Acceptance speech – Paul Walker

It is important for us all to recognise that during our short time on Mother Earth, we all must strive to leave this planet a more peaceful, just, and sustainable place for future generations to come.

I am very pleased to receive this award from the Right Livelihood Award Foundation this evening and want to thank the Award Jury, my nominator, Gail Rowan (who is here this evening), and all involved in what is no doubt a very tough selection process each year.  I am also very pleased to be in the special company of my three fellow Laureates, Raji Sourani, Denis Mukwege, and Hans Herren, and also to join the wonderful fellowship of the many other laureates since 1980.

I am very honoured to be selected for “working tirelessly to rid the world of chemical weapons.” Following military service in the US Army during the height of the Vietnam War, I returned to graduate school at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, from which I had been drafted for military duty three years earlier, in Washington DC. I was fortunate to be able to do a graduate student internship at the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) in the early 1970s, during the first Soviet-American strategic arms control talks which resulted in the SALT I bilateral agreement in 1972. This was a very good early lesson for me in the hardball politics of Washington when the chief US negotiator, Gerard Smith, who was also the ACDA Director, was forced by Congress to resign, along with all the ACDA division directors as the price to pay for Senate ratification of SALT I.

I went on to finish a Ph.D. in Political Science, specializing in foreign and military policy, international security, arms control and disarmament.  Back then we called it “bombs and bullets.”  And that was followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University in science, arms control, and global politics where I finished a book, The Price of Defence, arguing that we could obtain better international security by spending much less, not more, on military forces.  But three decades or more ago, I would never have guessed that I would spend so much time focusing on the nonproliferation and physical destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles.

It was the summer of 1994, almost twenty years ago, when I organized the first US on-site inspection of a Russian chemical weapons stockpile. The Soviet Union and the United States had agreed in the late 1980s that chemical weapons were increasingly obsolete, dangerous, and costly Cold War weapons that should be abolished. The US began planning the full elimination of its large chemical weapons stockpile of some 28,600 metric tons at nine stockpiles in the mid-1980s.  It started up its first prototype destruction facility on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in 1990, designed to incinerate over 1,800 metric tons of chemical weapons secretly moved in prior years from forward deployment in Germany and Okinawa.  But Russia, traumatised by the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, was a few years behind.

Our US delegation in July 1994 consisted of an Assistant Secretary of Defence, the US Program Manager for Chemical Demilitarization, two congressmen, and staff.  I was one of the staffers from the Armed Services Committee in the US House of Representatives. The stockpile we visited was the easternmost of Russia’s seven declared chemical weapons stockpiles in a rural Siberian area called Shchuch’ye.  This is in the Kurgan Oblast of Russia, between the regional capital of Kurgan, and Chelyabinsk, along the Kazakhstan border, east of the Ural Mountain Range, about a three-hour flight from Moscow.

After undergoing basic exams and gas mask tests, we were led by the Russian Army General in charge of chemical weapons into a large forest with dilapidated warehouses filled with nerve agent artillery shells and missile warheads as far as the eye could see. This remote and until-then top secret stockpile held some two million battlefield-ready weapons, stored in wooden racks like vintage wines. We were amazed at the size of the stockpile, a total of 5,400 metric tons, with very limited security. And this was only one of seven such stockpiles in Russia at the time. The warehouses were locked with bicycle padlocks, there was no apparent inventory of the weapons, no environmental monitoring for leakage, and the young Russian army private at the front gate hadn’t been paid in six months. Keep in mind that only one of these two million weapons could kill thousands of innocent individuals if deployed in a crowded theatre, stadium, or other enclosed space.

We returned to Washington DC several days later, convinced that this had to be a top priority for the US and Russian governments – that is, the immediate security of these stockpiles and the timely elimination of them before they disappeared into the hands of subnational groups or individuals who wanted to do harm. Tragically, one year later we saw the Japanese terrorist group, Aum Shimrikyo, use sarin nerve agent, not dissimilar from the recent Syrian attacks, on the Tokyo subway, killing a dozen people and injuring some 12,000. This was clearly a wake-up call for preventing the Cold War chemical weapons arsenals from disappearing into the hands of terrorists.

Three years later, in 1997, the international Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force, and both the US and Russia, after very contentious ratification struggles in Washington and Moscow, were among the early signatories and ratifiers of the treaty.  The US by then had destroyed over 1,400 metric tons, 5% of its stockpile, but Russia had many other priorities. Fortunately, the US had the foresight to establish the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR or “Nunn-Lugar”) Program in the early 1990s to help Russia secure and destroy its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs; I was pleased to have been a part of the creation of this $400-500 million annual program when I served on the Armed Services Committee, and we knew that it would be put to good use on chemical weapons destruction in Russia.

In addition to helping Russia begin its own chemical weapons destruction program, the US also agreed to have a new environmental organization chaired by Mikhail Gorbachev – Green Cross International – begin an effort to help facilitate Russia’s chemical weapons destruction program. We realized in the mid-1990s that Russia’s nuclear, chemical, and biological programs and stockpiles were so top-secret that any major demilitarization effort would take considerable public dialogue, facilitation, and mediation to be successful. So I was very fortunate, along with my Green Cross colleagues in our national affiliates in Russia and Switzerland, to begin a dedicated public outreach and facilitation process at every Russian chemical weapons stockpile.

At the same time we also proposed a development and evaluation effort in the United States to investigate non-incineration technologies for destroying chemical weapons. The US Army, with the support of the National Academy of Sciences, had naively proposed that incinerators be built at all nine US chemical weapons stockpiles, and were shocked when there was public opposition to the burning of VX and other deadly nerve agents upwind of their children’s schools and homes.

I helped to draft the legislation for the so-called Assembled Chemicals Weapons Assessment (ACWA) Program to look at alternative technologies for safe and timely chemical weapons destruction. We were able to pass an initial appropriation for $60 million for this in the mid-1990s, against the wishes of the US Army, and today four of the nine US stockpile sites have used, or will use, neutralisation rather than incineration for destruction of their chemical weapons stockpiles.

By 2002, Russia had improved security at two of its seven chemical weapon stockpile sites – Shchuch’ye and Kizner – which together held over 11,000 metric tons of nerve agents in over four million portable artillery shells. And, with the help of Germany, Russia began operating its first destruction facility to neutralize lewisite, an old blister agent, at Gorny in the Saratov Oblast. Russia had declared 40,000 metric tons of chemical agents, still a third larger than the US stockpile. The year, 2002, was also an historic year because it was then that a dozen or more additional countries came together at Kananaskis, Canada, with the leadership of Canada and the US, to establish the G-8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, otherwise known simply as the “Global Partnership.”  This group, which today consists of two dozen countries, pledged $20 billion over a decade to help Russia destroy its nuclear and chemical weapons.  The Global Partnership, with which we have worked closely for many years now, has been essential to the success of Russia’s chemical weapons destruction program to date, providing well over $2 billion in support since 2002.

Today, after 23 years of difficult, contentious, and costly destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles in six countries – Albania, India, Libya, Russia, South Korea, and the United States – we have eliminated over 58,000 metric tons of deadly agent and millions of chemical munitions, all inspected and verified by the highly qualified inspectorate of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague. This is an enormous and remarkable achievement, and has taken tens of billions of dollars, thousands of dedicated workers, and much involvement of governments, private industry, and civil society.  About 80% of the declared stockpiles have now been destroyed, with the last 13,000 metric tons or so to take another decade.  These reside in four known countries – the US, Russia, Libya, and Iraq, plus some 1,000 metric tons in Syria, and a large undeclared stockpile in North Korea, and possibly Israel and Egypt.

But many additional challenges lie ahead. Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention in September is a major, historic step forward toward full universality of the abolition regime, but six countries still remain outside of the CWC – Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan.  Now that Syria has become the 190th State Party, it is time that both Israel and Egypt, the only two remaining Mideast countries outstanding from the CWC, join the Convention, and begin working towards a complete Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East.

As you’ve seen in the news recently, the safe, secure, and timely elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program will not be easy, but I am very pleased that many European countries have contributed to this effort with voluntary financial and in-kind contributions. And given the excellent cooperation of Syria in recent weeks, I remain optimistic that this effort will be successful.

Before I became preoccupied – some might say obsessed – with the abolition of chemical weapons some two decades ago, I spent a great deal of time focusing on the control and disarmament of nuclear weapons. In earlier positions with the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, I organized the first US university teach-in on nuclear weapons and nuclear war in 1981, much along the lines of the anti-Vietnam War teach-ins of the 1960s and 1970s.  We also were successful in stopping the mobile deployment of the MX nuclear missile in the early 1980s, and I worked a great deal also on the ratification of the several Soviet-American and Russian-American bilateral strategic nuclear arms agreements since 1972 – SALT I and II, START I and II, the Moscow Treaty, and the most recent 2010 New START agreement.

But, regardless of these successes in arms control and disarmament, we must continue our national and international struggles to abolish all weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical, and biological. We must strengthen the multilateral inspection and verification regimes which help guarantee that these horrible, inhumane weapons never reemerge during times of crises – the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and other such international conventions to improve security and sustainability for our planet and humankind.

Our ongoing work focuses on the demilitarisation of our modern world and includes promotion of peace, non-violent resolution to conflict, and a more just society.  Other related precepts which we have always adhered to include transparency, rule of law, public dialogue, nondiscrimination (to include arms control, disarmament, and abolition regimes), stakeholder involvement, and empowerment of communities.

It should also be pointed out that all of the work we are celebrating today – human rights, public health, disarmament, nonproliferation, disease prevention – are all very much interrelated. I have always felt that healthy communities must be peaceful, and peaceful communities must also be healthy. So we must always recognize that the many threats to security and sustainability must be dealt with through a multidisciplinary approach. We have to think globally, but also act locally.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague for winning the Nobel Peace Prize this year. This multilateral organization has overseen and verified the destruction of chemical weapons since it entered into force over sixteen years ago and has quietly but with a determined mind made our world a much safer and peaceful place. I will be proud to attend the Nobel ceremony next week in Oslo, and also give the organisation much credit for supporting the involvement of civil society. And, most importantly, the Right Livelihood Award and the Nobel Peace Prize have brought much needed public attention now to this very important effort to build a world free of chemical weapons.

Thank you all again for this wonderful award, and may we all – and I emphasise all, for it indeed takes everyone – continue to build a more peaceful, prosperous, and productive world.

Paul F. Walker
Director, Environmental Security and Sustainability, Green Cross International
pwalker (at) globalgreen.org

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