Chemical Weapons Convention

Chemical Weapons Convention

IUPAC Briefs Delegates to CWC Review Conference

by Edwin D. Becker

< CWC First Major review completed

On 1 May 2003, IUPAC completed a two-year project to advise the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) by briefing delegates to the First Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Conventions in The Hague, Netherlands. The presentation drew on findings from the IUPAC Workshop on Impact of Scientific Advances on the Chemical Weapons Convention, held in Bergen, Norway, in July 2002.

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Chris Murphy presenting the IUPAC report to the Open Forum of Non-Governmental Organizations, 1 May 2003

Dr. Christopher K. Murphy (U.S. National Research Council), who had served as coordinator of the IUPAC workshop, made the presentation. The IUPAC briefing highlighted four key issues:

1. Technical Challenges to the CWC. New synthetic methods (including biosynthesis) provide novel routes to toxic chemicals that were not envisioned when the CWC was negotiated over a decade ago. In addition, globalization of the chemical industry has resulted in an increased number of modest size batch facilities in many countries that could be used for illicit purposes. Future developments in using database mining to search for toxic effects in new chemicals and introduction of microreactors, which have little resemblance to normal chemical plants, pose additional risks. Ongoing efforts by the industry to mandate responsible handling of toxic substances may alleviate these risks, but IUPAC pointed to the need for the OPCW Technical Secretariat to remain abreast of current developments in order to recognize the potential for misuse during inspection of worldwide chemical production facilities.

IUPAC urged that the Technical Secretariat be equipped with smaller, lighter, and more portable instruments

2. Advances in Analytical Techniques. Counterbalancing the challenges posed by improved synthetic methods are advances in analytical chemistry that provide more sensitive ways to detect small amounts of toxic substances. IUPAC urged that the Technical Secretariat be equipped with smaller, lighter, and more portable instruments, such as GC/MS (gas chromatograph/ mass spectrometer), which are currently available, and to acquire newer instruments that do not require sampling (e.g., portable isotopic neutron spectrometers). The workshop also identified trends in analytical methods that will provide future instrumental methods, such as "lab on a chip" technology and immunoassays. IUPAC noted that with continually improving instrumental sensitivity, agreement is needed on a practical "zero" to indicate absence of a substance.

3. Technical Capability of the Secretariat. Continuing professional development of the Technical Secretariat is essential to increase awareness of new chemicals and production techniques, to take advantage of advances in analytical methods, and to make intelligent investments in new equipment. IUPAC urged OPCW to provide adequate resources to ensure that the Secretariat retains and enhances is technical capabilities. Regular seminars and training sessions are needed.

4. Education and Outreach. There is a need for greater worldwide understanding and appreciation of the CWC and its impact. IUPAC urged that the OPCW Secretariat and the National Authority in each of the 151 States Parties work together with national and international scientific organizations and with chemical industry associations to improve education and outreach to the worldwide scientific community. IUPAC and other scientific organizations should continue to assist OPCW and its States Parties by advising on continuing advances in relevant science and technology and by recommending experts who could be called on as needed.

IUPAC and other organizations emphasized that a principal strength of the treaty lies in the general purpose criterion. The CWC totally prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, or retention of chemical weapons. However, in order to promote the peaceful uses of chemicals, it defines chemical weapons, in part, as "toxic chemicals and their precursors, except where intended for purposes not prohibited under this Convention, as long as the types and quantities are consistent with such purposes." The italicized phrase focuses on the purposes of handling chemicals. It thus permits the CWC to be applied to any substances developed in the future, not only those chemicals that were specifically listed in the treaty, but prevents the treaty from being misapplied to chemicals, however toxic, intended for peaceful purposes.

The briefing, presented at the Peace Palace in The Hague, was part of an Open Forum designed to allow IUPAC and other non-governmental organizations to address issues outside the formal sessions of the Review Conference. Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter, director general, OPCW, opened the Forum by noting the importance of information about scientific and technical advances, the role of the international chemical industry, legal issues, and the status of destruction of world chemical weapons stockpiles. The Forum also included an in-depth discussion of the implications of the use of non-lethal chemical weapons, such as riot-control agents.

The IUPAC briefing followed a formal report to the director general of OPCW, which was later published in Pure and Applied Chemistry 74, 2323–2352 (2002). Director General Pfirter commented favorably on the report and briefing in conversations with IUPAC Vice President Leiv Sydnes and myself, who represented the Union at the Review Conference. He recognized the utility of continuing independent scientific advice to augment OPCW’s own Scientific Advisory Board and expressed hope that IUPAC would encourage dissemination of information about the CWC and the work of OPCW.

Page last modified 30 June 2003.

Copyright © 2002-2003 International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

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Chemical Weapons Convention

First Major Review Completed

In 2002, IUPAC organized a workshop and later prepared and published a technical report on the Impact of Scientific Developments on the Chemical Weapons Convention. The timing of that project was planned to ultimately coincide with the first quinquennial review of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. IUPAC Secretary General E. D. Becker and Vice President L. Sydnes represented the Union, which had an observer status at the Review Conference held in late April–early May 2003. Edwin D. Becker <> has been IUPAC secretary general since 1996 and has been a member a various IUPAC bodies for 30 years. He is presently a scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.

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Edwin D. Becker

by Edwin D. Becker

Delegates from the 151 States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) assembled in The Hague, Netherlands, for two weeks (April 28 to May 9) to review the first six years of this treaty that is "determined for the sake of all mankind, to exclude completely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons." Also present were observers from about 20 non-government organizations, including IUPAC.

The Review Conference addressed questions regarding the timely destruction of all declared chemical weapons, implementation by States Parties of legislation to make any breach of the Convention a crime, more resource-efficient means to stem the proliferation of chemical weapons, and ways to enhance the peaceful uses of chemicals among States Parties.

The conference provided a strong reaffirmation of the importance of the treaty. Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter, director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) stated, "Let us convey the message loud and clear that in the fight against weapons of mass destruction the overwhelming majority of the international community stands firmly united behind the Chemical Weapons Convention."

Underlying the discussions was the recognition that advances in science and technology will materially affect future implementation of the treaty—a point that IUPAC has emphasized in its report to OPCW and the States Parties (see article on page 10). In opening addresses at plenary sessions, several delegates referred to scientific and technological issues. Ambassador Priscilla Jana (South Africa) said, "We are satisfied with the report of IUPAC on the impact of scientific developments on the Chemical Weapons Convention. Among its conclusions, this report states that although newer technologies, such as the advances in biomolecular science and in chemical synthesis, must be under regular review, they do not materially change the situation regarding the risks to the Convention by toxic chemicals that are not listed in the Schedules." Other delegates pointed out informally that the report by IUPAC was the first by an international scientific organization to address such issues for any of the several international arms control treaties.

The CWC entered into force in 1997 and mandated the OPCW to eliminate chemical weapons forever. OPCW inspectors monitor and verify the destruction of all declared chemical weapons and the destruction or conversion of all declared chemical weapons production facilities. The OPCW monitors global chemical industry to ensure that no new chemical weapons are produced, and it promotes the peaceful uses of chemistry. Each Member State has the right to receive assistance and protection from OPCW if threatened by or attacked with chemical weapons.

The CWC now serves over 90% of the global population, and over 98% of global chemical industry is subject to its verification regime. Five States Parties have declared—and are obligated to destroy—over 70 000 metric tons of chemical warfare agent filled into 8.6 million munitions and containers. These chemical weapons have been entirely inventoried and are re-inspected systematically to provide confidence that there has been no loss or diversion of these weapons awaiting destruction. Over 10% of chemical warfare agents and over 25% of the munitions containing these agents have already been destroyed under continuous verification by OPCW.

Progress in the destruction of global chemical weapons production capacity has also been significant. All declared chemical weapons production facilities have been deactivated. Over two-thirds of the declared chemical weapons production plants have either been destroyed or converted to peaceful purposes. In the past six years, over 880 inspections have been undertaken at more than 160 chemical weapons related sites around the world. In addition, since 1997, the OPCW has conducted a total of over 550 inspections at over 445 industrial facilities on the territory of 52 States Parties.

Further information on the CWC is available at <>.

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Edwin D. Becker <> has been secretary general since 1996 and has been a member of various IUPAC bodies for 30 years. He is presently a scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.

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Copyright © 2002-2003 International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

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