State practice in the observance of environmental norms in implementing disarmament and arms control regimes

State practice in the observance of environmental norms in implementing disarmament and arms control regimes

Through reports submitted to the UN, Laurence Menhinick reviews state practice on the disposal and destruction of military materials and considers how well they reflect established environmental norms and the extent to which the environmental and health risks from military materials are recognised.

The UN General Assembly resolution ‘Observance of environmental norms in the drafting and implementation of agreements on disarmament and arms control’ was first introduced by Colombia, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1995. Originally inspired by two conventions that were already in force –the chemical and biological weapons conventions, it also referenced the detrimental effects of the use of nuclear weapons and the military uses of environmental modification techniques. Its emphasis is twofold: the need for environmental norms and protection to be taken into account during disarmament and arms limitation treaty negotiations – such as the then forthcoming negotiations on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and the need to follow sound environmental norms during the process of treaty implementation, especially during the destruction of weapons. The resolution also urges states to adhere to the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques Convention (ENMOD).

The draft resolution is adopted every year without a vote, and states are invited to send reports to the Secretary General on measures implemented and progress. Looking at the reports sent in the past decade, the range of states and reports varies widely year on year, with between three and 11 being sent and 26 states engaging (Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Finland, Greece, Guatemala, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Panama, Portugal, Qatar, Serbia, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine and the UAE). Only Cuba reports annually.

The reports consider a range of topics: ratified treaties and national environmental laws and decrees, details of safe disposal processes relating to chemical weapons, surplus or disused ordnance and anti-personnel mines, evidence of procedures around WMDs and nuclear disarmament, and calls for states to accede to other relevant treaties. But to what extent do the reports shed light on the perception of military pollution by states?

Scope of ‘accepted’ polluting military materials and practices

The scope of military environmental impacts reported in the statements is often limited to weapons of mass destruction, with nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament the primary concern, followed by chemical and biological weapons and considerations on the disposal of small arms and mines. The table below summarises the list of concerns from each state, taking into account conventions, legislation and implementation.

    Areas of concern included in statements (2005-2014)
State

Reports

Nuclear weapons Chemical weapons Biological weapons Arms disposal

AP mines

Other

Bangladesh

1

Bolivia

1

Y & waste

Toxic waste.

Cameroon 

1

Y Y

Y

   

Weapons of Environmental Modification.

Canada

1

Environmental norms.

Chile 

3

Y and facilities        

Arms control.

Colombia

2

Y Y

Control and destruction of arms.

Cuba 

10

Y Y Y    

Weapons of Environmental Modification.

Ecuador

1

Y Y Y

Hazardous waste.

El Salvador

2

Y     Y  

Conventional arms.

Guatemala

1

Y

Iraq

2

Y Y Y    

Hazardous waste. Military pollution post conflict.

Jordan

2

Y Y

Mine clearance. Hazardous substances. Waste dump management.

Lebanon

7

Y      
Mexico

4

Y Y Y Y and clearance

Conventional weapons and remnants. Spent fuel. Clearance of land of socio-economic value damaged by remnants.

Panama 

2

        Y

Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects.

Portugal

2

Y Y

Environmental Modification Techniques.

Qatar

5

Y Y Y    

Arms control.

Serbia

1

Y

Spain

5

      Y, conventional, small arms, fragmentation. Y

Cluster bombs.

 

Syria

3

Y, conventional
Turkey 

2

      Y, conventional Y

Hazardous waste, waste oil, batteries.

Ukraine

3

Y Y Y, small arms Y

Mélange liquid. Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects. Solid fuel from ICBMs.

UAE

1

Y Y Y     Hazardous chemicals and pesticides.

The reports serve to highlight the range of toxic military materials and substances that are currently accepted to have an adverse environmental impact and which necessitate strict remediation mechanisms to deal with safely. These include nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, explosive weapons, ballistic missile fuel, waste oil, mélange (rocket fuel) and other non-descript hazardous waste and post-conflict remnants and pollution. Although conventions and protocols set targets, duties and deadlines, the implementation, processes and techniques are all left for ‘Each State Party [to] decide on methods to be applied’ [1].

Ukrainian armed forces personnel remove the last melange from the Kalynivka storage site in the Vinnytsya region of Ukraine, 24 January 2010. Source: OSCE.

Ukrainian armed forces personnel remove the last melange from the Kalynivka storage site in the Vinnytsya region of Ukraine, 24 January 2010. Source: OSCE.

Norms, standards and legislation

All states, with the exception of Bangladesh, Guatemala, Lebanon and Syria list elements of their domestic legislation that pertains to the implementation of international conventions, military waste disposal, nuclear monitoring or hazardous substances management and destruction. However it is not clear from the reports if a specific set of standards are used as reference. Only Portugal, Spain and Ukraine quote European environmental standards specifically, the latter two quoting ISO-14001:2004 (Council of the European Union Directive 94/67/EC), and ISO-1400, on the incineration of hazardous waste. El Salvador references: ‘the observance of environmental standards established by the relevant United Nations bodies dealing with disarmament and arms limitation’[2] as a guide – although their source is unclear. Ecuador mentions the UN Conference on Environment and Development impact assessment norm[3] (quoting Principle 17 of the Rio Declaration). Only three other states mention environmental impact assessments: Cameroon (for military works, infrastructure or plant[4]), Chile (for nuclear installations and reactors[5]), El Salvador (in the destruction of stockpiled firearms and explosives[6]), and Ukraine (for the disposal of any type of asset[7]) – yet these are strictly descriptions of national procedures, no state calls for specific environmental norms to be applied uniformly and consistently.

What of other environmental norms? Although not quoted as such it is reasonable to consider that signing up to a convention on disarmament demanding the destruction of dangerous weapons and hazardous substances is broadly precautionary in nature. The extensive details provided by many states describing their procedures to protect natural regions, rehabilitate waste dumps, preserve biodiversity and ecosystems (Jordan), monitor water land and air pollution in disposal areas (Serbia), employ closed system combustion gas scrubbing, oxidation and purification arrangements (Serbia, Spain, Turkey and Ukraine in particular) might also be loosely interpreted as measures to promote intra- and intergenerational equity.

Some states (Jordan, Iraq and Ukraine) refer to recent post-conflict clearance work and disposal issues. All three detail clean-up operations but only Iraq calls for technical assistance to assist with the extent of the damage ‘on health grounds’ and requests that ‘studies should be conducted and solutions formulated with a view to cleaning the environment and containing the effects of pollution[8]’. There is no evidence from any statements that the polluter pays principle should be applied, although the Convention on Chemical Weapons considers that the costs of clearance of abandoned chemicals in another state should be incurred by the abandoning party.

Compliance and disposal methods

From the statements, responsibility for compliance falls solely on states party to agreements. Some states use private contractors to dismantle, process and dispose of waste. Colombia uses Sidenal S.A and Spain Fabricaciones Extremeñas (FAEX), who are responsible for the full environmental compliance of the processes to EU and domestic standards. Ukraine employs TekhnoAzot for the disposal of mélange stockpiles. Others require specialist help from international organisations: Ukraine destroys MANPADS, conventional weapons and small arms through a NATO/Partnership for Peace Trust Fund project, anti-personnel mines with the help of Norway and disposes of empty motor cases through a German-designed facility, built with assistance from the US.

The reports also provide an insight into the selection of disposal and management methods:

  • El Salvador destroys stockpiled explosives by open detonation.

  • Syria dismantles weapons in secure fortified buildings, detonates them in open pits and buries waste.

  • Jordan destroys single mines in dug trenches and buries the waste.

  • Spain chose to render conventional weapons unusable by cutting, deformation or crushing, rather than detonation because of the impact on the environment.

  • Turkey chose to melt TNT or class B explosives in closed systems to a certain level of purity to promote recycling of materials.

  • Ukraine chose hydromechanical extraction to reprocess solid fuel.

Many of the above reportedly took the social impacts of destruction or the areas’ geological characteristics into account in selecting appropriate locations to carry out their activities. Trenches, pits and burials are reportedly located in areas far from habitation, arable and grazing land or water sources, demonstrating that assessments are made of the social and long-term environmental impact of processes. The monitoring of pollution in air, water and soil following dismantlement processes is also implemented by some states (Qatar, Serbia, Ukraine for example) whereas others mention monitoring nuclear and chemical substances through their own federal legislation and standards (Iraq, Jordan, Qatar and the UAE).

Recognition of potential harm is great but…

Taken as whole, the reports indicate that some efforts are being made to manage dangerous military substances and dispose of them in a considered manner, but is the definition currently too narrow? Notwithstanding the inconsistency of Syria’s reports in 2007 and 2012 which stated that it only possessed ‘normal, traditional ammunition for light arms, artillery and tanks[9]’ an assertion that has subsequently been proven false; Colombia, Greece, Iraq, Lebanon and Qatar all state that their military arsenals do not contain any ammunition or weapons that have an adverse or detrimental impact on the environment.

We cannot deny the potency of the threats posed by WMDs; however we can equally argue that the conventions and resolution texts help perpetuate a very narrow definition of the range of potential environmental pollution caused by military activities. Contamination due to conventional weapons on firing ranges, military bases or conflict zones, together with military practices during and after conflict all contribute to environmental damage and civilian harm from an often complex range of toxic substances, as Iraq’s reports illustrate. With states already recognising the importance of observing environmental norms and implementing them in the management of stockpiles and waste on their own territories, is it perhaps time that their commitment was widened to take into account efforts to minimise harm from toxic remnants of war more broadly?

Mrs Laurence Menhinick is a research assistant with the TRWP and ICBUW.

 

References
1. Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, 1993,  part V, B, 11  [online] available at http://disarmament.un.org/treaties/t/cwc/text
2. Observance of environmental norms in the drafting and implementation of agreements on disarmament and arms control Report of the Secretary-General, (2009) UN General Assembly A/64/118 , p2[online] available at http://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/389/48/pdf/N0938948.pdf?OpenElement  
3. Observance of environmental norms in the drafting and implementation of agreements on disarmament and arms control  Report of the Secretary-General, (2011) UN General Assembly A/66/97 p4 [online] available at http://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/390/11/pdf/N1139011.pdf?OpenElement
4. Observance of environmental norms in the drafting and implementation of agreements on disarmament and arms control Report of the Secretary-General, (2010) UN General Assembly A/65/125 p2 [online] available at http://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N10/449/13/pdf/N1044913.pdf?OpenElement
5. Report of the Secretary-General, (2006) UN General Assembly A/61/113 p2 [online] available at http://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/407/98/pdf/N0640798.pdf?OpenElement
6. Observance of environmental norms in the drafting and implementation of agreements on disarmament and arms control Report of the Secretary-General, (2006) UN General Assembly A/61/113 p5 [online] available at http://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/407/98/pdf/N0640798.pdf?OpenElement
7. Observance of environmental norms in the drafting and implementation of agreements on disarmament and arms control Report of the Secretary-General, (2014) UN General Assembly A/69/115 p8 [online] available at http://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N14/452/19/pdf/N1445219.pdf?OpenElement
8. Observance of environmental norms in the drafting and implementation of agreements on disarmament and arms control Report of the Secretary-General, (2014) UN General Assembly A/69/115 p4 [online] available at http://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N14/452/19/pdf/N1445219.pdf?OpenElement  and (2012)  A/67/130 p 4[online] available at http://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N12/412/99/pdf/N1241299.pdf?OpenElement
9. Observance of environmental norms in the drafting and implementation of agreements on disarmament and arms control Report of the Secretary-General, (2007) UN General Assembly A/62/134 p 9 [online] available at http://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N07/435/56/pdf/N0743556.pdf?OpenElement and (2012) A/67/130 p 6[online] available at http://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N12/412/99/pdf/N1241299.pdf?OpenElement
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