Reflections on the Major Themes of the 3rd Review Conference Thus Far

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.


Day 5: Science and Technology and Article XI

On Day 5, the Conference continued to review the operations of the Convention, though there was no shortage of side events as well. The morning began with a side event on the legacies of chemical weapons, with presentations on both American and Iraqi chemical weapons stockpiles and plans for their destruction. It included representatives of civil society, as well as a national authority (Iraq), a further indication of how far civil society participation in the CWC has come and the degree to which states parties have accepted it as legitimate. However, both the Russian and Libyan delegations declined to give presentations on their stockpiles. Irene Kornelly of the Colorado Citizens’ Advisory Committee (Pueblo, Colorado, USA), spoke first on the Pueblo Chemical Depot, the second-to-last stockpile in the US to be destroyed. She described local citizen involvement in the decision-making process, noting that citizen priorities included transparency, safety, and destruction by means other than incineration. She also described new types of equipment used, of which a considerable amount will be remote-controlled. Craig Williams of the Chemical Weapons Destruction Advisory Board (Blue Grass, Kentucky, USA) described the historic tensions between the US Army and citizens near Blue Grass (the last stockpile site in the US to be demolished) and the progress made in working together. Dr. Mohammed Al Sharaa, Director-General of the Iraqi National Monitoring Authority gave a presentation on the challenges facing the destruction of Iraqi chemical weapons stockpiles, noting that they are stored in two bunkers which were sealed by UNSCOM. As such, it is difficult to know exactly what is in the bunkers and the associated risks.

The morning session reviewing the operations of the Convention focused primarily on Article XI. States parties generally agreed that Article XI was very important to the implementation of the Convention as a whole. Several states parties made references to the NAM Action Plan. Other issues raised by states parties included the importance of education and outreach, the need to develop national legislation in this area, and the role of the Technical Secretariat in promoting cooperation. However, one state party noted that Article XI never refers to the Technical Secretariat and that while many states have been discussion ‘technology transfers’, this language is never used in the Convention. The Chair noted there seems to be increased cooperation moving towards compromise, though one state party expressed their disagreement with this sentiment. The chair of the Scientific Advisory Board then presented the findings of the SAB on developments in science and technology. The full report can be found here. In the subsequent discussion, states parties emphasized the important work of the SAB, both in the present and in the future, as a ‘global repository of knowledge’. Education and outreach were also stressed in this portion of the discussion.

The NGO Open Forum was held on Friday afternoon. In addition to presentations by NGOs, it included a presentation from an international organization (by Dana Perkins from the 1540 Committee’s Group of Experts). Presentations covered a wide range of NGO activities, including several from the chemical industry, which highlighted self-regulating activities undertaken in the chemical industry. Michael Crowley of the Bradford Non-lethal Weapons Research Project presented on the need to take into account not just the chemical composition of riot control agents, but their means of delivery as well, in determining what is allowed under the CWC. In the past, the Open Forum was the central NGO event; at this Review Conference it was one of many NGO events which took place throughout the week.

During the afternoon session, an informal thematic discussion on science and technology took place at the OPCW headquarters while the review of the operations of the Convention continued in the World Forum. Moderated by Patricia Lewis of Chatham House (and formerly of CNS), it included presentations by industry representatives, civil society representatives, a member of the OPCW Technical Secretariat and an ambassador speaking in his personal (not official) capacity. The makeup of this panel reflected the efforts of this review conference to engage multiple stakeholders in the implementation of the Convention: a theme which has been apparent throughout the Review Conference. The discussions following the presentations focused primarily on two themes: 1) ethics and 2) education and outreach. One NGO representative noted that ethics is not simply a matter of taking a course or filling out a form, but rather a culture of responsibility. Alejandra Graciela Suarez from the National University of Rosario (Argentina) and Temechegn Engida from the Federation of African Scientists, described education and outreach activities in Argentina and in Africa. Both noted the need to educate both the industry community and the academic community in safe, responsible and ethical behavior. A presentation by Robert Mathews, member of the OPCW Chemical and Biological Convergence Temporary Working Group (and also ambassador from Australia) on the convergence of chemistry and biology and advances in chemical protection and another presentation by Hugh Gregg, head of the OPCW Laboratory, on verification, sparked many questions regarding the specific technical nature of these activities.

This was also the last side event currently on the calendar for the 3rd Review Conference. Though the Conference runs through next week, most civil society representatives were in The Hague only for the first week.

Day 4: Agenda Item Nine and NGO Activities

Day 4 began with a side event organized by the CWC Coalition (CWCC) entitled “Strengthening the Global Norm Against Chemical Weapons”. Yasemin Balci of VERTIC described VERTIC’s national implementation assistance to states parties, noting that the convergence of scientific and technological issues covered under the BWC and CWC will need to be addressed in states’ legislation and also noted separately that many states’ export controls need to be strengthened. Dr. Hassan Mashhadi discussed the importance of implementing Article X and Article XI of the CWC as a means of strengthening the Convention, emphasizing the need to develop regional Article X activities. US Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins noted that chemical safety and security are two different issues and that while chemical safety standards and norms are fairly well-developed, the physical security of chemicals is a different matter. She described a potential role for the OPCW as a mechanism to coordinate between states parties, international organizations and civil society to further develop both chemical safety and security standards. Dr. Lech Starostin of the International Conference on Chemical Safety and Security (ICCSS) described the ICCSS’ meeting in Tarnow (Poland) as a demonstration of the OPCW’s ability to act as a platform for cooperation in these areas. He also noted that an ICCSS initiative led to a Kenyan project on chemical safety and security in peaceful chemical activities in Kenya. Muhammad Setyabudhi Zubar from the National Committee of Responsible Care Indonesia described the Committee’s efforts to create standards amongst the chemical industry, including a Responsible Care Security Code. Lastly, a delegate from Australia emphasized the work of the Australian Attorney-General in the areas of chemical safety and security.

The morning session of debate was closed to NGOs.

The afternoon began with a side event on EU support for OPCW activities, organized by Ireland and Sweden, at which they presented the EU’s assistance for national implementation of the CWC in developing countries, including past successes and failures. The presentation highlighted in particular EU support for e-learning tools and centres of excellence. At the same time, the ICCSS and TNO (the Netherlands) held a side event entitled “Developing a program on chemical safety and security in chemical activities in Kenya”.

During the afternoon, general debate focused on Agenda Item 9: review of the operation of the CWC. In discussing the verification activities of the OPCW, one state party emphasized that when conducting verification activities, OPCW inspectors can only use information provided in declarations by the state party whose facilities are to be inspected: no other sources may be used. Another state party took issue with the terms ‘effectiveness’ and ‘efficiency’, and expressed concern as to whether these terms accurately reflected the goals of the OPCW. The same state party also stated that the Conference should not simply adopt the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), but rather that any recommendations should first pass through the government experts committee which was set up at the Second Review Conference. The question of how to respond to the possibility of an abuse of the challenge inspection was also a point of contention. Several states parties pointed out the need to strengthen national implementation and for states parties to make declarations in a more frequent and complete manner, while others emphasized the need for assistance to states parties in implementing these requirements. At the end of debate, one state party asked the OPCW Legal Advisor if the challenge inspection applied only to states parties to the CWC, or whether it applied to non-states parties as well. Given the late hour, the issue was deferred until later.

In the evening, the CWCC hosted a reception. NGOs were welcomed by the representative of Norway, Director-General Üzümcü and Paul Walker (on behalf of the CWCC). Several representatives of states parties and several members of the OPCW attended the reception as well.

Day 3: Incapacitants and NGOs

Day 3 saw nine final statements in plenary by states parties. Afghanistan in particular noted the importance of NGOs both in providing technical expertise and in raising awareness about the Convention. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delivered a statement, encouraging states to accede to the Geneva Protocol and remove any reservations they might. The ICRC stressed the need for coordination between organizations involved in preparing a response to the use or threat of use of chemical weapons, as well as its concern about the use of toxic chemicals in law enforcement. The ICRC argued that “the proliferation of these weapons will undermine the prohibition of chemical weapons” and that there is a risk of “creating a ‘slippery slope’ towards the reintroduction of chemical weapons in armed conflict”. They also noted that the “overall legal framework leaves little room, if any, for the legitimate use of toxic chemicals- other than riot control agents- as weapons”.

Next followed statements by 14 NGOs; the first time NGOs have been allowed to give statements in plenary at the CWC. These statements were preceded by an introduction from the Chair (Poland), which noted that NGO participations strengthens the inclusive and open nature of the CWC and will bring a number of benefits to supplement and complement the activities of the OPCW. The statements by NGOs ranged from a description of the activities of their organization to identifying future challenges for the CWC. As such, the statements reflected the variety of ways in which NGOs can contribute to the mission of the CWC.

NGOs which gave speeches were: Green Cross International, the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support (Iran), the Colorado Citizens Advisory Commission (USA), the Institute for Security Studies (South Africa), Okan University (Turkey), the Centre for Non-proliferation and Export Control Issues (Kyrgyzstan), the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, VERTIC, ICCSS Tarnow, Green Cross Russia, the Omega Research Foundation (UK), the PUC Institute of International Relations (Brazil), Global Green USA, and NPS Global Foundation- Argentina.

The focus on toxic chemicals by several NGOs was complemented by a side presentation on the Swiss proposal on incapacitating chemical weapons, which attracted a considerable crowd and a lively exchange of ideas. The Swiss delegation stressed that the proposal addressed toxic chemical agents which are not riot control agents (RCAs), noting that RCAs are already addressed by the Convention. They proposed that the 3rd Review Conference should adopt the language of the report of the Open-Ended Working Group, which would then allow for an open-ended discussion on the use of incapacitating chemical agents for law enforcement purposes (to be included in the Final Document). One ambassador expressed concern regarding the idea of defining incapacitants by what they are not- RCAs. Members of civil society raised concerns over the use of these agents, suggesting that the focus should be on the definition of ‘law enforcement’ rather than the definition of the agents themselves. Another ambassador suggested that there is no such thing as an incapacitating chemical agents- the terms RCAs and toxic chemicals are already in use and creating a new term will necessitate defining this term. The same ambassador also suggested that states parties should declare the chemicals they use for law enforcement other than RCAs, as a transparency measure. While there were several points of contention over how exactly the proposal discussion would take place, most states parties present at the side event seemed to generally support the ideas behind the proposal.

(Edit April 11: While delegates were speaking in their official capacities, this side event was designed to facilitate a discussion on the proposal in a more relaxed manner. As such, statements by ambassadors should not be taken as indicators of a state party’s formalized policy position on the issue.)

Three other side events took place at the same time: an event on sea-dumped chemical weapons organized by the International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions, Lithuania and Poland; an event on Japan’s abandoned chemical weapons destruction project in China organized by Japan; and an event entitled “Achieving CWC Universality: the Future” organized by Green Cross International and the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition (CWCC).

During the afternoon, an NGO business meeting was held, facilitated by the Paul Walker (representing the CWCC) and Michael Luhan, head of media and public affairs at the OPCW. The discussion focused primarily on two themes: increasing awareness of survivors’ experiences and education. Shariar Khateri from the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support, gave a detailed presentation on challenges survivors face, as well as current efforts by the OPCW and by others to raise awareness. He noted that studies show that the long-term effects of low-level exposure to mustard gas are nearly the same as the effects of high-level exposure. Michael Luhan then described the OPCW’s efforts to engage with NGOs, emphasizing a meeting last summer between representatives of civil society and the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW, for NGOs to voice their views and concerns. Both he and Daniel Feakes, Senior Policy Advisor at the OPCW, described the OPCW’s outreach and education efforts, in particular efforts at the high-school level.

The last event of Wednesday was a screening of the film series “Fires” and a presentation by Donal Fernandes of his current film (in progress), “My Great Uncles Were Gassed In Ieper”.

Updates from Day 2

Statements in plenary continued today, generally following the major themes of yesterday- scientific and technological developments, Article XI, and Syria; with the added issue of Article VII. For those of you who aren’t quite up-to-date on your CWC Articles, Article VII concerns the national implementation measures states agree to adopt under the Convention. Many states parties emphasized that the success of the CWC is dependent on its global implementation: it is not enough just to have all states sign and ratify the treaty. Several states parties noted that less than 50% of states parties have fully implemented the national measures required under Article VII. Several states parties stressed the role of the OPCW in providing national assistance, while others highlighted their own role in assisting other states to implement Article VII obligations.

Many states states parties spoke strongly about their concern over alleged chemical weapons use in Syria. The United States, in a statement delivered by Rose Gottenmoeller, US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, declared that “the situation in Syria clearly constitutes a serious threat to international peace and security”. States parties also continued to express their support for the UNSG’s decision to launch an investigation into alleged chemical weapons use in Syria, and applauded the support of the Director-General and the OPCW in this investigation.

While incapacitating chemical weapons were only mentioned by a few states, the states parties which discussed them in their national statements were very specific about their concerns. The UK, Switzerland, Germany and Slovakia all heavily emphasized their concern about the use of incapacitating chemical agents other than riot control agents (RCAs). The UK stressed the need to establish norms to “discourage the use of chemicals more toxic than Riot Control Agents for law enforcement purposes” while Switzerland expressed concern that “the silence and uncertainty surrounding the use of toxic chemicals for law enforcement purposes other than riot control agents risks eroding the Convention”. Switzerland will be hosting a side event on this issue on Wednesday afternoon. Germany stated that the final document of the review conference should initiate a discussion on the use of toxic chemicals in law enforcement. The US statement also mentioned incapacitating chemical agents, but expressed a different concern: that “illicit programs could possibly be concealed under the guise of a legitimate treaty purpose, such as law enforcement”.

Additional Notes:

Russia stated that links between the CWC, BWC and the Geneva Protocol will continue to increase in the future, and called upon all states who have reservations to the Geneva Protocol to remove their reservations.

Lithuania circulated a working paper (co-sponsored by Poland and Bulgaria) to being discussions on sea-dumped chemical weapons. Such a paper proposes a significant departure from the traditional scope of the CWC.

The International Committee of the Red Cross hosted a side event, a presentation entitled “Assistance and protection against Chemical Weapons: ICRC’s humanitarian perspective”.

The challenge inspection remains absent from statements in plenary: only Japan has mentioned it (and only briefly).

Last, but not least, NGO statements during plenary will take place during the session on Wednesday morning (April 9). Stay tuned!

Major Breakthroughs in Civil Society Participation

Already, it is clear that the 3rd Review Conference is far more focused on engaging civil society than either of the past two review conferences. While there are still improvements to be made, it seems that the OPCW and many of the member states have recognized the important contributions that civil society can make. By the end of the morning plenary session on the 2nd day of the conference, statements by Director-General Üzümcü, the EU, the UK, Costa Rica, Hungary and Belgium all noted the importance of engaging civil society as a partner to achieve the goals of the Convention. In addition, a working paper by Lithuania, Poland and Bulgaria on sea-dumped chemical weapons notes the work of NGOs in this area and suggests that the OPCW serve as a coordinating hub between states parties, industry, academia and civil society on this issue.

Panelists at NGO side events have already brought up important questions and considerations for the future of the CWC. Details of many issues discussed (as well as several additional issues) can be found in the full ISS report on The future of the CWC in the post-destruction phase. Many states parties have attended the side events hosted by NGOs, and the side event held Tuesday morning on the future of the CWC featured members of civil society, but was sponsored by a state party- Belgium. The Q&A exchanges of both side events which have taken place so far have also demonstrated the willingness of both states parties and the OPCW to engage in active discussions with civil society on these issues.

The OPCW itself has also been far more active in engaging with civil society on many levels, including making resources more accessible to all (civil society and otherwise) who cannot attend the conference in person. Notably, its website contains many more documents from the Third Review Conference than either of the last two review conferences. Documents are also being uploaded quite quickly: national statements in plenary from the 1st day of the conference were uploaded to the website by noon on the 2nd day of the conference. The OPCW is also live-streaming plenary sessions and some side events, and is also active on Twitter during the conference.

Most importantly, NGOs were approved by the Conference to give statements in a special plenary session (TBD). This motion was passed without any contestation- it finally appears that NGO active participation in review conferences has been accepted as legitimate.

Day 1: Let’s talk about Syria

…and talk they did. While nearly all speakers emphasized the importance of this Review Conference as a turning point for the CWC and the need to keep pace with technological advances, the conference did not shy away from addressing the issue of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria, contrary to what many thought would happen. Both the UN Secretary-General and the Director-General of the OPCW, as well as most of the states parties which spoke today, stressed the severity of this topic and reiterated that the use of a chemical weapon, in any context, is utterly unacceptable. Statements were not limited to general condemning chemical weapons use either: the UNSG highlighted the role of the technical mission he has established, with the support of the OPCW, to conduct an investigation into possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. Several states parties referred specifically to this mission in their statements as well.

Iran spoke first, on behalf of the NAM (non-aligned movement) + China, followed by the European External Action Service, on behalf of the EU. The NAM stressed that “the review process should in no way lead to a change in the focus of the Convention” and made no reference in their entire statement to non-state actors. The representative of the NAM also emphasized that “it is imperative to ensure the removal of and to avoid the imposition of any restrictions that are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Convention”, a clear reference to the Australia Group, which has in the past been criticized by NAM states, who view it as a mechanism to circumvent Article XI of the CWC (under which states parties agree to avoid hampering the economic and technical development of other states parties for purposes not prohibited under the Convention). In particular, under Article XI, sub-clause 2c, states parties agree to “not maintain among themselves any restrictions, including those in any international agreements, incompatible with the obligations undertaken under this Convention, which would restrict or impede trade and the development and promotion of scientific and technological knowledge in the field of chemistry for industrial, agricultural, research, medical, pharmaceutical or other peaceful purposes”

The EU statement, in contrast, emphasized the importance of preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons and noted both the contributions of civil society and the threat of possible chemical weapons use by non-state actors. The EU also highlighted its technical and financial contributions to the implementation of the CWC. Both the NAM and the EU, as well as most of the subsequent speakers, stressed their concern over alleged chemical weapons use in Syria and expressed their support for the investigation initiated by the UNSG with the support of the OPCW.

Nearly all speakers stressed the importance of full destruction of chemical weapons stocks as the paramount goal of the Convention. Interestingly, the challenge inspection was not mentioned once during the first day’s proceedings. If the first day of the conference is any indication of the rest, it seems that this issue will be laid aside as delegates focus on more pressing issues… notably Syria.

A side event, hosted by SIPRI, The Nonproliferation Monthly and CBW Events, was held before the afternoon session. Entitled “NGO information resources on the Third Review Conference”, it attracted several representatives of states parties, in addition to many NGOs.

What to Expect from a Convention at a Crossroads

As the Third Review Conference rapidly approaches, it has been heralded as a crucial moment for the CWC. Recent developments have raised important questions regarding the role of the CWC in the future and whether the CWC will be able to respond to new challenges. These developments provide a serious test of the CWC’s relevance and ability to respond to new challenges: in short, to fulfill the nonproliferation aspect of its mandate. With most chemical weapons stocks dismantled, the CWC must look towards the future: what role will it continue to play? In addition, there still remain contentious issues left over from the drafting of the Convention twenty years ago, which have been unaddressed by either the First or Second Review Conference. While it is unlikely that all these issues will be addressed at length in the next two weeks, here is a brief primer on the key issues one can expect to be debated at the conference:

  1. Technological advances: Since before the Second Review Conference, both the OPCW and civil society experts have stressed the need for the CWC to accurately reflect technological developments, notably the increasing convergence of biology and chemistry. Many of these developments have lead to dual-use technologies, which present new verification challenges. As the OPCW’s Scientific Advisory Board’s report notes, technological developments necessitate a review of the OPCW’s lists of scheduled chemicals. The Annex on Chemicals has not once been updated in the treaty’s history. However, there are considerable differences of opinion amongst member states as to what the OPCW’s priorities for verification should be. Regulation and verification issues related to technological advances are likely to take center stage at the conference, particularly in light of the fact that the Third Review Conference is considered to be such a turning point for the CWC.
  2. Riot control agents and other ‘non-lethal’ weapons: During the drafting of the CWC, riot control agents (RCAs) and other non-lethals were one of the most contentious issues. While the treaty prohibits the use of all chemical agents as a method of warfare, it expressly exempts chemicals used for “law enforcement including domestic riot control purposes”. However, this definition has been seriously contested by member states and civil society organizations alike. At the First and Second Review Conferences, member states were reluctant to address this issue, primarily because of political challenges relating to differing interpretations. Since then, calls to rethink the governance of non-lethals have been growing stronger: even the OPCW’s Scientific Advisory Board’s report “considers the term ‘non-lethal’ as inappropriate when referring to chemicals intended for use as incapacitants”. However, while this issue is likely to be heavily debated, the political obstacles which were present during the the drafting of the CWC have not been resolved and as such, it is still not at all clear that an agreement will be reached.
  3. Challenge inspections: The challenge inspection remains the elephant in the room for the member states and the OPCW.  The challenge inspection provision allows any State Party to request the Director General to send an inspection team to verify another State Party’s compliance. If the Director General agrees, there is no right of refusal for the State Party under inspection. The incorporation of the challenge inspection into the original text of the CWC was quite contentious, and its eventual inclusion was heralded as a unique and important verification mechanism. Yet it has not once been used in the history of the CWC. Reports and analyses leading up to both the First and the Second Review Conferences stressed the need to address the lack of a challenge inspection, but, as with the issue of non-lethals, this issue was only briefly discussed at either Review Conference and neither reached a conclusion. However, given the perception that the Third Review Conference is a turning point for the CWC, it is possible there will be a greater impetus to discuss whether or not the challenge inspection is a useful tool.
  4. Non-state actors: The threat of WMD terrorism and of non-state actors using chemical weapons has gained considerable attention in recent years, particularly in the context of UNSC Resolution 1540. While the Second Review Conference was unable to agree on a response to this issue (the final document only included a vague reference to UN resolutions dealing with terrorism), the OPCW has been quite active in helping states implement their CW-related obligations under Resolution 1540. The need to prevent non-state actors from acquiring chemical weapons also relates to many of the other issues facing the Third Review Conference, particularly technological advances. Though a discussion of this issue is long overdue, the progress made by the OPCW and the states parties in fulfilling Resolution 1540 obligations should make this issue less contentious than many of the other issues facing the states parties.

Of course, the degree to which any of these issues will be resolved or agreements will be reached at the Review Conference is an entirely different matter: neither the First nor the Second Review Conference successfully addressed highly contentious issues. Still, there is cause for optimism: the CWC regime as a whole is known for being far less plagued by political deadlock than either the BWC or the NPT. However, despite the importance of the Third Review Conference in guiding the future of the CWC, one should not necessarily expect major breakthroughs or changes.

A final note: Since the Second Review Conference, the OPCW, under the direct encouragement of Director-General Üzümcü, has made a far greater effort to reach out to civil society. While only twenty-one CSOs attended the Second Review Conference, seventy-one are approved to attend the Third Review Conference. Moreover, the possibility of a plenary session where NGOs could give short presentations during the Review Conference, is being considered (although it has not yet been confirmed). If this goes through, it would be a major step forward for civil society participation.