For two weeks from Monday 7 April, states parties to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) will convene in The Hague for the treaty’s Second Review Conference. The First Review Conference in 2003 was a low-key affair but was judged a success, although some issues were skirted around rather than addressed directly.
The Second Review Conference comes at a significant time in the CWC’s short life. 2007 saw the treaty’s 10th anniversary, while 2012 is the deadline by which states parties possessing chemical weapons are meant to have destroyed their stockpiles.
Compared to other arms control events, the Second Review Conference barely registers, even among the wider disarmament community. Even the related Biological Weapons Convention has attracted more attention in recent years, although not always for positive reasons.
There are a number of reasons for this. The first is due to where its work is based - in The Hague, the CWC is isolated from the main UN cities of New York, Geneva and Vienna.
The second reason relates to the CWC's mission – the CWC’s implementing organization has carried out its functions in a technically competent manner, keeping a low profile except for the 2002 ousting of its Director-General.
Third, the CWC is one of the least accessible arms control treaties for civil society, meaning that even experts in related fields know little about its work.
The Second Review Conference is unlikely to do much to improve the CWC’s visibility. Perhaps there will be a few new articles in the specialist and scientific press and some media attention if Iraq makes good on its recent pledge to join the treaty, but probably little else. This would be a shame as the CWC represents one of the few success stories in arms control over the past 10 years. There are of course problems and challenges, but the story is generally a good one and shows that multilateral treaties can produce results.
The task of the Second Review Conference over the next fortnight is to take a long-term, strategic look at the operation of the CWC. It should consolidate the successes of the past decade and map out an agenda for the next five years that addresses the challenges the CWC does face.
I've created a blog on the Second Review Conference at www.cwc2008.org and together with my colleagues in the Harvard Sussex Program we've produced a Resource Guide for the Review Conference which is available there. Richard Guthrie will be writing daily reports on the conference, as he's done for BWC meetings since 2006.
This is a guest post from Daniel Feakes. Daniel is a Research Fellow at the University of Sussex's Science & Technology Policy Research Unit (SPRU) in Brighton, UK.
Photo taken from the OPCW's web site.