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The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is one of the most important multilateral arms control instruments; it requires its 188 parties to refrain from producing, acquiring, retaining or using chemical weapons (CW) and to destroy their existing CW stockpiles by a fixed date. The United States and Russia declared the possession of the world’s largest CW inventories and have been working assiduously to incinerate, chemically neutralize or otherwise dispose of their respective caches. Unfortunately, neither country met the treaty’s April 29, 2012 final, non-extendable deadline. The United States managed to destroy 90% of its CW stocks on time, but under current projections, it will not complete the process until 2023–more than 11 years late.

This article examines the causes of that default and analyzes its legal and policy consequences. It concludes that the United States stands in material breach of the CWC; that none of the putative legal excuses or justifications is adequate to absolve the violation; and that other parties may have recourse to remedies under the CWC, under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, or under general international law. Moreover, it concludes that the striking U.S. diplomatic success in largely finessing this issue through the CWC’s treaty implementation bodies is misguided–although it has allowed the United States to escape censure or punishment in this instance, that accomplishment deserves the true long-run U.S. interest in insisting upon the importance of strict compliance with arms control treaties and in validating the rule of international law more generally.

Publication Citation

J. Nat'l Sec. L. & Pol'y (forthcoming)