North Atlantic Assembly


Draft General Report

Lord LYELL (United Kingdom)
General Rapporteur

North Atlantic Assembly
International Secretariat
4 October 1996
AN 253
STC (96) 8
Original: English




    1. Agents
    2. Lethality
    3. Ease of Acquisition
    4. Assessing the Threat


    1. The Chemical Weapons Convention

      1. The CWC's Provisions
      2. Implementing the CWC
      3. Bringing the CWC into Force

    2. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

    3. Chemical and Biological Terrorism

    4. NATO's Response



  1. The Preparatory Commission for the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

  2. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons


  1. In 1988, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Hashemi Rafsanjani, described chemical and biological weapons as "the poor man's atomic bomb". This phrase is as accurate as it is alarming. While nuclear weapons represent the zenith of mass destruction, their fabrication requires advanced industrial capabilities as well as access to rare, tightly controlled materials. Chemical and biological weapons, on the other hand, are cheap and easy to build using equipment and materials that are used extensively for a host of civilian purposes. This was demonstrated all too clearly in March 1995 when terrorists released chemical weapons on the Tokyo subway.

  2. With the end of the Cold War, attention has focused on what used to be "second order" threats, and great progress has been made in producing agreements to curb those posed by chemical and biological weapons (CBW). Even so, the international community will continue to face threats from these types of weapons. Indeed, concern about potential terrorist use of CBW is mounting, and there are grave fears about possible CBW activities in countries like Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea (to name but a few).

  3. The purpose of this Report is to assess the arms control agreements that limit the CBW risk and then to analyze the implementation of these agreements. The Report begins with a description of the technical characteristics of CBW and the threats posed by CBW.


  1. This chapter briefly describes what chemical and biological weapons are and what they do. It then looks at the types of nations and sub-national groups - terrorists - that might pose a CBW threat.
  1. Agents

    1. A chemical or biological weapon consists of a toxic agent and some form of delivery device. Delivery devices can be variants on traditional military items - artillery shells, bombs, missiles, aerosol sprayers etc. - but can also be far less conventional. For instance, chemical agents released on the Tokyo subway were released by puncturing plastic containers.

    2. Chemical agents come in many varieties. The most straightforward are simple elements or compounds such as chlorine, hydrogen cyanide, and dichlorodiethyl sulphide (mustard gas). More powerful agents are fluoroacetates and organophosphorous compounds, the latter being the more lethal. More powerful still are so-called nerve agents such as tabun, sarin, soman and VX.

    3. Certain biological agents are even more toxic than chemical agents. These are viruses, bacteria, and rickettsia such as anthrax, brucellosis, bubonic plague, Q fever, and typhus. Biotechnological techniques can be used to produce these agents in large quantities and genetic engineering could enhance their ability to be used as weapons, for instance by improving their resilience, stability and resistance to vaccines and antibiotics.

    4. Another class of agents is known as toxins. These are non-living poisonous substances which are derived from biological processes. Examples include botulin, ricin, and animal venom. Cloning techniques enable some of these agents to be produced in large quantities and some can be synthesized chemically.

  2. Lethality

    1. During the First World War, the first use of lethal chemical weapons occurred at Langemarck where during 30 minutes the use of 171 tonnes of chlorine gas caused about 15,000 casualties of which 5,000 were fatalities. The total number of chemical weapons casualties during the First World War was 1.3 million including about 100,000 deaths. Chemical weapons developed since then are hundreds of times more toxic. A lethal dose of VX, for instance, would fit on a pinhead.

    2. Biological agents are lethal in even smaller quantities. Although there is debate on the precise figures and about which agents are the most lethal, there is no disagreement that biological agents are astonishingly toxic. One source maintains that one ounce (about 35 grams) of botulinal toxin would be sufficient to kill 60 million people while another suggests that half that quantity would be sufficient to kill the entire population of the United States. According to another study, one gram of anthrax spores would be sufficient to kill one third of the United States population.

    3. Estimates such as these are often based simply on the minimum lethal dose under laboratory conditions. Lethality figures drop somewhat when factors such as population density and practical dispersion under normal day-to-day conditions are taken into account. Even so, the figures make alarming reading. Several hundred thousand deaths could be caused in a crowded urban area by four tonnes of VX or only 50 kilograms of anthrax spores and a single ounce of anthrax introduced into the air-conditioning system of a domed stadium could infect 70-80,000 spectators within one hour.

    4. Some very useful comparisons of the effects of weapons of mass destruction have been produced by the United States Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). One study compared the likely casualties in Washington, D.C. from attacks using nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The results appear in Table 1.

      Table 1. Casualty Estimates for Various WMD Delivered on Washington, D.C.
      Delivery Method Warhead Approximate Number of Deaths
      Scud-type missile 300 kg sarin nerve gas 60-100

      30 kg anthrax spores 30,000-100,000
      Atomic bomb 12.5 kilotonnes TNT equivalent 23,000-80,000
      Hydrogen bomb 1.0 megatonnes TNT equivalent 570,000-1,900,000
      Dispersal by single aircraft 1,000 kg sarin nerve gas 400-800

      100 kg anthrax spores 420,000-1,400,000

    5. The casualty figures cited in Table 1 are based on the "medium" case where the weather would be overcast and winds would be moderate. On a clear, windy day the number of casualties from chemical and biological weapons would be lower. On a clear, calm night the number of casualties would be higher.

    6. Based on these types of estimates, OTA concluded - among other things - that in principle, pound for pound, biological weapons could exceed the killing power of nuclear weapons. If warning is provided, however, civil defence measures are easier to take against chemical and biological weapons. Another important finding was that chemical weapons would be less destructive against well-protected troops or civilians than even conventional explosives.

  3. Ease of Acquisition

    1. Technologies and materials that are used extensively throughout the world for civilian purposes can easily be diverted to produce chemical weapons agents. Similarly, the equipment and materials needed to manufacture biological weapons agents are widely available in the civil sector. Furthermore, the technology and infrastructure required to produce chemical and biological weapons are considerably less expensive than those required for nuclear weapons. Consequently, any nation with a reasonably advanced chemical industry could easily manufacture chemical or biological weapons agents. Indeed, chemical weapons can be manufactured in civilian chemical plants using facilities and materials that have perfectly legitimate civilian uses. Facilities used to manufacture fertilizers, insecticides, pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals can quickly be turned to the production of chemical weapons agents.

    2. For a nation that wishes to acquire a useful chemical weapons capability, production of the agent is a necessary but not sufficient condition. A true chemical weapon consists of not just an agent but also a means of delivery. The technical difficulties involved in developing effective delivery devices such as missiles and bombs depend upon the desired purpose of the weapon. If genuine military effectiveness is the goal, great attention must be paid to optimizing payload size and the means of dispersing the agent. If the goal is to induce terror in a civilian population, the technical demands are far less rigorous.

    3. Biological weapons agents too can be manufactured in facilities normally used for wholly legitimate civilian purposes such as the production of vaccines.

    4. Chemical and biological weapons are not only of interest to nations. There is increasing concern that terrorist groups will turn to these weapons. So how easy is it for a terrorist group to obtain or manufacture these agents?

    5. The Aum Shinri Kyo sect that released the chemical agent sarin on the Tokyo subway had a surprisingly well-developed technical infrastructure. This included front companies for purchasing materials and equipment, well-equipped laboratories, extensive chemical manufacturing facilities and several hundred tonnes of 40 different kinds of chemicals. One estimate suggested that the materials together could have produced about 50 tonnes of chemical weapons agents to kill as many as 4.2 million people.

    6. In fact, it would be possible to produce lethal chemical or biological weapons in sufficient quantities for use in terrorist attacks with far more modest resources than those of the Aum Shinri Kyo sect. According to an OTA study, the level of technological sophistication required would be comparable with that already seen in sophisticated bombs that have been used against civilian aircraft. Another source states that the technical challenge is equivalent to the clandestine production of chemical narcotics or the refinement of heroin. A more specific assessment suggests that the development of biological weapons would cost less than $100,000, require five biologists, and take just a few weeks using equipment that is readily available.

  4. Assessing the Threat

    1. As noted earlier, chemical weapons were used extensively in the First World War. Their effects were so abhorrent, however, that most nations have refrained from using them since then. The most recent exceptions were the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, where both sides reportedly employed chemical weapons in the war's closing stages, and Iraq's use of chemical weapons against its own Kurdish population.

    2. The use of biological weapons has been alleged on several occasions but not proved. The stigma attached to the use of chemical weapons has also applied to biological weapons, and in operational terms biological agents are generally deemed more awkward than chemical agents in that many are less predictable and their effects are less immediate. Nations have certainly developed them - the Aum Shinri Kyo sect was working on them - but they are usually viewed as strategic weapons rather than as tactical ones.

    3. There is certainly no guarantee that chemical or biological weapons will not be used in the future. Particularly ominous is the fact that the states now believed to have biological or chemical weapons programmes are for the most part located in traditionally unstable regions where bitter and unresolved rivalries have erupted into war in the past and might well do so again. As is discussed below, many nations have not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and this shows - at the very least - indifference to banning chemical weapons.

    4. There are essentially two types of chemical and biological weapons threats: the nation-to-nation threat and the terrorist threat.

    5. Although sources might differ on exactly which nations possess chemical and biological weapons and the means to employ them, there is general agreement among the Western allies that the threat is growing. According to the United States Defense Intelligence Agency, the number of countries confirmed or suspected of having offensive chemical weapons programmes is roughly double the figure of 10 years ago and triple that of 20 years ago, and the number of countries known or suspected of having offensive biological weapons programmes has tripled since the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) was instituted in 1972.

    6. United States Senator Sam Nunn has identified four categories of countries that are likely to be motivated to acquire weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons. These are:

      • nations such as Libya and Iran which use terrorism as a tool of national policy; - nations like Iraq which harbour expansionist ambitions; - nations which fear invasion and threaten an invasion of others, for example, North Korea;
      • nations who are heavily armed because they fear their neighbours in the region, like India and Pakistan.

    7. The interest of some of these nations in developing and deploying chemical and/or biological weapons is evident. North Korea has an active chemical warfare programme and has produced mustard gas and blister agents. Indeed, North Korea's chemical arsenal was described as "vast" by a defector from a biological and chemical army unit in 1994. It also has produced weapons armed with chemical agents and it has a biological weapons research and development programme. Libya continues to build a second chemical warfare facility underground in a mountainous area near Tarhunah, 65 kilometres south-east of Tripoli. Libyan leader Colonel Moamar al Gaddafi maintains that the facility is intended to store irrigation water, but American intelligence reports indicate that the plant will be the largest underground chemical weapons plant in the world. The plant is expected to be completed before the end of the decade, perhaps even as early as 1997. United States Secretary of Defense William Perry has described the plant as a matter of profound concern. Diplomatic efforts are being made to persuade Libya to halt construction of the plant, and the United States has not ruled out the use of force if diplomatic efforts fail. A chemical plant at Rabta which Libya maintains is for pharmaceutical production remains inactive. It is believed that this plant's actual purpose is the production of chemical weapons.

    8. Iraq's very substantial chemical weapons arsenal has been dismantled by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). If United Nations sanctions were lifted, it could produce chemical agents "almost immediately" but it would take more than a year to recover its pre-war chemical warfare capability. UNSCOM suspects that between 6 and 16 ballistic missiles armed with biological warheads are still hidden in Iraq. The agents used in the warhead are believed to be anthrax and botulinum toxin. Iraq has admitted arming missile warheads with these agents and UNSCOM cannot find any evidence indicating that they were destroyed.

    9. Iran continues to expand its chemical weapons production capabilities despite signing the Chemical Weapons Convention. The United States has voiced concern over exports of chemical equipment from China to Iran. American assessments suggest that Iran is seeking complete self-sufficiency in the production of a wide range of chemical weapons. Iran also has a biological research and development programme.

    10. There is also evidence that Serbia has produced the nerve agent, sarin.

    11. These are by no means the only nations believed to have active chemical and/or biological weapons programmes. Other examples often given include Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan, Syria, China, Myanmar, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Clearly, the presence of such programmes indicates the need for implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention - discussed later in this Report - and the need for universal adherence to that Convention. Until that is achieved, however, nations must make plans to deal with the military threats posed by such weapons both to their national territory and to their forces which might be deployed in certain regions of the world. There is, however, another type of threat involving chemical or biological weapons: the terrorist threat.

    12. There is little information in the public domain on the possible terrorist use of chemical or biological agents. Specialists agree that the likelihood of such use is greater than that of nuclear devices and that civilian populations are extremely vulnerable to such attacks.

    13. Assessments of the types of terrorist groups most likely to resort to chemical or biological (CB) attacks include:

      • Those whose goals include vague notions about world revolution, universalistic goals such as the Japanese Red Army and certain European radical left-wing groups.
      • Those unconcerned with the effects of public opinion such as neo-Nazi groups in Europe and North America.
      • Those with a history of high-casualty, indiscriminate attacks, such as Sikh extremists, pro-Iranian Shiite fundamentalist groups such as Hezbollah, and extremists within the Palestinian movement such as the Abu Nidal Organization.
      • Those ideologically opposed to Western society in general.
      • Those noted for their sophistication in weaponry or tactics, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
      • Those with state sponsors, especially where the sponsor is known to possess chemical or biological weapons.

    14. This is an alarmingly comprehensive list. Bearing in mind the relative ease with which chemical and biological agents can be produced it is perhaps surprising that CB terrorism has only recently become a reality.

    15. Society's vulnerability to a CB attack is appalling. CB production is difficult to detect and terrorist devices could be placed as easily as conventional bombs. Agents could also be delivered without the use of explosives - via air conditioning systems, for example - so the agents could be very easily concealed.


  1. Having briefly described the types of threats, the natural question is what can be done to reduce or eliminate them. Setting aside the potential terrorist threat for the moment, the two main instruments for restricting nation-to-nation chemical and biological threats are the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. In the near future, key events are likely to occur regarding both of these Conventions. The Chemical Weapons Convention is likely to be ratified by sufficient nations for it to enter into force and the BWC is likely to be strengthened by adding new verification provisions. This chapter looks at these issues and then looks at measures to deal with the terrorist chemical and/or biological weapons threat.

  1. The Chemical Weapons Convention

    1. The use of chemical weapons in the First World War led to the 1925 Geneva "Protocol for the Prohibition of Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of All Analogous Liquids, Material of Devices and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare". However, the scope of the prohibition is limited solely to the use of chemical and biological weapons and not to their development, production and stockpiling. It is in effect a ban on their first use.

    2. The formal negotiations which led to the Chemical Weapons Convention began in the early 1980s and concluded on 3 September 1992 when the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva adopted the text of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (CWC). After approval by the United Nations General Assembly, the Convention was opened for signature at a ceremony in Paris on 13 January 1993.

    1. The CWC's Provisions

      1. The CWC is a global disarmament agreement that:

        • bans the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons; - provides for the destruction of existing chemical weapon stockpiles and related facilities within a specific time frame;
        • includes strong verification provisions applicable to chemical weapons and to the production of industrial chemicals which could be used to make those weapons; - after entry into force will be of indefinite duration.

      2. The CWC consists of a Preamble, 24 articles and 3 annexes: (on the categorization of chemicals under the CWC, on implementation and verification, and on the protection of confidential information). The CWC's scope is comprehensive. Its parties agree never under any circumstances to:

        • develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, or retain chemical weapons; - use or prepare to use chemical weapons;
        • assist other nations in acting against the prohibitions of the Convention.

        They also agree to:

        • destroy all chemical weapons in their possession or which they may have left in the territory of another nation;
        • destroy chemical weapons production facilities; and
        • forgo the use of riot control agents as a method of warfare.

      3. Regarding the destruction of chemical weapons, the CWC parties undertake to destroy all chemical weapons and production facilities under their jurisdiction or control. This should be done in accordance with the relevant national standards on safety and emissions. Destruction must begin within two years of the CWC's entry into force and must be complete within ten years of entry into force. In exceptional cases, the deadline for chemical weapons destruction may be extended by up to five years, and chemical weapons facilities may be converted for peaceful uses in a manner which ensures that they are not reconverted for prohibited purposes.

      4. In addition, the CWC parties agree to co-operate and provide assistance relating to the technologies of chemical weapons destruction.

      5. Concerning verification, within 30 days of the CWC's entry into force, the parties must submit a detailed declaration describing their chemical weapons and chemical weapons production facilities along with a general plan for destroying them. In addition, parties must declare all chemicals or production facilities that could be turned to weapons purposes. Chemicals are classified according to their utility in producing chemical weapons. Specific chemicals are listed according to three "Schedules", and facilities producing certain generic chemical types are also subject to reporting and inspection.

      6. Schedule 1 includes chemicals that can be used as chemical weapons and that have few uses for peaceful purposes. These chemicals are subject to very stringent restrictions including a ceiling on production of one tonne per annum per state, licensing requirements, and restrictions on transfers. Schedule 2 includes chemicals that are precursors to chemical weapons (or, in some cases, are themselves usable as chemical weapons) but that also have legitimate civilian uses, for instance, in insecticides, herbicides, lubricants and pharmaceuticals. Schedule 3 includes chemicals that can be used to produce chemical weapons but which are used in large quantities for civilian products such as herbicides, insecticides, paints, coatings, textiles, and lubricants. The Convention also establishes reporting requirements on facilities that produce certain generic types of chemicals known as "discrete organic chemicals" (DOCs). And if the DOCs contain phosphorus, sulphur or fluorine (PSF chemicals), the reporting requirements are more stringent. The reporting and inspection thresholds are shown in Table 2.

        Table 2. Reporting and Inspection Thresholds for Scheduled Chemicals

        Class of Chemical Reporting Threshold Inspection Threshold
        Schedule 2 A 100 kg 1 tonne
        Schedule 2 A 1 kg 10 kg
        Schedule 2 B 1 tonne 10 tonnes
        Schedule 3 30 tonnes 200 tonnes
        Unscheduled DOCs 200 tonnes 200 tonnes
        PSF chemicals 30 tonnes 200 tonnes

      7. The Convention places routine inspections requirements on industrial facilities that produce, process or consume more than the threshold amount of chemicals considered above. The initial declaration of such materials and facilities will be verified by an initial inspection of each declared facility shortly after the CWC enters into force. The initial inspection will also lay the groundwork for planning future routine inspections and assessing the feasibility of continuous monitoring with on-site instruments.

      8. In addition to routine inspections, the CWC permits challenge inspections which any state party nation can demand at suspected chemical weapons facilities anywhere within the borders of the challenged nation. These inspections are intended to detect and deter clandestine chemical weapons production.

    2. Implementing the CWC

      1. The verification mechanisms are far more intrusive than those possible under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and several thousand facilities all over the world fall under their scope. To implement the CWC's provisions, the CWC establishes the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which will commence operations when the CWC enters into force, i.e. 180 days after 65 nations have ratified the CWC. Recognizing that the OPCW could not be created from scratch overnight, it was agreed to create a Preparatory Commission (Prepcom) 30 days after 50 nations had signed the CWC. The work of the Prepcom is described in Annex 1 and the OPCW is described in Annex 2.

    3. Bringing the CWC into Force

      1. By 1 January 1996, 159 nations had signed the CWC and 47 states had ratified it. The Convention will enter into force 180 days after 65 nations have deposited their instruments of ratification. Among the nations that have not yet signed the CWC are Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, Taiwan, Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Somalia and Sudan. Several nations in the Middle East have stated that they do not want to sign the CWC until Israel has acceded to the nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty. In other words, they see an equivalence between the option of developing nuclear weapons and the option of developing chemical weapons.

      2. At the time of writing 64 nations had ratified the CWC, just one short of the 65 needed. Among those that have not ratified are several members or associate delegations of the North Atlantic Assembly. The member nations are: Belgium, Iceland, Turkey, and the United States. The associate delegations are: Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Russia, Slovenia, and Ukraine.

      3. Entry into force will no doubt cause many nations some difficulties. The OPCW Prepcom has had to wrestle with a number of implementation issues such as the precise manner of conducting inspections, the imposition of export controls on certain chemicals, and the scope of industry's obligations. And some parties will be pressed to have the relevant national legislation in place (for example to permit inspections of private facilities).

      4. Russia and the United States face particular difficulties as the only two nations with extremely large declared stocks of chemical weapons. The United States has already begun to incinerate its chemical weapons stocks but the $8.6 billion destruction programme faces many obstacles.

      5. As well as existing incineration facilities at Johnston Atoll in the Pacific and at Tooele in Utah, the United States plans to build an additional seven facilities each one near existing chemical weapons storage areas. This is to avoid the potentially hazardous problems of transporting chemical weapons to destruction facilities. Despite government assurances, environmental groups and local organizations near the planned facilities have voiced concerns about the emissions from incinerators and could delay the destruction programme.

      6. Russia faces a variety of problems in disposing of its chemical weapons stockpile. Russia estimates the cost of destroying its chemical weapons stocks at about $5 billion, a sum which is hard to find despite substantial assistance from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States. Local opposition to a destruction facility at Chapeyevsk prevented it from commencing operations and lack of resources is hindering the construction of a new facility at Gorny in the Saratov region. Russia is also committed to retrieving commercially useful chemicals such as arsenic from certain of its stocks rather than incinerating them but problems in obtaining the necessary purity are complicating the process.

      7. In both nations CWC ratification is a contentious issue. In Russia, ratification was delayed by the parliamentary elections in December 1995 and since then the Russian parliament does not seem to have attached a high priority to it.

      8. In the United States, President Clinton has appealed for ratification but some Republican senators, among them Senator Jesse Helms, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, have expressed deep misgivings about the CWC. These include concerns about its ability to limit chemical weapons terrorism, the adequacy of verification provisions, and problems regarding Russian compliance with a chemical arms agreement reached by the United States and the former Soviet Union in 1990. On 11 September 1996, President Clinton withdrew the CWC from Senate consideration fearing that the ratification vote would be defeated. The CWC is now unlikely to be considered for ratification until 1997.

      9. Despite these difficulties, as noted earlier, it seems that the CWC will enter into force during late 1996 or early 1997. Upon doing so, a great step forward will have been taken towards eliminating the threat of chemical weapons. One obvious problem, however, is that several nations have not signed the CWC and some of these are believed to have chemical weapons programmes. The CWC's entry into force will, however, put pressure on these nations. Once the CWC enters into force, trade in Schedule 2 and Schedule 3 chemicals with parties outside the CWC will require an end- user certificate and an undertaking by the recipient not to re-transfer the chemicals in question. After three years, trade in Schedule 2 chemicals will be completely banned and after five years the parties to the CWC will decide whether to ban trade in Schedule 3 chemicals with parties outside the CWC. These sanctions could bring about the collapse of the chemical industries in affected nations.

      10. The CWC represents the most ambitious multilateral arms control agreement in history. In terms of its verification provisions and the automaticity of its sanctions, it is more comprehensive than the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and it will undoubtedly greatly diminish the nation-to-nation threat of chemical warfare.

  2. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

    1. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) was opened for signature in April 1972 and entered into force in March 1975. Its 134 parties undertake "never in any circumstances to develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise retain" biological weapons agents of types and in quantities that have no justification for "prophylactic protection or other peaceful purposes". They also make the same undertaking regarding biological agent delivery systems.

    2. Unlike the CWC, the BWC has no verification provisions. Its parties agree to co-operate in solving any problems that may arise in relation to the BWC's objectives and they make complaints about non-compliance to the United Nations Security Council.

    3. Since the BWC entered into force, the lack of verification provisions has been a key issue at the three review conferences that have been held to assess the operation of the Convention and to consider proposals to improve its effectiveness. In 1986, parties at the second review agreed on a number of modest confidence-building measures (CBMs) but the 1991 review conference - after both the Cold War and the Gulf War - introduced additional confidence-building measures and appointed a group of experts to study verification possibilities.

    4. This Ad Hoc Group of Governmental Experts - dubbed VEREX (VERification EXperts) - produced a draft report describing twenty-one potential verification measures ranging from on-site inspections to monitoring by satellite. These were considered at a special meeting of the BWC parties in 1994 but the parties failed to adopt any of them. Instead, they created a new working group to draft proposals on verification measures and other compliance issues.

    5. Many factors contributed to the failure to agree on a verification regime. Most fundamentally, there is disagreement about the utility of a verification regime. Opponents argue that the materials and technologies are so easy to obtain and conceal that it would be simple to evade any practical verification regime. Supporters maintain that a proper verification regime would nevertheless provide a high degree of reassurance. Another factor was the opposition of some nations to the intrusive inspections that would have to be part of a realistic verification regime. A North-South divide also emerged with developing nations voicing concerns about the costs of a verification regime and the possible impediments it might place on their growing biotechnology capabilities.

    6. The fourth review conference will take place at the end of November 1996 and it is by no means clear what will emerge. At present, the United States opposes a verification regime and prefers enhancing transparency perhaps by making certain CBMs compulsory. Japan seems to support this approach. On the other hand, Canada, some European nations, Australia and New Zealand support a verification regime that would include on-site inspections. Developing nations seem to support the principle of verification but are not enthusiastic about intrusive on-site inspections. China has expressed strong opposition to on-site inspections.

    7. Another outstanding issue is persistent uncertainty about whether Russia has ceased work on biological weapons. The United States and the United Kingdom have expressed concern that work is still continuing despite Russian government assurances that the programme has ceased. In August 1996, the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency issued a report to Congress which stated that Russia was in violation of the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.

  3. Chemical and Biological Terrorism

    1. Experts are generally pessimistic about measures that can be taken to prevent chemical or biological terrorism. Even small quantities of chemical agent could be of profound interest to a terrorist group and it would be extremely difficult to detect such production. Terrorists would also have virtually unlimited possible targets so physical protection can be ruled out as a viable possibility.

    2. In March 1996, CIA director John M. Deutch, in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that: "The ability of our country or, I might say, any other country in the developed world to protect their infrastructure from a terrorist attack based on nuclear, chemical or biological weapons is very, very small indeed." He went on to say that the CIA worried a great deal about the spread of biological and chemical weapons and knew next to nothing about the plans and the ideas of small terrorist organizations that might use them.

    3. Certain measures can and are being taken, however, to diminish the threat and reduce the impact of a CB terrorist attack. One measure is greater intelligence co-operation. Many terrorist organizations have international connections either with other terrorist groups or governments, so the pooling of intelligence information has obvious utility. It is also useful to draw up "indicators" for law-enforcement agencies such as thefts or losses of biological cultures, certain chemicals, and certain types of equipment. Emergency services should have access to protective equipment and CB detection devices. Stocks of antidotes and vaccines should also be available; and, naturally, emergency services - perhaps special response teams - should be trained and equipped to deal with a CB attack.

    4. Certainly some nations are implementing these types of measures although details are scarce since there is a natural reluctance for nations to publicize their counter- terrorist activities and plans. Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, for instance, are jointly investigating tactics and technologies related to CB counter-terrorism. In August 1996, the United States Senate approved a new programme to prepare the United States for a terrorist chemical or biological attack. The new programme will include training for local police, fire and "Metropolitan Medical Strike Force Teams" in detection, recognition, and treatment of victims of chemical or biological attacks and will improve chemical and biological detection equipment at airports and border crossings. The Senate also approved additional funding to assist the former Soviet republics to destroy weapons of mass destruction to prevent their being obtained by terrorist groups or countries hostile to the United States.

  4. NATO's Response

    1. The NATO nations have long recognized that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction represents, one of the main risks to international security, and at the Brussels Summit in January 1994, they agreed to "develop an overall policy framework to consider how to reinforce ongoing prevention efforts and how to reduce the proliferation threat and protect against it".

    2. NATO has created two working groups to deal with the political and defence dimensions of proliferation, and both groups report to the Joint Committee on Proliferation, chaired by the Deputy Secretary General.

    3. In practical terms, one aim of the political group is to look at the political developments in nations that are likely to pose a technical military risk of proliferation. As a first step, the political group has considered the political, security, economic, and other factors that may encourage states to acquire weapons of mass destruction, as well as the instruments at NATO's disposal which may counter or discourage the motives of would-be proliferators.

    4. The Alliance's contribution to non-proliferation efforts is intended to reinforce and complement, not duplicate, national policies and multilateral arrangements. The Alliance framework addresses the entire range of multilateral efforts to prevent proliferation and includes the following goals:

      • the pursuit of universal adherence to the NPT, which won indefinite extension on 11 May 1995;
      • the rapid entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention;
      • the strengthening of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention through greater efforts in the fields of transparency and verification; and
      • the negotiation of a universal and verifiable Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

    5. NATO also supports the broadening and strengthening of various supply side non-proliferation regimes, such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Zangger Committee, the Australia Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, and the negotiation of a possible Convention banning the production of fissile material for nuclear explosive purposes.

    6. The Defence Group on Proliferation has completed a three-phase work plan. In the first phase, the group produced an "Assessment of the Proliferation Risks to NATO", a classified report combining regional and technical analysis of potential proliferation challenges to Alliance peace and security. This report looked at risks that could emerge by the year 2010 and, specifically, at potential risks in various countries. This exercise was performed with the full co-operation of all the NATO nations and was based on intelligence estimates.

    7. The second phase, completed in November 1995, assessed the military and strategic implications for NATO operations and defences. It examined the capabilities required to protect NATO forces, territory, and populations. These included deterrent forces, passive and active defences, and counterforce capabilities.

    8. The third and final phase was concluded in mid-1996 and recommended specific, tangible changes in NATO's force posture that would provide these capabilities. This recognized that urgent action was required, and Ministers agreed to implement an accelerated process to correct shortfalls in military capabilities. Actions agreed included improvements in stand-off and point biological and chemical agent detection, identification and warning, improvements in air and missile defences, and improvements in individual NBC protective equipment. The defence group is now monitoring progress in improving capabilities and is working to refine Alliance doctrine, planning, training and exercising.

    9. Another aspect of NATO's involvement in proliferation issues is to provide a forum for discussion for the nations providing assistance to the nations of the former Soviet Union in the field of weapons dismantlement. NATO also consults regularly with its Cooperation Partners in the framework of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) and the Partnership for Peace (PfP) to develop a common response to proliferation threats. NATO will also share its approach to WMD proliferation risks with non-member Mediterranean countries as part of its continuing dialogue with states in that region.


  1. The pending entry into force of the CWC and the likelihood of a more stringent BWC will represent significant steps towards the elimination of these classes of weapon. These are important steps which deserve support.

  2. It is certainly true that the CWC's verification provisions are not perfect. A determined nation could circumvent them, but the CWC greatly improves the likelihood that such action would be detected. Indeed, the verification provisions are stronger than those of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which is acknowledged as an indispensable framework for limiting nuclear proliferation. Furthermore, the CWC provides for escalating sanctions against nations that are not party to it and those nations that are party to the Convention cannot refuse to permit a challenge inspection. Every effort should therefore be made to obtain universal adherence to the CWC.

  3. For many years to come, however, the prospect remains that NATO's armed forces - and those of its friends and allies - will have to face a chemical or biological threat. NATO experts are reported as believing that by the end of the decade 20 nations might be armed with ballistic missiles, nine could have nuclear weapons, 10 could have biological weapons and 30 could have chemical weapons. When NATO Defence Ministers met in May 1996, they were presented with a detailed list of capabilities that NATO needs to meet these kinds of threat. As noted earlier, these capabilities include CB agent detection and identification equipment, missile defence systems, personal protective equipment and improved surveillance and command systems. Some of these capabilities will have obvious applications in the civilian context.

  4. Despite facing these threats and doubtless due to assessments of the Gulf War, there is confidence that there is no need to respond in kind to a chemical or biological attack. United States Defense Secretary William Perry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States could use "overwhelming and devastating" force if necessary to respond to a chemical attack and that chemical retaliation was "no longer a necessary element in countering chemical weapons". He continued, "We have an effective range of alternative capabilities to deter or retaliate".

  5. While it is necessary to be prepared to deal with nations that pose potential threats, it should not be forgotten that most nations that are party to the CWC and the BWC live up to their obligations. Also, the CWC's entry into force will impose economic sanctions on the "hold-outs" that should make them reconsider their position, and efforts are in progress to strengthen the BWC. There are thus grounds for long-term optimism regarding the nation-to-nation CBW threat. Unfortunately, the outlook for dealing with CBW terrorism looks far more bleak. Much can be done to complicate the terrorists' task and to deal with the aftermath of an attack. But there is no substitute for concerted, determined action against terrorists in order to reduce the chances of future terrorist use of chemical or biological weapons.



  1. When the States Parties of the Convention gathered in the capital of France on 13 January 1993, they adopted a resolution establishing the Preparatory Commission (Prepcom) in The Hague. This Commission is composed of all States which have signed the Convention. Each of them has one representative in the Prepcom who may be accompanied by alternates and advisers.

  2. The Preparatory Commission has three levels of work. Firstly, there are Plenary Sessions where decisions are adopted. These Sessions are convened for one week, several times a year at intervals of roughly three months. Second are the Working Groups which meet concurrently with the Plenary. At present, there are two such groups. Working Group A deals primarily with organizational issues, rules of procedure, staff and financial regulations, and preparation of the budget and programme of work. Working Group B is responsible for developing detailed verification procedures, and technical co-operation and assistance in monitoring CWC compliance. Third are the Expert Groups which prepare recommendations on specific issues which are subject to the approval of the Working Groups and the Plenary Sessions. In addition, there are ad hoc specialist task forces which investigate specific technical issues at the request of the Working Groups.

  3. Prepcom decisions are based on consensus as far as possible. If an issue is to be voted upon, the Chairman defers the vote for 24 hours and makes every effort to achieve consensus. Should a vote still be needed, substantive matters are decided by a two-thirds majority of members and voting and procedural matters by a simple majority of members present and voting.

  4. The Chairmanship of the Prepcom rotates among the five regional groups of Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean, and Western European and Other States (WEOS) every six months in alphabetical order in order to ensure equitable regional representations. These regional groups choose the Vice-Chairmen, whose main task is to advise the Chairman. Each regional group also has its co-ordinator who disseminates information to countries within the regional group to build consensus on issues.

  5. To assist the Plenary and other meetings of the Prepcom, the first Plenary Session of the Preparatory Commission established a Provisional Technical Secretariat (PTS). This consists of five divisions: Verification, External Relations, Legal, Administration, and Technical Co-operation and Assistance. The PTS works with governments, representatives of the chemical industry, the media, research institutes and non-governmental organizations in a position to assist with preparations for early entry into force and effective implementation of the CWC. In this context, the Secretariat maintains contacts with non-signatory states in an effort to persuade them to join the CWC and achieve its universality.



  1. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will be located in The Hague and will be financed by States Parties in accordance with the United Nations scale of assessment. The OPCW will consist of three parts: the Conference of the States Parties, the Executive Council, and the Technical Secretariat.

  2. The Conference of the States Parties is the CWC's highest authority and will consist of all parties to CWC. Each party will have one representative in the Conference, who may be accompanied by alternates and advisers. They will meet in regular sessions which will be held annually unless the Conference decides otherwise. The Scientific Advisory Board will provide specialized advice in relevant areas of science and technology to the Conference of the States Parties, the Executive Council, or States Parties.

  3. The Executive Council will consist of 41 States Parties selected from each of the five regional groups (nine from Africa, nine from Asia, five from Eastern Europe, seven from Latin America and the Caribbean, ten from among Western European and other States, and one additional party to be designated consecutively by States Parties). These members are elected by the Conference for a term of two years.

  4. The Technical Secretariat will assist the Conference and the Executive Council in performing their functions. It will carry out the verification measures provided for in this Convention. It will be headed by a Director General who will be appointed by the Conference upon the recommendation of the Executive Council for a term of four years. It will also include an Inspectorate "whose inspectors will not seek or receive instructions from any Government or from any other source external to the Organization".

  5. Each State Party undertakes to institute national measures to enforce the treaty, including penal legislation extending to activities of its citizens abroad. In order to fulfil its obligations under the treaty, each State Party must also create a National Authority. These national bodies are to serve as focal points for liaison with the OPCW and other States Parties.