Ensuring Preparedness

Building Protective Capacity Against Chemical Weapons

The Chemical Weapons Convention outlaws chemical weapons, but it also recognises that States Parties will still wish to protect themselves and their populations against the possibility that chemical weapons may be used against them. For this reason, States Parties are permitted to develop national protection programmes against chemical weapons and the Convention ensures that they can receive assistance, if they require it, to build their national capacity to respond to the use of chemical weapons. The OPCW provides specific programmes in this area, including detection and alarm systems, protective and decontamination equipment, training on medical assistance and treatment, and advice on protective measures. 

Rights and Responsibilities of States Parties

Along with activities related to industry, agriculture, research, medicine and pharmaceuticals, the CWC does not prohibit the development of means of protection against toxic chemicals and chemical weapons. States Parties also have the right to participate in, and the obligation to facilitate, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, material and scientific and technological information concerning means of protection. States Parties may even transfer to other States Parties or use limited amounts of Schedule 1 chemicals (i.e., those with few if any non-weapons applications) for research, medical, pharmaceutical and protective purposes.

Because of concerns that the knowledge and equipment acquired in developing national protective programmes could facilitate the proliferation of chemical weapons, the Convention requires States Parties to submit information every year regarding their national protection programmes to the OPCW Technical Secretariat. Additionally, details of the production, uses and transfers of Schedule 1 chemicals must be reported. All of these requirements are intended to increase the transparency of all national protective programmes.

Building Readiness to Respond

Not all States Parties have the capabilities required to respond to a chemical weapons attack. Because of this, the Convention ensures that outside support is available to those that need it in building their national protective capability against chemical weapons.

Article X of the Convention requires the Secretariat to make information available and provide advice to States Parties concerning means of protection and the implementation of national protection programmes. It does this through a data-bank of information and through courses and workshops on protection and civil defence. The Secretariat organises trainings for first responders, government experts and emergency response units designed to build and develop national and regional capabilities and emergency response systems against the use, or threat of use, of chemical weapons.

The Secretariat has solicited the cooperation of States Parties for this purpose as well. The Protection Network is a group of experts nominated by States Parties who are involved in the emergency response to, and assistance and protection against, toxic chemicals. The group provides advice to the Secretariat on the implementation of Article X.

Ensuring Emergency Assistance

Should the worst occur, States Parties are also required to offer assistance to others, through the OPCW. This assistance can take three forms. First, States Parties may contribute to the Voluntary Fund for Assistance, as these are funds to be used to provide assistance if a State Party is attacked or threatened with chemical weapons. 

Second, States Parties may enter into agreements with the OPCW regarding the provision of assistance upon demand. The first agreement of this kind—a memorandum of understanding between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the OPCW—concerned the provision of emergency medical assistance teams and facilities for treating chemical weapon casualties at Iranian hospitals.

Third, States Parties may decide to declare the kind of assistance they might provide in response to an appeal by the OPCW to support another State Party under attack with chemical weapons or under threat of attack. Many States Parties have made such offers of assistance. Notably, Switzerland has offered to provide equipment for assistance efforts, as well as to train relevant personnel from other States Parties in its use. Consequently, Switzerland and the Secretariat have jointly organised numerous training courses at the Swiss Federal Institute for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection in Spiez, Switzerland. 

Support rendered to the OPCW does not in any way preclude States Parties from requesting and providing assistance bilaterally and entering into independent individual agreements concerning the procurement or provision of emergency assistance. States Parties are also free to request or provide such assistance even in the absence of an agreement. Regardless of whether or not a State Party has made a specific commitment to the OPCW to provide assistance, it must make every effort to do so if called upon by the Director-General in response to a request for assistance.