Treaties relating to chemistry

Geneva Protocol

At the peace conference in The Hague of 1899 and 1907, participants agreed to refrain in war from using projectiles whose sole purpose was to disseminate asphyxiating or harmful gases. Nevertheless, generals and science worked hand in hand during the First World War to use more than 100‘000 tons of chemical warfare agents against soldiers and civilians. In view of such use of chemical weapons states, among them Switzerland, signed the Geneva Protocol of 1925. It was designed to apply universally in order to internationally ban warfare with chemical agents. The treaty, however, failed to curtail offensive research programmes, to prohibit the production or stockpiling of chemical weapons.

End of the sixties, disarmament efforts began in earnest, whereas with the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 (in force since 1975), the time appeared to be more favourable for actions in the biological than in the chemical field; a fact that finally led to separate treatment of the two categories of weapons of mass destruction which had originally been jointly addressed in the Geneva Protocol.

Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is a milestone in multilateral negotiations because it is aimed at eliminating an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. The convention, which is binding according to international law, prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, dissemination, transfer and use of chemical agents and obliges all member states to disclose and destroy their chemical weapon stocks. Not only is a time frame presented for the destruction of existing stocks, implementation of the convention in the member states is evaluated according to a robust verification regime. In The Hague the Organisation for the Prohibition of chemical Weapons (OPCW) ensures that the CWC provisions are implemented in the member states.

Since its entry into force on 29 April 1997, countries like Russia, the USA, India or Syria have reported a total of 72,524 tons of CW to the OPCW. By 2015, 90 percent of the declared stocks were destroyed. The remaining 10 percent must be destroyed by 2023. In addition, all former production plants have been destroyed or have been converted into civilian facilities according to strict requirements. The provisions also apply to the declared chemical weapons and production plants in Syria, a country torn by civil war, which have not yet been destroyed. The provisions of the CWC do not apply to CW that was buried before 1 January 1977 or sunk in bodies of water prior to 1 January 1985 and do not have to be separately salvaged and destroyed. However, the treaty does not exclude the destruction of CWs from an earlier date (prior to 1946). Its provisions apply to CW relics left by Japan in China or CW relics in European countries from the period of both world wars. As these CW relics are widely dispersed in former battle areas and are hidden in mud, rivers, trenches and fields, their destruction is delayed for decades.

The CWC is very close to being universal. Angola joined the as 192nd member state in October 2015. South Sudan will soon follow suit. Such global success puts the remaining three non-member states Egypt, Israel (signed but not ratified) and North Korea under increasing pressure to join. Switzerland signed the CWC on 14 January 1993 and ratified it on 10 March 1995.

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