As the first week ends and most of the NGOs (this one included) leave The Hague, the discussions in the second week of the Conference will likely be far more contentious as the states parties work out the details of the Final Document. However, this midway point provides a good opportunity to look at some of the major themes which have characterized discussions thus far.
Overall, the debate thus far has indicated that the Conference is indeed looking towards the future; towards a post-destruction era. There has been little discussion of destruction; while states parties continue to emphasize that destruction remains the core of the Convention, there has been little discussion beyond that. A classified section was held Thursday morning to discuss the implementation of the provisions of the Convention related to the destruction of chemical weapons, but concerns related to destruction have not been brought up in other contexts. The same cannot be said for many other issues which have dominated the discussions, including science and technology and Article XI. While the pace of destruction has been slower than states parties hoped for, the states parties with existing stocks have been working towards the destruction of these stockpiles: political will is not absent. For an issue which is emphasized as the core of the Convention, destruction has been only been brought up a few times in general debate (though this may change in the next week). In addition, though the Technical Secretariat has maintained the readiness to conduct a challenge inspection if called upon (and at no small cost), the challenge inspection has remained absent from general debate. Instead, debate has focused on areas which relate to the peaceful uses of chemistry and preventing the reemergence of chemical weapons.
Notably, debate has focused on advancements in science and technology, and the implications that these will have for the future of the Convention. Several states parties cited the convergence of biology and chemistry, as well as the risks of dual-use materials. Additionally, the presentation of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) on this topic generated significant discussion on the importance of the SAB as a mechanism to respond to these challenges. However, discussions pertaining to advancements in science and technology and the need to keep pace with these advances have remained at the technical level; of figuring out what these advances are. Discussions of exactly how these developments could affect the implementation of the Convention, particularly how they might require changes in national legislation, have not occurred in general debate thus far.
The future role of the OPCW has also been discussed at length. Several states parties heavily praised the work of the Technical Secretariat and the SAB. Article VIII of the Convention establishes the OPCW “to achieve the object and purpose of this Convention, to ensure the implementation of its provisions, including those for international verification of compliance with it, and to provide a forum for consultation and cooperation among States Parties”. While verification, consultation and cooperation have all been mentioned by states parties as important functions of the OPCW, several states parties have stressed the need for the OPCW to particularly play an enhanced role in consultation and in facilitating cooperation amongst states parties. The NAM Action Plan on Article XI contains several specific measures for the OPCW to implement to facilitate transfers of technologies, information and materials. However, the contents of this action plan, combined with statements in general debate that the OPCW should serve as a “global repository of knowledge”, suggest a desire for the OPCW to do more than to facilitate bilateral exchanges; to instead play an increased role in providing expertise and assistance of its own.
Article XI, concerning economic and technological development and assistance, has been noted by several states as a priority. NAM states in particular have been very vocal in emphasizing the centrality of Article XI to the implementation of the Convention and have made many references to the NAM Action Plan on Article XI, which was distributed on the first day of the Conference. However, Article XI of the CWC contains language identical to Article X of the BWC; language which has presented challenges for efforts to implement a mechanism related to this article in the BWC. Both refer to states parties’ agreement to “undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information” (emphasis added). However, the term ‘fullest possible exchange’ is ambiguous and as such, makes it difficult to define the exact end goal and consequently, draft plans which will achieve this end goal. It has certainly done so for the BWC. It is possible that the true purpose of setting a lofty goal is to push the states parties to make more progress in this area than setting a more limited goal would. At the same time, it creates challenges for how to actually implement effective measures, particularly regarding sensitive information and technology transfers
The importance role of civil society and of industry in the implementation of the CWC has also been a major theme of the first week. NGO side events (a total of 11 side events throughout the first week were organized or co-organized by NGOs) featured presentations by representatives of civil society, industry, and states parties, demonstrating a multi-stakeholder approach to the CWC. Many states parties attended these events and participated extensively in Q&A. Moreover, several states parties made references in their statements to the importance of civil society and industry participation in achieving the goals of the Convention. At the NGO reception, Director-General Üzümcü noted that at this Review Conference, NGOs had taught him the difference between NGO attendance and participation. However, it is not just the OPCW which has engaged with NGOs: states parties, many of which have traditionally been reluctant to have NGOs actively participating in meetings, have accepted NGO participation as a legitimate and useful contribution.
Lastly, the plenary sessions on the first two days were characterized by strong statements against the Syrian government’s alleged possession of chemical weapons and support for the UN Secretary-General’s investigation into alleged chemical weapons use in Syria (supported by the Director-General and the OPCW). While discussions on this topic have subsided as the Conference proceeded with its agenda, it is likely that a reference to the situation in Syria will appear in the Final Document. The current preparations for the investigation give further gravitas to this extremely timely issue.