THIS WEEK marks the seventh anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a landmark international treaty that requires member states to destroy their stocks of chemical weapons and renounce their future production. Despite impressive achievements, much remains to be done to rid the world of these heinous weapons.
So far, 162 countries -- more than three-quarters of the world's nations -- have signed and ratified the treaty. Six member states (the United States, Russia, India, South Korea, Albania, and now Libya) have declared chemical weapons stockpiles that are being destroyed under the watchful eyes of inspectors from the treaty-implementing agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Nevertheless, of the 72,000 metric tons of chemical weapons declared to the organization, only about 9,000 tons (12.5 percent) have been destroyed. Russia and the United States, which account for about 40,000 metric tons and 31,000 metric tons respectively, have lagged behind the destruction schedule specified in the treaty. Already, both countries are planning for a one-time, five-year extension, pushing the deadline back from 2007 to 2012 -- and even this date may be optimistic.
Meanwhile, the chemical weapons stockpiles in the United States, which are at Army depots in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Utah, and Washington state, are potentially vulnerable to terrorist theft, diversion, or attack.
Despite the security threat associated with these deteriorating and dangerous weapons, the Bush administration has requested cuts in funding for chemical demilitarization in the 2005 federal budget.
This money must be restored. Eliminating the remaining US chemical weapons stocks in a prompt yet safe and environmentally sound manner should be a key element of our homeland security policy.
It is also vital that the United States and other countries provide greater financial assistance to Russia's effort to destroy the vast chemical arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union. The Pentagon should deliver on all of the funding promised under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program for construction of a nerve agent destruction facility near the Russian town of Shchuch'ye in Siberia.
Congress should also pass a multiyear waiver to lift restrictions on the release of previously appropriated Threat Reduction funds. In addition, the Global Partnership Initiative by the Group of Eight industrialized nations and others should make chemical weapons destruction in Russia a top priority.
Beyond adequate funding, efforts to destroy chemical weapons require transparency, community outreach, and involvement as well as emergency preparedness measures to ensure the safety of local populations. Although these "outside the fence" measures are crucial to project success, they are all too often neglected by defense and foreign ministry officials.
Another weakness of the treaty is that five key countries in the Middle East -- Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria -- remain outside of it, even though some of them are believed to possess large stocks of chemical weapons.
In February, Libya took the far-sighted step of joining the treaty and pledging to destroy its stockpile (consisting of 23 metric tons of mustard gas) and its former chemical weapons production facility at Rabta.
Taking advantage of the Libyan example, the United States and its allies should offer financial, trade, and security benefits to all holdout countries that agree to join the treaty. Eliminating chemical weapons from the Middle East would be a major step forward for the war on terrorism, US nonproliferation policy, and the search for peace and security in a troubled region.
Over the past seven years, the Chemical Weapons Convention has shown that it can make a valuable contribution to ridding the world of these weapons. Now the United States, Russia, and other nations must devote the political attention and financial resources needed to finish the job.
Jonathan B. Tucker is a senior researcher at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
Paul F. Walker is the director of the Legacy Program at Global Green USA.
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