Chemical Weapons Campaign

Chemical weapons are highly powerful killers.


One drop of nerve poison the size of a pinhead can kill an adult human being on contact with the skin – and these weapons take effect even more quickly in gaseous form. Chemical and biological weapons are relatively simple and cheap to produce, but their effects are tremendous. Even the smallest quantities are sufficient to kill thousands of people! This is why the destruction of chemical weapons is a key concern when it comes to ensuring peace on earth.


The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention requires stocks to be destroyed by 2012. The USA has already eliminated 9,000 tonnes of its 32,000-tonne arsenal of C-weapons by incinerating them in costly plants, but Russia’s difficult transition process has so far prevented it from making a start on the destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal which totals 40,000 tonnes.


One of the major challenges involved in the destruction of Russia’s chemical weapons is the estimated cost of 10 to 15 billion francs. Russia already made it clear that it needed support from Western countries when it ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention. The European countries in particular are called upon to help here, but by the year 2000, Germany and Britain were the only countries in Europe who could bring themselves to provide any significant aid. As a consequence, the USA temporarily halted its contributions, raising the threat of failure of the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and efforts to secure peace in the long term.


2000: Launch of the international information campaign – "Destroy Chemical Weapons Now".


In 2000, Green Cross Switzerland launched a broad-based international information campaign entitled "Destroy Chemical Weapons Now". The aim: to raise awareness about the 70,000 or so tonnes of toxic chemical weapons that still exist throughout the world. At the same time, members of the Green Cross Switzerland Parliamentary Group, led by former National Council member Rudolf Imhof, tabled parliamentary motions in the National Council and the Council of States to encourage global chemical disarmament and the effective implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.


Gorbachev appeals to the world before Swiss parliamentarians


In December 2000, Mikhail S. Gorbachev addressed the Swiss Parliament in the National Council Chamber. He called on the world to make every effort to outlaw weapons of mass destruction in the new century, and to eliminate the dangerous stockpiles of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. He said that the European countries (including Switzerland) had so far provided about 100 million US dollars (about 170 million Swiss francs) to assist Russia with its chemical weapons problem, while the USA had contributed 200 million US dollars. The US Senate had provisionally frozen further financial aid, a move which Gorbachev criticised as "short-sighted and dangerous for the security interests of the USA and the rest of the world". This was because "chemical weapons are small enough to take into a football stadium in a rucksack, for example – but large enough to kill thousands of innocent people". Each year that was lost by delaying their destruction increased the risks of theft, further propagation and disasters, Gorbachev added.


2003: Switzerland supports the Russian chemical weapons destruction programme with a framework credit of 17 million CHF


In March 2003, the Council of States voted by a large majority to endorse the National Council’s message about support for global chemical disarmament. The Chamber clearly followed the lead of the National Council, which had adopted the message back in December 2002. The draft Federal resolution that was submitted with this message provides for a framework credit of 17 million Swiss francs to support worldwide chemical disarmament over a period of five years.


Chemical Disarmament Forum in Geneva


Following the chemical weapons campaign launched in Switzerland in summer 2000 to draw attention to the sluggish pace of implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention, Green Cross and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) organised a Forum on Chemical Disarmament at the end of June 2003 in the Palais des Nations at Geneva. More than 100 representatives from 14 countries discussed ways of strengthening international partnership and of reinforcing and accelerating support for Russia with the destruction of its 40,000 tonnes of chemical weapons. This would make it possible to keep to 2012 as the date by which these weapons should be eliminated from the world, as envisaged in the Chemical Weapons Convention.


2013: The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and Paul Walker of Green Cross International the Alternative Nobel Prize for the (Engagement zur Umsetzug!) implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.


By the end of 2013, 58,528 tonnes of the world’s 72,531 tonnes of chemical weapons (80.7%) had been destroyed. 31,200 tonnes of chemical weapons were destroyed in Russia alone. Destruction facilities in Russia’s chemical weapons storage communities of Maradykovsky and Kambarka have been in operation since 2006. The Gorny plant also operated from 2002 to 2005. In Shchuch’ye and in Leonidovka, further weapons destruction plants began operation in 2008 followed by another in Potschep. Russia’s latest chemical weapons destruction plant began operation in Kisner in December 2013.


In addition to resolving technical and financial problems with the construction of a new chemical weapons destruction plant, confidence-building measures between the local population, authorities and military are of key importance. Residents are often unhappy to discover that chemical weapons have been stored in their neighbourhood for many years and are now to be destroyed on their doorstep. This has understandably often led to protests and resistance in the population, thereby delaying the construction of the plants and in the worst cases, causing billions of dollars of unprofitable investment. The construction of a single chemical weapons destruction facility costs around 700 million US dollars in Russia and around 6 times more in the USA.