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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

[CRS Issue Brief for Congress]

94029: Chemical Weapons Convention: Issues for Congress

Updated January 6, 1997

Steven R. Bowman
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division





CWC Ratification
U.S.-Soviet Bilateral Agreements
U.S.-Soviet Memorandum of Understanding (Wyoming MOU), September 1989
U.S.-/Russian Chemical Weapons Destruction Agreement, June 1990
Provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993
CWC Issues for Ratification and Implementation
Impact on U.S. Industry
Loss of Proprietary Information (Trade Secrets)
Export Controls
Chemical Weapons and Facilities Destruction
The United States Destruction Program
Other Nations' Destruction Programs
OPCW Costs





More than 100 years of international efforts to ban chemical weapons culminated January 13, 1993, in the signing of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Having received its 67th ratification, the CWC will enter into force April 29, 1997. The United States and Russia, possessors of the world's largest CW stockpiles, have not yet ratified the Convention. The Senate received the Convention for consideration in November 1993. Hearings were held by the Foreign Relations, Armed Services, Intelligence , and Judiciary committees during the 103rd and 104th Congresses. Late in the 104th Congress, CWC supporters postponed floor consideration when vigorous efforts of those opposed to the Convention threatened the two-thirds majority required for passage. President Clinton has pledged to press again for consent to the CWC early in the 105th Congress.

If the Convention does enter into force prior to U.S. ratification, the United States will be excluded from the initial phases of organizing its implementation, and may be subject to trade restrictions the Convention places upon non-state parties.

The CWC bans the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons by its signatories. It also requires the destruction of all chemical weapons and production facilities. The Convention provides the most extensive and intrusive verification regime of any arms control treaty, extending its coverage to not only governmental but also civilian facilities. The Convention also requires export controls and reporting requirements on chemicals that can be used as warfare agents and their precursors. The CWC establishes the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to oversee the Convention's implementation.

The CWC raises a variety of issues for congressional consideration. Although the vast majority of the world's nations have signed the CWC, some nations suspected of having chemical weapons have not -- Egypt, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria. What effect does this lack of universality have upon the value of the Convention? The CWC's verification provisions are extensive, but they have not stilled the debate over whether they will be effective enough to deter violations. And, if violations are detected, are enforcement procedures and sanctions sufficiently stringent? Because the CWC extends its provisions to the civilian sector, the impact of inspections, reporting requirements, and export controls on commercial enterprise raises concerns unique to arms control treaties. Finally, the destruction of CW stockpiles presents technical, environmental, and financial challenges, though this effort is mandated by U.S. law independent of the CWC.

Convention supporters maintain that 1) the CWC will be a tool to pressure rogue nations, establishing a legal international norm; 2) the verification regime will provide more information to detect violations than is currently available; and 3) the U.S. chemical and pharmaceutical industries strongly support Convention ratification.


On January 6, 1997, the Philippines became the 67th nation to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention, thereby ensuring the Convention's entry into force on April 29, 1997. President Clinton has expressed his intent to press for Senate consent to the CWC early in the 105th Congress.

The DOD FY1997 Authorization Act (P.L. 104-201) mandates another assessment of alternative CW destruction technologies with a report to Congress by December 31, 1997. The DOD FY1997 Appropriations Act (H.R. 3610, P.L. 104-208) provides $758.4 million for the overall destruction program, and also recommends nonincineration technologies be explored.


CWC Ratification

The United States signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in the last days of the Bush Administration (1/13/93), and the Convention was submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent in the midst of the 103rd Congress (11/23/93). In the 103rd and 104th Congresses, an extensive series of hearings were held by the Foreign Relations, Armed Services, Intelligence , and Judiciary Committees, complemented with classified briefings from the intelligence community. (See Additional Reading) Under a unanimous consent agreement, the CWC ratification resolution was to have been brought to the Senate floor in mid-September 1996. However, uncertain of sufficient votes to ensure passage, it supporters postponed its consideration.

Speaking before the United Nations, President Clinton pledged he would make the CWC a high priority in 1997, pressing for Senate consent early in the 105th Congress. This would require the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's early action on a ratification resolution, which is not assured. In the 104th Congress, a ratification resolution passed with a bipartisan majority, though without the support of Committee Chairman Senator Helms and others who warned that the Convention would not rid the world of chemical weapons, leaving the CW arsenals of rogue states intact. Opponents also expressed serious reservations about the ability to verify compliance adequately, and concern that the CWC could lead to a false sense of security and a consequent lack of investment in CW defensive measures. In their ratification resolution, CWC supporters attempted to address some of these concerns by including eight conditions for the Senate's consent to ratification, each to be binding upon the President. The conditions are summarized below.

  • The United States shall participate in all CWC Amendment Conferences.
  • Not later than 10 days after entry into force or Russian ratification, the President shall 1) certify Russian compliance with the declaration requirements of the Wyoming Memorandum of Understanding (See below), or 2) submit a report to the Senate on discrepancies in those declarations.
  • Before the United States deposits its instrument of ratification, the President shall certify that the U.S.-Russian Bilateral Destruction Agreement has been or will be shortly concluded, or 2) the OPCW will be prepared to assume full monitoring of U.S. and Russian facilities.
  • If the President determines that a Convention party is in non-compliance and threatens national security interests, he shall 1) consult with the Senate, 2) consult with the OPCW and the noncompliant nation to consider the allegations and potential sanctions.
  • The cost of implementing the CWC shall be borne by all parties, and the U.S. ratification is not contingent on U.S. financial guarantees to cover implementation costs for any nation, including Russia.
  • If the CWC does not enter into force, or does so without Russian ratification, the President shall consult with the Senate on the pace of the U.S. CW destruction program and its effects upon national security.
  • The President shall certify no later than 90 days after the deposit of the U.S. instrument of ratification that U.S. National Technical Means (i.e. intelligence collection methods) and the verification provisions of the CWC are sufficient to ensure effective verification of compliance with the Convention. This certification shall be accompanied by a report to Senate Committees on Appropriations, Armed Services, Foreign Relations, and Intelligence .
  • The United States should strongly reiterate its retaliatory policy that the use of chemical weapons against U.S. armed forces or civilians would result in an "overwhelming and devastating response, which may include the whole range of available weaponry."
The resolution also included several declarations addressing additional concerns of the Senate. These include:

  • A "robust and adequately-funded" chemical defense program.
  • Vigorous pursuit of international sanctions in cases of non-compliance.
  • Conditioning of any U.S. financial aid for Russia's CW destruction program upon a destruction schedule proportionate to that of the United States, and U.S. inspection access to former CW production facilities now in civilian chemical production.
  • Administration consultation with the Senate on the threat of CW arsenals belonging to nations not a party to the Convention.
  • Strict monitoring of Russian compliance and regular Administration briefings to the Committees on Foreign Relations, Armed Services, and Intelligence .
  • Reassessment by States Parties of the Convention's prohibition on riot control agents (e.g. tear gas) to allow use when combatants and non-combatants are intermingled, and hostage/air crew rescues.

U.S.-Soviet Bilateral Agreements

Russia has communicated to the Administration that the Bilateral Destruction Agreement (BDA) described below has "outlived its usefulness", and should be superseded by the Chemical Weapons Convention. U.S. officials, however, still support the BDA and are continuing talks on the issue. Russian cost estimates have concluded that the BDA verification regime would be more expensive than OPCW monitoring and inspections. If, however, Russia fails to ratify the CWC, the BDA would be the only international agreement requiring destruction of the Russian CW stockpile.

U.S.-Soviet Memorandum of Understanding (Wyoming MOU), September 1989. In 1989, as the multilateral negotiations slowed, the U.S.-Soviet bilateral talks took on greater importance and assumed a much higher public profile. On September 23, 1989, the United States and the Soviet Union signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing to data declarations on CW stockpiles and trial inspections. U.S. intelligence officials believe that Russian declarations have been incomplete, particularly in the area of binary chemical weapons and novel chemical agents. High level consultations continue to try to resolve these discrepancies.

U.S.-/Russian Chemical Weapons Destruction Agreement, June 1990. On June 1, 1990, the United States and Russia signed an agreement covering the production of chemical weapons and the destruction of current CW stockpiles. This agreement, as yet not implemented, would permit bilateral routine monitoring and challenge inspections of the CW destruction process conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993

More than 100 years of international efforts to ban chemical weapons culminated January 13, 1993, in the signing of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The United States was one of the original signatories of the Convention and has been joined by 160 other nations. The Clinton Administration submitted the Convention to the Senate on November 23, 1993. The Convention will come into force on April 29, 1997, 180 days after the 65th ratification. As of January 6, 1997, 67 nations have ratified the Convention: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lesotho, Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Uzbekistan.

The CWC bans the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons (CW) by its signatories. It also requires the destruction of all chemical weapons and production facilities. The Convention provides the most extensive and intrusive verification regime of any arms control treaty, extending its coverage to not only governmental but also civilian facilities. The verification package includes instrument-monitoring, both routine and random onsite inspections, and challenge inspections for sites suspected of CW storage or production. The Convention also requires export controls and reporting requirements on chemicals that can be used as warfare agents and their precursors.

Administratively, the Convention establishes the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to oversee the Convention's implementation. It will be a permanent international organization charged with ensuring compliance with the Convention, and monitoring the chemical industry worldwide. The OPCW will have three components: 1) the Conference of States Parties, comprising all signatories; 2) the Executive Council, composed of 41 signatories chosen in a rotation based upon geographic region and significance of commercial chemical production; and 3) the Technical Secretariat, which will conduct day-to-day administration of the Convention. Currently the CWC Preparatory Commission in the Hague is working out the details of OPCW organization and procedural details of CWC implementation. Each signatory will also designate a National Authority that will be the liaison with the OPCW, and will administer the implementation of the CWC domestically. In the United States, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) is expected to serve as the point of contact for the OPCW, while other convention-related tasks will likely be assigned to other agencies as the Administration deems appropriate (e.g., export controls and production reports to the Department of Commerce; enforcement and inspection warrants, Department of Justice; inspection coordination, On-Site Inspection Agency.)

Declarations required from each state party by the CWC include:

  • Location and detailed inventory of all chemical weapons storage sites.
  • Location and capacities of all chemical weapons production and research facilities.
  • All transfers of chemical weapons and CW production equipment since 1946.
  • A detailed plan and schedule for the destruction of chemical weapons and CW production facilities.
  • Location and activities of any facilities using or producing controlled chemicals.
Destruction of chemical weapons agents, munitions, and production facilities must be completed within 10 years of the Convention's entry into force or a State Party's ratification date, whichever is earlier. In extraordinary circumstances, this deadline can be extended for up to 5 years, with the approval of two-thirds of the states parties.

The Convention establishes three lists (Schedules) of chemical warfare agents and their precursor chemicals arranged in order of their importance to CW production and range of legitimate peaceful uses. These chemical Schedules will be updated as needed by the OPCW Technical Secretariat. Above certain quantitative thresholds, these chemicals' production, use, or transfer must be projected and subsequently reported annually to the OPCW. All facilities capable of producing, or that use scheduled chemicals must be registered. In addition, all facilities that produce over 30 metric tons of a discrete chemical containing phosphorous, sulphur, or fluorine must be registered. The OPCW inspection regimes will vary, depending on the type of facility:

  • Declared CW production, storage, or destruction sites: systematic on-site inspection and continuous instrument monitoring.
  • Declared non-CW chemical facilities: routine or random inspections, depending on the Schedule and amounts of chemicals produced or used.
  • All other facilities: on-site challenge inspections upon request of a signatory.
Signatories also agree not to export Schedule 1 chemicals to any non-signatory. Schedule 2 chemicals may be traded with non-signatories for only 3 years after the Convention enters into force. Schedule 3 chemicals may be freely traded, with end-use certification, for 5 years after the Convention comes into force, at which time additional controls will be considered. If the United States does not ratify the CWC, this provision could present difficulties for the U.S. chemical and pharmaceutical industries, which have extensive overseas trade.

CWC Issues for Ratification and Implementation

The CWC raises a variety of issues for congressional consideration. Although the vast majority of the world's nations have signed the CWC, some nations suspected of having chemical weapons have not -- Egypt, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria. What effect does this lack of universality have upon the value of the Convention? The CWC's verification provisions are extensive, but they have not stilled the debate over whether they will be effective enough to deter violations. And, if violations are detected, are enforcement procedures and sanctions sufficiently stringent? Because the CWC extends its provisions to the civilian sector, the impact of inspections, reporting requirements, and export controls on commercial enterprise raises concerns unique to arms control treaties. Furthermore inspection procedures and U.S. constitutional protections must be reconciled through implementing legislation. The destruction of chemical weapon stockpiles, though congressionally-mandated independently of the CWC, presents technical, environmental, and financial challenges at home and abroad.

Issues deserving attention in consideration of the CWC and its implementing legislation can be grouped in six general areas: 1) universality; 2) verification; 3) impact on U.S. industry; 4) enforcement; 5) destruction of chemical weapons; and 6) cost.


How many nations are willing to ratify the CWC and, more importantly, which nations are not? As noted, 160 have signed, and 67 have ratified the Convention. Examining the signatory list, most are heartened to see China, Iran, and Israel -- nations believed to have, or be developing, significant CW capability. On the other hand, some particularly troublesome nations, such as Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Syria have not signed. In addition, a number of middle eastern states, notably Egypt and Jordan, have refused to sign, linking their participation to the removal of Israel's suspected nuclear capability.

Indicative of the difficulties that lack of universality brings is the continued concern about Iraq's intentions. In an effort to have the United Nations maintain economic sanctions on Iraq, the United States has shown Security Council members satellite photographic evidence that Iraq has rebuilt a plant formerly used to produce chemical weapons. U.S. analysts believe that Iraq could resume CW production almost immediately if monitoring ceased. U.S. officials also provided evidence that Iraq continues to try to import ballistic missile fuel and guidance system components. It is assumed that a resurgence of Iraq's missile program will see a continuance of its previous efforts to develop CW warheads.

Critics of the CWC believe that its value is significantly reduced if all nations with the capability to develop and use chemical weapons are not parties, particularly in a region as volatile as the Middle East. The rationale is that even one nation having chemical weapons will create an incentive for its neighbors to follow suit. Some have suggested that the United States should condition its own CWC ratification upon ratification by these "nations of concern." They believe that it is unwise for the United States to relinquish its chemical weapons capability while other nations retain theirs. They also generally maintain that retaliation in kind, i.e. with chemical weapons, is an important component of CW deterrence.

CWC supporters, while agreeing to the importance of persuading all CW-capable nations to join, believe that a small number of hold-outs does not pose a sufficient threat to justify not ratifying the Convention. They note that in the Persian Gulf War, the United States forswore retaliation with chemical weapons, even if Iraq used them against coalition forces. This decision was based on the assessment that the United States' arsenal was adequate for both limited or massive retaliation without the use of chemical weapons. CWC supporters further argue that without the Convention there would be even greater incentive to acquire chemical weapons, and it would be easier to accomplish. The CWC would provide an international regime of export controls and a widely accepted international norm, to which all nations -- signatories or not -- could be held.


Verification is undoubtedly the thorniest issue. Devising an acceptable verification regime was the most difficult task for CWC negotiators and will be the most challenging for those implementing the Convention. The CWC provides for the most intrusive and extensive verification regime of any arms control agreement to date. The regime, for the first time in arms control, provides for routine monitoring and inspection not only of military facilities but also of certain civilian chemical facilities . In addition, challenge inspection provisions expand compliance verification to suspect facilities of any sort. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will oversee the Convention's compliance verification. Two of the most salient verification concerns are its effectiveness and its impact on the rights and property of the U.S. chemical industry.

The most serious question is whether the OPCW will be able to detect all clandestine production or stockpiling of chemical weapons. Ironically, the CWC's supporters and detractors generally agree: the answer is no. Acknowledging that the verification regime will not be absolute carries differing significance for the Convention's critics and advocates. Those who question the Convention's value believe that if compliance verification cannot be guaranteed, and undetected CW possession may be possible, the Convention is not worth the cost and effort. Worse, perhaps, they are concerned that the Convention would engender a false sense of security. They point out that in certain circumstances, the selective use of relatively small amounts of chemical weapons could be significant militarily, particularly against unprotected personnel. Consequently, would-be violators need not produce or stockpile vast amounts.

Advocates argue that, though CWC is imperfect, it provides the most intrusive and extensive verification regime in the history of disarmament and represents a notable improvement over current CW non-proliferation regimes. For signatories, this fact could change the cost/benefit analysis of CW production or stockpiling enough to deter violations. Provision for challenge inspections creates the likelihood that violations would become public breaches of the international norm, something not possible without the CWC.

The most difficult challenge would be to detect existing chemical weapons that a nation does not declare and continues to store clandestinely. Detecting illicit transfers of controlled chemicals may also prove a challenging task. Covert production of chemical warfare agents and the subsequent manufacture of chemical munitions are higher-profile activities and consequently more vulnerable to detection. This assessment assumes that the OPCW and signatories' national intelligence resources will seek to uncover Convention violators. The extent of intelligence sharing will have a significant impact on the CWC's effectiveness. It can be anticipated that those nations with highly developed intelligence collection capabilities, the United States particularly, will be depended upon to cooperate with the OPCW.

Congress may wish to encourage the U.S. intelligence community explicitly to maintain close liaison with the OPCW. Congress could also require that the intelligence community provide periodic independent evaluations of the verification regime or that the President certify to Congress that the regime is performing effectively. This could be made part of the President's annual report to Congress on proliferation currently required under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-182) or the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency's annual report, Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control Agreements.

Another factor that will affect the OPCW's verification capabilities will be the amount and reliability of its funding by the Convention's signatories. Without adequate funding to maintain the technological and personnel resources necessary to monitor the international chemical industry and government activities, the rigor of the verification regime will undoubtedly suffer.

Concerns over verification have been heightened by press reports that U.S. officials believe that Russia has withheld information on its chemical weapons research programs (New York Times, June 23, 1994, p. 1). In a data exchange called for under a 1989 U.S.-Russian agreement, Russia acknowledged no binary chemical research program. (Binary chemical weapons use two non-lethal chemicals that combine to form a lethal agent after launching.) The United States worked on developing binary weapons sporadically from the 1950s, ending the effort in 1992, when the signing of the CWC became imminent. U.S. intelligence has long believed that Russia was undertaking a similar program. In 1992, a Russian scientist, Vil Mirzayanov, publicly claimed that Russia had developed a binary agent significantly more effective than current nerve agents. He also asserted that the Russian military leadership continued the program after President Gorbachev declared Russia's chemical weapons development at an end.

The United States, having specifically requested an accounting of the Russian binary program and received inadequate responses, is continuing discussions to resolve these discrepancies. Although the current data exchange is independent of the CWC, Russian recalcitrance on this issue could adversely affect support for the Convention. If Russia is unwilling to be forthright in what is generally judged to be an "open secret," it raises the question of how seriously it considers the prohibitions of the CWC and consequently places greater emphasis on effective verification.

Impact on U.S. Industry

It is not yet known exactly how many U.S. commercial enterprises will be required to report or undergo inspections. ACDA's Director John Holum has estimated about 140 firms will be significantly affected, while other estimates have ranged as high as 10,000. (Reuters, August 7, 1996; Chemical Weapons Convention, Republican Policy Committee, July 29, 1996). It is unlikely that more reliable information will be available before the Convention's entry into force, when the Commerce Department distributes reporting requirement regulations and questionnaires to enable potentially affected enterprises to determine whether their activities fall under the CWC's jurisdiction. Many enterprises may not meet the threshold requirements for reporting, others may have minimal obligations (e.g. one-page reports) because of the nature of the chemicals they handle. For the most part, the heaviest burden (annual reports on production/consumption/transfer and at least one initial inspection) will fall upon enterprises that deal with substantial amounts of chemicals that could be very useful in the production of CW warfare agents.

Implementing legislation for the CWC, such as S. 1732 in the 104th Congress, must address some issues that are novel for arms control agreements. The Convention grants the OPCW inspection rights (routine, random, and challenge) over purely civilian, privately owned facilities. These inspection rights must be harmonized with U.S. constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. If the United States Constitution were invoked to block a CWC inspection, it is feared that it would seriously weaken the integrity of the Convention. Implementing legislation must seek to facilitate CWC inspections within the constraints of the Constitution.

With regard to inspections and protections against unreasonable search and seizure of private property, a wide variety of solutions have been suggested. For government contractors or licensees, it might be possible to make the waiver of Fourth Amendment rights a condition of the contract or license. Routine warrantless inspections of some non-governmental facilities may be possible under the "pervasively regulated industries" exception to the Fourth Amendment. U.S. Government agencies currently use this exception to conduct inspections in heavily regulated industries, of which the chemical industry is one. For challenge inspections of other facilities, S. 1732 provided an administrative search warrant procedure if needed, using an expedited application process to conform to the CWC inspection timetable.

Congress may be able, through implementing legislation, to address some of these issues; however, the possibility of court challenges still cannot be ruled out. And, although the CWC presents these questions for the first time in an arms control treaty, if arms control broadens its focus from reduction of existing weapons to controlling future proliferation, these issues may persist.

Loss of Proprietary Information (Trade Secrets). Potential loss of trade secrets is of great concern to private industry. And the question arises whether forced or incidental disclosure of such information during a CWC inspection would constitute a "seizure" under the Fourth Amendment. It has been suggested that some current regulatory laws (e.g., the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act) already require such disclosures, and Congress could study their example in designing implementing legislation. S. 1732 addressed this issue by restricting information collection, providing non-disclosure protection, and penalties for unauthorized disclosure of Convention-related information.

Chemical industries contend that it is essential to protect proprietary information (or trade secrets) to maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. And, the CWC, through its enforcement and verification procedures, will require a greater level of openness regarding production processes and rates, product composition, and market distribution. However, the U.S. chemical industry represented through the Chemical Manufacturer's Association and the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, has strongly endorsed the Convention's confidentiality measures and supported the CWC's ratification.

Export Controls. The CWC requires restrictions on the export or transfer of controlled chemicals to non-states parties. These restrictions vary in severity depending upon the chemicals involved. Also, as an incentive for nations to sign the CWC, the restrictions will tighten the years following the Convention coming into force. The United States already has a variety of export controls on CW-related chemicals, equipment, and technology. (See CRS Report 95-537 F, Proliferation Control Regimes: Background and Status) The question arises as to what extent the United States will need to review and revise its current export controls in light of the CWC regime. U.S. industry is hoping for loosening of controls, particularly with regard to the transfer of chemicals and technology to U.S. subsidiaries in other countries. Others believe that the U.S. must keep tight controls in place until the CWC has demonstrated its effectiveness and the threat of CW proliferation has demonstrably abated. Nevertheless, continued pressure can be expected from developing countries and domestic industry to loosen export controls.


The question of sanctions was addressed late in the CWC negotiations. The consultative nature of the Convention's provisions and the lack of specificity regarding sanctions to be levied reflect the difficulty of those negotiations. It is generally anticipated that international sanctions would consist of trade and, perhaps, arms embargoes.

CWC critics believe that its enforcement sanctions are too vague to be an effective deterrent. They question the effectiveness of economic and arms embargoes, maintaining that 1) embargoes are almost impossible to enforce internationally; 2) they historically have seldom achieved their foreign policy objectives; and 3) if they are effective at all, it is only over the long term. CWC supporters argue that the lack of specificity regarding possible sanctions heightens a potential violator's uncertainty about breaking the Convention. They believe that this uncertainty and the international approbation that would be generated by the enforcement procedure will sufficiently affect the "cost/benefit" analysis of chemical weapons production to deter a potential violator.

Chemical Weapons and Facilities Destruction

The CWC mandates the destruction of all chemical weapons stockpiles and production facilities within 10 years of the Convention's coming into force. This deadline is currently expected to be 2007. With the approval of the States' Conference, this deadline can be extended up to 5 years. This extension clause was included specifically in anticipation of Russia's not being able to meet the destruction deadline, given its current political and economic instability. There is, however, the possibility that the United States could experience legal and regulatory difficulties in meeting a 10-year deadline.

Within the 10-year destruction period, interim deadlines seek to establish a schedule that will level out CW arsenals as destruction proceeds and allow signatories to retain some chemical weapons until the final deadline. If a signatory is unable to maintain the mandated pace of destruction, the States' Conference may grant one-time exemptions from an interim deadline.

Destruction activities will be subject to continuous on-site monitoring and inspection. Hence, verifying that declared stocks and facilities are destroyed is not anticipated to be a problem. The two most troublesome issues promise to be meeting the deadlines and the cost.

The United States Destruction Program. The United States is by far the country most advanced in its CW destruction program. In the early 1980s, DOD declared approximately 90% of the U.S. chemical stockpile (28,000 agent tons) obsolete. This decision, coupled with a 1985 congressional directive to destroy these munitions by 1999 (now amended to 2004), led DOD to begin planning a destruction program over a decade ago. Nevertheless, it is not entirely assured that the United States will be able to meet a ten-year CWC deadline. Current DOD estimates call for completing destruction on time, but a number of factors could intervene.

The most unpredictable factor is the length of time that will be required to obtain the necessary Federal and State permits to build and operate the destruction facilities. The current plan calls for destruction facilities to be built at each of the eight CW storage depots. These storage facilities are located in Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD; Anniston Army Depot, AL; Lexington-Bluegrass Army Depot, KY; Newport Army Ammunition Plant, IN; Pine Bluff Arsenal, AR; Pueblo Depot Activity, CO; Tooele Army Depot, UT; Umatilla Depot Activity, OR; and Johnston Atoll Depot in the South Pacific. For each site, the U.S. Army must obtain separate permits under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977. In addition, environmental impact statements are required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The General Accounting Office has expressed doubt that current estimates allow sufficient time for fulfilling existing permit application requirements. (See GAO reports: Chemical Stockpile Disposal Program Review GAO/NSIAD- 95-66R and Chemical Weapons Destruction: Issues Affecting Program Cost, Schedule, and Performance. GAO/NSIAD 93-50. January 1993.)

Adding to the Federal requirements, the destruction program will face additional obstacles at the state level. In the last few years, public concern in the regions where destruction facilities are planned or under construction has heightened considerably. The primary fears are of toxic emissions from the destruction process and the possibility of catastrophic accident. The Chemical Weapons Working Group, an alliance of citizens' groups in communities with CW stockpiles, vigorously opposes incineration as a means of disposal. Public interest groups have persuaded some State governments to consider or enact highly restrictive standards for any CW destruction facility. Kentucky and Indiana have passed legislation that could significantly delay, or even prevent, building destruction incinerators, while Colorado and Maryland have considered such legislation. Even if Federal and State permits are granted, public challenges, either judicially or politically, could also bring delays. If CWC deadlines are to be met, Congress may have to address the extent to which State legislation or the courts can impede the United States' fulfillment of international treaty obligations.

The Army's chosen method (called "baseline") is to drain the munitions and incinerate the chemical agent and munition parts. Although the choice of this method came after extensive study of alternatives, incineration has still raised strong public objection. As a consequence, Congress directed the Army to reconsider alternative technologies. As part of this effort, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences has completed a review of potential alternative methods (see For Additional Reading).

The National Research Council report observed that there are possible alternative technologies, but they are untested. The Council estimates that the necessary research and development could take a minimum of 5 years before a pilot plant could be operational for evaluation. The Council's report also noted that additional pollution control devices could be added to the "baseline" technology to minimize the possibility of toxic emissions. In looking at the Council's report, no alternative technology appears to surpass the current approach with regard to safety, environmental protection, and cost. Costs could be particularly prohibitive given the delay that new research and development would entail. The NRC report specifically rejected the alternative "cryofracture" method of incineration, citing the possibility of accidental explosions. The Army has studied this review and provided Congress a detailed report that continues to endorse the "baseline" destruction process while adopting the NRC's recommendations on enhanced emissions control filters. Subsequently, in December 1996, in response to congressional encouragement, the NRC and the Army endorsed pilot projects at the Newport IN and Aberdeen MD depots to evaluate chemical neutralization/biodegradation processes for disposal of mustard and nerve agents stored in 1-ton bulk containers.

The FY1997 DOD Authorization Act (P.L. 104-201, Section 142) addresses the controversy over CW incineration, calling for:

  • DOD to assess and report not later than December 31, 1997 on alternative technologies for destruction that would reduce the total cost of the program while "ensuring the maximum protection for the general public";
  • a cost comparison of the baseline method vs disassembly and neutralization at current storage depots and shipment to a central disposal facility;
  • authorization of $25 million for an alternative technology pilot program at the discretion of the Secretary of Defense.
The DOD FY1997 Appropriations Act (P.L. 104-208, Section 8059) provides a total of $758.4 million for the CW destruction program, adding $40 million to the RDT&E account to evaluate alternative technologies, including be chemical neutralization and plasma electric waste conversion. $80 million was deleted from the procurement account, delaying the obligation of funds for incineration facilities in Colorado and Kentucky until the Secretary of Defense has submitted a report on the effectiveness of the alternative technologies demonstrated in the project.

Were the United States to ratify the CWC and legal or technical problems were to prevent the United States from meeting CWC deadlines, it can apply to the OPCW for an extension. The political consequences of doing so, however, may be undesirable. In the eyes of many, the status of the United States as a major proponent of the CWC and arguably the most technologically advanced nation would place a greater responsibility on its adherence to CWC provisions. This dynamic might lead Russia or other nations with smaller, though politically more destabilizing, stockpiles, also to plead difficulties and request extensions of the destruction deadlines.

Cost estimates for the U.S. chemical weapons destruction program have grown steadily since its inception. In 1985, for example, DOD estimated the total program cost would be between $1.2 to $2.0 billion. DOD estimates the total cost to be $13 billion, assuming a completion date of April 2004. Given this history of rising estimates and the possibility of future technically or politically-driven delays, cost estimates may well continue to increase. The Department of Defense believes that experience gained with the program so far will prevent increases of the magnitude encountered to date, if few modifications are required to the "baseline" destruction method. The General Accounting Office, however, believes that local public opposition to the destruction program will result in delays that will drive cost up significantly.

Other Nations' Destruction Programs. Russia and Iraq are the only other countries to acknowledge having chemical weapons. The U.S. intelligence community, however, estimates that the following nations may have or are developing chemical weapons: China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Iraq has not signed the CWC, but as a consequence of the Persian Gulf War Iraqi chemical weapons have been destroyed under U.N. supervision. Incineration was used for mustard and "tear gas" agents, and hydrolysis for nerve agents. U.N. experts rejected incineration of Iraqi nerve agents because these agents were deteriorating, and their chemical instability could have resulted in an accidental explosion. Some have observed that the U.N.-supervised destruction of Iraq's CW stockpile is being accomplished in relatively short order. The majority of over 46,000 munitions will have been destroyed in less than two years. U.N. officials have noted, however, that the methods employed have emphasized expediency, and environmental concerns have not been paramount.

Russia possesses the world's largest chemical weapons stockpile, estimated to be 40,000 to 50,000 tons. Its plans for a destruction program are embryonic, and the country's ongoing political and economic turmoil leads most observers to believe it will not be able to meet CWC deadlines on its own. Russia has established a commission to oversee the destruction program. Russian officials have made it clear that Russia desires both technological and financial assistance to destroy its chemical weapons. Russia is also seeking foreign assistance to fund infrastructure improvements in the regions surrounding their CW depots, claiming that approval from local authorities to build destruction facilities is dependent upon such assistance. In addition to direct foreign assistance, Russia is considering establishing an investment bank to encourage commercial participation and hopes to recycle some commercially valuable compounds from the destruction process for sale. The Russian Duma has approved a CW destruction program and some Russian officials have estimated that CW destruction in Russia could begin in 1998. Others, however, maintain that 1998 is a very optimistic estimate, given the political and economic difficulties confronting the government.

Congress has responded to Russia's call for assistance, appropriating $55 million in aid to be used for the initial planning and evaluation stages of the Russian program. In addition, the United States has agreed to share destruction technology and participate in the exchange of technical experts. To facilitate these efforts, the United States has opened a Chemical Weapons Destruction Support Office (CWDSO) in Moscow. The questions that remain unanswered, and are perhaps unanswerable for the time being, are what additional assistance Russia will request or require and whether it will be able to meet CWC timetables, even with additional assistance.

Aside from financial concerns, Russia faces other obstacles that could substantially delay its destruction program. With continuing governmental disarray, Russia has been unable to establish a managerial structure with sufficient authority to carry out a program. Government bureaucracies shunning responsibilities, less than full cooperation from the military, and uncertainties about the tenure of central authority have all contributed to the problem.

As democratization proceeds fitfully, and the central government no longer has overriding authority, public opinion has begun to play a stronger role. As in the United States, communities where destruction facilities may be built have started to voice public safety concerns. One facility, completed over two years ago, has been closed and will not be utilized owing to local protests. Currently, Russia hopes to convert dormant CW production centers to destruction facilities. To do so, however, it will have to find the means to assuage the fears of regional governments and public opinion.

Through both the OPCW and the CWDSO in Moscow, the United States should be able to follow closely the progress of the Russian destruction program. Russia's solicitation of technical and financial assistance from the United States and other Western nations will also provide opportunities to monitor the destruction program.

There is little doubt that other CWC signatories possess some chemical weapons. However, there is no reliable public information on their size or composition. Without use of classified data, there is currently no way to assess how extensive their destruction programs will have to be. It nevertheless remains quite likely that the United States will be called upon for technical assistance, at a minimum, as other nations confront the challenge of destroying their CW stockpiles.

OPCW Costs

The OPCW will be the major ongoing expense for CWC signatories. Each signatory with chemical weapons or facilities that must be destroyed is responsible for reimbursing the OPCW for the costs of verifying those destruction activities. All other costs for maintaining the OPCW and its administrative and verification activities will be apportioned among the signatories by a system similar to that used for dues payment by the United Nations. This means that the industrialized nations will be assuming the majority of the burden, with the United States paying approximately 25% of the total.

In August 1991, the United States prepared an estimate which projected the costs for all of the OPCW Technical Secretariat's activities to be $164 million per year, of which about $41 million would be the U.S. share. (United Nations Document No. CD/CW/WP.364) In 1990, an Institute for Defense Analysis study, prepared for the Department of Defense, estimated that U.S. costs associated with only the OPCW inspection regime would total $363 million for the CWC's first 15 years, or about $24 million per year. (Inspection Costs for a Multilateral Chemical Weapons Convention IDA Paper P-2383)

As with other international organizations to which the United States pays dues, Congress would continue to exercise annual oversight on contributions through the fiscal authorization and appropriation legislative process.


S. 1732 (Lugar)
Provides legal authority for the administration and enforcement of the Chemical Weapons Convention's provisions within the United States. Introduced and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations May 8, 1996.


U.S. Congress. Chemical Weapons Convention: A Message from the President of the United States. Treaty Document 103-21. 103 Congress, 1st Session.

U.S. Congress. Chemical Weapons Convention. Hearings, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 103rd Congress, 2nd Session, S. Hrg. 103-869.

U.S. Congress. Military Implications of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Hearings, Senate Armed Services Committee. 103rd Congress, 2nd Session, S. Hrg. 103- 835.

U.S. Congress. U.S. Capability to Monitor Compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. Report, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence . 103rd Congress, 2nd Session, Report 103-390.

(Hearings held during the 104th Congress have not yet been published.)


Committee on National Security. Chemical Weapons Convention Bulletin (published quarterly).

National Research Council. Alternative Technologies for the Destruction of Chemical Agents and Munitions. National Academy Press. Washington, 1993.

U.S. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment. The Chemical Weapons Convention: Effects on the U.S. Chemical Industry.

U.S. General Accounting Office. Chemical Stockpile Disposal Program Review, GAO/NSIAD-95-66R, February 1995

U.S. General Accounting Office. Chemical Weapons Destruction: Issues Affecting Program Cost, Schedule, and Performance. GAO/NSIAD 93-50. January 1993.

Selected World Wide Web Sites

Chemical and Biological Nonproliferation Project. http://www.stimson..org/pub/stimson/cwc

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. http://www.opcw.nl

U.S. Army Chemical Demilitarization Program. http://www-pmcd.apgea.army.mil

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