South Korea Completes Destruction of Its Chemical Weapons Stockpile
THE HAGUE, Netherlands, October 17, 2008 (ENS) - In a step towards the global elimination of chemical weapons, South Korea has become the second country to destroy its declared chemical weapons stockpile. The country beat its December 31, 2008 deadline by at least three months.

The accomplishment, which took place since June, has not been announced publicly because South Korea has requested full confidentiality under the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty that requires the destruction of all chemical weapons stockpiles worldwide.

South Korea is referred to officially as "the other state party," or "a state party" at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the implementing and inspection agency for the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The U.S. Ambassador to the OPCW, Eric Javits, recognized South Korea's achievement in his statement to the OPCW Executive Council on Tuesday during its fall meeting in The Hague.

"Since our last meeting, quietly and without the public recognition it rightly deserves, a state party completed the destruction of its entire chemical weapons stockpile becoming the second state party to do so, and before its deadline," said Javits.

"We extend our warmest congratulations and deep appreciation for a job well done," he said. "With this accomplishment, we were brought one step closer to achieving a world without chemical weapons."

U.S. M55 rocket loaded with a poisonous chemical is disassembled at a U.S. Army facility in Umatilla, Oregon. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army )

Dr. Paul Walker, director of Global Green USA's Security and Sustainability Program, has been following this issue.

"The elimination of several thousand tons of deadly nerve agents in South Korea marks a major historic initiative in global abolition of chemical weapons, in implementation of the international Chemical Weapons Convention, and in demilitarizing the Korean Peninsula," he said today.

"South Korea deserves our sincere congratulations in destroying its entire chemical weapons arsenal and making the Korean Peninsula a more stable and peaceful region," said Walker.

Founded in 1993, Global Green USA is the American arm of Green Cross International, which was created by former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev "to foster a global value shift toward a sustainable and secure future by reconnecting humanity with the environment," the organization states on its website.

Global Green USA estimates the size of South Korea's chemical weapons stockpile was 3,126 metric tonnes.

"This is such a major positive disarmament, nonproliferation, and confidence-building accomplishment by South Korea today, I hope that it will publicly acknowledge its success and encourage North Korea, which has not yet joined the international treaty regime, to follow suit," said Walker.

Eleven countries have yet to fully join the Chemical Weapons Convention, including at least four countries - Egypt, Israel, North Korea, and Syria - which some allege may be possessor states; 184 countries are parties to the treaty, which entered into force in 1997.

"Perhaps the accession of North Korea to the CWC could now be included in the Six-Party Talks as a follow up to South Korea's elimination of chemical weapons and as an important confidence-building measure for establishing a Korean Peninsula zone free of all weapons of mass destion," he suggested.

Six countries - Albania, India, Libya, Russia, South Korea, and the United States - declared chemical weapons stockpiles under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Albania became the first country to eliminate its 16-ton stockpile of mustard agent in 2007.

India will complete its destruction program of some 1,000 tons in the coming year, and Libya will destroy its arsenal of 23 tons over the coming two years.

Russia and the United States are the largest possessor states, having declared 40,000 and 31,500 tons of chemical weapons respectively.

Russia, which has been destroying its arsenal since 2002, has neutralized about 12,000 tons to date, about 30 percent of its total stockpile.

The United States, which began unilaterally destroying its arsenal in 1990, has burned and neutralized over 17,000 tons to date, about 55 percent of its total, according to Dr. Arthur Hopkins, special assistant to the U.S. secretary of defense for nuclear and chemical and biological warfare.

A container loaded with VX agent-filled M55 rockets will be sealed before being pulled by a truck a short distance to the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Utah. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)

Hopkins told the OPCW Executive Council earlier this week that the United States has destroyed over 95 percent of its total stockpile of nerve agent. He said the United States has worked to eliminate the weapons of greatest risk first, and now continues to make steady progress on eliminating its remaining stockpile.

Hopkins said the United States will host the next in an ongoing series of executive council visits to Pueblo, Colorado and Umatilla, Oregon during the first week of June 2009. These are two of the nine locations across the United States where chemical weapons stockpiles are, or were, located.

U.S. chemical weapons destruction at Johnston Atoll in the South Pacific, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and at Newport, Indiana have been completed. Johnston Atoll destruction was completed in 2000, Aberdeen destruction ended in 2006, and elimination of the Newport stockpile was accomplished on August 8, 2008.

But the United States has failed to meet its deadline of 2012 for destruction of its entire stockpile of chemical weapons, mandated by the treaty.

Construction of the Pueblo Chemical Depot is underway, but the current time lines are well outside of the 2012 destruction deadline. This facility should be completed by 2013 and operational by 2015, according to the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency, which is in charge of the destruction program.

The CWC's extension decisions specify the following deadlines for complete destruction: India - April 28, 2009 and Libya - December 31, 2010. The Russian Federation and the United States both have a deadline date of April 29, 2012, but neither country will finish its chemical weapons destruction by that date.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.