In the latest Arms Control Today, an interesting news piece examines U.S. and Russian obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which requires its 188 ratifying members to destroy their stockpiles of chemical agents and delivery vehicles by April 2012. While both the United States and Russia have made progress, it is unlikely at this juncture that either will meet the deadline.
Though not intentionally flouting an international agreement, the United States could face a diplomatic problem by not meeting its CWC deadline obligation.
Though unlikely, the United States could face sanctions and the stripping of voting rights in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the CWC’s monitoring and membership body. The United States should at the very least expect to face a blast of rhetoric, according to Jonathan Tucker at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
Besides the CWC deadline, the United States also faces a 2017 deadline mandated by Congress. This is likely to be missed, too. The United States’ two remaining chemical weapons depots at Blue Grass, KY and Pueblo, CO are expected to have barely commenced destruction by 2017. Complete destruction of their stockpiles is even further off, with current estimates standing at 2020 and 2023, respectively.
Increased funding could help address the problem. The DOD’s Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA) program is in line to receive $550 million in fiscal year 2010, an increase of $5 million above the Pentagon’s request. This would be a total increase of almost a third from last year’s budget of $427 million. Global Security Newswire recently reported that the ACWA “could collect $1.2 billion in extra funding over several upcoming budgets.”
Russia’s situation poses a more serious challenge to the CWC. About 28,000 metric tons remain in its chemical stockpile, and there are concerns over Russian disposal methods. In some facilities, destruction of the stockpile has slowed after the first phase (when the toxic chemicals are drained from their munitions and neutralized but before the munitions casings and the remaining chemicals are incinerated). Until the weapons casings are destroyed, the risk exists that they could be appropriated and refilled.
Another risk lies in allowing standards to slide on what counts as disarmament. In order to meet the 2012 deadline, Russia already has negotiated with the OPCW to set modified procedures for disarmament that credit Russia short of full destruction. This half-step to chemical disarmament could provide a dangerous precedent in the nonproliferation regime. If a non-signatory country were to accede to the CWC, what would stop them from following Russia’s example and retaining munitions or chemical agents?