The remarks are delivered at the “30 Years of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC): Histories, Achievements, Challenges” in Harnack-Haus in Berlin and hosted by Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, the Universität Hamburg, and the CWC Coalition of the Arms Control Association.
Hello colleagues and friends. Although I could not be with you all today in person, I did not want to miss the opportunity to join you to commemorate thirty years since the adoption of the Chemical Weapons Convention. I would like to thank the Max Planck Society for hosting this conference, and a special thanks to the organizers for inviting me to offer some thoughts today about the United States’ support to the Convention and the challenges to it that remain.
It is without a doubt that the United States strongly supports the Convention. Nowhere has a Convention seen more success than in eliminating a whole category of declared weapons of mass destruction.
Most recent success is obviously the United States’ completed destruction of its declared stockpiles, completing a three decades-long effort that spanned eight U.S. states and involved intimate cooperation and coordination with local communities to free the country of chemical weapons. This is a remarkable achievement that required a monumental effort from countless Americans who all believed that a world without chemical weapons is a better one. The completion of the U.S. destruction effort shows our commitment to achieving the objective and purpose of the Chemical Weapons Convention: working towards a world free of chemical weapons.
Our efforts join a list of successes for the CWC.
This includes the historic achievement that earned the OPCW – the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the technical body entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the Convention – a Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 with its efforts to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria.
Before 2013, the Organization was focused mainly on the task of destroying historical chemical weapons of U.S. and Russian stockpiles. With Syria’s horrific attack on its civilians at Ghouta and then the regime joining the CWC, addressing chemical weapons in Syria became a major task for the Organization. The OPCW has addressed this herculean task admirably, with persistence, thoughtfulness, and flexibility. And, States Parties have also responded to the regime’s actions through the establishment and funding of the Investigation and Identification Team showing that the international community is united in support of the norm against the use of chemical weapons.
Additional examples of the success of the Convention include the responses of States Parties to Russia’s attempted assassination of the Skripals with a chemical agent in 2018. Following Russia’s actions, States Parties approved the addition of two families of Novichoks to the CWC Annex on Chemicals in November of 2019. States Parties also took action to address the threat of aerosolized central nervous system-acting chemicals in December of 2021 affirming that these are understood to be inconsistent with law enforcement purposes as a “purpose not prohibited” under the Convention.
These were unprecedented successes under the CWC. However, there are still challenges to the Convention that we must face with an unflinching resolve. Chief among these challenges is the continued presence of chemical weapons programs and stockpiles.
Foremost, the Russian Federation must declare and destroy its chemical weapons program and stockpile. Following the Skripal, the Russian Federation again used chemical weapons in its attempt to assassinate Aleksey Navalny. We must continue to demand clear answers from Russia on its undeclared chemical weapons program.
Only by holding accountable the perpetrators of CW use can we deter future use. Open-source reports of the use of riot control agents as a method of warfare by the Russian Federation in Ukraine should concern everyone and act as a reminder that the stakes remain high. States Parties must continue to speak up and take steps to hold violators of the CWC to account.
In addition, we must continue to press the Syrian regime to cooperate with the OPCW and return to compliance with the Convention. As Secretary Blinken noted in his August 21st statement remembering and honoring the victims and survivors of the Ghouta chemical attack, Syria has yet to fully declare and verifiably eliminate its chemical weapons program despite its international obligations under the CWC and UN Security Council Resolution 2118. The Secretary also noted Syria’s refusal to take any responsibility for its vile campaign of chemical weapons use, as is evident from Syria’s nine subsequent chemical weapons attacks confirmed by the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team, also known as the IIT, and the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism. We must continue to seek justice and accountability for those responsible for these horrific acts.
While the United States has been among the strongest supporters of accountability and destruction efforts, we also continue to urge the four remaining non-States Parties to join the CWC. The Organization is preparing for that scenario by planning and gathering technical expertise that includes retaining CW destruction experience.
The United States is pleased to support this effort. With the complete destruction of the declared chemical weapons stockpile and the release of the final reports of the IIT, an even greater importance is placed on ensuring the knowledge and expertise of chemical weapon destruction and investigation is maintained at the OPCW.
This year, as you well know, the OPCW also held its fifth Review Conference. As part of the Review Conference, States Parties focused, in part, on ensuring that the OPCW has the tools it needs to accomplish its mission, including improvements in knowledge management, as I just mentioned.
Given the continued threat of CW use, it is also essential that States Parties to the Convention, including through the OPCW, support capacity building related to deterring, responding to, and investigating CW use. The OPCW’s new ChemTech Center, which opened as a kick-off event for the Review Conference, is a facility that will allow the OPCW to do just that. I have no doubt that in time, the ChemTech Center will prove to be a great resource in support of the Convention.
During the Review Conference, I also recommended that the OPCW improve organizational governance by supporting gender and geographic diversity and inclusion, and expanding education and outreach. The United States, along with Canada, Colombia, Finland, Ireland Sweden, the UK, and Northern Ireland, hosted the first-ever Women, Peace, and Security event at the Conference of States Parties in 2022.
For many years the OPCW has run an initiative focused on increasing gender diversity and equity called the Women in Chemistry Initiative. As part of our efforts to prioritize promoting the Women, Peace and Security agenda, the United States remains committed to advancing the role of women in all their diversity at all levels and in all areas of the Organization. The contributions of women are key to the future vitality of the Organization.
As we look toward the future, the CWC and the OPCW must remain agile and continue to adapt to 21st century challenges. To this end, we must deepen our engagement with stakeholders, including academics, industry, and non-governmental organizations. The OPCW should work to increase the visibility of the Convention, and the involvement of the broader international community, by supporting broader NGO participation in OPCW annual meetings.
We are grateful to have such diverse interests in chemical weapons disarmament. Conferences like this one should continue to be organized and supported to ensure every voice is heard and every perspective is considered as we think of the way forward.
I would like to conclude my remarks by thanking everyone here today for their commitment to making sure chemicals are not used as weapons. The United States is confident in the ability of the OPCW’s leadership and professional staff members to carry out the significant mandates the global community have entrusted to them, and we look forward to working with States Parties to uphold the norms established under the Convention.
Whether you are an advocate, an academic, from government or an NGO, your work to uphold the international norm against the use of chemical weapons is important to global security.
We have achieved much in the past 30 years. We eliminated chemical weapons stockpiles that no longer exist and made the world a much safer place in the process. But our work here is not yet done. As you reflect on how far we have come, and where we go from here, I wish you fruitful discussions at this conference and beyond. Thank you.