By Craig Williams
Too often, news is made when things go wrong. TV, print and radio and the internet are filled with worrisome headlines about international terror and wars, making it easy to feel confused, overwhelmed and helpless. But recently, Central Kentucky witnessed a positive development of which it can be proud: the attention from international disarmament leaders to our efforts to destroy lethal chemical weapons at the Blue Grass Army Depot.
On May 22, members of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), headquartered in The Hague, visited Madison County as part of their oversight responsibility regarding the Chemical Weapons Treaty. Representatives from the Ukraine, China, Germany, Ecuador, Russia, Libya, Japan, and South Africa along with the OPCW Director General were present. Under this treaty, the U.S.--along with 187 other countries-- have obligated themselves to destroy all chemical weapons in their possession, and to not use nor produce any in the future.
The recent visit by the OPCW Executive Council reminded me that we in Central Kentucky are truly part of a historical effort; never before has their been agreement to rid the planet of an entire class of weapons of mass destruction. Their visit not only provided the members of the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board the opportunity to appreciate the part the Board is playing in this global objective, but it allowed OPCW members to see firsthand the extremely high level of engagement by the citizens of the area. They saw how cooperation and transparency between the local community, the federal government and its contractor(s) can result in greater trust and a more efficient disposal process. They saw how we’re merging economic development interests with environmental, safety and health considerations for cooperative planning to ensure future success in our community.
Earlier in May I had the privilege of representing our region at an OPCW meeting in The Hague, and personally witnessed the concern expressed by the international community about chemical weapons disposal challenges in other countries. It was extremely gratifying to think back on the challenges we faced in the 1980’s and 90’s, and how after all these years, we are truly united. Our community is a shining example of success in the global demilitarization effort.
Challenges remain: reliable federal funding, construction completion, systemization/operations and continued consensus building lie ahead. But we are on our way to not only providing a safer environment here at home, but also to contributing to a significantly less dangerous world. This is something we can all take pride in.
Craig Williams is Director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group at the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, and co-chair of the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board.