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Chemical Weapons Convention
Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction
Drafted 3 September 1992[1]
Signed 13 January 1993[1]
Location Paris and New York[1]
Effective 29 April 1997[1]
Condition Ratification by 65 states[2]
Signatories 165[1]
Parties 190 (as of October 2013)[1]
Complete List
Six UN states are not party: Angola, Burma, Egypt, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan.
Depositary UN Secretary-General[3]
Languages Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish[4]

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is an arms control treaty which outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons and their precursors. The full name of the treaty is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction and it is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an intergovernmental organization based in The Hague, Netherlands. The treaty entered into force in 1997.

The parties' main obligation under the convention is to prohibit the use and production of chemical weapons, as well as the destruction of all chemical weapons. The destruction activities are verified by the OPCW.

As of January 2013, around 78% of the declared stockpile of chemical weapons has been destroyed.[5][6] The convention also has provisions for systematic evaluation of chemical and military plants, as well as for investigations of allegations of use and production of chemical weapons based on intelligence of other state parties.

As of October 2013, 190 states have given their consent to be bound by the CWC. Two of the remaining six states, Israel and Myanmar, have signed but not ratified the agreement.[1] Most recently, Syria deposited its instrument of accession to the CWC on 14 September 2013 and agreed to its provisional application pending entry into force on 14 October 2013.[7]


Intergovernmental consideration of a chemical and biological weapons ban was initiated in 1968 within the 18-nation Disarmament Committee, which, after numerous changes of name and composition, became the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in 1984.[8] On 3 September 1992 the Conference on Disarmament submitted to the U.N. General Assembly its annual report, which contained the text of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The General Assembly approved the Convention on 30 November 1992, and The U.N. 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 convention augments the Geneva Protocol of 1925 for chemical weapons and includes extensive verification measures such as on-site inspections. It does not, however, cover biological weapons.

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

Headquarters in The Hague

The convention is administered by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which acts as the legal platform for specification of the CWC provisions (the Conference of the States Parties is mandated to change the CWC, pass regulations on implementation of CWC requirements etc.). The Technical Secretariat of the organization furthermore conducts inspections plants to ensure compliance of member states. These inspections target destruction facilities (where permanent monitoring takes place during destruction), chemical weapons production facilities which have been dismantled or converted for civil use, as well as inspections of the chemical industry. The Secretariat may furthermore conduct "investigations of alledged use" of chemical weapons and give assistance after use of chemical weapons.

The 2013 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the organization because it had, with the Chemical Weapons Convention, "defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law" according to Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.[9][10]

Key points of the Convention

  • Prohibition of production and use of chemical weapons
  • Destruction (or monitored conversion to other functions) of chemical weapons production facilities
  • Destruction of all chemical weapons (including chemical weapons abandoned outside the state parties territory)
  • Assistance between State Parties and the OPCW in the case of use of chemical weapons
  • An OPCW inspection regime for the production of chemicals which might be converted to chemical weapons
  • International cooperation in the peaceful use of chemistry in relevant areas

Controlled substances

The convention distinguishes three classes of controlled substance,[11] chemicals which can either be used as weapons themselves or used in the manufacture of weapons. The classification is based on the quantities of the substance produced commercially for legitimate purposes. Each class is split into Part A, which are chemicals that can be used directly as weapons, and Part B which are chemicals useful in the manufacture of chemical weapons. Separate from the precursors, the convention defines toxic chemicals as "[a]ny chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals. This includes all such chemicals, regardless of their origin or of their method of production, and regardless of whether they are produced in facilities, in munitions or elsewhere."[12]

  • Schedule 1 chemicals have few, or no uses outside of chemical weapons. These may be produced or used for research, medical, pharmaceutical or chemical weapon defence testing purposes but production above 100 grams per year must be declared to the OPCW. A country is limited to possessing a maximum of 1 tonne of these materials. Examples are sulfur mustard and nerve agents, and substances which are solely used as precursor chemicals in their manufacture. A few of these chemicals have very small scale non-military applications, for example minute quantities of nitrogen mustard are used to treat certain cancers.
  • Schedule 2 chemicals have legitimate small-scale applications. Manufacture must be declared and there are restrictions on export to countries which are not CWC signatories. An example is thiodiglycol which can be used in the manufacture of mustard agents, but is also used as a solvent in inks.
  • Schedule 3 chemicals have large-scale uses apart from chemical weapons. Plants which manufacture more than 30 tonnes per year must be declared and can be inspected, and there are restrictions on export to countries which are not CWC signatories. Examples of these substances are phosgene, which has been used as a chemical weapon but which is also a precursor in the manufacture of many legitimate organic compounds, and triethanolamine, used in the manufacture of nitrogen mustard but also commonly used in toiletries and detergents.

The treaty also deals with carbon compounds called in the treaty discrete organic chemicals.[13] These are any carbon compounds apart from long chain polymers, oxides, sulfides and metal carbonates, such as organophosphates. The OPCW must be informed of, and can inspect, any plant producing (or expecting to produce) more than 200 tonnes per year, or 30 tonnes if the chemical contains phosphorus, sulfur or fluorine, unless the plant solely produces explosives or hydrocarbons.

Member states

Participation in the Chemical Weapons Convention

  Signed and ratified
  Signed but not ratified

165 states signed the CWC prior to its entry into force in 1997, allowing them to ratify the agreement after obtaining domestic approval.[1] Following the treaty's entry into force, it was closed for signature and the only method for non-signatory states to become a party was through accession. As of October 2013, 190 states, representing over 98 percent of the world's population, are party to the CWC.[1] Of the six United Nations Member States that are not parties to the treaty, two have signed but not yet ratified the treaty (Burma and Israel) and four states have not acceded to the treaty (Angola, North Korea, Egypt, and South Sudan). Angola and Burma have committed to ratifying the CWC.[14][15][16] Taiwan, though not a Member State, has stated that it complies with the treaty.[17]

Key organizations of member states

Member states are represented at the OPCW by their permanent representative. This function is generally combined with the function of Ambassador. For the preparation of OPCW inspections and preparation of declarations, member states have to constitute a national authority.

World stockpile of chemical weapons

The total world declared stockpile of chemical weapons by the parties to the convention was about 13,024 tons in September 2013.[18] A total of 71,315 tonnes of agents, 8.67 million munitions and containers, and 70 production facilities were declared to OPCW before destruction activities began. In addition, several countries that are not members are suspected of having chemical weapons, especially Egypt, Israel, and North Korea. Some member states (including Iran) have been accused by others of failing to disclose their stockpiles.

Timeline of destruction

The treaty set up several steps with deadlines toward complete destruction of chemical weapons, with a procedure for requesting deadline extensions. No country reached total elimination by the original treaty date although several have finished under allowed extensions.

Reduction Phases
Phase % Reduction Deadline Notes
I 1% April 2000  
II 20% April 2002 Complete destruction of empty munitions, precursor chemicals,
filling equipment and weapons systems
III 45% April 2004  
IV 100% April 2007 No extensions permitted past April 2012

Progress of destruction

By May 2012, a total of 50,619 tonnes or 71.10% of declared chemical weapons (of Category 1, which is the main category) had been destroyed, as well as all Category 3 declared chemicals. Category 2 remained at 52% complete. More than 45% (3.95 million) of chemical munitions and containers have been destroyed.[19] (Treaty confirmed destruction totals often lag behind state-declared totals.) Only about 50% of countries had passed the required legislation to outlaw participation in chemical weapons production.[20]

Three state parties, Albania (included 16,678 kilograms of mustard agent, lewisite, adamsite, and chloroacetophenone),[21] an unspecified state party[21] (widely believed to be South Korea)[22] and India[22] have completed the destruction of their stockpiles. Russia and the United States, which declared the largest amounts of chemical weapons, are in the process of destruction and have processed 57% and 90% of their respective stockpiles.[6][23] The deadline set for both countries of April 2012, however, was not met.[6] Libya has started destruction and has destroyed 85% of its stockpile.[24] Iraq has yet to start destruction. Japan and China started in October 2010 the destruction of World War II era chemical weapons abandoned by Japan in China by means of mobile destruction units and reported destruction of 35,203 chemical weapons (75% of the Nanjing stockpile).[23][25]

Syria, which had long been suspected of possessing chemical weapons, acknowledged them in September 2013 and agreed to put them under international supervision.[26] On 14 September Syria deposited its instrument of accession to the CWC with the United Nations as the depositary and agreed to its provisional application pending entry into force effective 14 October.[7][27] The OPCW announced that this provisional application request had been circulated with its member states.[28] An accelerated destruction schedule was devised by Russia and the United States on 14 September,[29] and was endorsed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118[30] and the OPCW Executive Council Decision EC-M-33/DEC.1.[31] Their deadline for destruction is the first half of 2014.[31] Syria gave the OPCW an inventory of its chemical weapons arsenal[32] and started its destruction in October 2013, 2 weeks before its formal entry into force, while applying the convention provisionally.[33][34]

Country Date of Accession/
Entry into force
Declared Stockpile
(Schedule 1) (tonnes)
% OPCW (verified destroyed)
(Date of Full destruction)
Albania Albania 29 April 1997 16.7 100% (11 July 2007)[35] n.a.
South Korea South Korea 29 April 1997 100% (end of 2008)[21][36] n.a.
India India 29 April 1997 1,044 100% (April 2009)[22] n.a.
United States United States 29 April 1997 31,500 90%[23] 29 April 2012 (intends by 2023)[37]
Russia Russia 5 December 1997 40,000 57%[23] 29 April 2012 (pledged by 2015-20)[37]
Libya Libya 5 February 2004 - 85%[24] 29 April 2012 (planning: Dec. 2016)[24]
Iraq Iraq 12 February 2009 - 0% -
Syria Syria 14 October 2013[38] 1,300[39] not reported first half of 2014 (Executive Council Decision)[31]
Japan Japan (in China) 29 April 1997 - ongoing 2022 (commitment)[40]

Iraqi stockpile

When Iraq joined the CWC in 2009, it declared "two bunkers with filled and unfilled chemical weapons munitions, some precursors, as well as five former chemical weapons production facilities" according to OPCW Director General Rogelio Pfirter.[22] No plans were announced at that time for the destruction of the material, although it was noted that the bunkers were damaged in the 2003 war and even inspection of the site must be carefully planned. Most of Iraq's chemical weapons were previously destroyed under a United Nations reduction program after the 1991 Gulf War. Approximately five hundred degraded chemical munitions have been found in Iraq since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to a report of the US National Ground Intelligence Center. These weapons contained sarin and mustard agents but were so badly corroded that they could not have been used as originally intended.[41][42]

Financial support for destruction

Financial support for the Albanian and Libyan stockpile destruction programmes was provided by the United States. Russia received support from a number of nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Canada; some $2 billion given by 2004. Costs for Albania's program were approximately 48 million U.S. dollars. The U.S. had spent $20 billion and expected to spend a further $40 billion.[43]

Known production facilities (of chemical weapons)

Thirteen States Parties have declared chemical weapons production facilities:[44]

  •  Bosnia and Herzegovina
  •  China
  •  France
  •  India
  •  Iran
  •  Iraq
  •  Japan
  •  Libya
  •  Russia
  •  Serbia
  •  United Kingdom
  •  United States
  • 1 non-disclosed state party (referred to as "A State Party" in OPCW-communications; said to be South Korea)[45]

As of the end of March 2012, all 70 declared facilities had been deactivated and 92% (64) have been certified as destroyed or converted to civilian use.[46] In 2009, Iraq declared five production sites which were put out of commission by damage in the 1991 and 2003 wars; OPCW inspections were still required.[22]

Related international law

  • Australia Group of countries and the European Commission that helps member nations identify exports which need to be controlled so as not to contribute to the spread of chemical and biological weapons
  • 1990 US-Soviet Arms Control Agreement
  • General Purpose Criterion, a concept in international law that broadly governs international agreements with respect to chemical weapons
  • Geneva Protocol, a treaty prohibiting the first use of chemical and biological weapons

Worldwide treaties for other types of arms

Chemical weapons

  • Lethal Unitary Chemical Agents and Munitions
  • Chemical warfare
  • Weapons of mass destruction
  • Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
  • Tear gas
  • Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons, The international agreement related to Syrian accession to the CWC


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  3. Chemical Weapons Convention, Article 23.
  4. Chemical Weapons Convention, Article 24.
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