Becoming the largest weapon-control treaty

[Cross-posted from The Trench]

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has just announced the accession of Angola to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The country deposited its instrument of accession with the UN Secretary-General on 16 September, which means that it will become a party to the CWC 30 days later, that is, 16 October.

Angola will thus be the 192nd state to join the OPCW. No other treaty limiting possession or use of a particular type of weaponry can boast that many parties. The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has 191; the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) 173.

Middle East – The hard nut

According to the OPCW statement, only four states now remain outside the treaty: Egypt, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan.

North Korea presents the simplest problem. There is no diplomatic interaction at all, so expectations that Pyongyang will join the CWC any time soon are as good as zero.

Some optimism exists about South Sudan. Efforts are underway to secure succession (Sudan has been a party since June 1999) as part of a broader package that includes offers of assistance to rebuild the war-torn state. Having said that, the date of OPCW membership keeps getting pushed back into a less definite future in parallel with the floundering efforts to bring peace to the country.

Egypt remains of course obsessed by Israel’s nuclear weapons, while Israel continues to fail to see any benefits in collective security in its pursuit of a peace-first policy in a region that seems to be descending ever further into violence and instability. The fact of the matter is that neither country would lose an iota of national security by joining the CWC; quite on the contrary. Symbolism can be a powerful demotivator …

And what about Palestine?

Among the NPT’s membership is the State of Palestine, which acceded to the treaty as the 191st party in February 2015. It deposited its instrument of accession in London and Moscow (but not Washington). On 10 September the UN General Assembly voted to fly the Palestinian flag outside the UN building—together with that of another non-member observer state maintaining a permanent observer mission at the UN Headquarters, the Holy See.

OPCW statements do not list this Palestine in its statements on universality. It should be noted that UN membership is not a precondition for becoming a party to the CWC. Article XX speaks about accession of ‘any state’; Article XXIII designates the UN Secretary-General as depository and provides no grounds for rejecting any state. The Vatican joined the CWC in June 1999.

As far as I know, Palestinian authorities have not made any statements about acceding to the CWC. It may be that some low-level contacts are taking place between the OPCW and the Palestinian Mission to the EU in Brussels, but if this is the case, it is definitely not yet causing any ripples.

Is there an abundance of caution as a consequence of US laws that defund UN agencies that accept Palestine as a full member, thereby seemingly legitimising its quest for full statehood? While it is true the the USA is the single biggest contributor to the OPCW budget, reality is that (1) the OPCW is not a UN agency, and (2) as noted above, the CWC is not an invitation-only club. Unlike, for example, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), OPCW members do not get to vote on the accession of another state.

So, for the OPCW, four or five more countries before full universality, that’s the question!

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3 Comments on “Becoming the largest weapon-control treaty”

  1. Johnboy says:

    Perhaps this is a pointless question, but what are the legal implications of “full universality”?

    I understand that the Nuremburg Tribunal ruled that the universal incorporation of the Hague Regulations into the state practices of all countries prior to WW2 meant that those regulations had become “declaratory of the laws and customs of war”, and so the regulations continued to apply to all combatants even after states who hadn’t signed the Hague Convention 1907 joined the war on the side of the Allied Powers.

    Or, I guess, put another way: if there were “full universality” w.r.t. accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention then would it become pointless to even attempt to withdraw from that convention in the future, since full universality would make the OPCW “declaratory of the laws and customs of war”, and therefore it doesn’t matter if your signature is still on the paper.

    Or do I have this all wrong?

    • JP Zanders says:

      Well, I will leave that one to the legal experts on this forum. To me it is closely linked to the positivist doctrine in international law.

      Beyond that, I would just venture to say that given its near-universality, the CWC has prevented some states from taking unilateral action against the Syrian regime after the sarin attacks in Ghouta in August 2013 and forced them to address the elimination of CW through international cooperation. Thus far in the civil war, this has been the only successful diplomatic activity involving the cooperation of all belligerent parties.

  2. Denis says:

    Government of Israel (GoI) thumbs its nose at BWC, CWC, NPT, and USG continues to not only support GoI but to support its intransigence. Didn’t Obama just play a major role in sinking the latest IAEA resolution to inspect GoI nukes?

    The last 8 years there has been a welcome absence of the inflammatory rhetoric we got from 20 yrs of Reagan and the Bushes and so we don’t hear much about rogue states and axes of evil lately. But it seems to me that if you were going to write a dictionary definition of “rogue state” it would be any state that hasn’t joined at least one of BWC, NPT, and CWC. GoI, I’m looking at you, x3.

    How the USG could continue to support that rogue state from the year it was conceived (and I was conceived) to the present is one of the most depressing mysteries of my life. Basically what it tells the world is that for US politicians shekels in the pocket are more important than being labelled a hypocrite.

    The irony is that one of the recognized causes of what Theodore Herzl referred to as the “Jewish Problem” of the early 20th C. was the refusal of Jews to become integrated into their communities. That is precisely what we have with GoI — a refusal to become integrated with the world community and agree to abide by its standards and mores with respect to the most evil of weapons. The term “Jewish Problem” is no longer applicable. It’s now the GoI Problem.


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