Progress in CW destruction, but a long way left to go

According to figures reported by the US Army Chemical Materials Agency (CMA) in October 2010, the United States has managed to dispose of 30 per cent of its chemical weapons in the last three years. In comparison, between 1997 and 2007, only half of US stocks had been destroyed. Last autumn also saw the completion of disposal operations at a US arsenal where 3,850 tons of the country’s chemical weapons had been stored for over sixty years.

Russia’s chemical weapons disposal has also been accelerating. According to the head of the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade, the country destroyed over 19,000 tons of weapons stockpiles between November 2009 and September 2010, which amounts to more than it had been able to eliminate over the previous two years.

Despite this accelerated progress, however, neither Russia nor the United States will be able to meet the 2012 deadline for the complete destruction of their chemical weapons. As parties to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), both countries were originally expected to eliminate their stockpiles by 2007, but were granted five-year extensions since they said they needed more time.

While the CMA is on track to complete the disposal of 90 per cent of US chemical weapons by the April 2012 deadline, the remaining ten per cent of the stockpile, which is to be eliminated through the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA) programme, will not be destroyed on time. In addition, two chemical agent destruction plants currently under construction and not scheduled to begin operations until at least 2017 and 2021 respectively. The US will therefore also miss deadlines set by two 2008 national laws which mandated that the country’s stockpile be destroyed by the CWC deadline (29 April 2012), and failing that, no later than 2017.

In Russia, a new chemical weapons disposal plant was opened in November 2010 to speed up the elimination process. The facility, located 250 miles southwest of Moscow, is the largest of the six chemical weapons disposal plants built in the country in recent years, and is expected to destroy about 19 per cent of Russia’s stockpile. While Russia had announced this summer that elimination would not be complete until 2015, according to a high-ranking Russian official, as of November the country was expecting to finish disposal by the end of 2014.

Agata Slota, London