Thu, Oct 17, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Nobel’s toxic avengers need more help from nations

At a time of intensified risk from chemical arms, staff and funding cuts to the OPCW threaten to deprive the world of some of its most experienced chemical weapons experts. World leaders must act, or else face horrific consequences

By Richard Weitz

These divergent perspectives are reflected in discussions about the OPCW’s budget and mechanisms for determining where to conduct site visits.

The need for more effective defenses against chemical attacks is indisputable. OPCW efforts to strengthen such capabilities used to focus on protecting security forces from large-scale chemical attacks launched by governments; now, however, the growing threat of terrorist groups carrying out such attacks demands that training and related activities focus more on bolstering the defense capabilities of first responders.

The OPCW also faces internal challenges, stemming from an increasingly constrained budget and major personnel reductions. The organization’s leaders are trying to compensate by transferring additional responsibilities to national and regional bodies, which can cooperate and share costs. However, these entities’ capabilities remain unclear.

Given that the world economy has yet to recover fully from recent crises, and that demand for expensive disarmament operations by the OPCW’s Technical Secretariat was declining until the new Syrian mission, such cuts were perhaps inevitable.

However, they threaten to deprive the world of some of its most experienced chemical weapons experts at a time of heightened risk of chemical weapons use.

The recurring claims of chemical attacks during Syria’s civil war have posed a particularly difficult challenge for the CWC, with member states disagreeing about which party might have been responsible and the degree to which CWC provisions apply to non-member countries. Now the OPCW must find, catalogue and destroy the Syrian government’s massive chemical stockpiles in the midst of a vicious civil war.

The entire burden of responsibility should not fall on the OPCW. It is in the interest of CWC signatories to devote more resources to assisting any country struck by a chemical attack.

As it stands, much of the equipment that CWC signatories have pledged for victims of such attacks is reaching the end of its operational life and must be replaced.

Moreover, a number of signatories have yet to indicate what, if any, assistance they would be willing to offer a country under chemical attack, or to fulfill their obligation to provide annual information about their domestic programs to defend against such attacks.

The OPCW’s supplies of protective equipment could prove woefully inadequate in the event of a major chemical incident.

The Nobel Committee’s decision to honor the OPCW’s critical role in promoting world peace — and the devastating chemical attacks in Syria — should compel world leaders to increase their support for the organization and the CWC. The potential consequences of inaction could not be more apparent — or more horrifying.

Richard Weitz is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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