What is OPCW? Part I

By | October 21, 2021

In October, it was announced that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013 has been awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The actual award ceremony will take place in Oslo on 10 December. Just weeks before the announcement, more than 1,400 people were killed in a major gas attack in civil war Syria. In a terrible way, the attack actualized the award ceremony – and the peace work of the prize winner.

  • Who is OPCW?
  • How does the OPCW work?
  • Who are members; who is not?
  • What are chemical weapons and what are their effects?

2: Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013

OPCW – Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons / Organization for the Prohibition of chemical weapons – is thus awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013. The OPCW is an independent, independent international organization. The organization’s main task is to ensure that the Chemical Weapons Convention (Chemical Weapons Convention, CWC), which entered into force in 1997) are set out in life – lived. The convention has 190 of the world’s 196 states as members and is considered the most successful disarmament agreement that has been concluded.

According to biotionary, the OPCW is a body for the countries participating in the work of creating a world free of chemical weapons. These countries have a common goal of preventing the use of chemistry as a weapon of war and thus strengthening international peace and security.

The OPCW shall ensure that the objectives and intentions of the Chemical Weapons Convention are achieved and ensure that the provisions of the Convention are followed up and complied with in all Member States. The control takes place through international verification and through the establishment of a forum for consultations and cooperation between the member countries.

The governing bodies of the organization are

  • an executive council with 41 representatives who meet regularly, and
  • an annual state conference for all members. They must deal with political issues and take decisions in tasks of a technical nature or in case of disagreement on the interpretation of the Convention.

A technical secretariat is responsible for the day-to-day running of the organization; it shall ensure that the tasks of the Convention are carried out. An important part of the work is the inspections to follow up and ensure that the states’ declarations (self-declarations) – reports on what they have of chemicals – correspond to reality.

In addition, the OPCW monitors the destruction of chemical weapons production facilities and the weapons themselves. The technical secretariat is headed by a director general, who is appointed by the State Conference (following a recommendation from the Executive Council). Ahmet Üzümcü from Turkey was elected new Director General in 2010 and is the organization’s third leader.

After all existing stockpiles have been destroyed, the OPCW will continue to work to persuade non-member countries to renounce such weapons and accede to the Convention. Furthermore, the OPCW will work to prevent the re-emergence of the threat from chemical weapons, both from states and non-state actors.

Since what creates uncertainty changes over time (nuclear weapons did not exist until the 1940s), the OPCW must be able to deal with not just today’s threats. The organization must also be able to meet new threats or old threats that recur.

3: Chemical weapons = weapons of mass destruction

Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (nuclear, nuclear) weapons are grouped under the common term CBRN weapons (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) – also called weapons of mass destruction . They all have the potential to kill or injure a large number of people during use.

In the Convention, chemical weapons are referred to as chemical weapons . The correct definition of a chemical weapon is a weapon in which chemical weapons are loaded with conventional ammunition such as grenades, rockets or bombs. It is the chemical weapons that are the crucial main components of such weapons.

A distinction is made between chemical weapons according to their properties and effects, and in combat they can be selected on the basis of the desired effect. Most chemical weapons are in liquid form at room temperature . They usually get the effect by evaporating ; in the evaporation lies the reason why they are often referred to as combat gases. The primary absorption pathway in the body is through inhalation , but the effect can also be achieved through uptake into the skin .

Physical properties such as vapor pressure and boiling point determine how long a chemical weapon will remain in an area after use. Chemical weapons generally act quickly through respiration (inhalation), while the effect comes later when absorbed through the skin.

4: Chemical weapons – the development of them

The most common chemical weapons are mustard gas and sarin . This is primarily because they are the easiest to manufacture. No chemical weapons occur naturally, and in most cases it is coincidences that have led to them becoming chemical weapons. This is especially true of the nerve agents. Their properties were demonstrated in a research program to find effective insecticides.

A group of chemicals called G-weapons were developed in Germany in this way and included the nerve weapons tabun (1936), sarin (1938) and soman (1944). After World War II, these chemicals were further developed in several countries into an even more toxic group of chemicals, called V-weapons and where the United States was first with VX (1961).

When the Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force, there were 5 countries that reported (declared) that they had chemical weapons: Albania, India, the USA, Russia and a country that wanted anonymity. Later, Libya, Iraq and Syria have ratified the convention and declared their chemical weapons. The United States with around 30,000 tonnes and Russia with around 40,000 were the ones with large stocks.

The United States has destroyed about 90 percent and Russia about 80 percent of its chemical weapons. It is believed that it can still take 10 years before everything is destroyed. Destruction is also underway in Libya, and in Syria plans for destruction are being prepared. The OPCW has verified (confirmed) the destruction of almost 60,000 tonnes of chemical weapons .

The last known program for the production of chemical weapons before an agreement on bans came into force, was based on the development of so-called binary weapons . These are weapons that are stored and handled as two separate and less harmful chemicals. They are usually mixed only when they are to be prepared for use as weapons. Prior to preparation, they therefore pose a very limited risk compared to the chemical weapons. Syria’s weapons program was mainly based on such technology.

5: Peace Prize 2013 – the reception

The awarding of this year’s Peace Prize probably came as a surprise to most. In the media and among experts, other candidates were more relevant than the OPCW. The organization has been little known outside the environments that work with the topic of chemical weapons – despite the enormous efforts to remove some of the world’s most hated and feared weapons.

The focus on Syria has, of course, brought the topic of chemical weapons to light. Pictures of civilians – especially children – who have been exposed to chemical weapons have underlined how cruel these weapons are. Inspectors from the OPCW were central in the investigations after the attack in August. Then they found unequivocal evidence of the use of sarin. This made it easy to support the award and little reason to criticize. The OPCW is making a very important effort for peace and security by destroying and gagging new opportunities to develop this type of weapon.

What is OPCW 1