By Shreerupa Mitra-Jha
Russia proposed on Tuesday to begin negotiations on a new convention for countering chemical terrorism in view of rising evidence of such weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of deadly terrorist groups.
“It seems that a more realistic, reliable and a more promising way of tackling this problem is to elaborate a stand-alone convention for suppression of acts of chemical terrorism,” Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister said at a plenary session of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva .
The prevailing Convention on Chemical Weapons (CWC) does not fully address the challenge of countering chemical terrorism, the Russian Minister said.
“These norms [norms of the customary international law] do not solve the task of prohibiting the use of chemical weapons by non-State actors and even qualifying such actions as an international crime,” Lavrov said.
These gaps can’t be bridged by amendments to the CWC because making such amendments is an overly complex and time-consuming process, Russia said.
This is necessary to counter weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of terrorists; despite the fact that there is a Security Council resolution as well as the International Convention for the Suppression of Nuclear Terrorism, gaps remain. The threat is getting “extremely urgent” due to “repeated use” of full-fledged chemical warfare agents in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq, Lavrov stated.
The Russian minister said that chemical terrorism is now a “reality”.
“Such activities of non-State actors in the Middle East and the North of Africa are becoming increasingly widespread, systematic and transboundary and pose the risk of spilling over far beyond the region. There are reports on terrorist groups getting access to scientific and technical documentation on the production of chemical weapons, seizing chemical plants with relevant equipment and engaging foreign specialists to help synthesise chemical warfare agents,” he said.
An Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCL) mission had established that Islamic State had used artillery shells filled with sophisticated chemical warfare agent—sulphur mustard—in August 2015 in the Syrian town of Marea while fighting rebels.
Russia said that it will make proposals to the Norwegian presidency to this end and if such an initiative is established, then it will work in close coordination with OPCW.
The new proposed item will be in addition to the traditional items on the agenda of the CD – nuclear disarmament, prevention of arms race in the outer space, negative security assurances and Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.
Russia’s priority among the CD agenda items is a Chinese-Russian initiative to prevent arms in outer space – a draft treaty called Proposed Prevention of an Arms Race in Space (PAROS).
The last major international treaties produced by the CD were Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the CWC after which the work of CD in the last 20 years has been almost deadlocked due to serious differences among the member states in the approaches to the CD’s Programme of Work.
“It appears that we have tried all imaginable combinations of its constituent elements but to no avail: agreement is yet to be reached,” said Lavrov adding that the new item will help break the deadlock to an extent.