Train Wreck: The U.S. Violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention

David A. Koplow

Georgetown University Law Center

September 4, 2012

Journal of National Security Law and Policy, Forthcoming
Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 12-128

The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is one of the most important multilateral arms control instruments; it requires its 188 parties to refrain from producing, acquiring, retaining or using chemical weapons (CW) and to destroy their existing CW stockpiles by a fixed date. The United States and Russia declared the possession of the world’s largest CW inventories and have been working assiduously to incinerate, chemically neutralize or otherwise dispose of their respective caches. Unfortunately, neither country met the treaty’s April 29, 2012 final, non-extendable deadline. The United States managed to destroy 90% of its CW stocks on time, but under current projections, it will not complete the process until 2023 – more than 11 years late.

This article examines the causes of that default and analyzes its legal and policy consequences. It concludes that the United States stands in material breach of the CWC; that none of the putative legal excuses or justifications is adequate to absolve the violation; and that other parties may have recourse to remedies under the CWC, under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, or under general international law. Moreover, it concludes that the striking U.S. diplomatic success in largely finessing this issue through the CWC’s treaty implementation bodies is misguided – although it has allowed the United States to escape censure or punishment in this instance, that accomplishment deserves the true long-run U.S. interest in insisting upon the importance of strict compliance with arms control treaties and in validating the rule of international law more generally.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 148

Keywords: arms control, disarmament, chemical weapons, treaty, material breach, Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, national security

JEL Classification: K30, K33, K39

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Date posted: September 5, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Koplow, David A., Train Wreck: The U.S. Violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (September 4, 2012). Journal of National Security Law and Policy, Forthcoming; Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 12-128. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2141241

Contact Information

David A. Koplow (Contact Author)
Georgetown University Law Center ( email )
600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
202-662-9565 (Phone)
202-662-9444 (Fax)
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