The United States announced on July 7 that it had destroyed its last stockpile of chemical weapons, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the last known stockpile of a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in the world. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former Commander of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Forces (CPRN) of the UK and NATO, told The Insider that in fact, some countries, including Russia and Syria, may still have chemical weapons. The chemical weapons expert noted that it remains to be seen whether Russia will use these weapons in the war with Ukraine, but, in his opinion, from undermining the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam to using chemical weapons is a small step.
Has all chemical weapons been destroyed in the world?
“If the Americans claim that everything has been destroyed, then I am sure of it. I am less certain about the Russian side, as Russia claimed in 2017 that it had destroyed all of its chemical weapons, and in 2018, in my hometown of Salisbury, Russian intelligence agencies used a Novichok nerve agent in an attempt to kill double agent Sergei Skripal . Therefore, I am not at all sure that Russia has destroyed all of its chemical weapons. Russia probably still has a chemical weapons program in place, linked to the Novichok project, which began in the 1970s and 1980s. There are good reasons to believe that this program is still in operation, but it is likely to be on a smaller scale than before.
There is also the Syrian regime, which has repeatedly pressured the OPCW into investigations, for example, due to a major attack with the nerve agent sarin a in August 2013. Then the OPCW was called in and seized stocks of this substance from Syria. Since then, there have been several more Sarin attacks in Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017 and several other cases of chlorine, an asphyxiant. As far as we know, Syria still has chemical weapons. It is possible that Iran and North Korea also have chemical agents, although no one has seen evidence - of course, North Korea and Iran devote more time to nuclear programs.
Also, although it is not a state, Daesh (Islamic State) has certainly used chemical weapons on numerous occasions. For two years, I was a chemical weapons adviser to the Peshmerga - the Iraqi-Kurdish armed forces - in the fight against ISIS. On a number of occasions we have been attacked with mustard gas and chlorine. Unfortunately, chemical weapons still exist despite the fact that the OPCW has done a very good job of destroying 95% of the world's chemical weapons. I think that it probably still exists in Russia, Syria, and maybe some jihadist terrorist groups have small reserves. Of course, Syria is a cause for concern. Despite the fact that the Syrian conflict is much smaller than before, the terrorist threat still exists.”
“ From undermining the dam of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station to the use of chemical weapons is a small step ”
“We have yet to find out if Russia will use chemical weapons during the war in Ukraine. This is entirely possible, as the regular Russian military seems to be losing ground. I think we may well see the use of chemical weapons by Russian foreign intelligence. It looks like they have a pretty extensive poisoning program. The Russians may well resort to chemical weapons - but I believe that the use of nuclear weapons is more likely.
Of course, you are well aware of the poisoning of Alexei Navalny , and the cases of Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal are well known in the UK. True, Litvinenko was poisoned with polonium, a nuclear isotope, not a chemical weapon. The use of lethal chemicals to kill is likely to continue.
The OPCW still has a lot of work to do to make sure the world is rid of these weapons. The conflict in Ukraine shows that there are people who are ready to use almost any weapon, including against civilians. If the Russian Federation is ready to blow up such a huge dam as in Kakhovka and cause an ecological catastrophe, then there remains a relatively small step before the use of chemical weapons, whether it be chemical warfare agents like Sarin, Novichok, or even toxic industrial chemicals such as ammonia and chlorine.
What steps can the OPCW take?
“I think the OPCW has done a very good job over the years, but now there is also the threat of biological weapons. Within the UN, there is no such organization as the OPCW, which would deal with the control of biological weapons. In my opinion, in the future, biological weapons will again become a more serious threat, I think that the OPCW needs to be strengthened - you need to make sure that it is properly funded.
It is very important that the permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, the UK and France - be absolutely firm in their abhorrence of chemical weapons. When Obama's "red line" was ignored in Syria in 2013, it was a very important moment, we are still suffering from it. The “bad players” thought they could get away with using chemical weapons – so it is very important that all signatories to the OPCW absolutely strengthen their opinion that chemical weapons should not be used and any use of them should be severely punished.
We do not live in an ideal world, but the OPCW already has a lot of merit, so it should be supported by all countries. And the few countries that have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention should be encouraged to implement it. Unfortunately, as we see in the case of Russia in Ukraine, it is very difficult to trust them, as they do not seem to understand what the truth is and do not follow international orders and international law. We must continue to push for our goal - any violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention must be referred to the International Criminal Court, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. All countries and the UN must make constant efforts to ensure that these weapons are destroyed, and those who still possess them must give them up and surrender them.
The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) came into force in 1997, and stockpile destruction worldwide is regulated by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Currently, 193 states are parties to the convention (including Russia and the United States since 1997). Israel signed it but did not ratify it; Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan have not signed the CWC. At the same time, Russia, Russia and Syria, which are also members of the OPCW, have repeatedly denied the use of chemical weapons. The Russian Federation reported on the final destruction of all Russian stockpiles of chemical weapons in September 2017. However, in 2020, the OPCW confirmed that Alexei Navalny had been poisoned with the Novichok substance developed by the Russian intelligence services, in response to these allegations, Russia threatened to withdraw from the OPCW.