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The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Daniel Horner

Libya Finishes Destroying Mustard Agent

Daniel Horner

Libya has destroyed its last remaining stockpiles of sulfur mustard, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced in a Feb. 4 press release.

With the completion of the effort, which was marked with a Feb. 4 press conference in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, Libya has destroyed the last of its declared material designated as “Category 1” under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). That category covers chemicals that pose the highest risk. The recently destroyed material was considered particularly important and sensitive because it had been loaded into munitions, which were destroyed along with the sulfur mustard.

Under the regime of Moammar Gaddafi, Libya joined the CWC in 2004, declaring 24.7 metric tons of sulfur mustard, all of it in the form of bulk agent. It began destroying its stockpiles of sulfur mustard in October 2010 and was able to eliminate about 13.5 metric tons before a heating unit in the disposal facility broke down in February 2011. The breakdown came at about the same time as the beginning of the protests that ultimately toppled Gaddafi later that year.

Shortly after coming to power, the new Libyan government declared additional quantities of items and material related to chemical weapons, including sulfur mustard. Unlike the previously declared stocks, the new ones were in “artillery projectiles and aerial bombs,” as the OPCW described it in the Feb. 4 release. That declaration brought the total of Category 1 material to 26.3 metric tons, according to the OPCW.

After the disposal facility resumed operation last year, Libya completed destruction of the bulk mustard agent in May. At the Tripoli press conference, Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdulaziz said the destruction of the more recently declared material was finished on Jan. 26, according to the OPCW press release.

In comments posted on the OPCW website, Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü cited Canada, Germany, and the United States for their assistance to the Libyan effort. Representatives of those three countries joined Abdulaziz and Üzümcü at the Tripoli press conference.

Canada provided 6 million Canadian dollars ($5.4 million) to rebuild infrastructure at the destruction site and fund various aspects of the operation, while Germany and the United States provided destruction equipment, Üzümcü said. The U.S. assistance also covered a range of other areas, including safety and security, and Washington has offered to continue providing technical assistance in destroying the remaining polymerized mustard agent in canisters, Üzümcü said. Polymerized mustard agent is toxic, but cannot be used to fill chemical weapons, he said.

Libya has about 850 metric tons of Category 2 chemicals, about 60 percent of the declared quantity, that it still must destroy, Üzümcü said.

Libya, along with Russia and the United States, was one of three declared possessors of chemical weapons that did not meet the CWC deadline of April 29, 2012, for destroying all of its arsenal. Syria, which now is in the process of destroying its chemical arsenal, was not a CWC party in 2012.

At the time, Libya agreed on a schedule under which it would complete destruction of Category 2 material by 2016. (See ACT, June 2012.) Üzümcü said in his comments he was “confident” Libya could meet the schedule.

Libya has destroyed its last remaining stockpiles of sulfur mustard, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced in a Feb. 4 press release.

Syrian Chemical Removal Seen As Slow

Daniel Horner

Amid increasing frustration over the pace of Syria’s removal of chemical weapons materials for overseas destruction, Syrian authorities are in talks with key countries and experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations on a revised timetable for the removal effort, according to media reports and spokesmen for some of the parties in the negotiations.

Syria has proposed a timetable that would take until about the end of May, but the U.S. government “believes that the Syrians are more than capable of moving these chemicals to Latakia on a shorter timetable,” a State Department spokesman said in a Feb. 28 e-mail to Arms Control Today. Latakia is the port city in northwestern Syria where the Syrian government is collecting the chemicals from across the country before sending them overseas for destruction.

Under the experts’ plan, “removal of all chemicals from Syria could be done in less than 40 days,” the spokesman said. He indicated that the UN Security Council and the OPCW Executive Council would take up the issue of the revised timetable during their respective meetings scheduled for the first week of March. The experts’ plan has not been made public.

Under a schedule set last November by the Executive Council, the highest-priority materials were supposed to leave the country by Dec. 31. All other materials that are part of the overseas destruction program were to leave by Feb. 5. The rest of the approximately 1,300 metric tons of chemical agents that Syria declared is to be destroyed within the country.

The removal dates were set with an eye to a June 30 deadline for destruction of the chemical agents, which was established last September by the Executive Council and the Security Council. (See ACT, October 2013.)

Syria and its ally Russia have argued that the civil war in Syria is a primary cause of the holdup in shipping out the chemicals. (See ACT, January/February 2014.)

In a Feb. 21 statement to the Executive Council, Robert Mikulak, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, said 95.5 percent of the first-priority chemicals and 81.1 percent of the second-priority materials remain in Syria. He accused Syria of “continu[ing] to drag its feet.”

He cited a Feb. 6 UN Security Council press statement in which the council “noted growing concern…about the slow pace of the removal of the chemical weapons from the territory of Syria, which has placed efforts behind schedule.” At the Feb. 21 Executive Council meeting, Mary Whelan, the Irish ambassador to the OPCW, warned that “[t]he credibility of the OPCW is at stake.”

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At a Feb. 6 press briefing at the United Nations, Sigrid Kaag, the special coordinator of the joint OPCW-UN mission to oversee the removal and destruction operation, while noting the “volatile and precarious” conditions in the country, called for an “intensification of effort” by Syria to achieve increased “pace, volume, and predictability.”

The figures cited by Mikulak encompassed shipments that left Latakia on Jan. 7, Jan. 27, and Feb. 10. On Feb. 26, Kaag announced a fourth shipment, which she said was composed of sulfur mustard. The vast majority of the priority chemicals are key chemical components of nerve agents such as VX and sarin, along with a small amount of sulfur mustard, which is in weapons-usable form.

At her Feb. 6 briefing, Kaag had cited the mustard agent to illustrate a caution she raised about putting excessive stock in the removal numbers. Although the mustard agent accounts for only 1.5 percent, or about 20 metric tons, of the total Syrian stockpile, it is “the most harmful chemical agent.” Thus, “once that gets removed for onward destruction, a significant harmful agent is out of country,” she said.

In the Feb. 26 announcement, she did not indicate if the shipment encompassed the entire Syrian stockpile of sulfur mustard.

At the Feb. 6 UN briefing, she said the June 30 deadline is “the important one” and “can be met.” She said that

“[i]ntermediate milestones ideally should have been met,” but have not been. She referred to work on a new plan “against which further benchmarking can take place.”

Although the delays in removal have shortened the time available for out-of-country destruction of the Syrian chemicals, a Russian official said in a Feb. 24 e-mail to Arms Control Today that he was “not aware of anyone promoting an idea of changing the June 30 deadline.” That date “remains feasible and that is what Syria is trying to do,” he said.

But he described the deadline by saying, “As far as Syria is concerned, removal effectively eliminates its capability. When removal and on-site activities are done by June 30, Syria will have met its obligations.”

Mikulak appeared to be responding directly to that interpretation in his Feb. 21 statement when he said, “[D]estruc-tion—not just removal—of Syrian chemical weapons must be completed by June 30, 2014.”

Under the plans for the destruction of the Syrian chemicals, 560 metric tons, according to the OPCW, will be taken by an international convoy from Latakia to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro. The chemicals then will be transferred to a U.S. ship, the MV Cape Ray. Once the chemicals are on board, the Cape Ray will move to international waters and neutralize them using two mobile units that it is carrying.

The Cape Ray left Portsmouth, Va., on Jan. 27 and is docked at Rota, Spain, where it will stay until Syria has completed the removal of the chemicals from its territory, the Defense Department said in a Feb. 13 press release.

About 150 metric tons of Syrian chemicals are to be incinerated in the United Kingdom.

The second-priority chemicals, totaling about 500 metric tons, and the liquid waste from the destruction operation on the Cape Ray are to be handled through commercial disposal. The OPCW announced Feb. 14 that it had awarded the contracts for that work to Ekokem of Finland and Veolia Environmental Services Technical Solutions, a U.S. subsidiary of a French company.

Syria is destroying about 120 metric tons of isopropanol domestically. In a Feb. 10 statement, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü said 93 percent of that chemical had been eliminated.

Amid rising frustration over the pace of Syria’s removal of chemical weapons material for overseas destruction, Syrian authorities are being pressed to speed up the effort.

 

Removal of Chemicals From Syria Begins

Daniel Horner

The international operation to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal has successfully removed the first batches of chemical weapons agents from the country, the head of the operation said Jan. 7.

The material left the Syrian port of Latakia on a Danish cargo vessel with an international escort, Sigrid Kaag, the special coordinator of the operation, said in a statement. The operation is a joint effort of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations.

At a Jan. 7 press briefing, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki welcomed the “continued progress toward the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program” but said that “much more needs to be done.”

The chemical weapons agents have been stored at 12 sites around the country, which has been the scene of a fierce civil war for the last three years, and must be transported to Latakia, a Mediterranean port on Syria’s northwest coast. Kaag said the material was from two sites, but did not indicate the quantity.

China, Denmark, Norway, and Russia are providing maritime security, she said.

Denmark and Norway are leading the convoy. In a joint Dec. 6 press release, the Danish and Norwegian governments said the removal convoy would include naval frigates and specialized cargo vessels from both countries. Denmark will lead the operation, and Norway will be deputy commander, the press statement said.

Kaag said the Danish vessel, the Ark Futura, “will remain at sea awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port.”

Syria has declared about 1,300 metric tons of chemical agents. Of that amount, slightly more than 700 metric tons are the “priority” materials, which include key chemical components of nerve agents such as VX and sarin along with a small amount of mustard agent.

According to figures provided by the OPCW, 560 metric tons are to be destroyed aboard a U.S. ship, the MV Cape Ray. The transfer from the Danish or Norwegian ship to the U.S. ship is to take place at an Italian port. At a Jan. 2 briefing aboard the Cape Ray as it was docked in Portsmouth, Va., Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said that “exactly where and how that [handover] process will take place hasn’t been finalized yet.”

The Cape Ray will be using a technology called the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System to neutralize the chemical weapons agents. In its application to chemical weapons, hydrolysis is a process that breaks down the chemical agent with hot water and a caustic compound such as sodium hydroxide.

Üzümcü Accepts Nobel Peace Prize

Calling the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) a “major triumph in the history of multilateralism,” Ahmet Üzümcü accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Dec. 10 on behalf of the international body responsible for putting the treaty into effect.

Üzümcü, director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said the convention, which entered into force in 1997, showed “for the first time in the history of multilateral diplomacy…that consensus-based decision-making can yield practical, effective, and, above all, verifiable results in disarmament.”

The OPCW has been in the spotlight since Syria announced last September that it would get rid of its chemical weapons arsenal. The OPCW and the United Nations are coordinating the destruction effort.

Syria is the 190th and most recent country to join the CWC, and Üzümcü devoted a good part of his speech to the situation there. But he noted that six countries are not parties to the treaty, and he urged them to join.

“No national interest can credibly outweigh either the security or economic benefits of adhering to the global chemical ban,” he said.

Israel and Myanmar have signed the treaty, but not ratified it. Angola, Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan have not signed it.

In comments in Oslo on Dec. 11, Üzümcü said Angola, Myanmar, and South Sudan are “very close” to joining, Agence France-Presse reported.

The OPCW has verified the destruction of more than 80 percent of all chemical weapons declared worldwide under the CWC, Üzümcü said in his Nobel speech. The week before the speech, he reported to the annual meeting of CWC parties that the United States had destroyed 24,924 metric tons, or almost 90 percent, of its Category 1 chemical weapons, while Russia had destroyed 30,795 metric tons of such weapons. Category 1 weapons are based on chemicals and precursors that pose a “high risk to the object and purpose” of the CWC.

The Russian and U.S. holdings represent the vast majority of chemical weapons declared under the CWC.

The Nobel Peace Prize is accompanied by a cash award of about $1.2 million. In his speech, Üzümcü said the money would be used to “fund annual OPCW awards.”—DANIEL HORNER

    Kendall and his colleagues at the briefing repeatedly emphasized that the technology, developed by the Defense Department, is one that the United States has used to destroy the chemical weapons in its own arsenal. The version on display at Portsmouth, however, is different in that it is mobile and can be deployed on land or at sea.

    One new factor that has to be taken into account is variations in ocean conditions, known as the “sea state.” Planners have built in extra time to allow for “sea states where we can’t operate,” Kendall said.

    UK Role in Destruction

    The United Kingdom announced on Dec. 20 that it would destroy 150 metric tons of the priority chemicals. According to a press release from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the chemicals are to be shipped to a UK port and then transported “to a commercial site to be destroyed by incineration.”

    Incineration and neutralization are the two main methods of chemical weapons destruction.

    In a Jan. 6 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Defense Department spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said the UK effort is “an incredible help” for the United States and the OPCW-UN joint mission as they work to ensure that the Cape Ray completes its mission “as quickly as can safely be done.”

    Another portion of the Syrian chemical holdings, as well as the liquid waste from the destruction operations on the Cape Ray, is to be handled through commercial disposal. (See ACT, December 2013.) The OPCW has issued a “call for proposals” from private firms for the disposal work with a deadline of Jan. 19. That portion constitutes about 500 metric tons, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan said Jan. 8. About 120 metric tons of isopropanol will be destroyed in Syria, he said.

    Shipboard destruction of the chemical agents became a leading option as one country after another said late last year it would not undertake that task on its own territory. But the United States had begun preparing for the possibility of shipboard destruction in early 2013 and provided funding to develop the mobile hydrolysis units last year, according to the Defense Department.

    Under the timetable set by a Nov. 15 OPCW Executive Council decision document, “effective destruction” of the priority chemicals is to be completed by March 31. At the Jan. 2 briefing, Kendall said he expected the Cape Ray to leave Portsmouth “within about two weeks.”

    Kendall said the operation would comply with all relevant international and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. The Cape Ray belongs to the Transportation Department’s Maritime Administration, and “[w]e’re going to give the ship back to the Maritime Administration as clean as it was when we got it,” he said.

    Missed Deadline

    The start of the loading operation at Latakia came a week after a Dec. 31 deadline set by the OPCW Executive Council for the removal of the priority chemicals from Syria. The missed deadline was the first one since Syria announced in mid-September that it would give up its chemical weapons arsenal.

    In the run-up to the year-end deadline, leaders of the Syrian chemical disarmament operation signaled that it might not be met. In a Dec. 17 statement to the Executive Council, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü said that “schedules have been disrupted by a combination of security concerns, clearance procedures in international transit and even inclement weather conditions.”

    A Dec. 28 statement by the OPCW-UN joint mission said Syria “needs to intensify its efforts” to make sure it meets its “international obligations.” In his Dec. 17 statement, Üzümcü emphasized that Syria “will be responsible for all the packing and safe transportation of chemicals until they are loaded onto maritime vessels.”

    Officials involved in the decision-making on the operation have given generally consistent accounts of the causes for the delays, emphasizing the dangers and difficulties of transporting the chemical weapons agents through a country in the midst of a civil war. Üzümcü has said such factors are “beyond the control” of Syria, the other countries, and the OPCW-UN joint mission, but urged the Syrians to “look at all possible options for risk mitigation.”

    In a Dec. 31 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Russian official said the removal route for the chemical weapons “runs in some stretches close to the Lebanon border and that is where the militants have recently intensified their forays into the Syrian territory operating from their bases in Lebanon.” Responding to Üzümcü’s comment on risk mitigation, the Russian official asked rhetorically, “How is Damascus supposed to mitigate that?”

    Russia, a longtime ally of Syria, is providing supplies such as armored trucks for the overland transport of the chemicals to Latakia.

    Last September, the United States appeared poised to launch punitive military strikes in response to the alleged use by the Syrian government of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov negotiated a deal with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry under which Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons. The OPCW Executive Council and the UN Security Council subsequently endorsed the plan, setting June 30 as the date by which all of Syria’s chemical weapons should be destroyed. The Executive Council later filled in intermediate dates such as the one for removing the highest-priority chemical weapons agents by Dec. 31.

    OPCW and U.S. officials have referred to the dates as “milestones” or “target dates” rather than “deadlines,” a point that U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf reiterated at briefings on Dec. 30 and Jan. 2. At the latter briefing, she noted that the effort involves “trying to destroy all these weapons in the middle of a civil war” and said, “We knew this would take time, but we do need to keep seeing forward progress, and in fact, we have.”

    In the Nov. 15 decision document, which set the intermediate deadlines, the OPCW Executive Council gave Üzümcü some leeway to alter the destruction timetable. If he determines “in close consultation” with the countries involved in the destruction that “it will not be possible” to meet the timetable, “he should immediately notify the [Executive] Council, specifying the circumstances, and propose an alternative date for [the council’s] consideration and approval, with a view to completing the destruction as soon as possible,” the document says. In his Dec. 17 statement, Üzümcü said he would “keep the Council informed of the progress [of the removal operation] and…promptly communicate any problems that impact the given timelines.”

    The first batches of chemical weapons agents have left Syria on a Danish cargo ship, the official overseeing the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal said.

    U.S. Policy on Nuclear Pacts Detailed

    Daniel Horner

    Marking the apparent end of a three-year internal review, the Obama administration in December outlined its policy on negotiating agreements for nuclear cooperation, with a senior administration official describing it as a “principled approach, but also pragmatic and practical.”

    The official, speaking at a Dec. 12 event, was referring in particular to the U.S. strategy for preventing the spread of technologies for uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing. Those technologies are considered sensitive because they can be used to produce nuclear explosive material. The central question in the review was how hard the United States should press its potential nuclear trade partners to forgo enrichment and reprocessing activities.

    Some lawmakers disagree with the administration’s approach and are introducing legislation that would give countries a strong push to forgo these activities.

    In recent interviews, current and former administration officials generally stressed the consistency of the current policy with earlier versions. In a Dec. 10 interview, a State Department official said the administration was “restating long-standing policy” with some additional “nuance.”

    The administration did not release a written explanation of the policy in conjunction with the Dec. 12 event. The most detailed written description of the policy that is publicly available appears to be a letter sent a month earlier by Julia Frifield, assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs. In a Nov. 12 letter to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Frifield said the United States “employs a range of measures—both multilateral and bilateral—to help minimize the spread of [enrichment and reprocessing] facilities around the world.” She was responding to an Oct. 28 letter from Corker to Secretary of State John Kerry in which the senator criticized the administration policy as “inconsistent and confusing, potentially compromising” U.S. nonproliferation policies and goals.

    In her response, Frifield said the administration’s approach “allows for flexibility in structuring legal and political commitments, while meeting the requirements of U.S. law and maintaining our principled stance” on enrichment and reprocessing activities.

    The distinction between legal and political commitments has been a key part of the debate. In sending to Congress the 2009 nuclear cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), President Barack Obama highlighted the “legally binding obligation” contained in Article 7 of the pact, which says that the UAE “shall not possess sensitive nuclear facilities within its territory or otherwise engage in activities within its territory for, or relating to, the enrichment or reprocessing of material.” (See ACT, June 2009.)

    Some nonproliferation advocates in Congress and elsewhere have said other new U.S. cooperation agreements should follow that model. But in the Dec. 10 interview, the State Department official described the UAE agreement as “something of an aberration” and said it would be “unrealistic” to think that the United States could reach such an agreement with “all other countries.” The UAE made the commitment not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing activities in part as a result of a “political calculation” stemming from its desire to conclude an agreement with the United States and make sure that Congress did not reject the pact, he said. The UAE lies across the Persian Gulf from Iran, which has been pursuing a controversial nuclear program that includes uranium enrichment.

    Drawing Distinctions

    Vietnam, by contrast, did not have to accept a legally binding obligation when the Obama administration initialed a nuclear cooperation agreement in October. (See ACT, November 2013.) The text of the agreement has not been made public, but administration officials have described the pact as containing a Vietnamese political commitment to refrain from pursuing sensitive nuclear activities. In the letter to Corker and elsewhere, the administration has said this commitment is sufficient to satisfy its nonproliferation policy because of the combination of a number of factors, including Vietnam’s nonproliferation record, its pledge to rely on the international nuclear fuel market to meet its fuel needs, and its lack of enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

    In his letter, Corker cited the Vietnam agreement as not requiring Hanoi to “forswear” such capabilities. In contrast, Corker said, “My staff was recently assured by a State Department official that any potential nuclear cooperation agreement with Jordan would require a legally-binding commitment by the Jordanians not to pursue” enrichment and reprocessing activities.

    Frifield did not address the Jordan agreement in her letter, and other administration officials have declined to comment on Corker’s description, saying the department does not comment on ongoing negotiations. In the Dec. 10 interview, the State Department official did not comment on the status of the Jordan talks, but said that an indigenous enrichment or reprocessing effort “makes absolutely no sense” for Jordan.

    In his May 2009 message to Congress on the UAE agreement, Obama said the pact “has the potential to serve as a model for other countries in the region that wish to pursue responsible nuclear energy development.” It has not been clear if the administration intended to apply the model specifically to the Middle East or to other regions as well.

    The State Department official said the U.S. determination of what is required in a cooperation pact with another country takes into account the “totality of [the country’s] nonproliferation credentials” and includes a “full intelligence assessment.” A country’s “regional context” could “weigh heavily” in the analysis, as there could be a “contagion” effect from pursuing sensitive nuclear activities, particularly in a “volatile” region, he said.

    Legislation Introduced

    Meanwhile, on Dec. 12, two senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), introduced legislation that would “provide greater Congressional oversight of nuclear agreements with foreign countries and protect against the threat of nuclear proliferation,” according to their Dec. 13 press release.

    The bill would modify the congressional review process for nuclear cooperation agreements, in part by making a country’s willingness to renounce enrichment and reprocessing activities a key factor in that process. Under current U.S. law, most nuclear cooperation agreements can enter into force without a congressional vote approving them if they lie before Congress for 90 days of so-called continuous session without Congress blocking them.

    To qualify for that approach, an agreement must include nine specific nonproliferation conditions, including comprehensive international safeguards, adequate physical security, and the U.S. right of “prior approval” of enrichment or reprocessing of U.S.-origin nuclear material by the recipient country. Agreements that do not meet all those conditions require a vote of approval in both chambers of Congress.

    Under the bill introduced by Ros-Lehtinen and Sherman, cooperation pacts would have to go through the more difficult vote-of-approval process unless the potential U.S. nuclear trade partner makes a “legally binding” commitment that it will not pursue enrichment or reprocessing activities and meets a number of other new nonproliferation criteria.

    At a Dec. 11 event organized by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said he would introduce a Senate version of the bill.

    The bill, H.R. 3766, is a slightly modified version of legislation introduced in 2011, H.R. 1280. (See ACT, May 2011.) That bill was approved by the House foreign affairs panel, but stalled after that.

    In a Dec. 18 interview, NPEC Executive Director Henry Sokolski said the bill introduced by Ros-Lehtinen and Sherman would establish a process of “due diligence.” By giving Congress a stronger hand in reviewing nuclear cooperation agreements, lawmakers would be reclaiming authority that Congress had previously “delegated” to the executive branch, said Sokolski, a former U.S. nonproliferation official.

    But in a Dec. 17 interview, Stephen Rademaker, also a former U.S. nonproliferation official, emphasized that the bill would make it more difficult for cooperation agreements that do not meet the new nonproliferation criteria to pass muster with Congress. By “rigid insistence” on renunciation of enrichment and reprocessing activities, the approach that the bill takes would drive countries with nascent nuclear power programs to seek nuclear supplies from countries that have less-rigorous nonproliferation standards than the United States does, said Rademaker, now a principal with the Podesta Group, a lobbying and public relations firm, and a consultant to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the lobbying arm of the nuclear industry.

    Although a global norm against sensitive nuclear activities is “a worthy objective,” U.S. policymakers also have to think about the nonproliferation implications of not signing nuclear cooperation agreements with a country where renunciation of enrichment and reprocessing activities proves “unachievable,” Rademaker said. That is especially true if the country in question seems determined to proceed with its nuclear program, he said.

    Rademaker also argued that even if a country’s commitment to refrain from enrichment and reprocessing activities is legally binding, it is not a “really effective bar.” A violation of such a commitment would allow the United States to cut off nuclear cooperation, but it would not have a legal effect on the country’s cooperation with other suppliers, and “it’s not like we can take them to the World Court,” Rademaker said.

    U.S. officials say they will continue to use civilian nuclear cooperation agreements as a tool to restrict the spread of sensitive nuclear technologies through an approach that combines principle with pragmatism.

    Securing the 2014 Summit: An Interview With Dutch Nuclear Security Summit ‘Sherpa’ Piet de Klerk

    Interviewed by Kelsey Davenport and Daniel Horner

    As the Dutch “sherpa” for the nuclear security summit scheduled to take place March 24-25 in The Hague, Piet de Klerk is the host country’s lead coordinator and negotiator for the event. Before taking that position in mid-2012, he was the chairman of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. From 2011 to 2013, he was the Dutch ambassador to Jordan. In previous postings with the Dutch Foreign Ministry and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he has held numerous positions dealing with nuclear arms control and nonproliferation.

    De Klerk spoke with Arms Control Today at the Dutch embassy in Washington on Oct. 31. He described the goals for the upcoming summit, the announcement earlier this year of a 2016 summit, and the planned transfer of responsibility for certain nuclear security activities to the IAEA and other institutions once the summit process ends.

    The Hague summit will be the third; the others were in Washington in 2010 and Seoul in 2012.

    The interview was transcribed by Eric Wey. It has been edited for clarity. A condensed version appeared in the December 2013 issue of Arms Control Today.

    ACT: Thank you very much for taking the time to sit down with Arms Control Today. We very much appreciate your time. First, could you tell us what the Dutch goals are for the 2014 summit?

    De Klerk: There are different levels at which you discuss these goals. First of all, at the level of the event, the goal is a successful summit without incidents that everyone looks back at with pleasure and satisfaction. From a substantive perspective, we would be very happy if the important goal of preventing and combating nuclear terrorism has been brought once more to the forefront and that those concerned have not only the feeling but the conviction that they have contributed to this goal by substantively strengthening the international nuclear security architecture and by further consolidating and better protecting the materials in question, the weapons-usable material, highly enriched uranium and plutonium.

    Of course, we have the results of the Washington and Seoul summits, and some of the same elements will come back in the conclusions of the leaders. But we have the hope and the expectation that, on a number of issues, we can do better than that.

    Now, at the level of more-specific Dutch priorities, we’ve set up this summit in close cooperation with our nuclear industry and our think tank world. There will be three separate events, and we can talk about that later, but that synergy between these three we hope will also come back in the conclusions of the summit. One of the substantive parts where we think we can formulate stronger conclusions has to do with the more effective interaction of government and industry with the regulator in the middle. That’s one thing, and the other thing is [that] the stronger involvement of the world of science and technology is important—for example, the important role of forensics in combating nuclear smuggling. So I think these are a few more national priorities, if you want, within this broader goal of preventing and combating nuclear terrorism.

    ACT: In formulating these priorities, how has the announcement of a 2016 summit changed your thinking of what can be accomplished and what goals you might like to see carried forward in 2016?

    De Klerk: Interesting question. We knew in advance that President [Barack] Obama was going to announce in Berlin that he wanted a new 2016 summit in the United States, but in practical terms, it hardly has had any effect on our preparations. We have also agreed with our American colleagues, with whom we work together very intensively, that the motto will remain, “Full steam ahead to The Hague.” So in that sense, nothing changes in the preparations for our summit.

    At the same time, it’s clear that some of the goals that we had in the early days—that we can get the amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material in force[1]—[are] not progressing well, so that [entry into force of the convention] will be put, unavoidably, in the basket of the 2016 results. There are a number of other longer-terms goals that you can formulate in 2016 in stronger terms than you can in 2014, but I haven’t thought in any detail about the goals for 2016, and I can’t speak of course for the U.S. administration. I am convinced of the fact that they’ll only start thinking seriously about goals after the summit in The Hague, which makes sense because then you can assess where we are and how we plan ahead for the next two years.

    ACT: So to bring it back, then, to Dutch priorities: After the last sherpa meeting in Ottawa in October, there was a press release put on the summit website saying the Netherlands believes that progress can be made in two areas: “closer cooperation between government and the industry on nuclear security” and “the sharing of information on the quality of nuclear security systems.”[2] Can you tell us in a little more detail what you’re looking for in terms of commitments or language in these two areas?

    De Klerk: The relation between government and industry is difficult in the sense that the relationship differs from country to country. In some countries, the nuclear industry is predominantly state owned; in others, it’s purely private industry. So it’s difficult to put forward hard-and-fast rules, but by and large, we think that you gain quite a lot by looking again at that relationship and also at how an independent regulator works with both sides. How you should regulate is changing. For example, in the draft communiqué, we use a term that I hope survives further discussions, “performance-based inspections.” The modern way of fulfilling your regulatory goal is not so much to come with your checklist of this and that, but you regulate with the goal of, “What should the outcome be?” In the end, how does a company need to perform? It’s a combination of the checklist and performance in the end. This is all formulated in a few sentences, but we want to capture changes in regulating and thereby better protecting nuclear material.

    ACT: And then, the second point, the sharing of information on the quality of nuclear security systems, can you say any more to that?

    De Klerk: The question is how you can provide information on the quality and effectiveness of your nuclear security systems to others—neighboring countries, the public, international organizations, treaty bodies, what have you—without giving away operational details because you don’t want anybody to know at what time, just as an example, your guards are walking around the perimeter. That is the concept of assurances: how can you assure others that you have done your homework and you have set up an effective nuclear security system? For example, by showing your neighbors that you have invited an IAEA review team and you have followed up on their recommendations.

    ACT: There was an industry summit in Seoul, but there was some criticism, particularly from the nongovernmental community, that they were very separate events. So can you tell us if you’re trying to integrate the industry summit more with the Dutch summit and how you would like to see these working in collaboration?

    De Klerk: I spoke, when you asked your previous question about more-effective interface between government and industry. That holds true here as well. Yes, there was this earlier industry summit in Seoul, but there was hardly any interface and interaction between the two processes. The lesson that we have drawn from that is that we decided to task Urenco, very shortly after we were picked as the chairman for the next summit, with organizing the nuclear industry summit and [doing so] in such a way that preliminary conclusions will be available in time for the sherpas to look at them. Because only then can you have at least the chance that some of the recommendations, or lessons learned, or conclusions of the industry can be absorbed by the sherpas.

    Of course, we have our own responsibility. If we think the industry’s package of recommendations is nonsense, then we don’t do anything with it. But we expect there to be thoughtful conclusions, and then we need to have a debate within the group of sherpas whether we make these conclusions our own or we refer to the industry summit and welcome these conclusions or—I don’t know what we are going to do, but the whole timing is set up in such a way that preliminary conclusions are available in time to look at them.

    Different countries around the table have different views on whether leaders should explicitly refer to such other gatherings as those of captains of industry. So I don’t know how that debate will end, and in the end, the chairman can’t force that issue. The only responsibility that we felt was to set up the process in such a way that there would be the possibility of dovetailing. So far, at our last meeting in Ottawa, we had representatives of the different industry working groups during part of the session around the table and they shared where they were in the process. I think that, before mid-December, they will come up with a joint statement.

    ACT: What form do you envision this cooperation taking? What is it that industry can do to do support government and government can do to support industry? I know in other fields dealing with nonproliferation, there are initiatives on export controls, there is talk of sharing information, and so on. So what kind of cooperation or forms of cooperation would you see as examples of potential results here?

    De Klerk: Some of that I don’t know. We are waiting for conclusions from their side. I had in mind that governments often issue regulations and industry implements them. Now, some of these regulations don't work in practice, as we all know; and it would be much better if, in all countries, you had some sort of process of consultation beforehand. I know, for example, the U.S. has a period of 120 days or 90 days where anyone can comment. That’s one way of doing it. We want to stimulate that sort of interaction. And in the end, you have to part ways—industry has its own interests and the government has its own interests—but at least there should be this interaction.

    ACT: One of the U.S. goals for the summit process is to strengthen the global existing nuclear security architecture. A White House official recently told Arms Control Today that the “mortar” between various layers of international organizations, particularly those dealing with nuclear security, needs to be improved before the summit process ends. Do you see the 2014 summit as helping strengthen the interaction between these organizations?

    De Klerk: Yes, I think so. I think it is very important that we have these 3+1 international organizations [the United Nations, the IAEA, and Interpol, plus the European Union] as observers in the process. They take part in the conversation, prompted and unprompted, and they bring a lot of experience to the table. The summit is an event with a recurring time of two years. But in these organizations—in the IAEA and, in some specific ways, in the UN and Interpol— much nuclear security work is being done on a permanent basis. That is helpful for strengthening the mortar.

    I used the terminology “strengthening nuclear security architecture.” Both are metaphors from the building world. I think our term “architecture” is more appropriate than the mortar analogy is. It is really about the house and the different building materials and how it all hangs together, and you can see already how the fact that you have these summits helps the IAEA in putting nuclear security higher on the agenda. The summit process has already had the effect of strengthening the architecture and making combating nuclear terrorism and improving nuclear material security a priority. That is undeniably one of the important effects of the summit process.

    ACT: Shifting a little more toward the development of standards, it seems there needs to be a balance in the summit process between developing more-rigorous standards and avoiding encroachment onto countries’ sovereignty. How do you strike that balance?

    De Klerk: “Standards” is more a term from the nuclear safety world, but it’s true that, as you say, it is very much up to individual countries to decide on their nuclear security regime. Security is even more sensitive and more confidential in many of its aspects than a nuclear safety regime. So it’s not surprising, at least not to me, that the balance is more to the national responsibilities. At the same time, you’ve seen that nuclear security has made a spurt in recent years in terms of international cooperation, with many guidance documents in the IAEA coming to fruition. I don’t think it’s necessarily linked to the summit process, but the summit process has had quite an impact. If you start with the revised convention on physical protection, the fifth revision of the physical protection guidelines in [IAEA] INFCIRC/225, the IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources, other guidance on sources in the [IAEA] Nuclear Security Series—quite a lot has been built up over the last years.

    Of course, formally, even when states agree on or bless these recommendations as IAEA recommendations, then an individual state is not bound to implement them. That remains the state's responsibility, but there you have a bridge between international organizations and national responsibilities because these recommendations, adopted by consensus, are being implemented by most states. I had to check the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources recently and came to the conclusion, formulated in the conclusions of the draft communiqué [for the upcoming summit], that considerably more states have now implemented that sort of guidance.

    So over time, you will see a greater harmony in how different countries regulate sources or nuclear material. I think that’s an important role in international organizations: to streamline the field and make sure that inputs from different countries come together at a central point and go through the interactive peer process of checking what works and what doesn’t work and how it all logically hangs together.

    Actually, there is one initiative where we worked closely with the United States. That initiative is to take a step further and say that states ought to implement these IAEA recommendations. That is a separate project that we hope will come to fruition by the time of the summit as well. Greater commitment to implementing what the IAEA recommended and also to make yourself vulnerable to criticism by allowing IPPAS [International Physical Protection and Advisory Service] or other missions: a team from the IAEA comes to your country and looks at the way you have set up your physical protection and nuclear security organization. And then that state is free to accept the recommendations of the team.

    The Netherlands has had several of these IPPAS missions in the last six, seven years, and sometimes we've said, “No, that recommendation doesn't fit in our system.” You don’t need to accept all the recommendations. But by and large, we have taken most recommendations to heart and have made certain changes in our setup. I think that’s another very useful function of international organizations, that you have that sort of peer assessment. There are different ways international organizations can have an impact, but in the end, we all agree it remains a national responsibility.

    ACT: If I could ask about the U.S.-Dutch initiative: The idea would be to encourage countries to adopt as part of their national legislation the recommendation or standards of the IAEA or other organizations? Is that the idea?

    De Klerk: Yes. Right, in the national regulations.

    ACT: How do you go about providing that encouragement?

    De Klerk: We try to build a group of countries that will commit to that goal or to that ambition.

    ACT: The 2012 summit in Seoul introduced the concepts of joint statements, or “gift baskets.” Can you tell us a little bit about how these will be treated in the 2014 summit? Will there be new gift baskets? Will leaders of these gift baskets report on them at all?

    De Klerk: The whole terminology of gift baskets came up—I’m told, but I wasn’t there—shortly before the Seoul summit to inject more enthusiasm in the summit. The advantage of the summit in The Hague is that the concepts are now there and more mature. What we have tried to do at the first sherpa meetings is to make room for these different gift-basket holders—there is always one central country that is the chief organizer of that basket—to give them time to speak to these sessions to say what they’re planning, whether they’re planning new activities, and how they’re going about it. Some of the gift baskets do not have much life in them and were more set up for the summit itself, and after the summit finished, the energy was gone. Others are very much alive and will make further presentations, probably with bigger groups, in The Hague. There will be time and room for presenting them.

    So to answer the other part of the question, yes, I suspect that some of the old ones are still continuing, and I’m also sure that there will be at least a handful of new initiatives. You can call this initiative that I just mentioned, where we work together with the U.S. and also with South Korea and a number of other countries, you can call it a gift basket—it is an initiative of a group of countries—but other than that, I hesitate to mention other gift baskets because many are still works in progress. I expect a number of new initiatives when we come closer to the summit and political leaders are asking the question, “What do we have to offer in The Hague?”

    So that will be another impetus for new gift baskets, and I hope there will be a lively presentation of different ideas and hopefully with bigger groups than in Seoul. Then the concept of the gift basket was so novel that a number of countries said, “No, I don’t want to have anything to do with it, we don't have enough time to study the idea, and I’m not setting my signature for something I don’t feel comfortable with.”

    ACT: Do you think this concept of house gifts and gift baskets has stimulated countries to try to come up with something and not show up “empty-handed”?

    De Klerk: Definitely, and you’ll see that mechanism again. One of the reasons I don't want to say too much, as the chairman of this process, is that the chairman stands for the group in its totality. The chairman is responsible for those themes where there is consensus, and I want to have as much as possible a consensus summit. So whenever I hear of a new gift-basket idea, my first inclination is to think, “How can we include this in our joint conclusions, in our communiqué?” Sometimes it’s easy to see why this is not acceptable for all, and then we have say, “Oh, yes; this is more for a gift basket.”

    ACT: When you hear an idea, you see if it’s something you can apply to everybody, but some of the initiatives might only apply to certain countries and therefore are inappropriate for inclusion [as part of the consensus]. Is that what you mean?

    De Klerk: Apply, or it’s clear that positions of countries are such that they can’t commit to a particular course of action. Then you have to conclude it's better to have a gift basket than nothing at all. So it's a nice complementary mechanism, the consensus conclusions in the communiqué and then other initiatives with géométries variables, different groups of countries wanting to sign on to extra things.

    ACT: I also get the sense that this is a way to get around the problem of getting consensus. Because now it seems—at one time, there was a so-called spirit of Vienna in international organizations about reaching consensus, but now it seems to be getting harder and harder to achieve. This seems like a way to get around that: if you can’t get the entire group to agree to it, you have some subset of the group setting an example and going ahead that way. Is that part of it as well?

    De Klerk: Yeah, some of it is indeed leading by example in the hope that others will follow, at the time of the summit or later. Sometimes you’re ahead of the times or in an easier position to do certain things. For example, we did these IPPAS missions in the Netherlands, but we realize that we have a relatively small nuclear industry here. We have an enrichment plant, we have research, isotope production, and one power reactor, so there are countries where doing such missions will be more complicated. There are differences in where countries are with [regard to] their nuclear industry and the nuclear cycle, and some can commit more easily to certain things than others.

    ACT: There’s been quite a bit of discussion about the legacy of the summit process, based on the understanding that it was never meant to be a permanent institution. At a political level, where do you see nuclear security going after the summit process ends? Do you think the IAEA is the body that can best carry on this initiative?

    De Klerk: So first of all, the IAEA—for full disclosure, I should say that I worked for five years for the IAEA—has spent time and energy on nuclear security and physical protection since the 1970s. The first guidelines came out in 1972, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material was negotiated in the late 1970s, et cetera, et cetera. So it has a long history, but at the same time, as I said before, it is undeniably true that the summit process has enabled them to shift into higher gear. Now more people there are working on nuclear security. I see that as a lasting effect, but of course in the long term, that effect can wane. Who knows if we’ll have nuclear accidents and safety becomes more important. We don’t want to prescribe how the director-general of the IAEA and member states and the board and the General Conference need to set their priorities. Yes, the attention to nuclear security could go down over time, but I’m sure that ways can be found then for another political impetus. I see the effect of summits slowly going down because you can give a political impetus only so often, and at some point, the effect becomes less.

    ACT: Do you see the July conference on nuclear security at the IAEA playing a role in influencing your thoughts on where the Dutch summit can go and where the IAEA can continue to advance this agenda at a higher political level?

    De Klerk: Yes, I think the July conference was a good example of the higher profile of this nuclear security area, not only the fact that it was held, but also the fact there was this ministerial day at the beginning[3] and the huge number of people showing up and having an interest. I think there were more than 1,300 people, which made it one of the biggest conferences the IAEA has ever organized. So yes, it's a demonstration of the higher priority, and some of the conclusions are also of some use for the nuclear security summits.

    But not all parts of the nuclear security summit process fit in the IAEA. It may be we need new institutions or new entities after the summit process ends, but that thinking hasn’t progressed far enough. Yes, there is a role for Interpol; yes, there’s a role for the UN; yes, there is a role for the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and the Global Partnership [Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction], and what have you.

    I’m not clear where the missing dimension is. The IAEA clearly only deals with civil material, so to the extent that we can pay any attention, as we should, to military material, there are limits to the IAEA. The IAEA cannot, by definition, deal with all the questions that the nuclear security summit process deals with.

    ACT: You just mentioned the need to pay attention to military material. Do you see that as something the summit process needs to begin to take into consideration?

    De Klerk: I would be very happy if some attention would be paid by the summit to military materials, if only for the fact that, within nuclear-weapon states, there are large quantities of nuclear material not only in nuclear weapons, but three-quarters of it not in weapons, but in bulk, in reactors, in different forms. Considerations of physical protection and nuclear security apply to that material as well. Some sort of statement that it is at least as well protected as civilian fuel would be very useful and important in my mind. But how much we can say, if anything at all, would depend primarily on how much the countries concerned are willing to say.

    Some of the principles [of the nuclear security summits]—for example, that it is better to convert your reactors that run on highly enriched uranium to lower enrichment—that’s primarily for civilian research reactors, but there’s no reason it can’t or shouldn't apply to military reactors. Again, I know it’s sensitive. But such principled considerations apply to all, except that we always add “when technically and economically feasible,” and the implications of that caveat can, of course, be very different when you talk about military activities.

    ACT: So are you talking about submarine reactors? Is that, for example, what you’re thinking about here?

    De Klerk: I think it's better that I don't add more specificity.

    ACT: And then you mention this caveat, if economically and technically feasible, which is in a lot of language of the documents from the summit. That’s a big qualifier, and I think some people wanted there to be less of an escape clause like that. That was true, I think, of some of the earlier documents, and certainly that was a lot of the commentary I heard on the declaration from the Vienna meeting in July. Is there a way to reduce those qualifiers, to give a little bit more of a push? Make it—maybe not make it mandatory, because, as we discussed, there are the issues of national sovereignty, but not make it quite so easy to make a claim that exempts you from the need to do this?

    De Klerk: Is there a way? Yeah, there would be ways, but I’m afraid I have quite of a lot of customers who insist on that phrase. You will see in all likelihood similar formulations at the end of this summit preparation process.

    ACT: But aren’t there some customers who are pushing the other way as well, who are looking for something a little bit stronger?

    De Klerk: It is difficult to argue against the idea that something must be feasible, so it is a bit of a one-sided debate, and there’s not much leeway to change that caveat.

    ACT: Earlier, you said the summits have been successful in various things, including preventing nuclear terrorism. So, explain how they have prevented nuclear terrorism, something specific the summit process has done, how you can tie it to the prevention or reduction of the threat of nuclear terrorism.

    De Klerk: First of all, it’s difficult to know what you have prevented because most of these things you don’t know. It would be hard for me to argue that because of what we have agreed at the summits, very specific things have changed. But more generally, I think that the pressure of taking part in the nuclear security summit process has led to countries looking extra carefully to what measures they have in place and making sure they indeed have done everything they should do. Have we seriously looked at all IAEA recommendations? Do we have enough staff for our regulator? The fact that heads of state and government take part leads to extra scrutiny.

    ACT: But if that's the case, how do you maintain that same sort of attention once the summit process stops, when it’s been handed off to other organizations?

    De Klerk: Like I said before, many of these forms of scrutiny will have a rather long-lasting effect. Over time, the effect may become less, and then it’s time for another political injection. That’s not a matter of two years; then we are talking longer periods and maybe to some extent higher political attention in the IAEA or greater acceptability of these peer reviews. It is interesting that, in these two years, we have passed a critical mark that now more than half of the countries participating in the nuclear security summit process have accepted these IPPAS missions. When the summitry process just started, it was just a few of us, less than a handful, who had done these missions. If that would be a universally accepted procedure and you would organize that external scrutiny as to whether your system is as it should be, then maybe you wouldn’t need the political summits anymore because you would have made sure that you have your scrutiny in other ways.

    ACT: If that's the case, how do you increase that level of attention in countries that are not participants in the summits? If they don’t have their leaders attending, they don’t have that same sort of peer pressure.

    De Klerk: In the first place, most countries with a nuclear industry and nuclear material are participating in the process. That's answer number one. Answer number two is that some of that progress that we make in the nuclear security summit process filters down into international organizations or gives impetus to international organizations to work along these lines. So there are ways where you have a filtering effect to find its way to countries that do not participate in the summit process.

    ACT: You mentioned that there may be a need for some new institutions to carry on this work. I actually want to ask about the existing institutions. Do you think that the institutions that are in place now are ready to take on this role—the IAEA, but also others? Are they ready at this point? Will they be ready in 2016 to take on the responsibilities they need to, to continue the work of the summits?

    De Klerk: I have great respect for the IAEA as it is, but again, I’m a former employee. I think it’s very good that now they have more money, they have more people, they do more work on nuclear security. I see that as one of the results of the fact that, every two years, presidents and prime ministers come together to talk about nuclear security. Is everything precisely as we would like it in the IAEA? No. But they’ve made quite a lot of progress and can handle quite a lot, and of course in the end, you have to accept that, in international organizations, you have to compromise with 159 countries with different perspectives trying to formulate conclusions. So there is always a fair amount of watering down, but it is beyond doubt that they have made quite a lot of progress.

    ACT: Can you give an example of one area where you would like to see more progress by the IAEA before it takes on this role?

    De Klerk: Speaking personally, this notion of peer reviews, when that will be broadly accepted, I think that will be a big step forward.

    It will also be a big step forward if some of the concepts that are now common knowledge in nuclear safety could be applied to nuclear security as well. Nuclear safety developed very much after Chernobyl, and now inspections through the IAEA or through [the World Association of Nuclear Operators] are much more normal, whether you call it inspections or something else, than in nuclear security. That's still more in its infancy. I’m not suggesting that security needs to follow safety every step of the way, but there is a lot to be learned, in my own view, from the safety area.

    One should also consider that the IAEA cannot do more than its member states allow it to do. So it would be very good if the United States and others would become party to this amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material because that would give a set of extra tools: review conferences, periodic reports would be more useful if they are about the amended convention. But the 2005 amendment to the convention first needs to enter into force.[4]

    ACT: Is there anything else you want to say by way of wrap-up, or an important point we didn’t ask about that you’d like to add?

    De Klerk: This is an important summit for the Netherlands because this fits in our core priorities for peace, justice, and international security. Especially the fact it’s in The Hague is very symbolic, with important institutions like the International Court of Justice and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. But it’s also important for the Netherlands in practical terms. Because there is a lot of material going through Rotterdam harbor, including all sorts of scrap metal with nuclear material in it, and it’s important to trace that back to where it came from and understand patterns of what is being shipped around the world. It’s mostly innocuous stuff, like depleted uranium or natural uranium. But these are things that need to be looked at very carefully, and to the extent we as the Netherlands can contribute to improving this field, we will be happy to do that.

    ACT: Well, thank you very much for taking the time—

    De Klerk: My pleasure.

    ACT: I don’t know what your next interesting nuclear nonproliferation assignment will be, but hopefully we’ll be able to interview you in that capacity, too.[5]

    ENDNOTES


    [1] The current, original version of the convention entered into force in 1987. In 2005 a diplomatic conference drafted an amendment that would extend protection requirements beyond the original agreement, which covers nuclear material while in international transport, by expanding the coverage to apply to nuclear facilities and to materials in peaceful domestic use and storage. It also would impose new legal penalties for misuse of radioactive material and sabotage of nuclear facilities. The 2005 amendment will enter into force once it has been ratified by two-thirds of the states-parties of the convention.

    [2] NSS 2014, “Sherpa Meeting in Ottawa—One Step Closer to The Hague,” October 22, 2013, https://www.nss2014.com/en/news/sherpa-meeting-in-ottawa-one-step-closer-to-the-hague.

    [3] The first day of the July 1-5 conference was focused on the participation of government ministers. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 34 ministers attended the conference, which drew representatives from 125 states.

    [4] As of November 13, 2013, 28 additional countries need to ratify the convention.

    [5] Arms Control Today previously interviewed de Klerk when he was chairman of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. “The NSG in a Time of Change: An Interview With NSG Chairman Piet de Klerk,” Arms Control Today, October 2011.

    The Netherlands’ top diplomat for the upcoming nuclear security summit in The Hague discusses the goals for the summit and the need to maintain a focus on nuclear security after the summit process ends.

    Books of Note

    Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

    Eric Schlosser, Penguin Press, 2013, 632 pp.

    In Command and Control, investigative journalist Eric Schlosser conducts an ambitious stocktaking of nuclear weapons stewardship, organized around one of the nuclear era’s most harrowing accidents—the September 1980 explosion of a Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in Damascus, Ark. The accident killed an Air Force airman, severely injured several other service members, and destroyed the silo in which the missile was deployed. The missile’s nine-megaton-yield warhead was thrown into a nearby field. Schlosser’s deep dive into the lives of the individuals involved and his detailed description of the technology they sought to control provides an entrée into the entire nuclear weapons enterprise. His nearly 500 pages of text include fascinating excursions, from the Strategic Air Command of Gen. Curtis LeMay (1948-1957) to the Soviet KGB’s intensive, worldwide effort in 1983 to detect U.S. preparations for a surprise nuclear attack. Schlosser moves adeptly from discussions of grand strategy to the emotions of the people handling the actual weapons. Many other nuclear accidents are recounted in addition to the title event, including losses of operational nuclear weapons at sea and near-detonations on land. For those inclined to dismiss safety incidents as ancient history, Schlosser recalls more-recent U.S. security lapses such as the six nuclear-armed cruise missiles that went missing for a day and a half in 2007 and the nearly one-hour loss of communications with 50 Minutemen III ICBMs in 2010. Schlosser’s prose is not polemical, but the sentiment he voices at the book’s end is unmistakable: “Every [nuclear weapon] is an accident waiting to happen, a potential act of mass murder.”—GREG THIELMANN


    Technology Transfers and Non-Proliferation: Between Control and Cooperation

    Oliver Meier, ed., Routledge Global Security Studies, 2013, 280 pp.

    The title of a section of one chapter in this volume is “Disarmament and development: a decades-old and continuing tension.” That turn of phrase, from the chapter by independent disarmament analyst Jean Pascal Zanders, aptly summarizes a main theme of the book: the difficulty of taking steps to tighten export control regimes without running afoul of the legal and political need to avoid unduly restricting access to the relevant technology. As many of the authors note, the issue is common to the biological, chemical, and nuclear nonproliferation regimes. In the concluding chapter, the book’s editor, Oliver Meier, an associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (and a former international correspondent for Arms Control Today), argues that cooperation should be “de-politicized,” as it “appears to work better the less it is framed in a non-proliferation context.” Another recurring theme of the book is the rapid pace of technological change, perhaps most notably in the biological sciences, and the inability of control regimes to keep up with it. In her chapter on cooperation in biosecurity, Jo Husbands of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences advocates greater cooperation involving scientists and scientific organizations. She argues that “[e]ffectively engaging scientists in monitoring and assessment could…help ensure that controls and limitations are focused where they are the most feasible and where they can do the most good.”—DANIEL HORNER

    Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
    Eric Schlosser, Penguin Press, 2013, 632 pp.

    Technology Transfers and Non-Proliferation: Between Control and Cooperation
    Oliver Meier, ed., Routledge Global Security Studies, 2013, 280 pp.

    Meeting Set to Discuss Autonomous Arms

    Daniel Horner

    Countries meeting in Geneva last month agreed to start discussions on a class of weapons that can use lethal force without human intervention.

    At a Nov. 15 session of the annual meeting of parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), countries decided to hold an “informal” meeting of experts next May 13-16 “to discuss the questions related to emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems,” according to the official document summarizing the results of the session. The May discussions are to be “in the context of the objectives and purposes” of the CCW, which bans or restricts the use of certain types of conventional weapons.

    The Nov. 15 decision represents the first international attempt to grapple with what observers and participants say are the complex and, in some cases, unique issues raised by these weapons systems, dubbed by their critics as “killer robots.”

    Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel, the French ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva who chaired the CCW meeting, said in a Nov. 25 e-mail to Arms Control Today that one of the reasons the topic is complex is that the technologies in question are still under development. The May meeting is intended to be “a first step toward building a common understanding of the questions raised” by the topic, he said, adding that “[i]t is too early to say” what the final result of the process will be.

    The issue of lethal autonomous weapons systems has drawn increased attention in the past year or so. In November 2012, Human Rights Watch and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School produced a report calling for a “preemptive prohibition on [the] development and use” of such systems. In an April report, Christof Heyns, special rapporteur for the UN Human Rights Council, recommended a number of steps including the establishment of “an international body…to monitor the situation [with regard to autonomous weapons] and articulate the options for the longer term.”

    Simon-Michel is to chair the May meeting and prepare a report “objectively reflecting the discussions held” for next year’s annual meeting of the CCW. In the Nov. 25 e-mail, he said that with the report in hand, the CCW parties, “on the basis of the discussions and exchange of views, will be in a position to take an informed decision in November 2014 on how to further elaborate on this topic.”

    Under the mandate, the chairman of the May meeting is to submit the report “under his own responsibility,” which means the meeting participants do not need to agree to approve it.

    In a Nov. 15 statement, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an international coalition of nongovernmental organizations, hailed the CCW parties’ decision earlier that day as “historic.” Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch, the campaign’s global coordinator, said it was noteworthy that there had been so little opposition to the idea of the May meeting.

    “Nobody’s calling for the status quo,” she said in a Nov. 20 interview.

    Countries meeting in Geneva last month agreed to start discussions on a class of weapons that can use lethal force without human intervention.

    U.S. to Destroy Key Syrian Chemical Arms

    Daniel Horner

    The United States will destroy Syria’s most dangerous chemical weapons, using a mobile technology on board a ship, officials from the international team that is overseeing Syrian chemical disarmament said late last month.

    In a Nov. 30 press release, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said the operations would be conducted “on a U.S. vessel at sea using hydrolysis,” a process that breaks down the chemical agent with hot water and a caustic compound such as sodium hydroxide. Hydrolysis is a type of neutralization, which, along with incineration, is one of the two main methods of destroying chemical weapons.

    In a separate Nov. 30 statement, Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator for the joint chemical disarmament mission in Syria by the OPCW and the United Nations, said the operation would take place outside Syrian territorial waters.

    At a Dec. 2 briefing, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed the U.S. role but provided few details.

    There is widespread agreement that removing chemical agents from Syria for destruction elsewhere is the most practical approach, particularly in light of the tight timetable established by the OPCW and the UN. A main reason to take the chemicals out of Syria is the security concerns created by the ongoing civil war in the country.

    Destruction of the weapons on a ship became a leading option as no country volunteered to accept the weapons for destruction on its territory. After the possibility of destruction at sea became public, Psaki said at a Nov. 22 press briefing that the United States “and many other countries have responsibilities under the CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention] and the London Convention” and would consider destroying chemical weapons at sea only “if it can be done in a safe and environmentally sound manner.”

    She was referring to the 1972 London Convention, also known as the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter. In response to a question about the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, she replied, “I’m certain all of the treaties that are applicable are being consulted through this process.”

    Even as the signs increasingly pointed to shipboard destruction, U.S. officials had held open the possibility that another country might agree to accept the weapons on its territory. But that possibility appears to have dissipated. In a Dec. 3 e-mail to Arms Control Today, an official from the OPCW-UN mission said, “There will be no other country. The destruction of the most critical weapons will happen on a US ship.”

    Under the CWC, the term “chemical weapons” includes “[t]oxic chemicals and their precursors.”

    Schedule Pressure

    Under a plan approved by the OPCW Executive Council and UN Security Council in late September, the Syrian chemical weapons are to be eliminated by mid-2014. (See ACT, October 2013.) The plan set Nov. 15 as the date by which the Executive Council was to establish “detailed requirements, including intermediate destruction milestones.”

    Albania, which had been cited as a leading candidate to accept the Syrian chemical weapons, dashed hopes that the results of the Nov. 15 Executive Council meeting would include the naming of a country to host the destruction of the weapons. During the meeting, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama appeared on national television to say that the task was impossible for Albania. In the days before the announcement, thousands of Albanians had taken to the streets to protest the idea of importing the chemical weapons.

    The U.S. embassy in Tirana, the Albanian capital, issued a statement saying that the United States “appreciates that the Government of Albania gave serious consideration to supporting the international effort to eliminate Syria’s chemical warfare materials in a safe and secure manner” and “remain[s] confident that we will complete elimination of the program within the timeline agreed upon.”

    Norway, which had been seen as another leading contender to host the destruction, ruled itself out in late October. At a Nov. 18 meeting in Brussels of EU foreign and defense ministers, Pieter De Crem, the defense minister of Belgium, which also had been frequently named as a potential host, said his country would not take on the task. At the same meeting, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also declined.

    In theory, the weapons destruction could take place in any number of countries, as the United States and some other countries have developed mobile units that can destroy chemical weapons through incineration or hydrolysis.

    Authorization for Removal

    Although the Nov. 15 OPCW Executive Council decision did not resolve the question of where the chemical weapons destruction would take place, it appeared to put to rest a potential question about the transfer of Syrian chemical agents to other countries. The question arose because Article I of the CWC bans countries from “transfer[ring], directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone.”

    The September UN Security Council resolution that approved the destruction plan authorizes UN member states to “acquire, control, transport, transfer and destroy” Syrian chemical weapons “consistent with the objective” of the CWC. The accompanying OPCW Executive Council decision, however, does not refer to transfers, leading some observers to argue that the Executive Council would have to take some action to authorize the OPCW Technical Secretariat to engage in an activity that the CWC prohibits. (See ACT, November 2013.)

    The Nov. 15 Executive Council decision document reports that Syria, in its Oct. 23 declaration to the OPCW, said the destruction would need to take place outside its territory if it were to meet the OPCW-UN timetable. The council document specifies that mustard agent and certain “binary chemical weapons components” are to be removed from Syria by Dec. 31. Those are the priority chemicals that are to be destroyed aboard the U.S. ship.

    All other chemicals must be out by Feb. 5. The one exception is isopropanol, which is to be destroyed in Syria by March 1.

    For the mustard agent and binary components, “effective destruction” is to be completed by March 31, and “destruction of any resulting reaction mass” is to be completed “by a date to be agreed by the [Executive] Council.” In a Nov. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Jean Pascal Zanders, a former research fellow with the European Union Institute for Security Studies, noted that the term “effective destruction” does not occur in the CWC and is not defined in the council decision or elsewhere.

    All other chemicals that Syria has declared must be destroyed by June 30.

    The decision document gives OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü some authority to alter the destruction timetable. If, “in close consultation” with the countries involved in the destruction, he determines that “it will not be possible” to meet the timetable, “he should immediately notify the [Executive] Council, specifying the circumstances, and propose an alternative date for [the council’s] consideration and approval, with a view to completing the destruction as soon as possible.”

    In a Nov. 15 OPCW press release on the decision, Üzümcü said it sets “ambitious milestones.”

    Paul Walker, director of environmental security and sustainability at Green Cross International, said in a Nov. 20 interview that if the situation comes down to “a choice between arbitrary deadlines and doing it right, do it right.” The timetable for the ultimate destruction of the chemicals is less important than removing them from Syria, said Walker, a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors.

    In the statement, Üzümcü said the “timely execution” of the effort depends on “a secure environment.” In remarks to the Nov. 15 Executive Council meeting, Kaag said the mission “is working with the government of Syria to ensure that necessary security arrangements are in place, and we are also in contact with armed opposition groups for this purpose.” She added that the mission was looking for help in that regard from countries “that have influence with all actors…through their lines of formal and informal communication.”

    According to the Nov. 15 decision document, Üzümcü is to present the council with a plan “for its consideration” by Dec. 17 for chemical weapons destruction outside Syria, including “provisions for ensuring clear responsibility at each stage for all chemicals.”

    The council also specified that Syria “maintains ownership of its chemical weapons until they are destroyed, wherever the destruction might take place” but that “upon removal of declared chemical weapons from its territory, the Syrian Arab Republic no longer has possession, nor jurisdiction, nor control over these chemical weapons.”

    Commercial Disposal

    The decision document asked Üzümcü to explore options for commercial disposal of certain portions of the Syrian arsenal, and a week later, on Nov. 22, the OPCW issued a document called a request for expressions of interest to determine the level of interest from private firms in the chemical disposal business. It covers chemicals other than the mustard agent and binary chemical weapons components. The covered chemicals total about 800 metric tons.

    In an Oct. 25 report, Üzümcü, citing information that Damascus provided, said that Syria has approximately 1,000 metric tons of Category 1 chemical weapons. Category 1 weapons are based on chemicals and precursors that pose a “high risk” to the CWC. That category includes sulfur mustard and the nerve agents VX and sarin. Üzümcü’s report said the 1,000 metric tons were largely in the form of “binary chemical weapon precursors,” meaning that they had not been mixed as they would be when loaded into munitions for use. Üzümcü said Syria reported 290 metric tons of Category 2 chemical weapons. Such weapons are based on toxic chemicals that pose a “significant” risk to the CWC.

    Walker said “a few hundred tons” of the 1,290 metric tons of the chemicals that Syria had declared were isopropanol that will be neutralized in Syria.

    The request to companies also covers disposal of effluent from the mustard agent and binary chemical weapons components, totaling about 7.7 million liters, according to the OPCW request document.

    In its Nov. 30 press release, the OPCW said 35 companies had responded to the request.

    According to a Nov. 19 memo from Üzümcü, the cost of the commercial destruction is projected to be about 35 to 45 million euros (about $47-61 million). Üzümcü appealed to OPCW member states to defray the cost through a trust fund he established to cover the Syrian chemical destruction effort.

    The cost estimate for commercial operations appears to be the first indication from the OPCW of the anticipated costs of the work in Syria, although it encompasses only one part of the effort. In the memo, Üzümcü said that the cost figure does not include the costs of transporting the chemicals to be destroyed. Those costs are expected to be covered by in-kind contributions, he said.

    Facilities Inspected

    Earlier in the month, in a Nov. 6 “mission update,” the OPCW said its joint effort with the UN had inspected all but one of the chemical weapons facilities that Syria had declared. In an Oct. 31 press release, the OPCW had reported that 21 of 23 declared facilities had been inspected.

    The release said “safety and security concerns” had prevented the team from visiting the two remaining sites.

    The most recently inspected site, in the Aleppo region, was inspected “with the support of sealed cameras used by Syrian personnel as per the inspection team’s guidance,” the update said, adding that the OPCW-UN team later verified the location of the site. The team “is now satisfied that it has verified—and seen destroyed—all of Syria’s declared critical production and mixing/filling equipment,” the OPCW said in the release.

    In a Nov. 25 update to the Executive Council on the progress of the Syria mission, Üzümcü said the remaining site was one that Syria had declared as inactive. He reported that items previously housed at that site had been moved to “other accessible sites and have been verified” against information that Syria had provided in its declaration. Inspectors plan to visit the site “as soon as conditions permit and following the assessment of the United Nations,” he said

    The United States is preparing to destroy Syria’s most dangerous chemical weapons, using a mobile technology on board a ship.

    U.S., Vietnam Initial Civil Nuclear Pact

    Daniel Horner

    The United States and Vietnam last month initialed an agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation in what may be an indicator of future U.S. policy governing the nonproliferation requirements for such agreements.

    The text of the agreement, which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Bình Minh initialed Oct. 10 in Brunei, has not been made public. Sources said it contains a Vietnamese commitment, although not a legally binding one, to refrain from pursuing uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing.

    The Obama administration has been conducting an internal policy review for at least three years on the question of how hard the United States should press its potential nuclear trade partners to forgo enrichment and reprocessing activities, which are considered sensitive because they can be used to produce nuclear explosive material.

    Backers of a U.S. ban on enrichment and reprocessing say such an approach is critical to nonproliferation efforts and that the United States should demonstrate leadership in that area.

    Opponents argue that a policy of barring enrichment and reprocessing would be unacceptable to most countries, stymie prospects for U.S. companies to sell nuclear goods, and drive potential buyers into the arms of nuclear supplier countries such as France and Russia, which have less-rigorous nonproliferation requirements than the United States does.

    In its 2009 nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said it would not pursue an indigenous enrichment or reprocessing program. (See ACT, June 2009.) Nonproliferation advocates on Capitol Hill and elsewhere have argued that other cooperation agreements should meet that “gold standard,” as a State Department spokesman characterized it during an August 2010 press briefing.

    In an Oct. 24 interview, a State Department official said that Vietnam made a commitment in the agreement to rely on international fuel markets for nuclear fuel services rather than acquiring enrichment or reprocessing technology. The commitment is political rather than legal, the official said, but “in Vietnam’s case, we are satisfied that [its] political commitment is sufficient, based on its lack of intent and capability” to pursue sensitive nuclear activities.

    Vietnam is “acting like a responsible nuclear partner,” the official said, noting that Vietnam has taken steps such as bringing into force an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, getting rid of its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, and ratifying the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and an amendment that broadens its scope.

    The official declined to say what form the political commitment took, but two other sources said it was in the preamble to the agreement.

    In an Oct. 17 interview, a House staffer who had received a briefing on the agreement characterized the commitment as a statement by Vietnam that it is “not planning to do anything now” with regard to enrichment and reprocessing. On the basis of the information provided at the briefing, it appears that the Vietnamese have promised to refrain from doing something that they were not intending to do anyway, the staffer said. But they could change their minds, and the decision is “100 percent up to them,” he said.

    According to the State Department official, the agreement does not include language saying that Vietnam maintains its right to pursue sensitive nuclear activities at a later date.

    The official noted that the Vietnam accord has only been initialed and therefore is not necessarily finalized. Like other nuclear cooperation agreements, the pact with Vietnam must go through a review by several U.S. government agencies. Once President Barack Obama approves the agreement, it would be signed and submitted to Congress with supporting documents, including a Nuclear Proliferation Assessment Statement.

    At a March 2011 nuclear policy conference, Richard Stratford, the State Department official who has primary responsibility for U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements, said the unresolved policy debate over the gold standard was preventing progress on the Vietnam agreement. But in the Oct. 24 interview, the State Department official said the initialing of the Vietnam agreement did not mean that the policy review had concluded. The review “is still ongoing,” the official said.

    After an earlier stage of the policy review, Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman and Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said in a Jan. 10, 2012, letter to Congress that the United States would conduct negotiations on nuclear cooperation agreements “on the basis of a case-by-case review.” Referring to a meeting that month with Vietnam about a potential agreement, Poneman and Tauscher said U.S. negotiators would “lay out a spectrum of options for addressing enrichment and reprocessing.” (See ACT, March 2012.)

    The United States is in various stages of discussion of new and renewed nuclear cooperation agreements with a number of other countries, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Taiwan.

    In an Oct. 28 letter to Kerry, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed “deep concerns” about the administration’s policy, calling it “inconsistent and confusing.” One of Corker’s requests of Kerry was that the administration provide briefings on the agreement with Vietnam “prior to the president’s submission [of the agreement] for congressional consideration later this year.” The State Department official declined to provide a timetable for the submittal, but the House staffer said the administration was expected to send it to Congress “this year.”

    In its nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States, Vietnam is said to have made a political commitment to refrain from uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing.

    Plan Set to Rid Syria of Chemical Arms

    Daniel Horner

    The UN Security Council on Sept. 27 unanimously adopted a plan for destroying Syria’s chemical arsenal, endorsing a blueprint that the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had approved a few hours earlier.

    The actions by the 41-member Executive Council, which generally operates by consensus, and the 15-member Security Council establish timelines for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. The two councils were building on a framework agreement for control and elimination of Syria’s arsenal concluded by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 14 after days of intensive bilateral negotiations in Geneva.

    The two council decisions spell out ways in which the United Nations and the OPCW are to coordinate in overseeing Syria’s chemical disarmament. The documents approved by the two councils cite Article VIII of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which says that the Executive Council should refer compliance issues “of particular gravity and urgency” to the Security Council. The OPCW is the international body that implements the CWC.

    In its resolution, the Security Council says that, in cases of noncompliance, “including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone” in Syria, it would “impose measures” under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. That chapter authorizes the Security Council to take measures, which can include the use of armed force, “to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

    With the Security Council resolution, “the international community has delivered,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after the vote. But he acknowledged that “[s]ecuring and destroying weapons of mass destruction in a civil war will be daunting.”

    Kerry praised the “precedent-setting” resolution in remarks at the UN on Sept. 27. Lavrov said it did not contain “coercive” measures and that violations would have to be proven “100 percent” before the council could take punitive measures. Russia has been Syria’s strongest ally on the Security Council.

    Timeline Established

    The OPCW Executive Council decision document says that the OPCW “shall…initiate” inspections in Syria by Oct. 1. The document requires Syria to provide information on its chemical weapons program beyond what it submitted to the OPCW on Sept. 19.

    The Sept. 14 U.S.-Russian agreement said the two countries “expect Syria to submit, within a week, a comprehensive listing, including names, types, and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and location and form of storage, production, and research and development facilities.”

    By submitting information within that time frame, Syria met what many observers viewed as the first test of its willingness to give up its chemical weapons, although the submittal reportedly had several gaps.

    It is not clear when or if the information in Syria’s initial inventory will be made public. In a Sept. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan said that, under the OPCW’s confidentiality policy, the organization does not release details of a state-party’s declaration unless the country “expressly authorizes it.”

    The Executive Council decision document requires Syria to provide by Oct. 4 specific information on the types, quantities, and locations of materials and facilities that make up its chemical weapons program. By Oct. 27, it must submit the more detailed information required by Article III of the CWC. Among the information that the article requires, in addition to a cataloguing of a country’s material and facilities, are details on any cases in which it has “transferred or received, directly or indirectly,” chemical weapons or equipment for producing them since Jan. 1, 1946.

    Under the CWC, countries do not have to submit the Article III information until 30 days from the time the treaty enters into force for them. The treaty will formally enter into force for Syria on Oct. 14, but in submitting its accession documents last month, the Syrian government said it would begin complying with the CWC’s terms immediately.

    The Executive Council decision document sets Nov. 1 as the date by which Syria must complete “the destruction of chemical weapons production and mixing/filling equipment.” Mixing and filling equipment is used to load chemical agents into munitions. Syria is required to “complete the elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment in the first half of 2014,” a process for which the Executive Council is to set “detailed requirements, including intermediate destruction milestones,” by Nov. 15, according to the document. Prioritizing destruction of this equipment would help to ensure that Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons would be seriously degraded early in the elimination process.

    Differences Over Removal

    The Sept. 14 framework agreement and the decisions by the Security Council and Executive Council contemplate significant cooperation with other countries to ensure that Syria and the OPCW can carry out the necessary tasks within the fairly short time frames.

    In one of the most dramatic departures from normal practices under the CWC, the framework agreement repeatedly refers to the possibility of removal of chemical weapons from Syria for destruction outside the country. For example, the framework agreement states that “the most effective control of these weapons may be achieved by removal of the largest amounts of weapons feasible, under OPCW supervision, and their destruction outside of Syria, if possible.” In particular, the document specifies that this approach would apply mostly to precursor chemicals and chemical agents that have not yet been put into weapons form. “For these materials, [Russia and the United States] will pursue a hybrid approach, i.e., a combination of removal from Syria and destruction within Syria, depending upon site-specific conditions,” the Sept. 14 agreement says.

    UN Team Finds Sarin Use in Syria

    A UN inspection team that is investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria’s ongoing civil war found “clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin” were used in an Aug. 21 attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

    The report, released Sept. 16, found that chemical weapons had been used “against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale.” The team’s mandate was restricted to determining whether chemical weapons were used, rather than who used them. But some of the evidence, such as the scale of the attack and the types of rockets used, seemed to add weight to previous analyses that said Syrian government forces were responsible.

    The UN team also calculated the arc and direction of some of the rockets that were used in the Aug. 21 attack. The calculations pointed to regime strongholds.

    Earlier in September, the nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch released a report on its own investigation of the Ghouta attacks. “The evidence concerning the type of rockets and launchers used in these attacks strongly suggests that these are weapon systems known and documented to be only in the possession of, and used by, Syrian government armed forces,” the report said.

    A U.S. intelligence summary released Aug. 30 said the U.S. government had “high confidence” that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical attack in Ghouta. (See ACT, September 2013.)

    U.S. officials embraced the UN report while Russian officials dismissed it. Russia, a strong ally of Syria, argues that the chemical attack came from Syrian rebel forces.

    Michael Elleman, who served as a missile expert for the UN team that conducted weapons inspections in Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said in a Sept. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today that “given the scale of the attacks, the timing, the amounts [of chemical agent] delivered reasonably competently, [and] the implicit planning that had to have been done, there is little doubt the regime is responsible.”—DANIEL HORNER

      Independent analysts who have met with U.S. government officials said the United States estimates that, of Syria’s approximately 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, a large majority is not weaponized, making it easier to move and destroy them in Syria. The analysts say they were told that the removal option was under consideration to take into account the possibility that the security situation on the ground in Syria might deteriorate and make the removal of bulk agent or precursor chemicals from the country necessary.

      Russia has said it would not import Syrian chemical weapons for destruction. Russia and the United States at one time had the world’s largest chemical weapons programs and are in the process of destroying their arsenals, which at their peaks had a combined total of more than 65,000 metric tons.

      In a Sept. 29 e-mail to Arms Control Today elaborating on Moscow’s position, a Russian official said the option of removal “was looked at” following a U.S. request and “discarded.” He added that “removal has always been something that Washington was fixated on, and given that Russia is not an option, I do not know what else they have in mind.”

      Removal is not mentioned in the OPCW Executive Council decision document.

      Some analysts say there may be a legal hurdle to that approach. In a Sept. 26 interview, Jean Pascal Zanders, a former research fellow with the European Union Institute for Security Studies, noted that Article I of the CWC bans countries from “transfer[ring], directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone.” He added that the article also bans treaty parties from “acquir[ing]” the weapons and that all of Syria’s neighbors except Israel are parties to the CWC.

      Zanders, now a researcher with The Trench, a research initiative focusing on disarmament and arms control, said it might be possible to address that problem by neutralizing the chemicals in question so that they no longer are classified as weapons. Under the CWC’s definition, the term “chemical weapons” includes “[t]oxic chemicals and their precursors” and equipment designed to be used in connection with chemical weapons, as well as the weapons themselves.

      Zanders said he was exploring with chemical experts whether this approach would be feasible. The Article I language “raises a big challenge,” he said.

      In a separate Sept. 26 interview, Thomas Moore, a former top Republican staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also said there could be complications from the prohibitions in Article I. He said it was “not necessarily a huge impediment” but that “other people are likely to make these arguments.”

      Aside from the legal issues, there are likely to be “basic political problems” that would prevent some countries from accepting Syrian chemical weapons for destruction, said Moore, who now is deputy director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Countries in this category include Syrian neighbors Jordan and Turkey, he said.

      Dramatic Shift

      The September developments marked a sharp turnaround from the situation Aug. 30, when Kerry made a speech that many observers interpreted as an indication that the United States was on the verge of carrying out punitive military strikes on Syria in response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21. (See ACT, September 2013.) The next day, however, President Barack Obama announced that he would seek authorization from Congress for the military action.

      By initial counts, the prospects for congressional support, particularly in the House of Representatives, appeared very doubtful. That seemed to leave Obama with a choice between abandoning his military plan or carrying it out without the backing of Congress.

      The situation turned abruptly when Kerry, speaking at a Sept. 9 press briefing in London with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, was asked if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could do anything to forestall the U.S. attack. Kerry replied, “Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”

      Lavrov immediately responded to that remark, and the two men set in motion the series of events that culminated in the Sept. 14 U.S.-Russian agreement and the Sept. 27 UN Security Council and OPCW Executive Council decisions.

      The UN Security Council on Sept. 27 unanimously adopted a plan for destroying Syria’s chemical arsenal, endorsing a blueprint that the Executive Council of the OPCW had approved a few hours earlier.

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