Address by the Director-General

of the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW, Mr Rogelio Pfirter, to the Fifty-Seventh Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
21 November 2002.

Mr President;

It is a great privilege for me to address the United Nations General Assembly for the first time since my designation as Director-General of the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons last July.

I would like also to extend to you, Mr President, my most sincere congratulations for your election to this position, to which you bring experience, diplomatic skills and the respected voice of a country, the Czech Republic, whose contribution to the objectives and purposes of the Chemical Weapons Convention are well known.

Mr President

The presence of a Director-General of an organisation like the OPCW at the United Nations universal body, the General Assembly, is as natural as it is necessary.

Natural because our Convention, and the Organisation it brought to life, is a legitimate expression of multilateralism in a field–disarmament and international security–where the central role of the United Nations is widely recognised.

Necessary, because the Chemical Weapons Convention and the OPCW have a message to convey to you, this year and in fact every day as our work, like yours, simply cannot stop.

The United Nations has recognised the OPCW as the organisation responsible for activities to achieve the comprehensive prohibition of chemical weapons in accordance to the Convention. At the same time, the OPCW as stated by the Relationship Agreement between the two organisations, recognises the central role the United Nations undoubtedly plays in international peace and security.

A close co-operation between the UN and the OPCW seems to me self-evident. We are determined to work jointly to achieve mutual objectives, by maintaining a close working relationship with the Secretariat of the United Nations at all relevant levels and by making sure that effective co-ordination is reached in the different areas where the UN Charter and our mandate can converge in the benefit of disarmament and non proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The Organisation I represent is the single international institution providing for disarmament, non-proliferation and international co-operation and assistance at the same time.

We verify the destruction of the existing, and huge, arsenals of chemical weapons.

We monitor chemical industry and trade related activities in listed chemicals to make sure they are consistent with the provisions of the Convention.

We assist, and remain ready to provide help, for Member States in need of reinforcing or creating their own protective capacities and in cases of attacks or threats of attacks with chemical weapons. We will stand beside those in need.

These three unique elements, disarmament, non-proliferation and international co-operation and assistance find in the CWC, through our Organisation, the indispensable articulation to become integral parts of a single effort.

In this sense, Mr President, the CWC stands as an example of what can be achieved when the political will exists to tackle questions of global concern through the formidable power of an internationally agreed instrument.

As I explained in my address to the First Committee during its “action week”, last month the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention are making substantive progress in the achievement of the goals set out by the Treaty.

Destruction of chemical weapons continues.

And this is indeed crucial, as we are not talking here of a mere clean up operation of the remnants of the Cold War.

We are dealing with weapons of mass destruction, tens of thousands of munitions, seas of deadly chemical agents, all weapons of choice for terrorist groups, weapons that have been used in recent inter-State conflicts and that, unfortunately, remain within the inventories of some States.

OPCW inspectors are active in checking destruction activities in all the declared States Parties’ facilities.

On this front, the task is Herculean, but progress is being made by the minute.

In the United States, the goal of the destruction of 20% of stockpiles of category 1 weapons has been completed.

India has also met this crucial threshold.

Another State Party is making progress towards that goal, with approval given by the Conference of States Parties for it to meet this target by April 2003.

In Russia, where the largest stockpile of about 40,000 metric tonnes of warfare agents remain to be destroyed, agreements have been reached within the OPCW and a number of decisions have been taken that will hopefully enable the Russian Federation to meet its obligations in terms of destruction and also conversion of some facilities to purposes not prohibited.

In this respect we are greatly heartened, and warmly welcome, the 10 plus 10 billion US dollars for these, and related purposes, over the next 10 years, approved by the G8 countries at the Kananaskis summit.

Slowly but surely, the OPCW together with the Member States are creating the conditions for a world actually free from these weapons of mass destruction.

Our work, Mr President, distinguished delegates, is very demanding from a technological and scientific point of view, as it deals with listed chemicals that in most cases do have legitimate civilian applications. The same can be said about the technologies involved, which fall under the well-known label of “dual use”.

This is why we have to make sure that the Technical Secretariat is in a position to uphold the core provisions of the Convention in the light of the breathtaking pace of progress in chemical industry worldwide.

This is an area where we are currently concentrating our efforts in order to ensure the future relevance of the CWC to all States Parties.

While we continue our relentless efforts in the oversight of chemical weapons destruction activities, we must note that this activity will demand ever-greater efforts from the Organisation in the very near future. States Parties are announcing the coming-on-line of new destruction facilities. This will have a considerable impact on our verification plan, which will grow accordingly.

The anticipated steep rise in verification activities is a clear indication of the challenges ahead for the Organisation.

But the quantitative increase in verification activities is not all.

This is so because the Chemical Weapons Convention is not only an instrument of multilateral disarmament.

In parallel with the monitoring functions at chemical weapons related facilities, the CWC addresses the equally complex, and certainly more elusive, problem of the proliferation of instruments of chemical warfare. Given the vast scope of chemical industry worldwide, an efficient control of chemical proliferation is an arduous task the Technical Secretariat has to face within the margins of its limited resources, especially against the backdrop of a growing number of facilities to be monitored.

The number of inspections will rise, but the nature of the exercise will also be altered by the combined influence of new technologies, evolving industrial methods and lessons learned in the past few years by our inspectors.

Whilst facilities producing Schedule 1 and 2 chemicals will permanently focus the attention of the OPCW, we shall also widen the scope of the monitoring activities in industry in general terms. This process will be gradual, and it will be defined in consultation with Member States, fully in line with the Convention.

Mr President

International Co-operation and Assistance are much more than good intentions under the CWC.

Our activities in the field of international co-operation are the ones that allow our Member States to become full partners in the fulfilment of their treaty obligations. The CWC, as is frequently stated, is not a self-executing document. It requires constant interaction and interrelationship between the Technical Secretariat and Member States through their National Authorities, which is indispensable both for verification purposes and also for the enactment of implementing legislation and chemical exports controls at a national level.

Article X mandates us to provide assistance in the case of chemical weapons use, or the threat of use. In the light of the importance of this commitment by the OPCW, we have been actively working to improve our preparedness and availability, not only in actual emergencies but also in the area of capacity building. Two months ago in Croatia, we conducted our first large-scale exercise that allowed us to test under real life conditions our preparedness for chemical attacks and emergencies. We intend to continue with similar efforts in the near future, hopefully with the support and contribution of other international organisations starting with the United Nations, as there are many areas where synergetic efforts can and must be found in this area.

Threat perception and a new sense of urgency have become apparent after the tragic attacks in the United States in September 2001.

Assistance has been finally understood as a necessity, especially for Member States lacking the resources to protect themselves against the possibility of an attack with chemical agents.

Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001 and the global realisation of the possibility that terrorists might use weapons of mass destruction, an increasing number of States Parties have invoked the treaty provisions that request the Technical Secretariat to provide expert advice and help strengthen their protective capacity.

An increasing number of protection courses have been delivered by the OPCW in 2002, and some additional ones have already been scheduled for 2003, for the benefit of Member States in Central Asia and Africa.

Mr President

The OPCW is not a counter-terrorist agency, but it is clear that an active implementation of the treaty provisions can help counter this looming menace. Addressing this threat through a multilateral instrument like the CWC has the additional advantage of rallying together forces that would otherwise remain unconnected at a time when the struggle for already scarce resources has become acute.

In December 2001, the State Parties and the OPCW Technical Secretariat jointly identified a number of areas where a useful contribution to the struggle against international terrorism can be made. These include the promotion of universal adherence to the Convention, enactment of adequate national implementing legislation, including penal legislation, full and effective implementation of the provisions related to destruction of chemical weapons capabilities, full and effective implementation of the provisions related to inspections of chemical industry and transfers of scheduled chemicals to States not Party and the further development of OPCW’s capabilities to respond to requests for assistance in cases of use, or threat of use, of chemical weapons.

Mr President

While addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations I cannot fail to mention the high priority we attach to the principle of universality of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

With 147 State Parties, the Chemical Weapons Convention already embodies a significant number of UN Member States.

But the Chemical Weapons Convention is an international agreement open to all states without exception.

For this reason, we have been consistently calling upon states that have not yet done so, to ratify or accede to the Treaty. To this end, we have also designed several programmes and outreach initiatives to make sure that all states willing to join the family of Nations, opposing chemical warfare, can accede or ratify easily.

For a global agreement like this, which entails security implications for all Member States, ratification by all states is our permanent objective and we continue to work toward that end.

We have to acknowledge that some states, outside the purview of the CWC, are of clear proliferation concern.

But for some others, the overall security scenario prevailing in their respective regions could be a determining and maybe a deterring factor.

All these elements have to be borne in mind when we tackle the issue of universality. The overriding notion remains, however, that this is a Treaty where all states, possessor and non- possessor alike, have to receive some benefit, in terms of their own security, first and foremost, and also in other important areas, relating to the peaceful uses of chemistry.

Mr President

In a few months, in accordance with the CWC provisions, we will conduct the first Review Conference after Entry Into Force.

The principal purpose of the exercise will be to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the implementation of the Convention from the legal and technical standpoints.

The Review Conference will allow us to look into the past, to see what has been done and achieved in the first five years of implementation of the Treaty, and also—perhaps more importantly—to identify the most urgent tasks we will have to face in the next five years.

States Parties will be able to assess the implementation of the verification regime so far, and provide direction to the Organisation to continue the monitoring of the destruction process and compliance.

During the Review Conference, Member States will also have an opportunity to consider any scientific and technological developments affecting the CWC.

Above all, this first retrospective, and at the same time forward-looking exercise, will be an ideal occasion to reaffirm the validity and importance of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

If any lesson can be learned from recent events, it will confirm the continued urgency and validity of concerns over weapons of mass destruction. This is why we expect to have the widest participation from Member States at the highest possible level, as well as the active presence of international organisations and of civil society next April in The Hague.

I do hope that the United Nations, as the principal organisation dealing with matters relating to the maintenance of peace and international security, will signal through its presence the high priority we all attach to the efforts aimed at eliminating weapons of mass destruction.

Mr President

Let us remember that chemical weapons happen to be the weapons, which the international community has agreed to dispose of completely, without exception and in a verifiable manner.

Let us never forget that the Chemical Weapons Convention is our common contract to achieve this lofty goal.

Let us always support the OPCW, which is no more, and no less, than the guarantor of this process.

Thank you.