Parliament pushes for offensive against chemical weapons

Russia is said to have 40,000 tonnes of chemical weapons Keystone

Parliament has given the green light for Switzerland to play a more active role in ridding the world of chemical weapons. The House of Representatives said Switzerland should work closely with Russia, in particular, to help Moscow reduce stockpiles of these weapons.

This content was published on June 19, 2001 - 22:36

The House followed the Senate in approving government plans for greater Swiss involvement in implementing the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. The proposal envisages making up to SFr50 million ($28 million) available over the next six to eight years to assist in the eradication of such weapons.

Senators said Russia, in particular, would need help in reducing its stockpile, if it was to succeed in ridding itself of these weapons by the convention's target date of 2007.

Parliamentarian Roland Widerkehr said he was in no doubt that time was of the essence if a potential catastrophe was to be averted in future years.

"Our experts say that most of these weapons are still in a very good shape and can be reused at any time," he said. "In fact some thousands of kilogrammes have already been stolen.

"With two small weapons which you can pack in a rucksack and go somewhere like a football stadium, you could kill all the people there. Chemical weapons are regarded as the nuclear bombs of the have-nots."

Widerkehr stressed that the Swiss could set a valuable lead in helping to dismantle Russia's vast stockpile of chemical weapons. He said Switzerland already had in place a team of around a hundred experts used to monitor chemical industries worldwide for the production of new weapons.

According to Widerkehr, the total cost of neutralising Russia's chemical arsenal was likely to top SFr5 billion ($2.8 billion) of which the United States had said it would pay the lion's share with the rest being split between Russia and other European countries.

He said it would be "disastrous" if other countries refused to pay up, arguing that it would set a dangerous precedent for the implementation of other conventions on biological and nuclear weapons.

"The international community knows about the possibilities of terrorism, extortion, and reuse and proliferation of these very dangerous weapons. It's for their own security that they help Russia to get rid of them," said Widerkehr.

swissinfo with agencies

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