The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the world’s only multilateral treaty with 192 state parties, verifiably bans an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. The convention marked the 20th anniversary of its entry into force in April, 2017. The CWC prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer, and use of chemical weapons. To date, approximately 95 percent of all declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been eliminated.
Speaking at the final plenary session of the 14th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club on October 19, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his concern over the US failure to comply with its obligations to eliminate chemical weapons (CW). The United States still possesses the largest stockpile of CW in the world. “Moreover, the USA has pushed back the deadline for eliminating their chemical weapons from 2007 to as far as 2023. It does not look proper for a nation that claims to be a champion of non-proliferation and control,” the president noted.
Russia and the United States are parties to the CWC, which required them to destroy their stockpiles by 2007 with a potential extension until 2012. Both failed to meet the 2012 deadline and received the extension.
On September 27, the Russian leader presided over the destruction of last declared chemical weapons three years ahead of the 2020 deadline Russia had set for itself. Under the December 2014 decision of the 19th Conference of the States Parties, the deadline for eliminating Moscow’s chemical weapons was extended to complete work at the Kizner facility in the country’s Udmurt Republic no later than 2020.
President Putin described the elimination as a historic event but it went largely unnoticed by Western media despite the fact that the Soviet Union’s CW stockpile, including VX, sarin, soman, mustard, lewisite, mustard-lewisite mixtures, and phosgene, was enough to destroy all life on the planet Earth several times over. For comparison, the US has postponed the elimination till 2023, citing lack of budget funding. That will be 11 years after the US promised to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles, and eight years after Russia finished destroying its arsenal. If the US finally meets its promise of destroying all chemical weapons by 2023, the process will have taken more than a quarter of a century and cost an estimated $40bn.
The pretext of inadequate funding sounds rather odd. Other nations have also asked for extensions of deadlines but the United States is evidently not in a hurry to comply with the CWC and the delays are really impressive.
The US has a history of using weapons to cause mass casualties among civil population, such as white phosphorous shells in Iraq, depleted uranium in Syria and cluster bombs in Yemen.
The United States has failed to comply with the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), updated in 2010 to make Russia quit it. According to the PMDA, Russia and the US agreed to transparently dispose of weapons-grade plutonium, thereby preventing it from being reused for military purposes. Russia has gone to great lengths to uphold its end of the bargain. It has built a mixed oxide (MOX) fuel facility in the city of Zheleznogorsk in Eastern Siberia. It has also invested in BN-600 and BN-800 fast neutron reactors, which will use MOX fuel, made of weapons-grade plutonium and ensure it is unusable for nuclear warheads. The US has failed to construct the plant in Savannah River, South Carolina. Then it decided to change the disposition method without Russia's consent as required by the agreement.
The decision to abandon the plutonium recycling project in South Carolina was a violation of PMDA. The change of method allowed the US to leave the breakout potential, which could be retrieved, reprocessed and converted into weapons-grade plutonium again.
In 2014, the 123 Agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation was unilaterally suspended by the US. The talks on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty have been deadlocked for many years with the US-Russian cooperation on the safety and security of nuclear sites and materials ended in 2014. The US has recently taken steps to dismantle the Open Skies Treaty. Russia ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in 2000. The USA has not done it as yet.
The future of two key Russia-US arms control agreements between Russia and the United States to limit offensive nuclear weapons – the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-3) and the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – is teetering on the brink. The INF is under attack with both sides exchanging accusations of violations. The US Congress is applying efforts to undermine the treaty. The New START has been decried by the administration. No arms control talks between the two powers are taking place. The US nuclear modernization plans may ultimately bury the existing arms control regime.
The militarization of space and the looming race of hypersonic weapons remain to be the problems unaddressed. The logic of finding ways to limit these capabilities and avoid arms races becomes increasingly convincing.
Almost every channel of negotiation is deadlocked and the entire existing arms control infrastructure appears to be crumbling. With US adherence to the arms control regime remaining uncertain, all remaining agreements are in jeopardy, while the prospects for Russia-US arms control look dim. The Russian president has expressed its concern. It’s not too late to turn the tide.