Monday, January 25, 2010

New Coalition Aims to Promote Chemical Weapons Disarmament, Nonproliferation

WASHINGTON -- Dozens of nongovernmental organizations from around the world are forming an umbrella group to help promote the total elimination of chemical weapons and prevent their use by terrorists (see GSN, Dec. 3, 2009).

A technician disassembles a U.S. chemical munition for analysis in 2008 at an Army laboratory in New Jersey. A new group of independent organizations seeks to help implement the treaty aimed at global elimination of chemical warfare materials (U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency photo).
The Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition, in a mission statement, identifies itself as “an independent, international body whose mission is to support” the global ban on chemical warfare materials “with focused civil society action aimed at achieving full membership of the CWC, the safe and timely elimination of all chemical weapons, preventing the misuse of chemicals for hostile purposes and promoting their peaceful use."

It is among a scant number of such alliances established to support the aims of a specific nonproliferation treaty, said Paul Walker, head of the Security and Sustainability program at Global Green USA. The environmental organization helped develop the coalition and will serve as its hub of operations.

The new group has been years in the planning. Supporters believe it can help raise the profile of the pact in regions where membership and implementation of its rules remain a cause of concern.

“All of Europe is a member now, all of the Americas … The problem areas are really in the Middle East and Asia and a couple countries in Africa,” Walker told Global Security Newswire. “So we realized if we were to build a coalition to promote universality we just couldn’t do it with the groups that normally come to the annual meetings” of member nations to the convention.

Representatives from about 35 nongovernmental organizations -- most from outside the United States and Western Europe -- attended a two-day session last month in The Hague, Netherlands, to prepare the founding document for the coalition. Organizers hope to attract no fewer than 100 groups to the coalition by the end of 2010.

A plan of work through 2012 -- the year by which all CWC states must have eliminated any arsenals of prohibited materials -- is set to be completed in a couple months, Walker said.

Among the planned activities detailed in the founding document is the preparation of a database on all nations’ activities relative to the convention, including whether they have joined and the size of chemical industries that could be turned to illicit activities. The coalition also intends to produce a yearly report card assessing whether CWC member states are instituting the pact’s requirements at the national level.

Tools for achieving the group’s goals will include public meetings, written commentaries, letter-writing campaigns, interviews, analyses and educational programs, according to the founding document. The target audience will be officials at all levels of government.

Work would not be limited to that sector, though. The coalition intends to prepare an analysis with recommendations for augmenting the nonproliferation value of the inspection program of the convention’s monitoring body, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It will also offer “research and expert policy advice” to the organization, its member states and other parties, according to the group.

Success and Challenges

The Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force in 1997, prohibiting development, production, stockpiling, use or transfer of warfare materials such as mustard blister agent and the nerve agents VX and sarin. There are 188 member states, covering 98 percent of the landmass of the Earth.

Three nations -- Albania, India and a country that is never officially identified but widely believed to be South Korea -- have eliminated their stockpiles of banned materials. Disposal operations are continuing in Russia and the United States, and Iraq and Libya have pledged to destroy their chemical weapons.

“The CWC is often considered to be the most successful of the WMD treaties, and arguably that is the case,” according to Angela Woodward, program director for national implementation at the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Center, which helped establish the coalition. “But there remain certain significant problems with the convention which states parties have utterly failed to deal with, such as noncompliance issues (like ‘nonlethal weapons’) or instigating the on-site inspection mechanism” (see GSN, Nov. 6, 2009).

“When states parties, and the membership organization they created for the convention, cannot deal with these problems, it is civil society’s responsibility to air these problems and constructively work towards finding solutions to them,” she told GSN by e-mail.

Universality of the convention remains a major issue. Just seven nations have yet to join: Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia and Syria. In that list of nations is one -- Egypt -- that is known to have used chemical weapons in conflict, and two -- North Korea and Syria -- that are suspected of housing chemical stockpiles.

The Middle Eastern states are probably the most likely to join the convention in the near future, and the region will host the coalition’s next major meeting, Walker said. The hope is to persuade participating nongovernmental groups from the area to promote universality and other CWC issues in their home states through contact with the public and private sectors and the media.
Similar sessions in East Asia and other regions would follow.

The group also hopes through a program of outreach to convince Iraq, Libya, Russia and the United States to conduct “safe, sound and timely destruction of chemical weapons,” it said in the initial document. It will further seek to "promote the safe and environmentally sound use of chemicals for peaceful purposes."

Coalition participants might have contacts beyond those possessed by governments who could help push forward the organization’s disarmament objectives, Walker said. He also described an effort that might involve some pressure on nations to fully implement the treaty.

“This whole effort in international security and arms control and disarmament is really a body contact and, in a body-contact sport, you have to make bodily contact,” Walker said. “Our efforts are really to go into the regions themselves, raise the issues publicly, more so than probably the OPCW and government agencies can, because most of this is all quiet, backroom diplomacy.”

The Hague-based verification organization has thrown its support behind the new group.

Both the organization and its member states can “benefit from outside voices that can point out faults in the system,” said OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan. “There’s a lot of things that go unsaid in more formal venues.”

The U.S. State Department said it was familiar with the coalition but that it was too early to consider its value.

Walker said the coalition expects to have three to four part-time employees and an annual budget of between $250,000 and $300,000 for staff, meetings and travel for coalition participants. The hope is that foundations and convention states will provide the funding, he said.

“I’m feeling positive,” Woodward stated. “The CWCC members will be encouraged and supported to work towards the coalition’s goals. Some will be easier to achieve than others. But at the very least, the activities of those NGOs who are already working in support of the CWC can be amplified through membership of a coalition -- the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.”

Global Security Newswire
 By Chris Schneidmiller

No comments: