The independent resource on global security

14. Chemical and biological warfare developments and arms control



I. Introduction

II. Biological issues

III. Chemical weapons and disarmament

IV. Investigations and intelligence relating to Iraq

V. Other allegations of chemical and biological warfare activities and related prosecutions

VI. Conclusions


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In 2005 the states parties to the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) held the third of their annual expert and political meetings, which considered codes of conduct for scientists. As the process of scientific study involves communication between scientists and relies on the free exchange of information between individuals and between institutions, a framework that includes codes of conduct relating to any activities that could potentially promote the hostile uses of biological sciences should enhance the overall regime. The BTWC is the only one of the global conventions prohibiting possession of a class of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that has no formal verification and compliance mechanisms. The states parties started preparations for the Sixth BTWC Review Conference, to be held in late 2006.


The economic and national security implications of diseases received unprecedented attention during 2005. The World Health Assembly adopted new International Health Regulations in May comprising legally binding provisions on sharing epidemiological information about the spread of infectious diseases. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) began operations in Stockholm.


The states parties to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) decided to extend the two action plans adopted in 2003. The Action Plan on national implementation measures contributed to an increase in the number of parties that had established or designated a national authority or that had adopted and reported national legislation covering all key areas required by the CWC. The Action Plan on universality contributed to Antigua and Barbuda, Bhutan, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Grenada, Honduras, Niue and Vanuatu becoming parties to the CWC in 2005. A new goal of trying to raise membership of the convention to at least 180 by the end of 2006 was set.


An open-ended working group was established to prepare for the Second CWC Review Conference, to be held no later than 2008. A proposal was endorsed to establish 29 April, the day the CWC entered into force in 1997, as a day of remembrance for victims of chemical warfare and that a memorial to its victims be established in The Hague.


The states that declared the possession of chemical weapons at the time the CWC entered into force for them are Albania, India, Libya, Russia, the USA and ‘another state party’, not identified at its request but widely understood to be South Korea. The CWC requires all these chemical weapons to be destroyed by 2012 at the latest. The continuing difficulties with chemical weapon destruction mean that it is becoming increasingly unlikely that all states will meet the mandated destruction deadlines under the CWC. It is important that the parties with chemical weapon stockpiles remain actively engaged to ensure that political and technical difficulties associated with their destruction programmes are resolved. In relation to the two largest chemical weapon holders, some 36 per cent of the USA’s stockpile (about 31 000 tonnes in total) and around 4 per cent of the Russian stockpile (about 40 000 tonnes in total) had been destroyed by the end of 2005.


In 2005 the US-led Iraq Survey Group ended its inspections and closed its investigation into the past chemical and biological weapon programmes in Iraq, releasing a series of addenda to its 2004 report and concluding that the investigation had ‘gone as far as feasible’. The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) remained excluded from Iraq but continued the monitoring and analysis of past and current issues according to its mandate in UN Security Council resolutions. The last of the major official national inquiries into the issues of pre-war intelligence relating to Iraq was published.


In the Netherlands, Frans van Anraat was convicted of supplying chemicals for Iraq’s chemical warfare programme in the 1980s. In the UK a court case claiming a terrorist conspiracy for the production of ricin finished on 8 April 2005. Although the arrests in January 2003 had been cited many times as evidence that terrorists were actually acquiring biological materials for hostile uses, the prosecution evidence to the court showed that no evidence of ricin production had been found.


The magnitude of terrorist threat in the chemical and biological field is still unclear. In recent cases, such as the London ‘ricin conspiracy’, the initial claims and the final results were very different. However, this should not lead to complacency. There is still a need to prevent the inappropriate use of biological and chemical materials. It would be prudent to ensure that effective bio-safety and bio-security measures are adopted as soon as is practicable.


Richard Guthrie (UK) is the Leader of the SIPRI Chemical and Biological Warfare Project.


John Hart (USA) is a Researcher with the SIPRI Chemical and Biological Warfare Project.


Frida Kuhlau (Sweden) is a Research Associate with the SIPRI Chemical and Biological Warfare Project.

Dr John Hart