The independent resource on global security

9. Chemical, biological and health security threats


Overview, Filippa Lentzos and Una Jakob

I. Health security, Filippa Lentzos

II. Bioweapon allegations, Filippa Lentzos

III. Biological weapon disarmament and non-proliferation, Filippa Lentzos

IV. Allegations of and reactions to chemical weapons use, Una Jakob

V. Chemical arms control and disarmament, Una Jakob

In 2022 the coronavirus causing Covid-19 remained widespread but was significantly less fatal than it was in 2020–21; in most countries, it spurred only limited changes in public behaviour. However, the origins of the pandemic continued to be a politically divisive subject and remained unresolved at the end of 2022. In addition, an escalating global mpox outbreak was declared a public health emergency of international concern in July 2022. Negotiations continued in 2022 towards a new international treaty to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.


Biological arms control

Russia’s long-standing campaign about what it considers nefarious activities at Western ‘biolabs’ significantly escalated

in 2022. It led to a formal consultative meeting under Article V of the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) in September 2022 and to several rounds of discussions in the United Nations Security Council, culminating in an unprecedented request from Russia in October 2022 for an investigation into ‘military biological activities in Ukraine’. Security Council members did not find Russia’s evidence convincing and voted against Russia’s proposal.


Key biological disarmament and non-proliferation activities in 2022 were carried out in connection with the BWC preparatory committee, the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, and the ninth review conference (RevCon9) of the BWC. Despite the current geopolitical challenges, the long-standing BWC logjam and Russia’s allegations, the year ended with modest success for RevCon9: agreement on an intersessional programme of work for 2023–26 and the establishment of a working group on strengthening the BWC.


Chemical arms control and disarmament

There were several disagreements among states parties to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) during 2022, including those related to the alleged use of chemical weapons and the work of investigation teams within the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The investigations into alleged chemical weapons use in Syria continued and, although no new instances of chemical weapons use were reported in 2022, the number of confirmed cases rose to 20 from a total of 71 cases investigated by the Fact-Finding Mission since 2014. The OPCW assessed at the end of 2022 that Syria’s declaration of its chemical weapons programme ‘still cannot be considered accurate and complete’.


Outside of Syria, during 2022 there were also some largely inconclusive follow-up actions in relation to the poisoning of Russian citizen Alexei Navalny with a novichok nerve agent in 2020, as well as multiple but unproved allegations of illegal chemical activities during the war in Ukraine.


The United States is the only declared possessor state party to the CWC with chemical weapons yet to be destroyed. It is expected to complete its remaining destruction activities according to schedule by the end of 2023.

Dr Filippa Lentzos and Dr Una Jakob