Harvard Sussex Program
on chemical and biological warfare armament and arms limitation

The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)

Text of the Convention

List of Signatures and deposited ratifications (link to the continually-updated page on the website of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons)

The efforts to negotiate a comprehensive global ban on chemical weapons were based on the 1925 Geneva Protocol which outlawed the use of chemical and biological weapons. Intergovernmental consideration of a chemical and biological weapons ban was initiated in 1968 within the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee (which, after numerous changes of name and composition, became the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in 1984). Attention in the first few years became focused on the negotiation of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which entered into force in 1975. Article IX of that treaty included the undertaking to "continue negotiations in good faith with a view to reaching early agreement" on the prohibition of chemical weapons.

In 1980 the negotiators decided to establish what would become the CD Ad Hoc Committee on Chemical Weapons to "define, through substantive examination, issues to be dealt with in the negotiations". In 1984 the CD mandated the committee to begin negotiating a chemical weapons ban and in that year the committee began drafting a convention by way of a "rolling text", the first time this negotiating method had been used in a disarmament treaty. The changing international political climate in the late 1980s and early 1990s allowed the committee to make much progress. The use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war, and the possibility of their use in the Gulf War gave added impetus to the negotiations.

On 3 September 1992 the CD submitted to the United Nations General Assembly its annual report, which contained the text of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the full title of which is Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction. The General Assembly commended the Convention in its resolution of 30 November 1992 (A/RES/47/39). The United Nations Secretary-General then opened the Convention for signature in Paris on 13 January 1993. The CWC remained open for signature until its entry into force on 29 April 1997, 180 days after the deposit of the 65th instrument of ratification (by Hungary).

The CWC not only bans the use of chemical weapons, but unlike the Geneva Protocol also bans their development, production, stockpiling and transfer and requires that all existing stocks of chemical weapons be destroyed within 10 years. Like the BWC, the CWC is also underpinned by a "general purpose criterion" which defines the substances to which its prohibitions apply. According to Article VI of the CWC, states parties must adopt measures to ensure that toxic chemicals and their precursors are only used for purposes not prohibited by the Convention. The general purpose criterion allows the Convention to keep up with technological change and, in the case of dual-use chemicals, to exempt application for peaceful purposes from its prohibitions. The Convention lists 43 chemicals and families of chemicals for the application of special procedures, but, by virtue of the general purpose criterion, the prohibitions of the treaty are not restricted to them.

However, in contrast to the BWC, the CWC includes extremely detailed provisions for the compliance verification and establishes an international organization, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), to oversee their application. The OPCW is based in The Hague and has a staff of approximately 500. The Organizationís principal body, the Conference of the States Parties meets annually, usually in May, while its governing body, the Executive Council, generally meets quarterly.

The CWC consists of 24 main articles and three annexes. Article I outlines the basic prohibitions of the treaty. Article II includes definitions of various terms used throughout the CWC. Article III obliges states parties to submit declarations of their past programmes, including information on current holdings of chemical weapons and production facilities. Articles IV and V lay out states partiesí responsibilities with regard to chemical weapons and their production facilities. Article VI requires states parties to allow a degree of verification of chemical industry facilities working with certain "dual-use" chemicals. Article VII contains rules to facilitate the implementation of the CWC by each state party. Article VIII establishes the OPCW and defines the powers and functions of its three constituent organs - the Conference of the States Parties, the Executive Council and the Technical Secretariat. Article IX details procedures through which states parties can resolve any questions related to non-compliance which they may have. Article X gives states parties the right to develop protective programmes against the use of chemical weapons and outlines assistance which can be provided by the OPCW, also in the event of an attack by chemical weapons. Article XI states that the CWC should not inhibit the economic and technological development of states parties or hamper free trade in chemicals and related technology and information. Article XII includes measures to redress a situation of non-compliance, including sanctions. The remaining 12 articles are shorter and deal with legal issues such as the CWCís relationship to other international agreements, settlement of disputes, amendments, duration and withdrawal, status of the annexes, ways in which states can join the Convention and the way in which it comes into force, reservations and the depositary.

The three annexes - on chemicals, on implementation and verification and on the protection of confidential information - are an integral part of the CWC. The annex on chemicals lists in three schedules 43 chemicals and families of chemicals which were selected for the application of special verification procedures. The annex on implementation and verification provides great detail on the conduct of the CWCís verification provisions, from declarations and inspections to challenge inspections and investigations of alleged use. The annex on the protection of confidential information sets out principles for the handling of confidential information, measures to protect sensitive installations and data during inspections and procedures in case of breaches of confidentiality.

The first CWC review conference took place in May 2003 in The Hague and the second review conference in April 2008. Subsequent review conferences will take place at five-yearly intervals.