Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is a multilateral treaty banning chemical weapons and requiring their destruction within the stipulated time. The full official name of the treaty is the “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction“. The treaty entered into force on 29 April 1997. CWC was the world’s first multilateral disarmament agreement to provide the elimination of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction within a fixed time frame.
The Convention aims to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction by prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, retention, stockpiling, transfer or use of chemical weapons by the States Parties. The States Parties, in turn, must take the necessary steps to enforce that prohibition in respect of the persons within their jurisdiction. As of August 2022, 193 Member States have become parties of the CWC and accepted its obligations.
CWC is an arms control treaty administered by the ‘Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)‘, an intergovernmental organisation established in April 1997. OPCW acts as the legal platform for the specification of the CWC provisions. Its headquarter is in The Hague (The Netherlands). The Conference of the States Parties, the principal organ of the OPCW, oversees the implementation of the CWC, promotes its goals, and reviews compliance with the treaty. The Technical Secretariat of the organisation conducts inspections to ensure the obedience of the Member States.
The CWC augments the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which bans the use but not the development or possession of chemical and biological weapons. Negotiation for the CWC began in 1980 at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD).
On 3 September 1992, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) submitted its annual report to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This report also included the text of the Chemical Weapons Convention. UNGA approved the Convention on 30 November 1992. On 13 January 1993, the United Nations Secretary-General opened the Convention for signature in Paris. The CWC remained open for signature until it came into force on 29 April 1997.
Key points of the CWC
- To prohibit the production and use of chemical weapons.
- To destroy all chemical weapons (including chemical weapons abandoned outside the State Parties’ territory).
- Destruction (or monitored conversion to other functions) of chemical weapons production facilities.
- Assistance between OPCW and the State Parties in the case of the use of chemical weapons.
- An OPCW inspection regime for the production of chemicals which might be converted into chemical weapons.
- International cooperation in the peaceful use of chemistry in relevant areas.
About 96% of the world’s chemical weapons have been destroyed after the CWC implementation. The Convention prohibits ‘riot-control agents’ as a method of warfare. “Riot Control Agent” means any chemical not listed in a Schedule, which can produce rapidly in humans sensory irritation or disabling physical effects which disappear within a short time following termination of exposure. The Members should also declare riot-control agents in possession of them.
A unique feature of the Convention is its incorporation of the ‘challenge inspection‘, whereby any State Party in doubt about another State Party’s compliance can request a surprise inspection. Under the challenge inspection procedure, the State Parties have committed themselves to the principle of any time, anywhere inspection with no right of refusal.
Before the Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force, 165 Member States signed the Convention, allowing them to ratify the agreement after obtaining domestic approval. Any State, which does not sign this Convention before it enters into force, may accede to it at any time thereafter. As of March 2021, 193 Member States, representing over 98% of the world’s population, are party to the CWC.
Of the 4 United Nations Member States that are not parties to the treaty, Israel has signed but not ratified the treaty, while Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan have neither signed nor acceded to the Convention. Taiwan though not a Member State, has confirmed that it complies with the treaty.
Member States are represented at the OPCW by their Permanent Representative. For the preparation of OPCW inspections and preparation of declarations, Member States have to constitute a National Authority.
- India signed the treaty on 14 January 1993 in Paris.
- India enacted the Chemical Weapons Convention Act of 2000 to implement the CWC.
- This Act established a National Authority Chemical Weapons Convention (NACWC) for implementing the provisions of the Convention.
- NACWC is an office in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. This institution, formed in 2005, is the chief liaison between the Indian Government and OPCW.
- Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
- National Authority Chemical Weapons Convention (NACWC).