Rome '08 Workshop

The Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction—What Are The Real Threats and How Should We Respond? 

Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter

Director General, OPCW 

Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter


It is a great pleasure to have once again the opportunity to address the International Workshop on Global Security. This annual event provides an important forum for debating issues that are of relevance to our contemporary security environment. I am sure that, as in the past, the results of the debate will contribute to bringing forward our common thinking on the possible solutions to the continuously evolving threats and challenges that the international community presently faces. 

I am also particularly grateful to Minister Ignazio La Russa, the Minister of Defense of Italy, for supporting this meeting. His support bears testimony to his country’s continued commitment to promoting a more peaceful and stable world, including as a reliable partner of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as it promotes the goals enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). As a tool that aims to eliminate forever the possibility of the use of chemical weapons, the convention represents a key instrument in the framework of the international community’s efforts towards addressing the threat of weapons of mass destruction. 


Especially in the context of the current global challenges that arise from the possible misuse of dangerous materials for terrorist purposes, the threat of chemical terrorism cannot be underestimated. The ease of access to dual-use chemicals, and the readily available knowledge of the technologies required to manufacture chemical weapons, make them a potential instrument of choice for terrorists. At the same time, as much as the chemical industry is a core industry in our contemporary world, one whose products sustain modern life and progress, we have to make sure that advances in this area are exclusively used for the benefit of mankind and never diverted to cause unspeakable suffering. 

The full and effective implementation of the CWC represents an effective as well as an urgent response to these challenges. The convention aims to achieve complete chemical disarmament and to ensure that chemistry is solely used and developed for the benefit of mankind. It sets up a comprehensive and universal regime without gaps, exceptions, or strategic reservations. The strength of the convention lies in the fact that all of the state-parties’ rights and obligations are granted and applied equally as much as it rests on the establishment of a stringent international verification mechanism aimed to promote compliance and confidence-building among its parties. 

The creation of an effective and reliable global verification system that operates in a nondiscriminatory and multilateral manner provides assurances on both the disarmament process and the legitimate chemical industry activities that are of direct relevance to the nonproliferation of chemical weapons. The crucial goals of disarmament and nonproliferation are complemented, under the convention, by the objectives set out in Articles X and XI of the convention, which give state-parties the right to receive assistance and protection against chemical weapons and to foster international cooperation in the field of peaceful chemical activities by the state-parties. 


Today, we have come a long way towards realizing our mandate under the convention. Whereas in other areas of disarmament disagreement and lack of political will are hindering the delicate process of eliminating the most inhumane means of destruction ever conceived, the OPCW is progressing steadily towards realizing the vision of a world free from one of them—chemical weapons. 

 One hundred and eighty-four states are presently parties to the convention. Such general acceptance by a large majority of the international community is evidence of the collective and firm resolve to achieve the elimination of all chemical weapons from our world and of the importance that states attach to this crucial disarmament and nonproliferation treaty. The disarmament agenda is making important progress, with about 28,500 metric tons, or over 40% of the 71,000 metric tons of declared chemical weapons agents already destroyed, and with all chemical weapons production facilities deactivated. 

The OPCW systematically verifies the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles and the destruction or conversion for peaceful purposes of former chemical weapons production facilities. At the same time, a system of industry verification through data monitoring and on-site inspections that provides additional assurances of nonproliferation has been set up under Article VI of the convention. Since its entry into force, OPCW inspection teams have carried out more than 3,300 inspections at approximately 1,250 military and industrial sites in over 80 countries. 

 As an organization, the OPCW promotes a philosophy of dialogue, compromise, and confidence-building among its members. This allows true multilateralism to nourish the intergovernmental process in our policy-making organs. Last April, the organization went through a successful exercise of diplomacy, the second of its kind in its relatively brief history. At the Second Special Session of the state-parties conference to review the operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, our member-states reached consensus on a number of issues of key importance to the future of the convention and that are crucial for realizing a world that will be forever free of the threat of chemical weapons. 


One of the areas on which the conference concentrated its attention is the consideration that, as we approach the completion of the destruction of declared chemical weapons stockpiles, the OPCW will gradually shift its emphasis from being mainly a disarmament body to being primarily a nonproliferation organization. While continuing to implement effectively its regular verification program, the organization will also dedicate particular attention to preventing the reemergence of chemical weapons; keeping apace with developments in science, technology, and industry that might affect the convention; and ensuring the effective implementation of the regime relating to the transfer of chemicals. It will be important for the Secretariat and the OPCW as a whole to be ready for this new stage in the life of the organization. 

In regard to industry verification, it will be crucial to continue developing the regime in a way that balances the underlying risks while ensuring adequate levels of verification of all chemical facilities that can be inspected. In particular, there is justifiable concern about the adequacy of the present level of inspections at a specific category of facilities—what we refer to as Other Chemical Production Facilities (OCPFs)—which, because of their technological characteristics, could be easily and quickly reconfigured for the production of chemical weapons. 

One additional challenge that we face in implementing the verification regime set up in the convention is keeping abreast of advances in science and technology, where progress has given us unprecedented prosperity and opportunities for the economic growth of all nations. Yet when misused, the same knowledge can become a cause of unimaginable destruction and misery. It is greatly important that we study new developments in science and technology to help us understand what they mean for this convention and regarding their implementation. 

We expect these matters to receive close attention from state-parties, especially through their support of the work of the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board and its temporary working groups. The continuing cooperation of scientists and chemists worldwide, as well as of the chemical industry, is also vital to our success, including in terms of spreading among those communities a culture of responsibility as a key tool for ensuring that progress in chemistry is used exclusively for the benefit of mankind. In this important area, the OPCW is working with the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) with a view to finalize specific codes of conduct. As I mentioned earlier, our contemporary security challenges include the need for greater cooperation to combat international terrorism. 

In the area of chemical weapons, the deadly consequences of their use has unfortunately been demonstrated in practice on more than one occasion. We are all well aware that toxic chemical compounds can be acquired throughout the world. The know-how for producing simple chemical weapons is widely available, as recent instances in Iraq in which chlorine was used in terrorist attacks have tragically shown. 

Without in any way departing from its specific mandate and competencies, because it has unique technical expertise and a model way of supporting state-parties in their implementation needs, the OPCW can significantly contribute, especially within the United Nations Security Council’s action under Resolution 1540. This resolution imposes an obligation on all U.N. member-states to adopt a series of concrete legal and administrative measures to prevent non-state actors from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction. Regarding chemical weapons, the requirements of Resolution 1540 coincide with the obligations enshrined in the convention. 

For its part, the convention requires that all state-parties put in place legal mechanisms that would deny access to chemical weapons and toxic chemicals by persons, groups, and other entities. If effectively implemented, the convention will be an essential tool to help prevent the use of toxic chemicals for illegitimate purposes. 


The Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adopted on September 8, 2006, by the U.N. General Assembly, has made clear the international community’s expectation that the OPCW will support collective efforts to eliminate the scourge of terrorism. It has also recognized the role of organizations such as the IAEA and the OPCW in such areas as capacity-building for protection and assistance against weapons of mass destruction. 

Indeed, in the face of increasing threats of terrorism, the salience of OPCW programs in the field of assistance and protection has also increased. As we face this scourge, the organization will need to continue to improve its own capability to effectively respond to requests for assistance. The OPCW therefore continues its endeavors to effectively mobilize the international response that would be required in situations in which chemical weapons had been used or were threatened to be used. As part of our efforts in this context, the full national implementation of the convention as envisioned in its Article VII is not just an imperative for the sake of compliance but, increasingly, a useful additional tool for each country’s security, especially since it provides a regulatory framework that would deter any use of toxic chemicals by anyone who intends to perpetrate crime or terror. 

It is also crucial for us to achieve universal adherence to the convention at the earliest possible time. The conference has reiterated that universality of the convention is essential to achieving its objective and purpose, which is to eliminate the threat of chemical weapons comprehensively and without exception. The realization of this goal will remain elusive so long as there exists even a single country that possesses both the capability and the intention to retain the chemical weapons option. 

 Fortunately, we know that most of the 11 remaining states have not joined because they are simply constrained by a lack of resources. At the same time, though, we know that our task will not be easy because non-party-states in such areas as the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula justify their resistance to joining because of a number of considerations relating to the political and security situation in their respective regions. It will be crucial for us to continue to work with these countries to bring them into the OPCW family at the earliest possible date. 

Our member-states have shown remarkable goodwill and dedication in building a strong and vibrant multilateral organization. They have done this work through policy-making organs and also by fully utilizing the opportunities the OPCW offers as a forum for consultation and cooperation to resolve issues and provide guidance for better implementation of the convention and its goals. Our member-states have made an invaluable contribution not just to the practical functioning of the OPCW, but to the overall confidence-building process that is indispensable for the eventual success of the convention. 


Although we have good reasons to be satisfied with the work of our organization and to remain fully supportive of its continued efforts to fulfil its mandate, it is also vitally important that we ensure not only the full and effective implementation of the convention, but also its ready adaptation to our fast-changing world and to the challenges, both technical and security, that it generates. 

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