Army Has Destroyed Half of All Chemical Weapons in U.S. Stockpile

Washington - Fifty percent of the total munitions in the United States’ declared chemical weapons stockpile has been destroyed, the U.S. Army announced August 30.

The 50 percent figure represents more than 1.7 million munitions of the total stockpile originally estimated, according to the Army's Chemical Materials Agency.  That includes bombs, rockets, mortars, projectiles, land mines and spray tanks filled with nerve agents (including sarin and VX), plus blister agents (including mustard gas).  The total destroyed to date represents 39 percent of the U.S. stockpile by weight.

The Army says the 50 percent milestone "demonstrates the United States' commitment to its international obligations as a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)."

The Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force April 29, 1997, bans the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and direct or indirect transfer of chemical weapons.  It also prohibits the use or preparation for use of chemical weapons and the assistance, encouragement or inducement of anyone else to engage in activities prohibited by the convention. The United States ratified the convention in 1997.

The U.S. Chemical Materials Agency has been disposing of chemical weapons since 1990.  In that year, it began to dispose of munitions at a destruction facility on Johnston Atoll, which is more than 1,290 kilometers southwest of Honolulu.  Complete destruction of that stockpile was achieved in 2000, and the Army says the site "remains a wildlife refuge."

After Johnston Atoll, disposal efforts were initiated in Utah (1996), Alabama (2003), Oregon (2004), and Indiana and Arkansas (2005).  The first site within the United States to destroy its stockpile completely was Aberdeen, Maryland (2006).

To accomplish the destruction of half of the national stockpile, the Chemical Materials Agency had to overcome permitting delays and facility work stoppages, it said.  In particular, the agency stated, "delays resulted from the challenges associated with obtaining, modifying and/or closing environmental permits."  There were also unexpected facility work stoppages to evaluate and correct problems, CMA said.

In July, the United States submitted a draft request to the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that would extend the deadline for the destruction of the entire U.S. chemical weapons stockpile from April 2007 to April 2012.

Ambassador Eric Javits, head of the U.S. delegation to the council, has stated that it took the United States “longer than anticipated to build facilities and to obtain the necessary permits and consent to begin destruction of chemical weapons, and we have found that, once operating, our facilities have not destroyed weapons as rapidly as we initially projected.” (See related article.)

The full text of the Army’s announcement is available on the Chemical Materials Agency Web site.

For more information on U.S. arms control policy, see Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.