The independent resource on global security

9. Reducing security threats from chemical and biological materials


I. Introduction

II. The assessment and control of security threats posed by chemical and biological material

III. Violations and past programmes

IV. Iraq: closing the file?

V. CBW prevention, response and remediation

VI. Conclusions


Read the full chapter [PDF].


Chemical and biological warfare (CBW) prevention and response measures encompass non-state and threat scenarios such as those involving improvised devices that contain toxic chemicals or pathogens. Actors that were on the periphery of efforts to prohibit CBW, such as public health providers, are now routinely included in threat perceptions and risk analyses. The developing field of microbial forensics is integral to bio-preparedness planning and law enforcement.


As of December 2007 approximately 26 000 agent tonnes of chemical weapons had been verifiably destroyed (of about 71 000 agent tonnes declared). Twelve states had declared 65 chemical weapon production facilities, of which 42 had been destroyed and 19 converted for peaceful purposes not prohibited under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.


The temporary three-person Implementation Support Unit, established by the Sixth Review Conference of the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), began operation in August 2007. It receives and distributes politically binding information exchanges meant to serve as confidence-building measures (CBMs) among the BTWC parties. In 2007 it produced a CD-ROM containing all CBM returns in 1987–2007.


In 2007 the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNMOVIC) was disbanded. An Iraqi court sentenced Ali Hassan al-Majid (‘Chemical Ali’) for his role in the 1988 Anfal campaign against the Kurdish population in northern Iraq where chemical weapons were used.


A series of chlorine attacks occurred in Iraq in 2007 that injured or killed many. The use of chemicals together with conventional explosives for dispersal caused concern that insurgents might refine their dispersal techniques.


The use of chlorine was also a factor in discussions in the USA on how to protect its municipal water supplies and whether to replace chlorine with other chemicals.


Failures in bio-containment and bio-security received wide publicity in 2007, including at facilities where awareness and compliance with procedures were thought to be high. One such breach occurred in August at a farm near Pirbright, UK, where an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) was discovered.


In order to maintain and strengthen the international prohibition against CBW, studies bridging the gap between political and technical issues should continue to be carried out to:

  • inform analyses of how dual-use technologies and equipment are handled in practice, and

  • to promote better understanding of the derivation and use of information.



John Hart (USA) is Head of the Chemical and Biological Warfare Programme of the SIPRI Non-proliferation and Export Controls Project.


Peter Clevestig (Sweden) is a researcher with the Chemical and Biological Warfare Programme of the SIPRI Non-proliferation and Export Controls Project.

Dr John Hart and Dr Peter Clevestig