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Mohammad Hussain asked: What are the key challenges related to chemical and biological disarmament?

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  • Ajey Lele replies: Disarmament is all about the lessening or withdrawal of weapons and military forces. It was the Geneva Convention of 1925 which spoke about limiting the spread of weapons made using biological and chemical materials. This ‘Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare’ entered into force on February 8, 1928. Almost after five decades, in March 1975, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) entered into force. This treaty mechanism prohibits the development, production and stockpiling of bacteriological and toxin weapons. Subsequently, more than two decades later, in April 1997, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which is an arms control treaty to outlaw the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons and their precursors came into existence.

    The basic challenge in implementing the BWC is the lack of verification protocol. Here, the absence of any binding legal mechanism limits the implementation of this convention. Also, there are issues related to the exact definition of biological weapons. Attribution too could be an issue since it is often difficult to identify the perpetrator of the crime.

    The CWC is a much stronger treaty mechanism since it has a legal mandate and can undertake inspections. There is an agency called the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OCPW) which is responsible to ensure the implementation of CWC and complete elimination of chemical weapons stockpiles. However, no such organisation exists to ensure the implementation of the BWC.

    There are few states which have done the chemical weapons related declarations and the stockpiles of their weapons/material have already been destructed under the watchful eyes of OPCW. At present, only the United States of America is yet to fully destroy their chemical weapons stockpiles. However, the process of destruction is underway and is expected to finish in the coming two to three years. The basic limitation of both these treaty mechanisms is that they do not address issues related to biological or chemical terrorism.       

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.

    Posted on August 24, 2020

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