The Meaning of ‘Emergency Assistance’

[Cross-posted from The Trench]

 

Origins and negotiation of Article VII of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

A new research report

 

Article VII of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) belongs to the more obscure provisions. It reads as follows:

Each State Party to this Convention undertakes to provide or support assistance, in accordance with the United Nations Charter, to any Party to the Convention which so requests, if the Security Council decides that such Party has been exposed to danger as a result of violation of the Convention.

Since the treaty’s entry into force in 1975, states parties hardly looked at the one-paragraph article. Up to the 7th Review Conference (2011) the only additional understandings and agreements concerned general implementation procedures and possible roles of appropriate international organisations, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), as well as coordination functions for the United Nations (UN). Attention to the article increased markedly at the 7th Review Conference, a consequence of a heightened perceived worldwide risk from emerging and re-emerging diseases, fears of outbreaks resulting from biosecurity and -safety lapses in high-containment laboratories, concerns about scientific and technological advances in the life sciences that could be misused for hostile purposes, potential terrorist or criminal interest in highly contagious pathogens, and so on. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa between 2013–16 and subsequent evaluation of the international response raised concerns among the BTWC states parties about how the international community might respond to a deliberate disease outbreak, whether as a consequence of an act of war or terrorism.

These trends have led to an affirmation of the humanitarian dimension of Article VII. As Nicholas Sims noted in his study of the treaty’s early functioning (The Diplomacy of Biological Disarmament. 1988, p. 24): ‘Statements made in the UN, with an eye on future references to the negotiating history of the convention, indicate that this article is generally understood to refer to humanitarian, not military, assistance.’ With nothing seemingly contradicting today’s humanitarian imperative, most attention has so far gone to the organisation and coordination of international response to the release of a highly infectious biological weapon (BW).

Questions about triggering Article VII

Much less understood is how Article VII can be activated. There are no procedures; there has not been any determination who should be involved in the process. Which are the (possible) roles for the BTWC Implementation Support Unit (ISU), the treaty’s three depositary states (Russia, United Kingdom and United States), the UN Secretary-General (UNSG), or the UNSC is a question that remains unanswered. It should be added in this context that some actors or available tools are of much more recent origin and were consequently not envisaged during the treaty negotiation. The mandate for the ISU was decided at the 6th Review Conference (2006). The UNSG’s mechanism to investigate allegations of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) use received endorsement from the UNSC and the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 1988 and has since then been strengthened. Through the review process, BTWC states parties have elaborated a consultative mechanism under Article V to address compliance concerns.

Moreover, given the humanitarian framework guiding today’s debates on implementing Article VII, from the perspective of triggering the provision there are several dissonant elements. The article has its origins in a 1968 working paper by the United Kingdom proposing a separate treaty banning biological warfare. The language underwent several reiterations over the next three years and at one point disappeared entirely from the draft convention, only to resurface in its current formulation just before the conclusion of the negotiations. The different versions of the article left traces from earlier intentions and understandings, meaning that the intent behind certain phrases that may be uncertain or appear confusing today. This is particularly the case for the following:

  • provide or support assistance: what is the nature of the assistance, humanitarian, military, or any other type?
  • in accordance with the United Nations Charter: why does the article include a reference to the UN Charter, particularly since the Charter allows for punitive actions and even resort to military force under Chapter VII? In addition, if the assistance is humanitarian, as assumed today, what prompted the reference to the UN Charter? The word ‘humanitarian’ features only once in the founding text (Chapter I, Article 1, 3); the words ‘aid’ or ‘assistance’ (in the sense of humanitarian or non-military aid) are absent. Furthermore, while the UN’s mandate includes the promotion of arms control and disarmament, nothing in the Charter makes it responsible for monitoring treaty compliance or addressing treaty violations. Besides Article VII, only Articles V and VI refer to the Charter or UNSC. The context concerns the resolution of any problems relating to the BTWC’s objective, way of implementation, or breaches of the convention.
    Article V raises the possibility of organising bi- and multilateral consultations and cooperation ‘through appropriate international procedures within the framework of the United Nations and in accordance with its Charter’ in case direct interaction between the parties concerned is impossible or unproductive. Overall the provision is vague. Review conferences have tried to clarify it, in particular with regard to the convening of a consultative meeting. Article VI grants a state party the right to lodge a complaint with the UNSC if it believes that another state party has breached its treaty obligations. Furthermore, should the UNSC initiate an investigation, all states parties undertake to cooperate with such investigation. However, states parties have not elaborated on the references to the UN Charter and the UNSC. They have also not answered whether there is or should be any linkage between either Articles V or VI and Article VII.
  • if the Security Council decides that such Party has been exposed to danger: why is there a requirement for Security Council action if assistance can be provided under basic humanitarian principles? On what basis will the UNSC make this decision? The Third and Fourth Review Conferences (1991 and 1996) noted under both Articles V and VI the UNSG’s investigative mechanism as endorsed in UNSC Resolution 620 (1988) and UNGA Resolution 45/57 (1990) and ‘to consult, at the request of any State Party, regarding allegations of use or threat of use of bacteriological (biological) or toxin weapons and to cooperate fully with the United Nations Secretary-General in carrying out such investigations’. Later review conferences refer back to this text and have not elaborated any further on the references to the UN Charter or the UNSC. The UNSC, as its name indicates, bears primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security (Chapter V, Article 24, 1). Logic therefore suggests that Article VII applies exclusively to the deliberate use of a pathogen or toxin as a weapon. This would thus exclude a situation of a country facing an outbreak after an accidental release of a disease-causing agent from a neighbour’s secret BW research or production facility (similar to the anthrax outbreak near Sverdlovsk in 1979). In other words, according to this interpretation Article VII refers to an act of war, even though the BTWC lacks references to ‘use’ in both its title and Article I.
  • as a result of violation of the Convention: does this clause imply violation of any part of the BTWC? If affirmative, this could include illicit weapon programmes or outbreaks resulting from illicit activities. How would this square with the interpretation that Article VII only refers to an act of war?
    Furthermore, only states parties can violate the BTWC, which implies that dangers arising from other actors—non-states parties (signatory or non-signatory states) or non-state actors—could not be the subject of Security Council action, and therefore not of state party assistance.

Aim of the research paper

In November 2016, in the margins of the 8th Review Conference of the BTWC, the Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (FRS) and UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) held a tabletop exercise (TTX) to understand better the elements that would have to be in place to trigger Article VII and the consequences such action may have on the organisation of international assistance. The TTX revealed that decision-making was severely hampered because of the article’s lack of clarity, uncertainty about possible procedures and their consequences on the process as a whole, and the types of actors that could be called upon (e.g. UNSG, ISU, depositary states, etc.).

Discussions at a workshop on ‘Article VII of the BWC and the UN System’, held in New York on 12–13 December 2017 as part of the Project on strengthening global mechanisms and capacities for responding to deliberate use of biological agents, also touched upon the specific responsibilities of UN organs following activation of Article VII. The question was raised whether there was any relevancy in trying to recover the negotiators’ original intentions. In reply, UN officials said that since the implications of triggering Article VII had never been studied and no procedures have ever been put in place, following a request the first task for the UN would be to study legal and negotiation documents to determine which types of action might be possible and which roles the UNSC and UNSG might play.

This research paper traces the article’s negotiation history between 1968 and 1971. During those three years negotiations took some sharp turns, and draft treaty texts were dropped and replaced by alternatives that framed BW control in radically different ways. In the final two months of negotiation, some degree of synthesis between different approaches took place. With respect to Article VII, when Morocco introduced an amendment to reinsert language based on the British proposal of August 1971, the context had completely changed, not in the least because the original draft provisions banning methods of biological warfare and a mechanism to investigate allegations of BW use had been dropped. Whereas Article IV in the original British draft convention formed part of the fabric to prevent biological warfare, the later Article VII had no obvious connections to the BTWC’s core prohibitions in Articles I – III. It also lacked direct or explicit links to Articles V and VI.

Moreover, the humanitarian intent, systematically affirmed by British government officials and diplomats, became blurred at times, especially after an addition to a draft UNSC resolution that was to accompany the BTWC made explicit reference to Article 51 of the UN Charter on individual and collective self-defence. It shifted the focus away from aiding the victim of a biological attack to possible assistance in countering the aggressor.

Download the full research report

 

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Guest Post: A Comparison of Two Geological Disposal Facilities, and the Implications of International Nuclear Law

This past March I taught a week-long course at the University of Manchester, in the UK.  The course was, as far as I know, unique. The title of the course was “International Nuclear Energy Law.”  I designed the course to cover the international legal sources regulating the civilian nuclear energy industry.  So both hard and soft law sources on nuclear safeguards, trade in nuclear technologies, nuclear facility and materials safety and security, nuclear incident liability, nuclear materials transport, radioactive waste disposal and the environment, and international investment law related to nuclear facility new builds. This was definitely a bit of a stretch from my usual short-course subject of nuclear nonproliferation law, but of course there is considerable overlap and I wanted to expand my teaching and research repertoire.  And as it happens, Manchester has both a very strong nuclear engineering school and an excellent law school.  So along with friends on both faculties, we designed this course to be cross listed for both law students and nuclear science students.  The result was just remarkable.  The class of 28 students was comprised about equally of law students and nuclear science (engineering, physics, chemistry, etc.) students. And the discussions that ensued were fascinating, with both groups contributing insights from their disciplines.  I think the group work particularly was enjoyable for the students.  Every day in the afternoon I would give them a case study based on the morning’s lecture, and break them into groups containing both law students and nuclear science students, and have them work together to come up with an answer which they then reported to the full class.  Seeing the discussions that they had among the different disciplines was really exciting.  I’m hoping the course will become a regular, annual event.

So, among the final papers that were submitted by the students in the course, I thought I would post one of the best ones here, so that readers could see the kind of subjects we discussed in the course.  The below is the course paper submitted by Amber Mason, who is a PhD student in her second year at the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the University of Sheffield.  Her research involves investigating potential materials for the purpose of nuclear waste immobilisation, with a particular focus on the plutonium stockpile currently stored at Sellafield, UK.  She wrote the below paper for the course comparing two different examples of geological disposal facilities for radioactive waste, and also considering the requirements of international law for such facilities.  I thought it was a great paper, so wanted to share it (with her permission of course).  Comments welcome.

Read the rest of this entry »


Guest Post on the “Conventionalization” of Nuclear Weapons and Implications for International Law

I’m pleased to introduce the below guest post by Olha Bozhenko. She is an LL.M student in International Litigation (Public International Law) at the Institute of International Relations Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University. She holds a BA (Hons) in International Relations from the same university. She is an Associate at Marchenko Danevych law firm (Ukraine).

I like this piece because I think it address some timely dynamics in nuclear arms control, and then provides an interesting and meaningful discussion of some of the implications of these dynamics for international law.  Comments welcome.

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Is the Conventionalization of Nuclear Weapons Detrimental to the Associated International Legal Regime?

By Olha Bozhenko

 Nuclear weapons enjoy a separate and unique regime under international law. The majority of states struggle to establish a complete prohibition of nuclear weapons, as in the case of other categories of WMD. In fact, in its only authoritative pronouncement on the matter, the ICJ stressed ‘the unique characteristics of nuclear weapons, and in particular their destructive capacity’ (para 36).

Yet in view of some recent developments, to be discussed below, this distinction has been gradually disappearing, with the line between nuclear and conventional weapons becoming blurred. This means that nuclear weapons are not stigmatized as their WMD counterparts, but rather conventionalized.

This piece is an attempt to, first, ascertain the progressing conventionalization among the current trends related to nuclear weapons and, second, delineate its consequences for the international legal regulation of armaments.

Paths of conventionalization

 Nuclear weapons conventionalization has been referred to as ‘nuclear entanglement’, which essentially means the merger of nuclear and conventional weapons. Broadly understood, it manifests itself in the following ways.

 Increased reliance on non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons

 As early as in his Dissenting Opinion to the Nuclear Weapons Advisory Opinion, Judge Shahabudeen suggested that assuming tactical nuclear weapons could be no more destructive than conventional weapons, they should not be less lawful than the latter (p. 159). Hence, placing nonstrategic nuclear weapons (NSNW) at the top of ‘conventionalization agenda’ is not a brand-new idea. Besides, it has recently been emphasized in national strategies.

The most striking example is, of course, the US 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which radically departs from its predecessor in mandating the development of a range of nonstrategic low-yield nuclear options (p. 52). The Trump Administration considers this departure necessary as a response to Russia’s substantial reliance on and expansion of non-strategic nuclear arsenal, which considerably outstrips that of the US (p. 53). At face value, this means that the two most powerful nuclear-weapon states have embarked upon the rapid expansion of their non-strategic nuclear options.

Such an approach depicting NSNW as quite a usable tool to advance military and non-military goals significantly lowers the threshold for the actual use. Such reliance on a limited nuclear strike can well lead to the full-blown nuclear escalation, which the ICJ considered among the possible consequences of using low yield nuclear weapons (para 94).

Integration of nuclear and conventional planning and operations

 The integration of nuclear and conventional capabilities also contributes to the conventionalization. This is ‘nuclear entanglement’ in the original meaning of the term. The integration includes equipping dual use means of delivery with nuclear and non-nuclear warheads, merging nuclear and conventional support facilities, as well as integrating planning and training for both nuclear and non-nuclear forces. China and Russia are said to pursue this strategy whether deliberately or as a matter of historical legacy. Furthermore, the US’ NPR specifically mandates ensuring ‘the ability to integrate nuclear and non-nuclear military planning and operations’ (p. 21) to ‘deter limited nuclear escalation and nonnuclear strategic attacks’ (p. 58).

These developments are frowned upon for a number of reasons. They tend to erode the line between nuclear and conventional forces in the most palpable manner. They also increase the risk of adversary’s misinterpretation of the nature of an attack, which can simultaneously target ‘entangled’ capabilities.

Expanding range of scenarios for the use of nuclear weapons

 Much has been said on the expanded range of scenarios where the US contemplates first use of nuclear weapons, also in response to non-nuclear threats (2018 NPR, p. 21). Although the US strategy is most widely discussed owing to its considerable departure from the previous pattern, other nuclear-weapon states either preserve deliberate ambiguity with regard to the possible use of nuclear weapons (e.g. the UK and France) or explicitly declare their readiness to balance an adversary’s conventional superiority with a nuclear strike (e.g. Russia and Pakistan).

Expanding the role of nuclear weapons beyond deterring nuclear threats alludes to an increased rationality and military utility of a nuclear strike. This further undermines the arguments that there exists opinio juris prohibiting recourse to nuclear weapons, except for the purposes of deterrence (para 65). In view of such developments it is understandable why the ICJ refused to acknowledge that the non-recourse to nuclear weapons since 1945 had been due to such opinio juris rather than the absence of military necessity (para 67).

Nuclear saber rattling

 Finally, never before has it been so common for political leaders to boast of their states’ nuclear capacities. One may recall Vladimir Putin’s threats to deploy nuclear weapons in the course of Crimea crisis and against Baltic states, or his most recent brandishing cutting-edge nuclear technology with animated nukes striking Florida in an address to the Parliament. Along the same lines, Donald Trump publicly threatened North Korea with ‘fire and fury’ and even with ‘total destruction’.

Although the ICJ refused to differentiate between nuclear and conventional weapons, when assessing the legality of the threat of nuclear weapons use (para 48), the state practice seems to have accepted a special standard for nuclear threats which is measured against the strategy of deterrence. For instance, the UK’s High Court of Justiciary stated that ‘deployment of nuclear weapons in time of peace … is utterly different from the kind of specific ‘threat’ which is equated with actual use’ (p. 452). Under this approach, states would only cross the line of nuclear deterrence and resort to the threat of using nuclear weapons if such a threat is specific enough, i.e. directed against a specific target.

Considering that the arbitral tribunal went so far as to equate the phrase ‘to face consequences’ to a threat of the use of force in Guyana v Suriname (para 439), it is doubtful that states are still within the safe harbor of deterrence when directing their nuclear threats explicitly and specifically against other states.

Consequences for international law

 Driven by analogy with other types of WMD, international law seeks to raise the threshold for using of nuclear weapons (or even contemplating such use) as high as possible. The adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is among the most notable developments to this end. Still, there is an observable tension between the movement towards nuclear weapons ban as enshrined in the TPNW and the trends described above. International legal instruments like the TPNW are grounded on humanitarian considerations. In this particular case, the TPNW is meant to stigmatize nuclear weapons to the extent of their total abandonment by nuclear-weapon states. Considering that nuclear-weapon states refused to take any part in the ‘ban campaign’ leading to the adoption of the TPNW, it is reasonable to assume that such progressive stigmatization (which can eventually generate a parallel customary prohibition) is the only way to endow the TPNW with normative force. Analogy may be drawn with other disarmament treaties such as Convention on Anti-Personnel Mines Ban and Convention on Cluster Munitions: they contributed to the establishment of the customary prohibition of respective armaments even without directly binding all states possessing them.

However, when nuclear weapons are postured to be as usable as conventional ones, the normative boundary between the two is not hardened at all. No stigma is likely to appear for weapons possessing which is dictated and justified by strong military utility. As long as the conventionalization of nuclear weapons is taking place, no binding obligations will probably proceed from the newly established TPNW regime, either as treaty rules or as a crystallizing custom.

Along with the TPNW, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is to bear a major part of ramifications. The core obligation of non-proliferation under Article II is likely to be affected, since nuclear weapons, if conventionalized, make their acquisition by non-nuclear-weapon states more conceivable. Additionally, the deployment of tactical nuclear devices makes nuclear weapons more accessible and ‘proliferable’ in the technical sense, spurring their acquisition by non-state actors, particularly, by terrorist groups. This is an alarming possibility considering that the non-proliferation to non-state actors still constitutes a legal gap largely left to Security Council Resolution 1540.

Besides, the conventionalization of nuclear weapons invites their advancement, which is hardly in line with the (allegedly customary) obligation of nuclear disarmament under Article VI of the NPT. States are not in compliance with their disarmament obligation ‘to achieve a precise result – nuclear disarmament in all its aspects’ (para 99) when they engage in the ‘vertical proliferation’ (i.e. modernizing their nuclear arsenals or expand the range of scenarios to deploy nuclear weapons).

Should the described trends gain traction, their impact will in no way be limited to nuclear weapons regulation, but extend to the whole set of rules on the use of force. In particular, the gradually vanishing line between the threat of use of force and nuclear deterrence will further blur. It is questionable whether teetering on the brink of threats to use nuclear weapons is still justifiable under the concept of nuclear deterrence, which the ICJ was careful to characterize as practice ‘adhered to by states’ (para 67). Consequently, it is doubtful whether nuclear deterrence should enjoy such leniency with respect to the standard of the threat of use of force.

The jus ad bellum requirements for self-defense may also be affected by nuclear entanglement. For instance, it is highly questionable whether a limited strike with tactical nuclear weapons to preclude a massive conventional attack fails to meet the standard of proportionality. Similarly, it is not that clear whether anticipatory nuclear strike against a missile equipped with non-nuclear warhead is unlawful, since a state intercepting such a missile can be misled by its dual-use capacity in view of nuclear entanglement.

The questions of similar nature will arise with respect to jus in bello. With the gap between nuclear and conventional weapons narrowing, there is less room to assert that employing nuclear weapons should ab initio be contrary to the proportionality principle. Correspondingly, what concerns the lawfulness of belligerent reprisals conducted with the use of nuclear weapons, a pre-defined approach exclusively based on the ‘nuclear element’ is likely to give ground to the qualification irrespective of the type of weapons. To put it bluntly, the ICJ’s reasoning that the legality of the use of nuclear weapons shall be considered on the basis of case-to-case compliance with jus in bello (para 2D) seems to be regaining relevance.

 Conclusions

 While any radical transformation of the international legal regime governing nuclear weapons is still unlikely, there is definitely room for considering its adequacy for current challenges. In the near future we should be ready to make a choice of either raising the bar on the conventionalization of nuclear weapons or easing this process. Simply put, international law may find itself in need of deciding whether it is better to ban nuclear weapons altogether rather than to regulate them.

 

 


Amano’s May 24th Report to the IAEA BOG on Iran

Readers may have seen reports in the media about IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano’s most recent report to the IAEA Board of Governors on Iran. Jonathan Tirone has a good one here, as usual.  Although the BOG report itself is restricted distribution, once again in the interests of transparency a Vienna source has provided a copy of the report to Arms Control Law for public dissemination.  You can find it at the link below.

Generally speaking, this report is consistent with the other recent DG reports on Iran’s compliance with the terms of the JCPOA and the IAEA’s monitoring and verification activities pursuant to Iran’s comprehensive safeguards agreement and its additional protocol agreement, which Iran is provisionally applying according to the terms of the JCPOA.

This report, as previous reports have done, finds Iran in compliance with its various safeguards commitments and with the terms of the JCPOA.  It’s worth reiterating in that context some of the facts of the IAEA’s extensive and really unprecedented monitoring activities in Iran, as the IAEA itself reported in its 2017 Safeguards Implementation Report which I recently posted here.

In 2017, the IAEA conducted 419 safeguards inspections in Iran.  This is far and away more than in any other safeguarded state.  Added to this, the IAEA conducted a total of 35 complementary access inspections in Iran, pursuant to the terms of Iran’s additional protocol agreement. These are sometimes referred to as “snap” inspections because of the shorter notice period given to the state prior to the inspection.  These complementary access inspections can also be requested at a broader range of sites than normal inspections under the comprehensive safeguards agreement.  Again, the number of complementary access inspections conducted by the IAEA in Iran in 2017 was significantly higher than in any other state.

Back in March, Amano said that the IAEA “has the world’s most robust verification regime in place in Iran” and has access to “all the locations” that it needs within Iran.

So it is a bit surprising that in this most recent Iran report to the BOG, while again confirming Iran’s compliance with the terms of both the JCPOA and its safeguards agreements, Amano chose to editorialize by saying:

The Agency has continued to evaluate Iran’s declarations under the Additional Protocol, and has conducted complementary accesses under the Additional Protocol to all the sites and locations in Iran which it needed to visit. Timely and proactive cooperation by Iran in providing such access would facilitate implementation of the Additional Protocol and enhance confidence.

Timely and proactive cooperation? The 419 completed inspections and 35 granted complementary access requests weren’t good enough for you? Geesh.  There’s just no pleasing some people!

It’s pretty obvious what the motivation for this superfluous editorializing was. It was almost certainly to throw a bone to the state that brought Amano to the DG dance in the first place, and then got him his second and now third terms in the job. Remember those Wikileaks docs on the “cozy” relationship between Amano and the U.S. delegation to the IAEA?  Well this appears to be him doing his part by inserting this unnecessary language that allows the Trump administration to have a small but useful negative talking point about the IAEA report.

 

IAEA BOG Iran Report May 2018.


2017 IAEA Safeguards Implementation Report

I’ve been in reading and thinking (and despairing) mode for the past couple of weeks since the Madness of King Donald resulted in the U.S. withdrawing from the JCPOA.  I have lots of thought on that and will try to write something soon. If you’re interested in my day to day thoughts (read anguishings) on that subject and its relevance to the bumbling U.S. approach to North Korea, consider following me on Twitter at @DanJoyner1

For now, find at the below link the IAEA’s 2017 Safeguards Implementation Report, which was provided by a source in Vienna promoting greater transparency in reporting on IAEA nuclear verification.  These annual SIRs make extremely interesting reading about how the IAEA views safeguards agreement implementation and compliance by the 181 states that have safeguards agreements in place with the IAEA.  There’s also a lot of information in there about the IAEA’s budget and verification activities.  It can be usefully read alongside Jonathan Tirone’s excellent analysis here of IAEA monitoring and verification activities in Iran.

With regard to Iran specifically, the 2017 SIR puts Iran, correctly, in a category alongside 56 other states which have a comprehensive safeguards agreement AND an additional protocol agreement in force, but for whom the agency has yet to issue a “broader conclusion” on the absence of undeclared nuclear material in the country.  This is a considerable improvement in the consistency with which the IAEA has handled the Iran case, as compared to previous SIRs. I examined the problems of this inconsistency in Chapter 5 of my book accessible here.

IAEA 2017 SIR

 


Promoting chemical knowledge

[Cross-posted from The Trench]

 

On 2 May the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) organised a workshop relating to its programme to fully implement Article XI of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). I addressed the States Parties in the session on ‘Promoting chemical knowledge’ and focussed on the responsibilities of chemists, both as members of their scientific associations and as individuals, in preventing the misuse of their discipline.

 

Consequences down the road

The role of chemists in war is not a new thing. The role of chemists in chemical warfare is of more recent origin. Just over a century ago, modern chemical warfare, as it began in my country, Belgium, on 22 April 1915, may seem like it came out of the blue. Actually, it resulted from the confluence of several trends in Europe and North America. Those trends emerged in the late 18th century. They included the establishment of chemistry as a science and the onset of the first industrial revolution. Those trends gathered pace throughout the 19th century.

Chemistry discovered many new molecules. Organic chemistry—one of the early convergences of chemistry and biology (another one of the new scientific disciplines)—yielded compounds that later often acquired widespread use as intermediaries in industrial production. Many decades after their initial discovery, several also became warfare agents during the 1st World War. In the first half of the 19th century, chemists also synthesised the first organophosphorus structures, which laid the foundation for the development of the nerve agents from the mid-1930s onwards.

After 1850, industrialisation increasingly shaped the organisation of science; it gave direction to the scientific endeavour; and it helped to restructure the scientific curricula at universities and other institutions of education. The idea of science for science’s sake gave way to a much more utilitarian vision in service of society.

Stagnation on the Western front in the autumn of 1914 would prove to be the catalyst for modern chemical warfare. Belligerents drew on national industrial and scientific prowess to try and force the decisive breakthrough on the battlefield to end the carnage. Toxic chemicals used to deliberately harm humans were one choice. Alas.

Addressing the audience in the Ieper Room at the OPCW headquarters

I am not saying that in the 19th and early 20th century chemists set out to design and develop chemical weapons (CW). All I know is that in each of the belligerent countries, these chemists were fully aware of the social and technological dynamics that were transforming their respective societies; often they were the drivers of these changes.

The 1st World War was the catalyst that brought science, industry and military art together with the purpose of devising a new mode of warfare. It was almost accidental. (With the design of the atomic bomb a quarter of a century later, the convergence was deliberate, and governments have maintained that interconnectedness ever since.)

Today, our societies are once again undergoing major transformations. Chemistry is changing fast; the interactions with other disciplines are widening as well as deepening. Chemical industry has spread across the planet; so many people all over the world are seeking careers in fields that have more than a tangible impact on the CWC. These areas are also critical to development; they are key to ameliorating the conditions of peoples everywhere and meeting future challenges to individual and human survival.

International cooperation and development benefit from peaceful intent

The OPCW’s Advisory Board on Education and Outreach (ABEO) is keenly aware of current transformations that might once again contribute to CW development and acquisition. Its members are also keenly aware that we are facing new situations in which toxic chemicals can be and are being used. A big challenge to the CWC is that our conception of CW is changing fast. Indeed, opportunistic use of industrial toxicants (such as chlorine) on the battlefields, terrorism and non-state actor use of toxic agents, and now more recently, assassinations with substances that had initially been developed or produced for military arsenals, are situations the CWC negotiators could not—and did not–anticipate.

In February of this year, the ABEO produced a report on the role of education and outreach in preventing the re-emergence of CW. It contains many recommendations for the Technical Secretariat to enhance the impact of its activities with States Parties in terms of education and outreach. The report also addresses how chemists everywhere can expand their consciousness about the dual-use characteristics of much of their work. It also seeks to enhance their awareness of the international and domestic scientific and technological environment in which they are functioning. It helps them to anticipate possible outcomes of their work many years into the future.

Engagement of chemists is evident from a key clause in the report’s title: ‘preventing the re-emergence of CW’. The report defines this goal as ‘the collective of actions undertaken by the OPCW, its Secretariat, and the National Authorities to implement the Convention, on the one hand, and by professional, scientific, and academic communities, as well as civil society constituencies and individuals, to advance consciousness, responsibility, and specific behaviours that support purposes not prohibited by the Convention, on the other hand’. (p. 6, para. 2.11)

In other words, ‘Prevention of the re-emergence of chemical weapons’ appeals to the responsibility of stakeholder communities and individuals, including chemists, to uphold the norm in the CWC.

Members of the ABEO have been involved in the development of the Hague Ethical Guidelines to promote responsible practice of chemistry. They are also active in promoting the Ethical Guidelines, including through active learning processes that involve chemists, which are advanced in the ABEO report. Some members have been instrumental in mobilising chemical societies and chemical industry councils to formally condemn the use of chlorine as a weapon. Some among them have also participated in the development of the on-line educational tool ‘Multiple Uses of Chemicals’ to promote the beneficial uses and prevent abuses of multiple-use chemicals, which the Technical Secretariat now supports by offering translation into the six official languages.

Reaching out to today’s chemist and the next generation of chemists (who are now in secondary school) is a task that National Authorities can help to promote, in addition to the ongoing initiatives undertaken by the Technical Secretariat.

At this point, I wish to stress that while the ABEO report suggests educational strategies, it does not offer one-size-fits-all suggestions. There is great need to adapt educational strategies to specific regional and national characteristics.

Awareness of the challenges—those visible today, as well as those looming on the horizon—is a task of permanent education. The ABEO report contains many practical examples of how such permanent education can be organised and practically implemented. It is of benefit to development for peaceful purposes and international collaboration in the scientific field of chemistry worldwide.

States Parties are welcome to approach the ABEO and its members—via the Office of Strategy and Policy of the Technical Secretariat—for assistance and concrete advice on education and outreach to key stakeholder groups.

Thank you.

 


Novichok between opinion and fact – Part 2: When alternative facts become blatant untruths

[Cross-posted from The Trench]

On 18 April 2018 the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held its 59th meeting, which was wholly dedicated to the assassination attempt with a nerve agent of the Novichok family. The Technical Secretariat presented its classified full ‘Report on Activities Carried out in Support of a Request for Technical Assistance by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Technical Assistance Visit TAV/02/18)’. A summary released by the Technical Secretariat on 12 April, although lacking in detail, stated that:

  • Two OPCW designated laboratories confirmed that the three hospitalised individuals had been exposed to a toxic chemical;
  • Another two OPCW designated laboratories confirmed the presence of the toxic chemical in environmental samples;
  • The results confirmed the UK’s findings relating to the identity of the toxic chemical; and
  • The TAV noted the high purity of the agent because of the almost complete absence of impurities.

Russia’s unprecedented revelation of the identity of a designated laboratory in an investigation

Prior to the Executive Council meeting Russia caused an uproar when Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov publicly identified one of the designated laboratories involved in the analysis of samples (Spiez laboratory, Switzerland). In his address to the Assembly on Foreign and Defence Policy on 14 April, he also confirmed the identification of Substance A-234 (a Novichok agent) and furthermore claimed (from Russian via Google Translate):

Based on the results of the examination, the traces of the toxic chemical BZ and its precursors belonging to the chemical weapons of the second category in accordance with the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are found in the samples. BZ is a nerve agent temporarily disabling a person, psycho-toxic effect is achieved in 30-60 minutes and lasts up to four days.

This recipe was in the arsenal of the US Army, Great Britain and other NATO countries, there were no developments or accumulations of these chemical compounds in the Soviet Union and Russia.

The statement as such contains two errors.

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