American University Professor of Chemistry Stefano Costanzi was invited as one of just 50 non-governmental representatives to attend the 27th Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CSP-27), which was held at The Hague from November 28 through December 2. Costanzi, who works at the intersection of science and policy, contributed a written statement on the need to bolster the treaty's verification regime by updating and expanding the lists of chemicals of concern featured in its Annex on Chemicals.
Conferral of the OPCW-The Hague Award to the CWC Coalition. Professor Costanzi is seventh from left.
The Chemical Weapons Convention is an international arms control treaty that prohibits the use, development, production, stockpiling, and transfer of chemical weapons. Its aim, Costanzi says, is to entirely rid the world of this class of weapons. In all, 193 nations are parties to the CWC.
“The CWC poses a complete ban on chemical weapons, and the destruction of the chemical arsenals stockpiled by states parties has almost been completed,” says Costanzi. “However, chemical weapons are far from being a relic of the past. In the last few years, they have been used by state and non-state actors in a variety of circumstances, including for assassinations and assassination attempts. A close cooperation between states parties and NGOs is essential to ensure that the CWC implementation is aligned with the 21st century chemical weapons landscape.”
“Toxic Chemical of Concern”
Costanzi’s statement focused on the need to expand and update the organization’s list of chemicals of concern. It reflects his scholarship on the analysis of gaps in the Chemical Convention Schedules and ways to close them.
In his statement, Costanzi pointed out that the CWC Schedules have generally stood the test of time. “Nonetheless, as evidenced by recent events, to optimally serve their purpose, the CWC Schedules need to be kept current,” he wrote, pointing to the attempted assassination of Sergey Skripal in March 2018. “The chemical used for that assassination attempt is a chemical warfare agent that, at the time of the incident, was not covered by the CWC Schedules.”
Although that gap has been closed, others remain open. Costanzi wrote, “It is of fundamental importance to conduct a thorough evaluation of the CWC Schedules with the intent of filling gaps that currently remain open. Whenever possible, the added entries should cover families of chemicals, rather than individual chemicals, as a family-based approach confers generality and resilience to the schedules.”
Smooth and Forward Looking
The conference ran smoothly, says Costanzi. Notable achievements included the approval of the 2023 budget, which importantly covers the work of the Investigation and Identification Team that is responsible for the identification of the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. In addition, the United States reported on its ongoing work to destroy the last remnants of its chemical weapons stockpile and reported that it is on track to conclude the activities by the September 2023 deadline.
On the sidelines of CSP-27, the OPCW-The Hague Award took place on November 28. One of the three awardees was the CWC Coalition, a civil society network of which Costanzi is a member. The other two awardees were first responder organizations from the Czech Republic and from Argentina.
At a side event organized by the CWC Coalition, Costanzi presented his work in collaboration with the Stimson Center on the development of a database prototype intended to support the work of frontline border officers. Stopping controlled chemicals of security concern at borders is a critically important step towards preventing the proliferation of chemical weapons. With this technology, border agents will be able look up chemicals using information provided in the shipping documents. The data will be sorted and analyzed against lists of controlled chemicals. Agents will know within moments if the chemicals are allowed across the border.
In May 2023, the fifth Review Conference of the CWC will take place in the Hague. Review conferences are held every five years. Costanzi has already submitted a statement that argues for the need for a thorough reexamination of the CWC Schedules and an evaluation of the feasibility of amending them. He delineated five areas that need particular attention, including currently unscheduled chemical weapon agents and precursors for their synthesis, toxic chemicals that act on the central nervous system, biological toxins and bioregulators, and families of chemicals that pose a chemical weapon threat.