Policy Paper

Strengthening the Chemical Weapons Convention Through Aerial Inspections

in Program

Negotiations to ban the development, production, and stockpiling of chemical weapons (CW) have produced guidelines for monitoring the destruction of stocks and prohibiting CW production. At the same time, chemical industries will continue to manufacture pesticides, herbicides, pharmaceuticals, and other commercial products. 1 Much work remains for the thirty-nine delegations in Geneva to devise detailed verification procedures to provide a satisfactory degree of assurance that permitted chemical manufacturing processes are not diverted to proscribed ends, while protecting proprietary information.

As one analyst noted, “It was clear from the outset, that due to the very nature of the obligations of a Chemical Weapons Convention, an imaginative and novel approach was called for in order to provide for the necessary confidence in compliance with the treaty.’12 This paper examines one such innovative approach, the concept of using aerial inspections to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of on-site inspections (OSis).

The idea of using aircraft in monitoring the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) has not been considered at any length in Geneva. Perhaps one reason is that attempts to negotiate aerial monitoring regimes have so far failed in the Open Skies negotiations and the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. Consequently, aircraft may be perceived as either too difficult to negotiate or not worth the trouble, since the principle of  challenge inspections on the ground has been accepted in the ewe negotiations.

Even if a rigorous challenge inspection regime can be negotiated, a strong case can be made for incorporating aerial inspections into the CWC monitoring regime. If a weakened form of challenge inspections is negotiated, the case for aerial inspections becomes more compelling. The Technical Secretariat will have limited resources, yet it will be charged with monitoring several thousand sites.3 Overflights would allow inspectors to  orient themselves and plan ground inspections more effectively  and efficiently. Overflights that incorporate the use of sensors would permit the development of a data archive, an institutional memory essential for an international inspectorate with rotating personnel. Furthermore, use of aircraft would make overhead data available to the Secretariat and the CWC member states that may not have assured access to national technical means (NTM) of verification.4 Though aerial operations would be expensive, member states in different regions could donate aircraft, sensors, and basing opportunities to offset those costs and to demonstrate their  special interest in the Convention’s proper implementation.  In short, aerial inspections can increase the utility and rigor of  OSis while bolstering  the authority of the  Secretariat.

The next section of this paper discusses the standard objectives of verification, applies these objectives to the CWC, and briefly identifies several ways that aerial inspections can   contribute to them. The following section discusses possible pitfalls of aerial inspections and suggests ways in which operational practices and safeguards could be employed to avoid these pitfalls. Technologies that would play a major role in CWC aerial inspection are reviewed in Section IV. Specific roles and missions are explored in more depth in Section V, followed by conclusions.

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