The independent resource on global security

Reassessing CBRN Threats in a Changing Global Environment

Publisher: SIPRI
SIPRI, Stockholm:
June, 2019

Threats related to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) use are evolving rapidly alongside changes in the political environment and developments in technology. The continued use of chemical weapons (CW) in armed conflict has, in particular, underlined the fragile nature of existing arms control agreements. In addition, several recent attacks in Asia and Europe using toxic chemicals and radioactive materials suggest that a new concern—state-sponsored assassination or attempted assassination—must now be incorporated into national security policy. Such confirmed use of CBRN materials by both state and non-state actors in these contexts highlights substantial challenges that the world is facing. As such, it is imperative to identify the threats posed by the use of CBRN and to understand the obstacles that impede cooperation at both the regional and international levels. Strengthening barriers against the use of CBRN weapons by exploring the possibility for working collectively to safeguard and enhance existing international instruments is in the mutual interest of Asian and European states. On 14 January 2019, SIPRI held the expert workshop ‘Reassessing chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats and their implications for East Asia’. A number of key takeaways generated from the workshop are set out in this volume.


1. Introduction    

Part I. Responding to the threat of CBRN use: The case of chemical weapons    

2. Trends in recent CBRN incidents    

3. Reassessing CBRN terrorism threats    

4. Reassessing chemical weapon threats    

5. International actions against the threats of chemical weapons use: A Japanese perspective    

6. The role of the OPCW and the Syrian conflict: How the OPCW can develop its cooperation with states parties

Part II. Nuclear weapons/risks: Back to geopolitics    

7. Risks posed by nuclear weapons in East Asia: A Japanese perspective    

8. The North Korean nuclear weapons programme and strategic stability in East Asia

9. The world according to Trump: National security priorities and US alliances    

10. Conclusions


Fei Su is a Researcher in the SIPRI China and Asia Security Programme.
Dr Ian Anthony was the Director of SIPRI’s European Security Programme.