WASHINGTON — Defense Department employees made history in July by destroying the last chemical weapon in the U.S. military arsenal at Blue Grass Army Depot, Kentucky.
The destruction ended decades of effort to eliminate chemical weapons, said Douglas Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, during a Pentagon news conference today.
"The U.S.'s destruction of declared chemical weapons stockpiles in a safe, secure and environmentally responsible manner was a difficult task, requiring many years to complete," he said.
The Senate ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, and DOD employees began the process of safely demilitarizing the weapons.
"Through last Friday, the United States destroyed over 30,000 metric tons of declared chemical agent contained in nearly 3.5 million chemical munitions, over 22,500 one-ton containers containing chemical agent, and over 50,500 bottles and containers containing chemical agent," said Kingston Reif, deputy assistant secretary of defense for threat reduction and arms control.
Nearly 90 percent of the weapons were eliminated by 2012. The last 10 percent was a greater challenge involving a complicated approach of neutralizing these chemicals. The last mustard gas munition was destroyed last month at the Army's Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado; Blue Grass destroyed the last missile loaded with Sarin nerve agent last week.
"This is an important moment — not only for the United States, but also the entire world," said Mallory Stewart, assistant secretary of state for the bureau of arms control, verification and compliance. "This achievement is indicative of the important role that international cooperation and transparency play in arms control and disarmament."
The destruction cements U.S. compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention by the Sept. 30 deadline. This is important, Reif said, "for the viability of the convention and for our moral and diplomatic leadership. The most important action the United States can take to contribute to a world free of chemical weapons and lead by example is to follow through on our own treaty commitments. With verifiable completion of destruction operations, last week, we have done just that."
Reif praised Michael Abaie, the program executive officer of the Army's Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives, who led the team of thousands of DOD civilians and contractors in the $13.5 billion effort. He said when Abaie took over the program in 2018, it was uncertain whether the deadline could be met. Abaie worked with Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency, state offices, the local communities, scientists and others to devise safe and efficient means of destroying the chemicals.
"The program's turnaround is a major acquisition success story," Reif said. It is "defined by proactive risk management, resourceful problem solving and technological innovation. And it has been a team effort. The completion of the mission means that the significant resources spent on demilitarization can be redirected to support other high priority department missions."
Two years of efforts remain to ensure the facilities used are safe before turning out the lights. Officials said that will cost another $2.5 billion.
DOD officials also worked with other nations to help them destroy chemical weapons, including Russia, Syria, Albania and Libya. Still, there are questions about whether Russia and Syria have destroyed all their chemical weapons as both nations have used them against their own people, Stewart said.