Global Insights: The Chemical Weapons Challenge

Russia and the United States are about to learn how much international goodwill their renewed progress toward nuclear arms control, as manifested by the New START Treaty, will buy them in other WMD nonproliferation arenas. The two countries have recently confirmed that they will miss their already extended deadlines for eliminating their stockpiles of chemical weapons, as required by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). In principle, this failure could lead to bitter denunciations as well as concrete sanctions imposed by other countries. At present, though, it looks like Moscow and Washington will escape punishment, perhaps in part due to the sense that both governments are sincerely trying to destroy their chemical weapons holdings, but just need more time and money to do so.

Russia and the United States possessed more than 95 percent of the 70,000 tons of chemical weapons declared when the convention entered into force in April 1997. Under their extended elimination deadlines, the two countries are required to destroy their entire stockpiles by April 29, 2012. Unfortunately, at current elimination rates, neither the United States nor Russia will do so. On July 8, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the institution currently charged with overseeing the treaty's implementation, reported that the Russian Federation had already destroyed nearly 48 percent of its stockpiles, while the United States had eliminated slightly more than 75 percent. But the secretariat acknowledged that both governments had confirmed that they will not destroy all their weapons before the April 2012 deadline.

When the CWC entered into force in April 1997, the United States possessed approximately 30,000 tons of chemical weapons, in the form of nerve (VX and sarin) and blister (mustard) agents. The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency (CMA) was tasked with eliminating 90 percent of this total, and had destroyed 60 percent of the original stockpile by April 2009. On July 1, 2010, the agency announced that it had incinerated or chemically neutralized 75 percent of the U.S. chemical agent stockpile, or 22,958 tons of chemical agents and more than 2.1 million chemical munitions. The CMA expects to destroy its remaining chemical stockpile by 2012. The Army now calculates that its entire chemical elimination effort will have cost approximately $24 billion when completed.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review