The Great Elector

John Hart, from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), on the potential candidates for leading the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

On 26 July the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) circulated a note to the Executive Council (EC) members outlining the procedures for electing its fourth Director-General (DG) (Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü’s second, and final, term ends next year). On 13 September EC members will conduct their first informal straw poll for seven shortlisted candidates. All made presentations at the EC earlier this month.

The candidates are: Fernando Arias (Spain), Abdouraman Bary (Burkina Faso), Saywan Sabir Barzani (Iraq), Won-soo Kim (South Korea), Tibor Tóth (Hungary), Jesper Vahr (Denmark) and Vaidotas Verba (Lithuania). Ambassador Arias is Spain’s Permanent Representative to OPCW. Bary is currently Africa’s Regional Coordinator for chemicals and waste at the United Nations Environment Programme. He previously headed Burkina Faso’s National Authority to the OPCW. Ambassador Barzani is Iraq’s Ambassador to the Netherlands. Won-soo was Under Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs under former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Tóth was formerly the Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). From 1995-2001, he chaired an ad hoc group that negotiated a protocol (which was not adopted) to strengthen compliance with the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Ambassador Vahr was previously Director of the Private Office of the NATO Secretary General. Starting in September 2014 Ambassador Verba 'assumed the responsibilities’ of Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE). He was previously Lithuania’s Permanent Representative to the OPCW where he took an interest in dumped chemical weapons issues.

In September the EC members will complete their initial ballots. The first preference will receive 7 points, the second preference will receive 6 points and so forth. As those who receive the fewest votes drop out, the support of the EC should coalesce around a single candidate. Only EC members in good standing will be permitted to participate. In principle, members lose their vote if they are in arrears in payments for an amount that equals or exceeds the amount of contributions due from them for the preceding two full years. In 2009 the EC took 5 straw polls to achieve consensus on Ambassador Üzümcü’s candidacy.

The states parties wish to have confidence that their views will be heard and that the organization will be in a 'safe pair of hands’. EC members are evaluating the candidates partly in terms perceived personal or prior institutional partiality they may have vis-à-vis the Syria chemical weapons file. Some EC members may consider NATO affiliation (the current DG has such an affiliation) or OSCE monitoring of the Ukraine armed conflict as problematic. Candidates who have refrained from expressing substantive views publicly could be favoured.

Some observers have noted that all the shortlisted candidates are men and that the percentage of women in the top leadership of OPCW should be increased. While civil society and others may support changing the selection process for UN-type organizations (e.g., by increased transparency and non-government inputs), the selection process for multilateral disarmament and arms control regimes remains the prerogative of governments and will continue to reflect broader geopolitical realities within the international system. As such, governments will continue to reach common understandings on the 'political acceptability’ of individuals and to link such appointments with achieving understandings regarding other geopolitical processes and decisions outside the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) context.

In addition, all top Technical Secretariat positions will be subject to change so as to reflect the principle of 'equitable geographic distribution’. The CWC groupings are: Africa; Asia; Eastern Europe; Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC); and Western European and Other States (WEOG). New heads of organizations also typically bring some of their own people with them.

The new DG will also oversee the definitive transition of the treaty regime towards a post-chemical weapons destruction phase. At least two visions may be realised: one of an OPCW focused on chemical weapon threats with most resources allocated accordingly, the other for the OPCW to serve as a model of international outreach and capacity-building for the peaceful uses of chemistry. Notwithstanding the experience gained in Syria, Iraq and Libya, as well as the OPCW knowledge management system, the institutional capacity of the Technical Secretariat will remain under some stress in the coming years.

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