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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 66, September 2002

News Review

New OPCW Director-General

In The Hague on July 25, the First Special Session of the Conference of States Parties (CSP) to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) reconvened to appoint Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter of Argentina as the Director-General of the Technical Secretariat (TS) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The Special Session first convened on April 21, dismissing the then Director-General, José Bustani of Brazil, on April 22 by 48 votes to 7 with 43 abstentions. Bustani's ouster was largely instigated by the United States on the grounds of political bias and organisational mismanagement, claims remaining largely unsubstantiated in the view of many states and observers. (See Disarmament Diplomacy No. 64, May/June 2002, pp. 28-33). The appointment of Bustani's successor, however - on the basis of a July 16 recommendation of the OPCW Executive Council - was greeted with a fulsome display of unity and enthusiasm. According to an OPCW press release (July 25):

"The Conference of the States Parties appointed Ambassador Pfirter by acclamation. The new Director General's four-year term of office commenced immediately upon his appointment. Prior to his appointment, Mr Pfirter, a lawyer and a career diplomat, was the Undersecretary for Foreign Policy in the Ministry of External Relations, International Trade and Worship, Argentina. The Chairman of the Conference of the States Parties, Ambassador Heinrich Reimann of Switzerland, congratulated Ambassador Pfirter upon his appointment stating, 'the Organisation is very fortunate to have been able to recruit an experienced multilateralist, well-versed in negotiating complex issues covering a range of issues from nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, international security, resolving historical conflict and resource management. Ambassador Pfirter is also experienced in overseeing the search for resolution of such issues.'"

The US State Department immediately welcomed the development, noting (July 25) that Ambassador Pfirter "has an outstanding record on non-proliferation and we believe he will do an excellent job in leading the OPCW to carry out its essential role in the overall global effort against weapons of mass destruction. The United States strongly supports the Chemical Weapons Convention and its implementing organization. We look forward to developing a solid relationship with Director-General Pfirter as he takes the necessary steps to address the Organization's financial and management concerns."

Russia noted its satisfaction at the nomination in a Foreign Ministry statement on July 17, expressing the expectation that the Ambassador's election would signal "the renewal of [the] energetic, effective and impartial work of the OPCW in such a topical and important field for global stability as chemical disarmament and non-proliferation."

Addressing the CSP on July 25, immediately upon his election, Director-General Pfirter made a powerful plea for cooperation and support:

"Thank you for that warm welcome. I can assure you that after the intense days and weeks that preceded this Conference, it is a heart-warming feeling. We all know where we come from. The Organisation...[has] been through one of the most complicated periods in its brief history. Yet it's not my intention to dwell on the past, but rather to signal the beginning of a new phase, because it is time to move on. Putting this organisation firmly back on its feet is the first order of business and in doing so, not only shall we safeguard the implementation of the Convention, but indicate our collective commitment with the most desirable instrument there is to maintain international peace and security - the principle and practice of multilateralism. Throughout my professional career, I have been a consistent proponent and defender of this principle because I believe that, when it comes to solving problems of a global nature nothing can match collective wisdom, joint action and decision-making by consensus. ...

I know that having just started a new chapter, member states want an OPCW in full operation. I intend to provide the leadership necessary to give you, the owners of this body, the results you legitimately expect from us. Member states set the objectives and monitor our progress towards them, not individuals. In this regard, my first priority will be to make sure that the two wills, the states parties' and the Secretariat's, converge and move decisively in the same direction.

A few guiding principles will inspire my action as Director-General: [first of all] transparency, as the Technical Secretariat can not carry out its work behind closed doors. You have the right to know how things are done. I will interact intensively and systematically with states parties, in particular those which bear the special responsibility and privilege of being Executive Council members. As I see it, there should be a permanent and fluent channel of communication between the International Staff and Member States through their delegation to the Organisation. Coming from Argentina, you won't be surprised when I state that it takes two to tango... Through transparency, we will create confidence. For me, confidence requires that implementation of the Convention be carried out in a balanced and non-discriminatory manner. I will stand by this principle.

Prudent management acquires special meaning these days. The Organisation will be facing a number of challenges in the coming years and we have to make sure of two things: firstly that we get the financial resources needed to implement our mandate, and secondly that these are used exclusively for the objectives and missions spelled out in the Convention.

The CWC does not need rewriting. As we all know, a number of central pillars provide the backbone of the Treaty and we shall observe them and act in their fulfilment. Specifically, we will need the means to verify and fully address the fundamental objectives of disarmament and non-proliferation, which are central to the Convention and the Organisation. At the same time we will make sure that member states have full access to the assistance and protection they are entitled to and that international co-operation flows as a consequence of the mutually reinforcing pillars. Coming as I do from a developing country, I know all too well the significance of co-operation.

The list of immediate tasks is long, but we shall tackle them with determination. First, we need to get a budget which is realistic and adequate. One of my top priorities will be to ensure appropriate funding in 2003. Second, chemical weapons arsenals and former chemical weapon production facilities must be destroyed as soon as possible. We shall try to respond efficiently and promptly to the guidelines and instructions emanating from the Conference and the Executive Council in this important field. Third, we must remember that there is still a way to go before the Convention becomes truly universal. A number of countries still need to accede or to ratify the Convention. Fourth, national ability to comply with the CWC must be supported. We will be there assisting member states in this crucial task. Fifth, new challenges appear, technical improvement continues, science evolves, industry moves forward at an astonishing pace, and it would not be in our interest that the Technical Secretariat be paralysed by obsolescence or a lack of technological and scientific capabilities. ...

This is time for healing. Time for regrouping. Time for committing ourselves with more determination than before. When the Argentine Government decided to put forward my candidature, it did so as a reaffirmation of our deep commitment of the cause of disarmament and non-proliferation. I come from a region which is a part of the developing world. One where we have been able to create an area of peace and co-operation, and where weapons of mass destruction have no place. I bring with me this spirit, and so I am deeply grateful for the support I have received from my regional group. But my debt of gratitude goes beyond the country I represent and the region I come from. The expressions of support from all groups are something I cherish and you can be sure that without them the task I commence today would have been immensely more difficult. ... Starting now, all my efforts shall be devoted to the success of this Organisation. I count on your support and guidance to discharge my duties in the best possible way. It is high time for the OPCW to go back to its normal business."

Note: one of Director-General Bustani's most controversial policies - in the eyes of Washington and other CWC members - was his perceived eagerness to persuade Iraq to join the Convention. In an interview with Judith Miller of the New York Times, published on July 26, the new Director-General stressed that "we should be very well aware...there are United Nations resolutions in effect" with respect to Iraqi disarmament obligations.

Related material on Acronym website:

Report: Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 1460-17-07-2002, July 17; Executive Council recommends H.E. Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter be appointed as the Director-General of the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW, OPCW Press Release 50, July 16; OPCW Special Session appoints Director-General, OPCW Press Release 51, July 25; Acceptance speech by H.E. Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter, Director-General of the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW, July 25, 2002, OPCW website (http://www.opcw.org); Text - US welcomes head of chemical weapons organization, Washington File, July 25; New chief for chemical weapons group, Associated Press, July 25; Argentine to head group seeking to ban chemical weapons, New York Times, July 26; OPCW appoints new Director-General, Global Security Newswire, July 26.

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© 2002 The Acronym Institute.