Involving chemical industry towards securing the Chemical Weapons Convention regime: a new future or a challenge?

Master’s student, St. Petersburg University, Faculty of International Relations, Strategic and Arms Control Studies
Alina Ilinykh
rouze18@mail.ru

Background

Chemical weapons were prohibited in 1997 by the Chemical Weapons Convention (hereinafter referred to as the CWC), which bans the production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of them.[1] The chemical industry has increasingly made the headlines related to it since its facilities (factories and storage facilities)  could possibly become chemical weapons suppliers. However, the industry played an essential role in the CWC negotiations, and its influence can not be brushed aside. In this article, the author analyzes the industry’s involvement in the aforementioned negotiations and attempts to stress the importance of its role.

The chemical industry’s interaction with state governments during the CWC negotiation process was not initially a given. Their relationships in many countries were initially somewhat antagonistic during the 70s – 80s, as governments introduced increasingly stringent safety and environmental regulations for the industry, especially after the release of hazardous chemicals in Seveso[2] and Bhopal[3]. The situation changed in the 1980s after Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran and other countries, as well as after Libya attempted to acquire it. These moments prompted the definition of chemical weapons as one of the real threats on a par with the nuclear threat. The situation with Iraq and Libya had a strong impact on the chemical industry’s attitude to the CWC negotiation process (Figure 1).

<Figure 1> The CWC negotiation, 1993.

Reasons to involve the chemical industry in the CWC negotiation

Why did the chemical industry want to be involved?

Chemical industry representatives were under intense public pressure. In this way, there are some reasons from the chemical industry side to be a participant in the CWC negotiations:

  • To clear its name and maintain its position in society. The participation in the negotiations showed the desire of the chemical industry to strengthen the chemical safety regime.
  • The terms of the Convention directly affected the life and efficiency of chemical enterprises. It directly affected the activities of enterprises (the conversion from military to non-military production), the inspection system, and at the same time, the observance of the confidentiality of corporate and national information during inspection. Maintaining confidentiality was one of the most critical issues in the development of the CWC.

Why did the government want to involve the chemical industry?

Different governments had their reasons and motives to involve representatives of the chemical industry. Sweden became the initiator of ​​involving the chemical industry in discussing some articles of the convention.[4] Even though Sweden had a small export volume of its chemical products, the pharmaceutical direction played an important role. CWC leaves a significant imprint on this area of ​​the chemical industry. By involving industry representatives, the Swedish authorities planned to find a consensus on prohibited chemicals and restrictions on enterprises’ operation with minimal adverse consequences for their production and the country’s economy as a whole.[5] Thus, the participation of the chemical industry was also important to governments for the following reasons[6]:

  • The chemical industry has an effective lobbying mechanism in parliaments to voice concerns about new regulations and legislation and advocate for their interests – governments need to ensure industry participation so that the convention and relevant national implementing laws and regulations go through parliaments.
  • Governments required some technical knowledge from the chemical industry, which they possessed only to a limited extent. It was necessary to develop effective (from the governments’ point of view) trade inspection and operational control mechanisms in the industry.
  • Governments in the Middle East also had similar concerns but with special interests in managing the Chemical Weapons Convention’s impact on the international trade of chemicals and related goods, equipment, and technologies.

It was the time of NATO’s strategic trade restrictions of economic and military importance, so negotiations on security issues could not be separated from economic interests.[7] In the Middle East, there has been a combination of a traditional reluctance to agree to verification in general, and in sensitive areas (military or commercial) in particular, with the fear that implementation and verification measures could negatively impact an industry of strategic importance. The industry elements related to the future CWC were integrated into the national economy and enterprises (including in the EU/Russia the integration of industrial facilities directly related to the CW program into large industrial complexes – a form of a training-production-military complex).[8]  There was an obvious need to protect the CW program from outside interference and influence. Considering that these were all state-owned enterprises, sectoral and state interests still could not be distinguished.

In many developing countries, this issue was more of a long-term development issue: the chemicals and chemical technology industry and trade may not have been under the direct control of governments, but governments had a strategic interest in protecting industrial and agricultural development and trade from outside interference, control and anything that might hinder participation in the global economy. The chemical industry has been and remains a strategic engine for the development of these countries.[9] Therefore, they eagerly listened to industry representatives’ voices that they could use to oppose overly strict or intrusive measures regarding verification, trade controls, and national regulations.

The way of interaction between governments and the chemical industry

Thus, the involvement of the chemical industry’s representatives has become, for some governments, a way to control the negotiation and decision-making process. Simultaneously, in countries with state-owned industries, it was easy to involve industry representatives in the CWC negotiationss: representatives of the chemical industry were integrated into all internal structures created to coordinate negotiation positions between various ministries government agencies. Often, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs performed the overall coordination functions.

Industry representatives adopted a collective statement in which, among other things, they expressed their “willingness to work actively with governments to achieve a global ban on chemical weapons, as well as their willingness to add additional momentum to the negotiation process in Geneva.”[10] They also declared their “willingness to continue the dialogue with governments to prepare for the entry into force of an effective Chemical Weapons Convention that protects the free and non-discriminatory exchange of chemicals and transfer of technology for economic development and the well-being of all people.” They also agreed to establish the International Chemical Industry Forum  (Figure 2), meeting in Geneva, as a focal point for industry participation in treaty negotiations. 

<Figure 2> The International Chemical Industry Forum.

The involvement of NGOs (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and International Relations) was a key factor to successfully engaging the chemical industry in negotiations.[11] Negotiations on ensuring chemical safety and chemical weapons ban have grown from formal governmental negotiations into negotiations with the active participation of representatives of the chemical industry itself, on which this Convention leaves a large imprint. Both governments and the chemical industry had their reasons for interacting with each other, thereby advancing their interests and demands for a future Chemical Weapons Convention. The CWC affected the sphere of disarmament and the economic sphere, international trade in chemicals and technologies. Besides, the existence of “dual-use” chemicals also posed some challenges for the future verification and inspection system of this Convention. Governments needed not only to have some technical knowledge but also to understand the problems of industry in order to reflect this in terms of the Convention. In turn, the participation of the chemical industry in the negotiation process aimed at clearing its reputation in the public’s eyes after the situation with Iraq and Libya. Thus, from a passive provider of technical advice to national delegations, by 1988, the chemical industry had become a critical factor in the successful completion of the CWC negotiations. (Figures 3 and 4)

<Figure 3> the CWC negotiation.

Years have passed since the ratification of the Convention and its entry into force. Despite all the difficulties, mostly associated with the verification system, the chemical industry is strengthening its position as one of the leading players in ensuring international chemical safety every year. With the development of technologies, new threats to security stability began to appear in all spheres of human life. Chemical safety takes on new outlines every year, developing both for peaceful purposes and military purposes. Trace problems, primarily dual-use chemicals, and their precursors put much pressure on the participating countries’ chemical industry. At the same time, pressure comes from both national governments and the international community.

Due to the increased role of industry representatives in political aspects of a national and international nature, the question arises about the too rapid rise in industry representatives and the technical community as a whole. With technological progress and the emergence of new technologies, new threats from the outside have appeared, and the strengthening of industry representatives’ authority among the population can harm the government’s position. In other words, the lobbying positions of industry and the technical community in Parliaments can be one of the reasons for the slower implementation of a political agenda at the national level. The same applies to the positions that the government takes among the population of its country. If we compare civil society’s level of trust to industry representatives and government representatives, then, based on numerous surveys, the former occupy a higher and more advantageous position. From a psychological point of view, people tend to trust those who are, in one way or another, relatively at their level and are directly the same representatives of the civil society.

<Figure 4> the CWC negotiation.

Possible prospect

Based on the foregoing, today, there is a tendency for the emergence of an unavoidable collision of interests at the “government-industry” level. Considering the ensuring the CWC regime, two main questions arise. First, whether the chemical industry’s involvement in the elaboration of the technical side of the Convention was a catalyst for moving up the “ladder” of influence on civil society? Second, did the interaction of national governments and chemical industry representatives expand the interaction between the government and civil society in strengthening national and international security?

There is no definite answer to these questions today. On the one hand, the chemical industry has achieved its goals concerning participation in the negotiation process on the CWC. The interest of the chemical industry in matters of disarmament and chemical safety not only “cleansed” the good name of the chemical industry but also further strengthened its position among the population. Accordingly, the chemical industry is indeed in a better position than in the 1970s – 1980s.

There are several ways for national governments to develop relationships with representatives of the chemical industry. Depending on what position the government takes, the outcome might be successful for all members of the CWC. The first way is to take the position that governments’ interaction with representatives of the chemical industry during the initial negotiations was a mistake, which led to the formation of a new obstacle directly for the government circles of the state in matters of authority. In this case, it is necessary to understand that, even though in some countries the chemical industry is under state control, the deterioration of relations will affect not only the success of the implementation of the conditions of the Convention but also the entire internal policy of the state as a whole: the economic sphere, import/export, social and other spheres will be affected. It is possible to undermine the government’s level of confidence on the part of civil society. As mentioned earlier, the industry’s representatives are a communication channel between government and civil society. Thus, the level of mistrust in the national policy pursued within the state will begin to grow. This state of affairs will have negative consequences on the CWC: undermining the level of public confidence, it will be quite tricky for the government to implement a policy to ensure compliance with the conditions of the CWC, and this primarily includes routine inspections and production control. Accordingly, the entire security system in any sphere of life of the world community is considered an integral organism, and if there is a “failure” in the work of one of the elements, “problems” in the whole organism will snowball. In other words, instability of chemical safety at the national level will entail a weakening of chemical safety at the international level, which will lead to the destabilization of the entire system of international security.

However, one should not forget that governments’ interaction with the chemical industry of their states gave impetus to strengthening the position of the governments themselves among the population. This connecting link in the face of chemical industry’s representatives made diplomacy and policy of states sufficiently transparent, which influenced the population of the countries participating in the Convention: they began to trust their government more. From a technical point of view, the CWC has allowed governments to better understand the complex interrelationships and some of the technical issues within the manufacturing sector itself. The participation of the chemical industry in the development and adjustment of the technical side of the implementation of the Convention contributed to developing other directions of state policy. An example of this is the development of information security and privacy protection. For the chemical industry, it has become a way to protect their interests and, for governments, an opportunity to strengthen control and enforcement of the Convention’s terms. Thus, all sides of this issue are in a reasonably successful position. In the future, if this interaction between industry and government continues to develop, it can lead to a significant expansion not only of the role of industry as a political player but also to the expansion of the spheres of using the achievements of scientific and technological progress, new technologies both within the state and outside. As mentioned earlier, industry representatives are in contact not only at the level of their states; but also at the international level. The exchange of information, technology, and scientific and technical personnel will help in the shortest possible time to develop and introduce innovations directly into society’s everyday life. The development of contacts at the international level will strengthen mutual trust between states, the development of political, economic, and cultural relations between them.

Conclusion

Cooperation between the government and representatives of the chemical industry has both positive and negative aspects. It creates some uncertainty in answering the question “Involvement of the chemical industry in political issues: a new future or a threat?” One way or another, the outcome depends only on further actions both on the part of national governments and representatives of the chemical industry. Simultaneously, there is another option for developing events, specifically, the stagnation of relations and, accordingly, development in all spheres of the state’s activities associated with industry influence. The stagnation of relations means a pause in the active interaction between the state and industry. 

Based on the current state of affairs, the most likely option is a gradual transition from stagnation to intensifying relations between governments and their chemical industry. All this is due to primarily the COVID-19 pandemic. One way or another, the chemical industry (along with the biological industry) plays a leading role in the fight against the spread of coronavirus infection. In this way, the chemical industry’s increased influence can be viewed as something positive for the state as a whole. Active interaction will make it possible to realize the potential that has been used only for about 30-40%. The interaction of the chemical industry with the governments of states has shown that such actions can occur not only in the chemical sphere but in any other. It can play a decisive role in improving the living conditions of the entire population. Despite all this, it is impossible to assert with full confidence about the future development of this or that issue. Everything in the world tends to develop, technologies do not stand still, and along with them, industrial spheres are developing quite rapidly.

All this leaves an imprint directly on the policies of states, both internal and external. We do not know what will happen tomorrow, in a week, month, year, five, or even ten years. We can only guess. In this matter, it is essential to be prepared not only for a positive outcome of events but also for a negative one. In Russia, there is a saying: “Forewarned is forearmed.” If we look at the development of chemical safety linkages, we can also analyze other areas of society, thereby preparing ourselves for a possible future. The outcome of events can turn 180 degrees, but it depends only on our actions and adjusting to life’s realities. Therefore, time will tell whether the chemical industry will be viewed as another threat or, on the contrary, will become an ally in the fight against a common enemy.


[1] 「Chemical Weapons Convention, 1993」, https://www.opcw.org/chemical-weapons-convention.

[2] 「COMAH information page on the Seveso disaster」, https://www.hse.gov.uk/comah/sragtech/caseseveso76.htm.

[3] 「The Bhopal disaster and its aftermath: a review」, https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1476-069X-4-6.

[4] Botsanov S. B., Personal interview, October 13, 2020.

[5] Trapp, R., Personal interview, November 9, 2020.

[6] The same.

[7] Trapp, R., Personal interview, November 9, 2020.

[8] Feakes, D. and Kenyon, I. R. (2013), Book of the creation of the OPCW, 256 p.

[9] Botsanov S. B. Personal interview, October 13, 2020.

[10] Feakes, D. and Kenyon I. R. (2013), Book of the creation of the OPCW, 256 p.

[11] Botsanov S. B. Personal interview, October 13, 2020.

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