, the use of any toxic chemical as a weapon (when used to produce fatalities solely or mainly through its toxic action) is in-and-of itself forbidden by the treaty. Other chemicals, such as white phosphorus, [10] are highly toxic but are legal under the CWC when they are used by military forces for reasons other than their toxicity.[ citation needed ]


The CWC augments the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which bans the use but not the development or possession of chemical and biological weapons. [11] The CWC also includes extensive verification measures such as on-site inspections, in stark contrast to the 1975 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which lacks a verification regime. [12]

After several changes of name and composition, the ENDC evolved into the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in 1984. [13] On 3 September 1992 the CD submitted to the U.N. General Assembly its annual report, which contained the text of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The General Assembly approved the convention on 30 November 1992, and the U.N. Secretary-General then opened the convention for signature in Paris on 13 January 1993. [14] The CWC remained open for signature until its entry into force on 29 April 1997, 180 days after the deposit at the UN by Hungary of the 65th instrument of ratification. [15]

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

Headquarters in The Hague HQ of OPCW in The Hague.jpg
Headquarters in The Hague

The convention is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which acts as the legal platform for specification of the CWC provisions. [16] The Conference of the States Parties is mandated to change the CWC and pass regulations on the implementation of CWC requirements. The Technical Secretariat of the organization conducts inspections to ensure compliance of member states. These inspections target destruction facilities (where permanent monitoring takes place during destruction), chemical weapons production facilities which have been dismantled or converted for civil use, as well as inspections of the chemical industry. The Secretariat may furthermore conduct "investigations of alleged use" of chemical weapons and give assistance after use of chemical weapons.

The 2013 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the organization because it had, with the Chemical Weapons Convention, "defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law" according to Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. [17] [18]

Key points of the Convention

Controlled substances

The convention distinguishes three classes of controlled substance, [19] [20] chemicals that can either be used as weapons themselves or used in the manufacture of weapons. The classification is based on the quantities of the substance produced commercially for legitimate purposes. Each class is split into Part A, which are chemicals that can be used directly as weapons, and Part B, which are chemicals useful in the manufacture of chemical weapons. Separate from the precursors, the convention defines toxic chemicals as "[a]ny chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals. This includes all such chemicals, regardless of their origin or of their method of production, and regardless of whether they are produced in facilities, in munitions or elsewhere." [21]

A treaty party may declare a "single small-scale facility" that produces up to 1 tonne of Schedule 1 chemicals for research, medical, pharmaceutical or protective purposes each year, and also another facility may produce 10 kg per year for protective testing purposes. An unlimited number of other facilities may produce Schedule 1 chemicals, subject to a total 10 kg annual limit, for research, medical or pharmaceutical purposes, but any facility producing more than 100 grams must be declared. [19] [23]

The treaty also deals with carbon compounds called in the treaty "discrete organic chemicals", the majority of which exhibit moderate-high direct toxicity or can be readily converted into compounds with toxicity sufficient for practical use as a chemical weapon. [24] These are any carbon compounds apart from long chain polymers, oxides, sulfides and metal carbonates, such as organophosphates. The OPCW must be informed of, and can inspect, any plant producing (or expecting to produce) more than 200 tonnes per year, or 30 tonnes if the chemical contains phosphorus, sulfur or fluorine, unless the plant solely produces explosives or hydrocarbons.

Member states

Before the CWC came into force in 1997, 165 states signed the convention, allowing them to ratify the agreement after obtaining domestic approval. [1] Following the treaty's entry into force, it was closed for signature and the only method for non-signatory states to become a party was through accession. As of March 2021, 193 states, representing over 98 percent of the world's population, are party to the CWC. [1] Of the four United Nations member states that are not parties to the treaty, Israel has signed but not ratified the treaty, while Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan have neither signed nor acceded to the convention. Taiwan, though not a member state, has confirmed that it complies with the treaty. [25]

Key organizations of member states

Member states are represented at the OPCW by their Permanent Representative. This function is generally combined with the function of Ambassador. For the preparation of OPCW inspections and preparation of declarations, member states have to constitute a National Authority.[ citation needed ]

World stockpile of chemical weapons

A total of 72,304 metric tonnes of chemical agent, and 97 production facilities have been declared to OPCW. [8]

Treaty deadlines

The treaty set up several steps with deadlines toward complete destruction of chemical weapons, with a procedure for requesting deadline extensions. No country reached total elimination by the original treaty date although several have finished under allowed extensions. [26]

Reduction Phases
Phase% ReductionDeadlineNotes
I1%April 2000 
II20%April 2002Complete destruction of empty munitions, precursor chemicals,
filling equipment and weapons systems
III45%April 2004 
IV100%April 2007No extensions permitted past April 2012

Progress of destruction

At the end of 2019, 70,545 of 72,304 (97.51%) metric tonnes of chemical agent have been verifiably destroyed. More than 57% (4.97 million) of chemical munitions and containers have been destroyed. [27]

Seven State Parties, namely Albania, an unspecified state party (believed to be South Korea), India, Iraq, Libya, Russia and Syria have completed the destruction of their declared stockpiles. The United States is in the process of destruction and scheduled to complete in 2023. [28] The destruction of Libya's Category 1 chemical weapons was completed in 2014; destruction of its chemical weapon precursors was completed in November 2017. [29] [30]

Japan and China in October 2010 began the destruction of World War II era chemical weapons abandoned by Japan in China by means of mobile destruction units and reported destruction of 35,203 chemical weapons (75% of the Nanjing stockpile). [28] [31]

CountryDate of accession/
entry into force
Declared stockpile
(Schedule 1) (tonnes)
 % OPCW-verified destroyed
(date of full destruction)
Flag of Albania.svg Albania 29 April 199717 [32] 100% (July 2007) [32]
Flag of South Korea.svg South Korea 29 April 19973,000–3,500 [33] 100% (July 2008) [33]
Flag of India.svg India 29 April 19971,044 [34] 100% (March 2009) [35]
Flag of Libya.svg Libya 5 February 200425 [36] 100% (January 2014) [36]
Flag of Syria.svg Syria (government held)14 October 2013 [37] 1,040 [38] 100% (August 2014) [38]
Flag of Russia.svg Russia 5 December 199740,000 [39] 100% (September 2017) [40]
Flag of the United States.svg United States 29 April 199733,600 [41] 91% [41] 29 April 2012 (intends by 2023) [42] [43]
Flag of Iraq.svg Iraq 12 February 2009remnant munitions [44] 100% (March 2018) [45]
Flag of Japan.svg Japan (in China)29 April 1997-ongoing2022 (commitment) [46]

Iraqi stockpile

The U.N. Security Council ordered the dismantling of Iraq's chemical weapon stockpile in 1991. By 1998, UNSCOM inspectors had accounted for the destruction of 88,000 filled and unfilled chemical munitions, over 690 metric tons of weaponized and bulk chemical agents, approximately 4,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals, and 980 pieces of key production equipment. [47] The UNSCOM inspectors left in 1998.

In 2009, before Iraq joined the CWC, the OPCW reported that the United States military had destroyed almost 5,000 old chemical weapons in open-air detonations since 2004. [48] These weapons, produced before the 1991 Gulf War, contained sarin and mustard agents but were so badly corroded that they could not have been used as originally intended. [49]

When Iraq joined the CWC in 2009, it declared "two bunkers with filled and unfilled chemical weapons munitions, some precursors, as well as five former chemical weapons production facilities" according to OPCW Director General Rogelio Pfirter. [35] The bunker entrances were sealed with 1.5 meters of reinforced concrete in 1994 under UNSCOM supervision. [50] As of 2012, the plan to destroy the chemical weapons was still being developed, in the face of significant difficulties. [44] [50] In 2014, ISIS took control of the site. [51]

On 13 March 2018, the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, congratulated the Government of Iraq on the completion of the destruction of the country's chemical weapons remnants. [45]

Syrian destruction

Following the August 2013 Ghouta chemical attack, [52] Syria, which had long been suspected of possessing chemical weapons, acknowledged them in September 2013 and agreed to put them under international supervision. [53] On 14 September Syria deposited its instrument of accession to the CWC with the United Nations as the depositary and agreed to its provisional application pending entry into force effective 14 October. [54] [55] An accelerated destruction schedule was devised by Russia and the United States on 14 September, [56] and was endorsed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118 [57] and the OPCW Executive Council Decision EC-M-33/DEC.1. [58] Their deadline for destruction was the first half of 2014. [58] Syria gave the OPCW an inventory of its chemical weapons arsenal [59] and began its destruction in October 2013, 2 weeks before its formal entry into force, while applying the convention provisionally. [60] [61] All declared Category 1 materials were destroyed by August 2014. [38] However, the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack in April 2017 indicated that undeclared stockpiles probably remained in the country. A chemical attack on Douma occurred on 7 April 2018 that killed at least 49 civilians with scores injured, and which has been blamed on the Assad government. [62] [63] [64]

Controversy arose in November 2019 over the OPCW's finding on the Douma chemical weapons attack when Wikileaks published emails by an OPCW staff member saying a report on this incident "misrepresents the facts" and contains "unintended bias". The OPCW staff member questioned the report's finding that OPCW's inspectors had "sufficient evidence at this time to determine that chlorine, or another reactive chlorine-containing chemical, was likely released from cylinders". [65] The staff member alleged this finding was "highly misleading and not supported by the facts" and said he would attach his own differing observations if this version of the report was released. On 25 November 2019, OPCW Director General Fernando Arias, in a speech to the OPCW's annual conference in The Hague, defended the Organization's report on the Douma incident, stating "While some of these diverse views continue to circulate in some public discussion forums, I would like to reiterate that I stand by the independent, professional conclusion" of the probe. [66]

Financial support for destruction

Financial support for the Albanian and Libyan stockpile destruction programmes was provided by the United States. Russia received support from a number of countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Canada; with some $2 billion given by 2004. Costs for Albania's program were approximately US$48 million. The United States has spent $20 billion and expected to spend a further $40 billion. [67]

Known chemical weapons production facilities

Fourteen states parties have declared chemical weapons production facilities (CWPFs): [27] [68]

Currently all 97 declared production facilities have been deactivated and certified as either destroyed (74) or converted (23) to civilian use. [27]

See also

Worldwide treaties for other types of weapons of mass destruction

Chemical weapons

Related Research Articles

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José Bustani

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Albania and weapons of mass destruction

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Libya and weapons of mass destruction

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Syria's chemical weapons program began in the 1970s with weapons and training from Egypt and the Soviet Union, with production of chemical weapons in Syria beginning in the mid-1980s. For some time, Syria was believed to have the world's third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons, after the United States and Russia. Prior to September 2013 Syria had not publicly admitted to possessing chemical weapons, although Western intelligence services believed it to hold one of the world's largest stockpiles. In September 2013, French intelligence put the Syrian stockpile at 1,000 tonnes, including Yperite, VX and "several hundred tonnes of sarin". At the time, Syria was one of a handful of states which had not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention. In September 2013, Syria joined the CWC, and agreed to the destruction of its weapons, to be supervised by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), as required by the convention. A joint OPCW-United Nations mission was established to oversee the destruction process. Syria joined OPCW after international condemnation of the August 2013 Ghouta chemical attack, for which Western states held the Syrian government responsible and agreed to the prompt destruction of its chemical weapons, resulting in U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declaring on 20 July 2014: "we struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out." The destruction of Syria's chemical weapons that the Assad government had declared was completed by August 2014, yet further disclosures, incomplete documentation, and allegations of withholding part of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile since mean that serious concerns regarding chemical weapons and related sites in Syria remain. On 5 April 2017, the government of Syria allegedly unleashed a chemical attack that killed 70 civilians. A suspected chemical attack on Douma on 9 April 2018 that killed at least 49 civilians has been blamed on the Syrian Government.

Destruction of Syrias chemical weapons Part of the Syrian peace process

The destruction of Syria's chemical weapons began on 14 September 2013 after Syria entered into several international agreements which called for the elimination of Syria's chemical weapon stockpiles and set a destruction deadline of 30 June 2014. On the same day, Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and agreed to its provisional application pending its entry into force on 14 October. Having acceded to the CWC, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Executive Council on 27 September approved a detailed implementation plan that required Syria to assume responsibility for and follow a timeline for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons and Syrian chemical weapon production facilities. Following the signing of the Framework Agreement on 14 September 2013 and after the OPCW implementation plan, on 27 September the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2118 which bound Syria to the timetable set out in the OPCW implementation plan. The joint OPCW-UN mission was established to oversee the implementation of the destruction program.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118 was adopted unanimously on 27 September 2013, in regard to the Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons during the Syrian civil war. It recalled United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1540, 2042 and 2043 and occurred on the sidelines of the General debate of the sixty-eighth session of the United Nations General Assembly. Under the Resolution, Syria had until mid-2014 to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal; and the Resolution also outlines plans for a transition. Despite a few hiccups, the OPCW reported that the destruction was largely on schedule.

Day of Remembrance for All Victims of Chemical Warfare

The Day of Remembrance for All Victims of Chemical Warfare is an annual event held November 30 as a "tribute to the victims of chemical warfare, as well as to reaffirm the commitment of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to the elimination of the threat of chemical weapons, thereby promoting the goals of peace, security, and multilateralism." It is officially recognised by the United Nations (UN) and has been celebrated since 2005. On the 2013 observance day, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave a speech where he stated:

On this Remembrance Day, I urge the international community to intensify efforts to rid the world of chemical weapons, along with all other weapons of mass destruction. Let us work together to bring all States under the Convention and promote its full implementation. This is how we can best honour past victims and liberate future generations from the threat of chemical weapons.

The OPCW-UN Joint Mission in Syria was jointly established on 16 October 2013 by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations (UN) to oversee the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons program. The Joint Mission continued the work of the OPCW-UN advance team that had arrived in Damascus on 1 October 2013.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2235

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 2235 is on establishing a Joint Investigative Mechanism to identify individuals, entities, groups, or governments responsible for use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war.


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