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Progress and Setbacks in Ridding World of Chemical Weapons


Workers at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant in the United States begin the destruction of a stockpile of M55 rockets with GB nerve agent.

Ninety-eight percent of the United States’ historical stockpile has been destroyed, and the U.S. remains on track to complete the destruction of its remaining stockpile in 2023.

Progress and Setbacks in Ridding the World of Chemical Weapons
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The Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force in 1997, is aimed at eradicating chemical weapons from the world’s arsenals.

The institution that implements the treaty, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, includes all but four of the world’s states. The OPCW’s governing body, the Conference of States Parties, recently concluded its 27th session in The Hague.

At a press briefing on the final day, Ambassador Joseph Manso, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the OPCW, underlined the treaty’s achievements and its current challenges.

The good news is that 99 percent of the world’s declared chemical weapons have been destroyed. “This is tens of thousands of tons of highly toxic weapons,” Ambassador Manso noted, adding that 98 percent of the United States’ historical stockpile has been destroyed, and the U.S. remains on track to complete the destruction of its remaining stockpile in 2023.

Unfortunately, a small number of countries continue to produce and employ chemical weapons, thereby presenting a threat to all nations, said Ambassador Manso. Syria has repeatedly used chemical weapons against its own citizens and has been stripped of the right to vote in the OPCW. And there is an ongoing effort to hold accountable those in the Assad regime responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The Russian Federation, however, continues to support the Assad regime and shield it from scrutiny and accountability. Russia itself has used chemical weapons at least twice in recent years - on former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, and on Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny.

Additionally, President Vladimir Putin and senior Russian officials have used irresponsible rhetoric on the potential use of weapons of mass destruction in their unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine. Ambassador Manso pointed to President Biden’s pledge that any use of chemical weapons by the Kremlin would be met with a “consequential” response. He also called allegations by Russian officials that Ukraine used or planned to use chemical weapons “clearly part of their disinformation campaign” and a “disservice both to the OPCW and to all the other members.”

Ambassador Manso emphasized that there is now large worldwide acceptance of the norm against the use of chemical weapons. The OPCW and the Chemical Weapons Convention, he declared, have been and remain “essential to ensuring that we reach our goal of a world free of chemical weapons.”

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