The United States has completely destroyed its stockpile of chemical weapons, moving “one step closer to a world free from the horrors of chemical weapons,” President Biden announced July 7.
U.S. State Department officials called the end of the 30-year destruction effort a milestone both in maintaining U.S. compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention and in international cooperation on arms control and disarmament. The achievement eliminates an entire category of weapons of mass destruction declared under the treaty.
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins said the United States will continue working through the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to ensure that chemicals are used only for peaceful purposes and not as weapons.
“We must also acknowledge that our job here is not done,” Jenkins said, speaking at a meeting of the OPCW Executive Council July 11–14 in The Hague. “The threat of chemical weapons possession, development, and use still exists and requires our continued focus.”
The 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits parties from developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, retaining or transferring chemical weapons. The convention has near universality, with only four countries not party to the treaty.
The U.S. government invested $31 billion to safely destroy its decades-old stockpile of chemical weapons in a manner that protects workers, communities near destruction facilities and the environment.
At the OPCW meeting, Jenkins called on the regimes in Syria and Russia to meet their obligations under the convention.
Despite being a signatory to the convention, the Russian Federation used nerve agents in at least two assassination attempts, showing that the Russian Federation has an undeclared chemical weapons program, a blatant violation of the convention, Jenkins said.
Though Syria is also a party to the convention, the regime is responsible for five chemical weapons attacks in that country, OPCW investigators have found.
President Biden has said chemical weapons “should never again be developed or deployed” and called for a day when “all children can grow up in a world without the scourge of chemical weapons.”
On July 3, the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the OPCW announced a new partnership to further their collaboration on the convention’s aim of ridding the world of chemical weapons.
The agreement will improve the OPCW’s forensic and analytical capabilities, through support for the OPCW’s Centre for Chemistry and Technology. The center opened in May and is funded by 57 countries. This follows the U.S. government’s $1 million pledge to support OPCW training on upholding international norms against chemical weapons use and on holding violators accountable.
Focusing on safety
Final steps toward eliminating the U.S. stockpile occurred at facilities in Colorado and Kentucky.
During a June 12–14 visit to the Blue Grass chemical weapons destruction facility in Kentucky, the OPCW Executive Council chairperson, Ambassador Lucian Fătu of Romania, said U.S. weapons-destruction progress “provides much-needed evidence of the resilience of international norms against the use of chemical weapons.”
Workers in Kentucky destroyed more than 101,000 rockets and projectiles and more than 523 U.S. tons of chemical agent. Site Project Manager Candace Coyle at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant called the elimination of the U.S. stockpile “a historic moment not only for us in Kentucky, but the United States and across the world.”
Workers at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Colorado also expressed pride in their achievement. More than 780,000 munitions and 2,613 U.S. tons of mustard agent have been destroyed at the facility since 2015.
“This is us showing that we’re doing our best to make the world a better place,” Colorado facility worker Levi Vera said.