The independent resource on global security

8. Reducing security threats from chemical and biological materials



  • Overview [PDF]
  • I. Biological weapon arms control and disarmament [PDF]
  • II. Chemical weapon arms control and disarmament [PDF]
  • III. Chemical and biological weapon programmes [PDF]
  • IV. Oversight of dual-purpose research in the life sciences [PDF]


Chemical weapon arms control and disarmament

Russia and the United States were unable to meet the final April 2012 deadline for completing the destruction of their declared chemical weapon stockpiles under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspected Libya’s previously undeclared chemical weapons. Elsewhere, the destruction of old and abandoned chemical weapons, including those abandoned by Japan in China during World War II, continued.


During 2012 the states parties to the CWC also discussed the future nature and focus of the regime in the lead-up to the Third CWC Review Conference, held in April 2013. The verification of the destruction of chemical weapons nevertheless remained the primary operational focus of the regime.


No new states joined the CWC in 2012. As of 31 December, 188 states had ratified or acceded to the convention; 2 states had signed but not ratified it; and 6 states had neither signed nor ratified it.


Destruction of chemical weapons

As of 31 October 2012,

  • Iraq, Libya, Russia and the USA had yet to complete destruction of their chemical weapon stockpiles
  • 54 258 tonnes (78 per cent) of category 1 chemical weapons had been destroyed
  • 13 states had declared 70 former chemical production facilities
  • 43 of these facilities had been destroyed and 21 converted to peaceful purposes


Biological weapon arms control and disarmament

During 2012 the states parties to the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) held the first two of a series of four intersessional meetings of experts and parties agreed by the 2011 Seventh BTWC Review Conference. The exercise consists of an exchange of views and information on capacity-building measures, on the implications of developments in science and technology for the regime, on effective national implementation of the convention’s provisions, and on enhancing transparency and confidence among the parties.


The BTWC Implementation Support Unit (ISU) began implementing a database project to match offers and requests for assistance and cooperation. In comparison to the CWC, however, the regime’s institutional capacity remained limited.


One new party joined the convention in 2012: the Marshall Islands. An additional 12 states had signed but not ratified the convention as of 31 December 2012.


Allegations of chemical and biological weapon programmes

Allegations of chemical and biological weapon programmes and use continued in 2012 with little official or otherwise authoritative reporting to clarify them. Many of these allegations concerned suspected Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles and fears that such stocks would be used in that country’s civil war.


A Syrian Government official responded to the numerous reports of suspected chemical weapon stockpiles by stating that the country possesses such weapons but would only use them against outside forces, not against its own people. A number of states, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the USA, reportedly consulted on options to monitor and secure suspected chemical weapon sites in Syria in order to prevent use of these weapons or their falling into the possession of third parties. The United Nations Secretary-General and the Director-General of the OPCW conferred on the political and technical implications of the possible use of Syrian chemical weapons under their respective mandates.


In addition, new information emerged on the methods used by the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo in its 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo underground and a definitive account of the Soviet biological weapon programme was published.


Old and abandoned weapons

  • As of December 2012,
  • 3 countries had declared that abandoned chemical weapons (ACW) are present on their territories
  • 15 countries had declared that they have possessed old chemical weapons (OCW) since the CWC’s entry-into-force
  • OCW inspections had been carried out in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan and the UK
  • approximately 75 per cent of the ACW that have been recovered thus far in China had been destroyed


Oversight of dual-purpose research in the life sciences

During 2012 the security and life sciences communities debated the appropriateness of publishing research, completed in 2011, on the transmissibility of avian influenza among ferrets. The underlying concern was that such research could be misapplied for hostile purposes, such as by changing avian influenza virus to a form suitable for aerosol transmission between humans.


A specially convened World Health Organization (WHO) committee formed to review the work of two research groups—based in the Netherlands and the USA, respectively—also discussed the issue. The Netherlands considered imposing export controls on findings in the research methodology section of the Dutch-based group, but then abandoned the plan. The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) reversed its previous opposition to publication, stating that the researchers had modified the draft findings in a manner that allowed it to support publication. Both papers were published in 2012.


Dr John Hart and Dr Peter Clevestig