Combating the proliferation of chemical weapons

The CWC: a unique and preferred instrument for complete prohibition of chemical weapons

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was signed in Paris in 1993, entered into force in 1997. It is in fact the only international Convention that provides for the complete eradication of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction, coupled with a binding verification system. Therefore it can be used to fight every aspect of the chemical weapon risk. In addition to expanding the number of States Parties (four have not yet ratified it), the universalization of its implementation should now be sought, as too few States Parties have so far transposed all CWC provisions into their domestic legislation.

France and the chemical weapon non-proliferation regime

France has sustainably engaged in the fight against chemical weapons over the long term. It is the depositary of the 1925 Protocol on the Prohibition of the Use in War of Chemical and Bacteriological weapons. In 1996, France removed the reserves it had appended to the Protocol at the time of ratifying on the possible use of such weapons in reprisal. It also revitalized negotiations of the Conference on Disarmament in 1989, which resulted in the signing of the Chemical Weapons Convention in Paris on 15 January 1993.

France ratified the Convention in 1995 and fully complies with its commitments: Transposition of the CWC in French legislation; acceptance of a dozen OPCW inspections on French territory every year; implementation in 2016 of the SECOIA Programme (Site d’Élimination de Chargements d’Objets Identifiés Anciens) to destroy the approximately 20 tonnes of chemical munitions from the First World War that are discovered every year in France.

France’s commitment to combating chemical weapons is reflected in excellent cooperation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, on both an institutional and operational level. French policy is implemented, in the framework of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), through simultaneous action on disarmament, i.e. the destruction of existing chemical weapons, and on combating their proliferation. Only a strengthening of the industrial verification regime could ensure that chemical weapons do not re-emerge once the chemical weapon disarmament process is fully completed.

France also actively participates in bolstering export control of civil and military dual-use goods in the European Union and internationally (The Australia Group).

In parallel, France ensures that it has the means to defend itself against the consequences of a chemical attack by studying protective measures against such weapons and their effects, so as to ensure the health and safety of the civilian population and its armed forces.

World map of chemical and biological disarmament and non-proliferation

Overview

The use of chemicals as a significant weapon of war began at Ypres on 22 April 1915, the first large-scale attack using chlorine gas. In total, chemical weapons killed 90,000 people during the First World War.

More recently, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran in the 1980s, and against its Kurdish population in Halabja. The sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995 also demonstrated that movements and groups employing terrorist methods were capable of using chemical weapons against the civilian population.

The fact that chemical weapons are easy to make (compared to other weapons of mass destruction) compounded with the diversity of potential delivery systems and memories of the consequences of their use partially explains why the international community sought a way to protect itself with a specific convention of unparalleled force.

Updated: October 2017

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