Politicians shake hands and smile. Cameras click. Papers are signed and stamped. The world’s press reports the signing of another international agreement.
International summits, conventions and treaties may seem removed from the lives of everyday people; photo opportunities rather than milestones. But these are how we agree the type of world we want to live in. They are the promises we keep to each other. These commitments made by Thailand, the UK, and many other states, and their implementation, underpin the international system and keep us safe.
When agreements are broken, or allowed to fall into irrelevance, the consequences become real for everyone.
The Chemical Weapons Convention is one of these, but there are worrying signs we have forgotten why we worked so hard to achieve this vital agreement.
Chemical weapons asphyxiate, choke, blister and poison. Where not lethal, their effects can last a lifetime. During the 20th century they were used on and off the battlefield with horrific consequences.
Chemical weapons were used with devastating effect during World War I, then in Morocco, Yemen, China and Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). The aftermath of their deployment in the 1980s Iran-Iraq War continues to be felt today due to the effects of the chemical agents used in the conflict.
The Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in 1997, and brought the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) into existence. For the first time, the world had an independent, non-political body to investigate chemical weapons use.
Some 192 countries, including Thailand and the UK, have now ratified the convention and are States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Together we agreed that the development, production, stockpiling and deployment of these instruments of death should be confined to the past. There can be no impunity for anyone who uses chemical weapons.
But this agreement and these norms are under threat. Since the start of 2017 alone, chemical weapons have been used against civilians in Syria, Iraq, the UK, and in one of Thailand’s Asean neighbours, Malaysia.
This represents a grave threat to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the rules-based international order that keeps people in Thailand, the UK and around the world safe. It must now be protected and strengthened.
On Tuesday this week, the UK and 10 other countries launched a call for all the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to come together. We are calling on states around the world, including Thailand, to join together to find ways to strengthen and protect this cornerstone of the international non-proliferation and disarmament regime.
Rule of law
Thailand plays an important role on the world stage as a leading member of Asean and an active role throughout the UN. We hope Thailand will join us in protecting and defending the international prohibition against chemical weapons. By doing so it upholds the international order that we all depend on.
Some have tried to cast this meeting as an arena for some kind of global confrontation where states will be forced to take sides. Rather this is a choice between the rule of law and international rules based system versus anarchy and the sickening prospect that we and our children might see chemical weapons become normalised.
Twenty years ago, the creation of the Chemical Weapons Convention marked a turning point in global politics. The world drew a line in the sand, and agreed that any use of chemical weapons is unjustified and abhorrent. We must now act to defend it.
BRIAN DAVIDSON is the British ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand