The scourge of chemical weapons should have been consigned to history by now, yet the last decade has witnessed their repeated use. … At the same time, we are observing an evolution in biological threats.

Developments and trends, 2022

In 2022, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) continued to deliver on its mandate and commitment to ensuring the full and effective implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention). OPCW also marked a major milestone with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on 29 April.

The situation in Ukraine increased the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons. Under article X of the Convention, the Technical Secretariat provided assistance and protection to Ukraine upon the country's request. Notably, OPCW conducted capacity-building courses both online and in person for Ukrainian first responders to enhance their preparedness against the threat of chemical weapons use and in case of attacks targeting chemical industrial facilities. OPCW also provided the necessary equipment for chemical detection, together with training activities.

As OPCW entered its ninth year addressing the chemical weapons dossier in the Syrian Arab Republic, the Technical Secretariat again experienced delays in its activities to ensure that the Syrian Government resolved all gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies that had arisen from the initial declaration of its chemical weapons programme. That was due, inter alia, to the Syrian Arab Republic's refusal to issue a visa to the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team's lead technical expert, which is not in line with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, United Nations Security Council resolution 2118 (2013) and corresponding OPCW Executive Council decisions. The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission maintained its work to establish the facts surrounding allegations of chemical weapons use in the Syrian Arab Republic. Likewise, the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team kept up its activities to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons use in the country, pursuant to the decision of the Conference of the States Parties adopted on 27 June 2018 (decision C-SS-4/DEC.3).

Despite the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, OPCW maintained its critical work of verifying the destruction of the remaining declared chemical weapons stockpiles. It also ramped up its chemical industry inspections in line with the Convention's article VI as the evolving circumstances of the pandemic allowed. As a result of the improved COVID-19 situation, OPCW was able to hold the regular sessions of the OPCW Executive Council and the Conference of the States Parties in less stringent modalities in order to meet its obligation to ensure the implementation of the Convention.

To help build capacities among States parties to prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons, the Technical Secretariat delivered on its international cooperation programmes by using online platforms and modules and returning to in-person events. That allowed the Technical Secretariat to assist in promoting the peaceful uses of chemistry; advancing scientific and technological cooperation; countering the threats posed by non-State actors; and expanding partnerships with international organizations, non-governmental organizations, the chemical industry and other entities.

Work on the construction of the OPCW Centre for Chemistry and Technology (ChemTech Centre) advanced significantly in 2022. The facility's construction was completed while respecting the budget and the established timelines. Additionally, OPCW continued its work to universalize the Chemical Weapons Convention, urging the remaining States not party to the Convention to join without delay or preconditions.

Figure 2.1

(As at 31 December 2022)

pie charts showing regional distribution

The Secretary-General has a mandate to carry out investigations when Member States bring to his attention the alleged use of chemical or biological weapons. To fulfil this mandate, the Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons was established. Under the Mechanism, a roster of experts and laboratories is maintained. The United Nations relies on countries to fill the roster by designating technical experts to deploy to the field on short notice, as well as analytical laboratories to support such investigations. Member States facilitate further training of qualified experts and expert consultants in close cooperation with the Office for Disarmament Affairs.

Capstone field exercise

During the capstone field exercise for the United Nations Secretary-General's Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons, held in Berlin in September, participants conduct a simulated investigation of alleged biological-weapon use.

Throughout 2022, the Secretary-General continued to underscore the imperative of identifying and holding accountable those who have used chemical weapons, both as a responsibility to the victims of such weapons and as a preventative measure against future use. The Secretary-General also continued to underline the importance of the Chemical Weapons Convention as an essential pillar of the disarmament and non-proliferation regime and as a testament to the security benefits that multilateral instruments could provide. The Office for Disarmament Affairs continued to support the Secretary-General's good offices in furthering the implementation of Security Council resolution 2118 (2013) on the elimination of the chemical weapons programme in the Syrian Arab Republic. The Office also worked with members of the Security Council in their efforts to build unity and restore adherence to the global norm against chemical weapons.

The year 2022 was also important for the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (Biological Weapons Convention), which saw the rare activation of its formal provisions to address allegations of non-compliance.

In June, the Russian Federation requested to convene a formal consultative meeting under the Convention's article V — the second such meeting in the Convention's history — to consider the country's outstanding questions to the United States and Ukraine concerning the fulfilment of their respective obligations under the Convention in the context of the operation of biological laboratories in Ukraine (BWC/CONS/2022/3). Subsequently, in October, the Russian Federation invoked the Convention's article VI for the first time by lodging a complaint with the Security Council about the same concerns. In November, the draft resolution submitted by the Russian Federation was taken up by the Security Council but not adopted (meeting coverage SC/15095).

Meanwhile, the ninth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention took place in Geneva from 28 November to 16 December to review the Convention's operation.[1] The Conference also had the mandate to review the progress of States parties in implementing the Convention and the decisions and recommendations agreed upon at its eighth Review Conference.

Considering the challenging geopolitical circumstances, many States parties went into the Review Conference aware of the obstacles to achieving a substantive outcome while still hopeful for agreement on an expanded intersessional programme. Although the decisions agreed on by consensus in the Final Document (BWC/CONF.IX/9) did not meet the highest expectations of some States parties, the modest outcome left others hopeful for the future work of the new intersessional programme, as several delegations expressed in their closing statements.

Figure 2.2
Trends in confidence-building measures

Participation of States parties in the Biological Weapons Convention confidence-building measures, 1987-2022
Line graph showing number of confidence-building measures and percentage of States parties submitting confidence-building measures from 1987 to 2021

This graph shows the history of submission rates for reports of States parties under the Convention's confidence-building measures system introduced in 1987. While the overall level of participation in the measures has remained low over the years, a positive trend can be seen in recent years. In 2022, 98 States parties submitted confidence-building measures reports, resulting in a participation rate of more than 53 per cent, the highest so far.

In a positive development for the Convention's universalization, Namibia acceded to it on 25 February, becoming the 184th State party to the Convention. As at 31 December, four signatory States had not yet ratified the Convention, and nine States had neither signed nor ratified it.

[1] The Review Conference was held in accordance with article XII of the Convention.