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9. Reducing security threats from chemical and biological materials

Summary

At the international, national and regional levels in 2010 states continued to develop strategies to prevent and remediate the effects of the possible misuse of toxic chemical and biological materials for hostile purposes.

The parties to the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) held the final meetings of the 2007–10 inter-sessional process and prepared for the Seventh Conference of the States Parties, which will be held in December 2011. Scientific and technological developments, such as the increasing overlap between the chemical and biological sciences, are a major challenge to the BTWC and one that will be highly relevant in coming years.

The new Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) established an advisory panel to review the implementation of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), with a focus on how the convention’s activities should be structured after the destruction of chemical weapon stockpiles ends, sometime after 2012. Iran and Russia questioned whether the United Kingdom and the United States had fully complied with CWC provisions for the declaration and OPCW-verified destruction of chemical munitions recovered in Iraq in 2003.

The parties to the CWC must achieve a clearer understanding of the role of the convention in support of international peace and security once chemical weapon stockpiles are essentially destroyed. Failure to do so risks undermining the perceived daily operational-level value of the regime. Determining what constitutes non-compliance with a convention obligation is a recurring theme that states must continue to actively and constructively address.

During the BTWC Meeting of Experts, the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs described developments in the Secretary-General’s mechanism for investigating allegations of use of a biological weapon: 41 countries have nominated a total of 237 experts and 42 associated laboratories, as encouraged by a 2006 UN General Assembly resolution.

Reports emerged in May 2010 of severe crop damage caused by an unusual leaf blight affecting poppies in Afghanistan. This led to an estimated 48 per cent decrease in opium yields from 2009. There was speculation that the blight was deliberately induced. Such allegations highlighted the difficulty of distinguishing between fundamental and technical violations of international law and the possible role of a form of politicized legal dispute that aims to cast aspersions on the behaviour of other states.

 

 

John Hart (United States) is a Senior Researcher and Head of the Chemical and Biological Security Project of the SIPRI Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme.

Dr Peter Clevestig (Sweden) is Director of the SIPRI Global Health and Security Programme. 

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