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How I Built an International Coalition (as a mid-level public servant) Part 1

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This is a two-part first-person post on government entrepreneurship on the international stage

By Monica Heyl
It was in the early nineties that I first met my dear friend and trusteed colleague, Walter. We were both invitees at an international workshop on chemical sampling and analysis as required in support of the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Little did we know that being dinner partners was going to lead to a new international coalition. This is Part 1 of a two-part post. This post focuses on laying the groundwork for an enduring partnership. Part 2 focuses on the tactical elements of the partnership.

But first, a little background
At the time, the U.S. Department of Defense, in preparation for the then impending ratification of the CWC, implemented a research and development program to support the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). This program was developed to support the interest of the OPCW and the United States of America, by focusing particular attention on the impact of multinational treaties on the U.S. chemical industry, as represented by the Chemical Manufacturers’ Association.

A new frontier
As a government scientist with little experience on the international stage, I didn’t realize that the CWC was unprecedented among multilateral treaties in that it mandated declarations of and inspections into the chemical manufacturing industry. Implementation of the CWC could lead to intrusive on-site inspections of commercial production facilities, thus providing unknown opportunities for industrial espionage and greatly economically impacting chemical manufacturers’ world-wide. No wonder so many prominent scientists and engineers were in attendance—they had a lot to lose by not being in attendance. On the other hand, as a mid-level public servant, I had a great deal to learn.

Telling my story
The workshop dinner was banquet style with unassigned seating.  I sat by an unassuming Swiss gentleman and proceeded to tell him with utter enthusiasm my story. My story was that we (the United States) were technically capable of performing proper chemical analyses on-site, anywhere, in any country, production facility, or field where a sample might be found, thereby obviating the need for inspectors to take samples away from the inspection site to be sent to a designated laboratory to be analyzed.

Navigating stringent requirements
At the time, it was widely believed that the high-quality analysis required for verification of the CWC was impossible in the field (or in the chemical plant), and that the only type of analysis appropriate for field deployment was screening with handheld devices. Additionally, the requirement was not only high quality, but it required irrefutable results and extremely robust engineering controls that could be transported anywhere in the world on short notice, using almost any imaginable mode of transportation, set up in hours and be ready to perform detailed analysis on some of the deadliest materials on earth. And all of this had to be performed while maintaining the strictest quality, safety and environmental standards.

Next: Part 2: Building a Plan