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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 10, November 1996

Chemical Weapons Convention to enter into force in April 1997

On 31 October, Hungary became the 65th State to ratify the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The Convention allows for its own entry-into-force 180 days after the 65th ratification. It will thus become law on 29 April 1997. Thus far, neither the US or Russia, the only open possessors of chemical weapons, have ratified, despite full support for the Convention by both governments. In the US, the Republican Congress harbours doubts about the political and military wisdom of the accord, despite the fact that it was negotiated by the Bush Administration. In the Russian Duma and government, there are concerns about the costs and practicalities of destroying Russia's estimated 40,000 ton stockpile.

Despite the near-certainty of the Convention entering into force with neither chemical weapons superpower having ratified, the development was widely acclaimed. UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali said on 31 October (see Documents and Sources) that "the world has taken a significant step toward the complete eradication of chemical weapons."

British Foreign Office Minister of State David Davis stated on 1 November: "This is a milestone in international arms control efforts. The CWC is the first multilateral treaty to impose a complete ban on an entire class of weapons and establish a verification regime to monitor compliance. I urge those who have not yet ratified the Convention to do so as soon as possible." Davis added a cautionary note: "The Preparatory Commission to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] still has a lot of work to do to be ready."

Marin Buohara, the Chair of the Preparatory Commission to the OPCW, told reporters in The Hague on 1 November:

"I strongly hope [the US and Russia]...would confirm their long-standing commitment to chemical disarmament by completing their ratification procedures between now and the entry into force of the Convention. ... I would like to call on all countries to exercise greater political will and urgency to resolve outstanding issues now the trigger point has been reached. There is now no turning back."

In the US, State Department spokesperson Nicholas Burns argued on 4 November that the development should stir the Senate to prompt ratification:

"If we ratify later [than 29 April], we will have to abide by decisions made without our involvement... On the other hand, if the United States ratifies promptly, we are assured a seat on the 41-member Executive Council that will oversPe implementation of the CWC... Bipartisan American leadership was crucial to successful completion of the CWC. US leadership is important to bring the treaty into force, begin the transparent and orderly prodess to eliminate chemical weapons stockpiles, stop production, and erect strong barriers against proliferation."

The same day, the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), John Holum, warned of the economic consequences of staying outside the treaty regime, claiming that "our closest allies and trading partners will be forced to apply trade restrictions to chemicals that originate here, or are being shipped here. US companies could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and many US jobs simply because the US does not belong to the treaty."

On 1 November, Holum stated that, after the US Presidential and Congressional Elections, "the US ratification process would resume properly...without political distractions." And on 12 November, re-elected President Clinton wrote, in letters to the Republican leaders of both Houses of Congress

(Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich):

"Ratification must be a top priority of the new Congress in early 1997... Further delay in securing US ratification of this vital treaty serves only the interests of proliferators and terrorists... [Further] delay may well also endanger the international competitiveness of the chemical industry, one of our largest exporters. ... We need to ratify this Convention urgently to strengthen our own security, affirm our leadership in non-proliferation and to protect our chemical industry."

Reports: UN chief welcomes step toward chemical weapons convention, Agence France-Presse International News, 31 October; Chemical weapons convention to come into force, Agence France-Presse International News, 31 October; Russia, US called to ratify chemical weapons ban, Reuter News Reports, 1 November; UN treaty on chemical weapons gets approval, AP Datastream International News Wire, 1 November; UN begins countdown for chemical arms treaty, Inter Press Service International News, 1 November; US and Russia tackle chemical weapons pact, Inter Press Service International News, 1 November; Clinton calls on Congress to ratify chemical weapons treaty, AgencM France-Presse International News, 12 November.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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