January 2014
In the News

Chemical Weapons Prevention

In addition to the many honors and awards Will Carpenter of Chesterfield has received from universities and agribusiness, he and his wife Hellen enjoyed the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to an organization he played a key role in founding. An interesting side note is that Hellen is the granddaughter of Dr. James Naismith, who invented the game of basketball late in the 19th century.  

Retired Ag Chemical Exec. Contributes to Nobel Peace Prize Efforts

An organization featured in the news early in December is one probably unfamiliar to the vast majority of people in the world. Since that news event – the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons – the number who could tell you very much about that entity probably isn’t much greater.

One person who knows the organization as few others do is Will Carpenter, now a retired Monsanto Co. executive. His familiarity stems from the key role he played in developing the international treaty that created the OPCW and his subsequent service as the U.S. representative to, and co-chair of, its Science Advisory Board.

That effort spanned more than two decades and, for much of that time, was in addition to his work at Monsanto, a career during which he was instrumental in developing and marketing a number of well-known products including the herbicides Lasso and Roundup.

"Back in 1971, I once had two-thirds of the world’s supply of Roundup sitting on my desk," he recalled.

His desk wasn’t all that big, but it was enough to hold the 18 quarts constituting a major percentage of the chemical that existed then.

Carpenter was born and raised in rural Mississippi, the son of a county agricultural Extension agent. Not surprisingly, he developed an early interest in the industry that would become his life’s work.

A Mississippi State graduate with a bachelor’s degree in soil science, he went on to earn a doctorate in plant biochemistry and physiology from Purdue University.

Carpenter joined Monsanto in 1958 as a research biochemist and rose through the ranks to become vice president and general manager of the company’s new products division.

His involvement in the development of an international chemical weapons treaty began in 1978 when the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency asked the Chemical Manufacturers’ Association (now the American Chemistry Council) to participate in creating the pact.

"The thinking was that the (chemical) industry absolutely had to participate in the treaty process," Carpenter said. "After all, that’s where the expertise was, and companies in the industry were the ones that would be living with whatever treaty emerged."

With Monsanto’s agreement, Carpenter accepted the call. With five other industry colleagues he persuaded to join him, their role was to serve as "honest brokers" between all the parties involved including chemical companies, diplomats, and political and military leaders throughout the world.

To say it wasn’t an easy task would be a major understatement.

One major challenge was finding ways to balance chemical companies’ insistence on safeguarding their proprietary knowledge with the need for effective steps to make sure any treaty could accomplish its goals. The interests of various nations’ political and military leaders also had to be taken into account.

One early point of agreement in Carpenter’s group was that the treaty had to include plant inspections and other steps to prove nations and chemical companies were in compliance.

"Post-World War I, the League of Nations had a chemical weapons treaty. But there were no verification procedures in it so it was of no value," Carpenter said.

"At the end of the day, history, logic and fact demanded it (verification)," he stated.

Another point of early consensus among Carpenter’s team was that everyone they talked to would hear the same story, not different ones tailored to whatever this or that group wanted to hear.

Carpenter readily admits to feeling discouraged at times during the 15 years it took to complete the treaty, known officially as the Chemical Weapons Convention.

"We found differences between various departments in our own government could be as great as those between our nation and Russia, for example. Fortunately, though, such instances were rare," he observed.

"Sure, there were compromises along the way. Our contribution was coming up with a treaty that was tough in its verification procedures, but also one that industry around the world could live with."

The treaty had to be ratified by at least 65 nations before it went into effect. To date, 190 countries have done so. Among those that haven’t are North Korea, Egypt, Angola and South Sudan. Israel and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) have signed the treaty, but have not yet ratified it.

The treaty contained a number of aggressive timelines and not all have been met, Carpenter noted. However, he firmly believes it’s better to look at what has been accomplished.

For example, 80 percent of the world’s stockpiles of chemical weapons have been destroyed under the close supervision of OPCW, the entity created to implement the treaty’s provisions. In recent weeks, the organization also was put in charge of steps to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.

OPCW is headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands. And while many assume the organization is part of the United Nations, it’s not. The two work closely together, but are separate, independent entities.

The chemical weapons treaty is based on science. However, science changes constantly, a fact that led OPCW to create the Science Advisory Board to make sure the organization kept pace with new developments. Carpenter was the first U.S. representative to serve on that body and was its co-chair during his 3 years as a member.

Carpenter was pleased to learn this year’s Nobel Peace Prize would go to the OPCW.

"There were some people who thought that meant I had won the award," he said with a smile. "I just tell them not to overemphasize my contributions because there were many other people also involved, working on other parts of the treaty."

A suburban St. Louis, Mo., resident, Carpenter, 83, retired from Monsanto in 1992, but has remained active. Among other things, he has served on a number of corporate and advisory boards including the initial board of Aetos Technologies and its subsidiaries until 2008.

Aetos was founded as a financial partnership with its management team, private investors and Auburn University to commercialize and market technologies developed at research institutions.