Kerry praises Syria’s compliance with CWC, but what about U.S. non-compliance?
Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the United States is “very pleased” with the progress made so far in destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stocks, but offered no comment on the long-standing non-compliance of the United States’ obligations to destroy its stockpiles.
The Chemical Weapons Convention, which the United States ratified in 1997 with 84% public support according to public opinion surveys, required that the U.S. completely destroy its chemical weapons stockpile by 2007, but an extension moved the deadline to April 2012. Missing that deadline more than a year ago, the U.S. has failed to get another extension and remains in blatant violation of the treaty’s provisions.
The CWC prohibits “the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons,” requiring states parties to “convert in an essentially irreversible way to a form unsuitable for production of chemical weapons, and which in an irreversible manner renders munitions and other devices unusable as such.”
When the treaty went into effect 16 years ago, the U.S. declared a huge domestic chemical arsenal of 27,771 metric tons to the OPCW. Missing two deadlines for these weapons’ destruction, the United States maintains stockpiles of several thousand tons of these banned weapons.
Russia has alleged that the U.S. has inhibited inspections and investigations of U.S. chemical facilities, and has further accused the U.S. of not fully reporting chemical agents removed from Iraq between 2003 and 2008.
Iran has also complained about the U.S. non-compliance, stating that the U.S. decision to retain its stockpiles of chemical weapons is a major threat to peace and security in the world. Iran’s ambassador to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in late 2011 that the U.S. failure to meet its international commitments with regard to the total elimination of chemical weapons is in flagrant violation of the CWC.
The U.S. State Department has glossed over its non-compliance with the treaty which it is now praising Syria for complying with.
In its most recent Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments, the State Department stressed that “The United States continues to work towards meeting its CWC obligations with respect to the destruction of chemical weapons,” and noted that the U.S. “continues to update the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on its destruction efforts.”
A bit more information is available at the Centers for Disease Control website, which reports that with the final mustard munition destroyed at the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in January 2012, nearly 90% of the declared U.S. stockpile had been eliminated by the extended deadline. With over 30,000 tons originally declared, however, this means that there remains 2,700 tons at two sites in Kentucky and Colorado.
The most recent forecast from the U.S. is that the process of “neutralizing” the chemicals in its Colorado weapons dump will be finished by 2018; the date for Kentucky is 2023, i.e., 11 years after the extended deadline for destroying its chemical weapons stockpiles.
About 2,611 tons of mustard gas remains stockpiled in Pueblo, Colorado. The second stockpile, in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, is smaller – 524 tons – but more complicated to decommission, because it consists of a broader range of lethal gases and nerve agents, many of which are contained within weaponry.
Although the process of constructing neutralization facilities in Colorado and Kentucky is under way, neither plants have begun testing procedures. The nature of the Kentucky stockpile makes it particularly difficult to destroy, the Guardian reported last month.
“They have every agent there and every weapon – rockets, artillery shells, landmines, spray tanks and aerial bombs,” said Paul Walker, a program director at Green Cross International, which has facilitated the destruction of chemical weapons in the U.S. and Russia since the mid-1990s.
While the U.S. skirts its own obligations, it continues to demand high standards from designated “rogue states” like Syria.
Regarding the steps Damascus is taking to eliminate its stockpile of chemical weapons, Kerry said, “I think it is extremely significant that yesterday, Sunday, within a week of the resolution being passed, some chemical weapons were already being destroyed. I think it’s also credit to the Assad regime for complying as rapidly as they are supposed to.”
Let’s just hope that Syria’s commitment to fulfilling its international obligations is stronger than the commitment shown by the United States. Otherwise, we could be still dealing with this issue in the year 2029.