What's In Blue

Posted Thu 15 Apr 2021

Arria-formula Meeting on International Non-Proliferation Regimes

Tomorrow (16 April), Russia will organise an Arria-formula meeting entitled “Protection of Developing Nations Against Political Pressure: Upholding the Integrity of International Non-proliferation Regimes”. The meeting will be chaired by Russia’s Permanent Representative, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia. At the time of writing, the names of the briefers had not been announced. The meeting will be held via videoconference (VTC) and live-streamed at 10:00 am (EST).

According to the concept note that Russia produced ahead of the meeting, it appears that the focus will be on the Syria chemical weapons file, including on the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The concept note states that “strict compliance with the obligations under international non-proliferation regimes by Member States is essential to maintaining international peace and security”. However, it argues that “claims about non-compliance with non-proliferation regimes are more and more often used to put pressure on the governments of developing countries”. The concept note also highlights what it calls the “politicised nature of OPCW investigations”, raising concern about the work of the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team (IIT). Finally, the note references the OPCW’s Conference of States Parties (CSP)—set to take place between 20 and 22 of April—and mentions a possible vote on a decision that would see the suspension of Syria’s rights and privileges within the OPCW’s policy-making organs.

The IIT—which is responsible for identifying the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in Syria where the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) has “determined that chemical weapons have been used or likely used”—released its first report on 8 April 2020. The report concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that the Syrian military used chemical weapons in Ltamenah, Syria, in March 2017. In response to the report’s findings, the OPCW’s Executive Council voted on 9 July 2020 to condemn Syria’s use of chemical weapons and sent a letter to the authorities in Damascus requesting that Syria declare to the OPCW where the chemical weapons used in the attacks were “developed, produced, stockpiled, and operationally stored for delivery”. Damascus did not respond to this letter. As a result, France, along with 46 co-sponsoring States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, submitted a draft measure to the OPCW in November 2020 to suspend Syria’s voting rights at the organisation. OPCW member states are expected to vote on the measure during its upcoming CSP.

The IIT published its second report on 12 April 2021, focussing on the use of chlorine gas during an attack on Saraqib, Syria, on 4 February 2018. The IIT concluded that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that a Syrian air force helicopter dropped at least one cylinder of chlorine in the area, affecting at least 12 individuals.

Tomorrow’s meeting will be the third Arria-formula meeting on the use of chemical weapons in Syria that Russia has organised since January 2020. The first Arria-formula meeting on the subject, held on 20 January 2020, was titled “Implementation of Security Council Resolution 2118: OPCW FFM Report on Douma”. Resolution 2118, which was adopted unanimously in 2013, requires the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.  At the 20 January 2020 meeting, Russia raised concerns about the validity of the conclusions of the FFM’s 1 March 2019 report, which found that its investigation offered “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place” on 7 April 2018 in Douma, Syria.

On 28 September 2020, China and Russia co-sponsored an Arria-formula meeting on the “Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2118: Upholding the Authority of the OPCW”. That meeting included several briefers who have publicly alleged that the OPCW withheld exculpatory evidence regarding the 2018 Douma chemical weapons attacks.

Council members are divided in their views on who is responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria and are likely to reiterate these strongly opposing positions tomorrow. Several members who have consistently expressed support for the OPCW are likely to emphasise their position that the OPCW’s work is credible and that those responsible for chemical weapons attacks need to be held accountable. However, several other members who regularly call into question the OPCW’s work and criticise the methodologies of the FFM and IIT are likely to reiterate these views at tomorrow’s meeting. China and Russia have also consistently denounced what they describe as the politicisation of the chemical weapons file.