By Paul Madden CMG, British Ambassador to Japan
International agreements define the type of world we want to live in. They are the promises we keep to each other. Our commitments and their implementation underpin the international system and keep us safe.
The Chemical Weapons Convention is one of these, but there are worrying signs we have forgotten why we worked so hard to achieve this vital agreement.
Chemical weapons asphyxiate, choke, blister and poison. Even where not lethal, their effects can last a lifetime. During the 20th century they were used on and off the battlefield with horrific consequence.
During World War I, more than 90,000 soldiers suffered painful deaths following the use of chlorine, mustard and other chemical agents. Almost a million more were blinded, disfigured or received debilitating injuries.
Chemical weapons were also used with devastating consequences in World War II and subsequently. Some 30,000 Iranians are still suffering and dying from the effects of the agents used in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
In Japan in 1995, many people were killed or injured as a result of the Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack on the Tokyo subway. So Japan is more aware than most of the shocking horror of chemical weapons.
The Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in 1997, and brought the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) into existence. For the first time, the world had an independent, non-political body to investigate chemical weapons use. A total of 192 countries, including Japan, have now ratified the Convention and are States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The international community has agreed that the development, production, stockpiling and deployment of these instruments of death should be confined to the past. There can be no impunity for anyone who uses chemical weapons.
But this agreement and these norms are under threat. Since the start of 2017 alone, chemical weapons have been used against civilians in Syria, Iraq, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. This represents a grave threat to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the rules-based international order that keeps us all safe.
Answering the call of the U.K. and 10 other states including Japan, the signatories of the Chemical Weapons Convention will come together on 26-27 June, to find ways to strengthen and protect this cornerstone of the international non-proliferation and disarmament regime.
This meeting is not about taking sides, on particular attacks. It is a choice between the rule of law and the international rules based system versus anarchy and the sickening prospect that we might see chemical weapons become normalised.
Twenty years ago, the creation of the Chemical Weapons Convention marked a turning point in global politics. The world drew a line in the sand, and agreed that any use of chemical weapons is unjustified and abhorrent. We must now act to defend it.