BGCA treaty office keeps nation in compliance

By Angela MessingerFebruary 25, 2020

BGCA treaty office keeps nation in compliance
usa photo (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

The Blue Grass Chemical Activity treaty office in Richmond, Kentucky, is a key component to ensuring U.S. compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). This international agreement among 193 nation-states aims to eliminate chemical weapons and chemical weapons stockpiles across the globe.

"The biggest aspect of the treaty office mission is to ensure our organization is complying with the CWC," said Mark J. Daly, BGCA treaty compliance officer. "Additionally, this office takes the lead for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspection team visits."

OPCW inspection teams must have support to accomplish their mandate under the CWC, which is to verify no undetected removal of chemical weapons has taken place. According to the CWC, Part IV (A), chemical weapons storage facilities must be secure and no weapons may leave the facilities unless they are being removed for destruction. The team typically comprises five people from different countries which have signed the agreement, accompanied by escorts from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). Historically, inspections are scheduled once per year for storage sites and increase to twice per year during demilitarization operations.

Team members don protective gear and count the weapons in each of the storage bunkers, called igloos. The weapons count is verified against Chemical Accountability Management Information Network inventory records to ensure the numbers match. They also review shipping documents to see how many weapons have been moved from the storage area to the destruction facilities.

"This is where the rubber meets the road, and where our daily efforts to reconcile inventory and shipping documents pay off," Daly said.

The BGCA and Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) treaty offices work together to ensure both organizations are in compliance and there are no mistakes in weapons accountability documents. The teams verify that all movement reports match the shipping documents and that the overall inventory is correct. Each week they track what is in storage, what has been moved and what has been destroyed, whether or not a munitions movement occurred that week.

During inspections, the OPCW team may "tag" specific munitions to be sampled before final destruction. This sampling process applies to all signatories and is used to verify that the munition contains the chemical agent the host government says it contains.

Periodically, BGCA will host a visit from the executive council, which consists of representatives from CWC signatory countries. Typically, these meetings happen every two years and are hosted by an Army organization related to chemical weapons, such as BGCA, Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado, the Center for Treaty Implementation and Compliance in Maryland, or the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School in Missouri. During these events, the executive council receives updates on the status of U.S. compliance with the CWC.

The treaty office also ensures organizational and higher headquarters leadership are fully aware of the Activity's status in regard to the CWC. Each year, Daly meets with the Chemical Materials Activity director, who is the CWC implementing agent for the U.S., to provide updates on treaty compliance. This briefing includes details on how BGCA executes its responsibilities as well as methods used to verify compliance.

Training is an important aspect of the treaty mission. When international inspectors arrive on-site, BGCA personnel assist with personal protective equipment, transportation, access to the weapons, and medical and security clearances, and provide office space, equipment and many other things. Anyone who interacts with the inspectors must follow Army regulations and best practices for operational and personal security. The treaty office ensures involved personnel are aware of their responsibilities to support the visitors while maintaining proper security measures.

DTRA personnel training is another function of the treaty office. Because BGCA stores the nation's last stockpile of nerve agent, it is the only site that can provide all the training required for DTRA escorts. They are taught how to execute inspections, count rounds and pallets, recognize treaty tags, work in Level A protective gear and conduct decontamination. This helps them prepare to effectively facilitate international inspections.

"Our goal is to continue to support demilitarization, finish destruction in a timely manner and proceed toward closure," Daly said. "We will track everything until it is gone. The last end cap, shipping and firing tubes, rocket motors, surety material and anything else affiliated with storage. Then our mission will be complete."

BGCAPP is responsible for destroying the BGCA stockpile and is scheduled to finish the demilitarization process by the end of 2023.