Although the OPCW is not an anti-terrorism institution, since 9/11 the States Parties have encouraged the organization to support national and international efforts to deny terrorists access to chemical weapons. The OPCW runs an Open-Ended Working Group on Terrorism and tries to share national expertise through other training, workshops, and other outreach efforts. But the OPCW lacks a program like the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, which directly addresses WMD terrorist threats.
The OPCW has focused on eliminating existing military stockpiles and facilities while devoting insufficient resources to monitoring civilian chemical facilities. These so-called other chemical production facilities (OCPFs) can produce chemical agents, but many developing countries in Asia, where many OCPFs can be found, resist the burden of more inspections or regulations. The global migration of chemical manufacturing from Western developed nations to developing countries with weaker national regulations and export controls complicates CWC enforcement.
Furthermore, the Convention must be modernized to keep pace with the many scientific and technological developments that are sweeping through the global chemical sector, including the use of multi-purpose chemical facilities that can quickly alter the products they manufacture, allowing rapid “break out” capacities, as well as the spread of chemical production plants to many more countries. Progress in nanotechnology and bio-technology also creates both new methods of making chemical weapons as well as new means of using them.
In addition, the advent of micro-reactors could considerably decrease the time needed to manufacture existing or create entirely novel toxic compounds. If used to make weapons, micro-reactors and other new chemical production or chemical plant construction might not exhibit the traditional signatures, such as large pollution emissions, that intelligence services employ to detect chemical weapons threats.
The CWC will hold its third review conference in April. This occasion will provide an opportunity to upgrade the convention to surmount these and other challenges. Asian states can play a major role in helping this modernization and reinforcement process. For example, they can stockpile the equipment a country suffering a chemical attack would need to recover from a major incident. Many countries that have pledged to render assistance to a country suffering from a chemical incident have antiquated equipment and lack means to transport their aid.
Asian countries can provide the OPCW with more resources to monitor the possible manufacturing and clandestine trafficking of chemical weapons. The OPCW, which has had zero-growth budgets since 2006 that have barely matched the nominal inflation rate, needs more resources to hire additional people and buy new equipment to respond to the world’s increasingly large, diverse, dispersed, and sophisticated commercial chemical industry.