Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)

Handling chemical weapons is highly risky

Handling chemical weapons is highly risky, © picture-alliance/dpa


The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) of 1993 prohibits the development, production, possession, transfer and use of chemical weapons. Since its entry into force, the CWC has proven to be one of our most successful disarmament treaties.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) of 1993 prohibits the development, production, possession, transfer and use of chemical weapons. The States Parties have an obligation to inform the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of all their chemical weapons and production facilities and to destroy them under international supervision. The Convention furthermore restricts the production and use of certain chemicals, to prevent them being misused as components of chemical weapons. All the data that CWC States Parties need to declare are subject to systematic on-site verification. These inspections take the CWC beyond the simple prohibition and destruction of weapons of mass destruction. On 11 October 2013, the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Universal application of the CWC almost achieved

Since it entered into force on 29 April 1997, the CWC has proven to be one of our most successful disarmament treaties. With the accession of Myanmar and Angola in 2015, two more countries joined the convention. This brought the total number of member states to 192.

The Convention covers around 98 per cent of the global population and chemicals industry. Only four members of the United Nations have not yet acceded to the CWC: Egypt, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan.

List of OPCW States Parties

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

The CWC’s entry into force in 1997 saw the establishment of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) based in The Hague. The OPCW monitors the States Parties’ implementation of and adherence to the CWC. One of its principal tasks is to conduct on‑site inspections, systematically verifying declared chemical weapons and production facilities and ensuring they are destroyed. In addition, regular inspections in the chemicals industry relevant to the CWC are intended to consolidate trust and guarantee that its activities only serve purposes which the Convention does not prohibit. There has never been evidence of a member state violating the CWC by producing chemical weapons. A so-called challenge inspection can be conducted should such evidence emerge; this has never occurred in the past. The OPCW promotes international cooperation for peaceful purposes in the chemical sphere, for instance through workshops. It furthermore has an obligation to coordinate emergency measures to protect and help the victims of a chemical attack.

The OPCW acts through the annual Conference of the States Parties, its Executive Council (the 41‑member permanent executive organ, of which Germany is a member) and its Technical Secretariat. Every five years, the States Parties convene for a special conference to review implementation of the CWC and decide on recommendations for the future direction of the OPCW’s work. The most recent was held in The Hague in April 2013. The OPCW Technical Secretariat has been headed by Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü of Turkey since July 2010. In 2016, Germany chaired the Conference of the States Parties.

Germany's Permanent Representation to the OPCW

Destruction of chemical weapons

Following the use of chemical weapons on 21 August 2013 near Damascus, Syria was required to disclose its chemical weapons programme and to destroy all of its chemical weapons. This action was based on the decisions of the OPCW Executive Council (EC‑M‑33/DEC.1) and on UN Security Council Resolution 2118. These decisions were preceded by an agreement between the United States and Russia of 14 September 2013 on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, and on Syria’s own declaration on the same day that it would accede to the CWC. Because of the civil war in Syria, the declared chemical weapons were moved out of Syria and destroyed abroad. However, the OPCW has stated it doubts that Syria declared all of its weapons and all parts of its chemical weapons programme. There have also been recurring reports of chemical weapons use in Syria (especially chlorine gas). The OPCW is investigating these reports to determine whether chemical weapons were actually employed. The UN Security Council and the OPCW have established and support the activities of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, which aims to find those responsible for the employment of chemical weapons in Syria. In 2016 it declared that, in three cases, the Syrian armed forces had employed a toxic chemical (most likely chlorine gas). At the same time, the so‑called Islamic State was identified as having used mustard gas in one case.

UN Security Council Resolution 2118

Current OPCW information on Syria

Fourth Report of the OPCW-UN Joint Invetigative Mechanism

Destroying Syria’s chemical weapons – Germany’s involvement as part of the international community

Supervised by the OPCW, chemical weapons are continually being destroyed. As of October 2016, 94 percent of the category 1 weapons and 75 percent of the category 2 weapons that have been declared worldwide have been destroyed. Not all states which possess chemical weapons have destroyed their stockpiles within the allotted time frame. The US, Russia and Libya did not meet the deadline specified in the CWC (29 April 2012). The United States expects to have completely destroyed its stockpiles by 2023, and Russia expects to have done so by 2020. Libya will most likely be able to complete its chemical weapons destruction by 2017, with the assistance of Germany. Iraq, too, is working on destroying all of its remaining former chemical weapons stockpiles. Due to the difficult security situation, it is not clear when this process will be completed.

The reason primarily given for the delays is that the environmentally sound destruction of stockpiles represents a great financial and technological burden.

EU offers support through the CFSP

The EU has supported the work of the OPCW with Joint Actions and Council Decisions as part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). One focus is on projects to help States Parties transpose their CWC obligations into national law. The EU also fosters cooperation on the use of chemicals for peaceful purposes and on protection from chemical weapons.

On 30 November 2015, the Council decided to provide five million US dollars in funding to support the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2235. This resolution established a mechanism to identify the perpetrators who recently used chemical weapons in Syria. It thereby seeks to identify individuals, entities and groups who were involved in the use of chlorine gas and other toxic chemicals as weapons.

Germany and the CWC

Germany is helping eliminate chemical weapons that originate from other countries. Since August 2013, Germany has supported the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons by providing 5 million euros, training OPCW personnel and disposing of the chemical remnants of the weapons themselves.

Between 2002 and 2015, Germany helped Russia destroy many of its chemical weapons through considerable financial and technical support as part of the G8 Global Partnership initiative. Germany played a role in building facilities in Libya to destroy the country’s chemical weapons. Destruction of toxic chemicals from Libya’s former chemical weapons programme has been under way in Germany since September 2016. In 2015, Germany handed a mobile container lab and protective equipment over to Iraq, in support of the country’s efforts to destroy the remnants of it chemical weapons stockpiles.

Since its foundation, the Federal Republic of Germany has only ever possessed stockpiles of chemical weapons produced by the German Reich before 1945, which the CWC defines as “old chemical weapons”. They had all been destroyed by April 2007. Further “abandoned chemical weapons” are still periodically found in the ground at various locations, however. When they are, they are recorded by the Federal Armed Forces Verification Centre, reported to the OPCW and then destroyed at the GEKA in Munster.

The chemicals industry in Germany, like those of the other States Parties, is regularly inspected by the OPCW. The Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control collates the data on relevant chemicals provided by the German chemicals sector and prepares them for reporting to the OPCW. As the national authority for the CWC, the Federal Foreign Office is Germany’s contact to the OPCW and the other States Parties.

Support for projects: Courses on chemical safety management

Professor Uli Barth lecturing during the OPCW course at Bergische Universität Wuppertal
Professor Uli Barth lecturing during the OPCW course at Bergische Universität Wuppertal © Bergische Universität Wuppertal

Under Article XI of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the 192 States Parties seek to promote the exchange of scientific and technical information for the production, processing or use of chemicals for purposes not prohibited under the Convention. Germany has a particularly strong chemical industry – it is the third largest importer and one of the largest exporters of chemical and pharmaceutical products in the world. As such, it aims to promote this scientific exchange. Since 2009, it has been offering, in cooperation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), courses on chemical safety management, titled Wuppertal Annual Course of Loss Prevention and Safety Promotion in the Chemical Process Industries. The courses are funded by the Federal Foreign Office, and the OPCW helps with the selection each year of 24 course participants, who come from Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean. The courses provide knowledge about, skills for and insight into long‑term chemical safety management. This, among other things, helps minimise the risk of dangerous chemicals falling into the hands of non‑state actors, who may use these for prohibited purposes, including terrorism.

The following short film gives an overview of the course: www.youtube.com

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