Time for Angola to Ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention

2012-12-05

Angola, Somalia and Egypt and now South Sudan, which in July 2011 became the 193rd member state of the United Nations (UN), are among only eight countries that are not party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). With 188 states parties, the Convention is one of the most successful international treaties and with the 3rd Five-Year Review Conference of the Convention scheduled for April 2013, the time for action has come. Angola, like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, Somalia, South Sudan and the Syrian Arab Republic, has not even signed the Treaty. Israel and Burma have signed but not ratified.

In some senses one can understand why Somalia and Egypt have delayed their accession. Somalia has no real functioning government, which, along with the current humanitarian crisis, means that CWC accession in the near future is unlikely. Somalia is party to a limited number of international criminal, human rights, humanitarian and refugee law treaties, and to no conventions covering arms control issues. Egypt insists on linking the issue of nuclear weapons in the Middle East with chemical weapons; holding that Israel, which has a policy of nuclear ambiguity, should first join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state. It maintains that this linkage is a necessary component of its support for a Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone in the Middle East.

While some progress has been made towards a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East with the 2010 NPT Review Conference agreeing that a conference towards this must be convened in 2012, the Helsinki ‘December 2012 Conference’ has been delayed until at least 2013.

During the 17th session of the Conference of State Parties to the CWC held in November, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that ‘if a world free of chemical weapons is to be fully realised, it is crucial that these eight states join without delay’.

Peter Goosen, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Africa to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and South Africa’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, was elected president of the Conference and chaired the debates. This year’s meeting marked the fifteenth anniversary of the Convention and of the OPCW.

The fundamental obligations of states parties to the Convention are to never under any circumstances:

(a) Develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone;

(b) Use chemical weapons;

(c) Engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons;

(d) Assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention. (Article 1, paragraph 1).

Each state party also undertakes to destroy all chemical weapons and all chemical weapons production facilities that it owns or possesses or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction and control, as well as to destroy all chemical weapons that it abandoned on the territory of another state party. Under the OPCW’s supervision, 78% of the world’s declared stockpiles of chemical weapons have been verifiably destroyed. Members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and China issued a statement calling for the total eradication of all chemical weapons throughout the world. The Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs, Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh, read out the statement. Iran assumed the rotating presidency of NAM for a three-year term on August 30.

NAM member states and China also expressed concern over the fact that certain countries that possess chemical weapons, including the United States and Russia, have failed to comply with their obligations regarding the total destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles within the final extended deadline of 29 April 2012, and called on them to fulfil their commitments. Last December a decision by states parties extended the final deadline for the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles. In Libya, following the destruction of almost eight metric tons of chemical weapons in early 2011, destruction operations have been interrupted due to the civil war and the precarious re-construction and development.

Besides the destruction of remaining stockpiles, a key future focus should be on preventing the re-emergence of such weaponry. However, Angola - a member of NAM - which has no confirmed history of chemical weapons possession and use, no serious external threat to its security since the ending of the decades-long civil war in 2002 and a relatively small chemical industry, needs to get its act together and show that NAM’s concern about Russia and the US’ delayed final destruction is well meant and sincere.

Noel Stott, Senior Research Fellow, Arms Control and Disarmament Programme, Transnational Threats and International Crime Division, ISS Pretoria

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