Chlorine: A weapon of last resort for ISIL?

Over the past few weeks several press reports have suggested that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have resorted to chlorine use in attacks in Iraq and Syria.

The grouping is no stranger to chlorine. In some earlier incarnation it was known as al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and later it rebranded itself as the Islamic State of Iraq when it explicitly began trying to control territory. Harsh imposition of its strict interpretation of Sharia law and extreme violence towards anybody refusing total subjugation to its rule soon had Sunni tribal leaders uniting in resistance early in 2007. They also began cooperation with forces of the US-led coalition occupying Iraq since 2003 and the Shia-dominated Iraqi government. AQI started mounting large-scale operations involving several hundreds of fighters to capture local seats of power. During the first half of 2007 suicide attacks with lorries rigged with a large quantity of explosives evolved from isolated incidents to terrorise and destabilise societies to a tool integrated in assaults against government centres and fortified positions. After an isolated attempt in October 2006, AQI launched almost 20 chlorine attacks in the first half of 2007.

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New naval anti-piracy tactics – pepper spray and “domestic” riot control

Yesterday the Smithsonian “Smartnews” site featured the article Robot Ships And Pepper Spray—the Latest in Pirate-Fighting Tech. According to the piece, UK researchers are actively looking into mobilising capsaicin – the active ingredient in pepper spray – to fend off pirate attacks at sea:

[...]

The age of naval battles between huge ships on the high seas seems to have passed into distant memory. Instead, some of the most devastating attacks on giant vessels in recent years have been executed by boats small enough to get through the larger ships’ defenses.

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Threat posed by Islamic State’s capture of Iraq’s Muthanna CW site

In a letter dated 7 July 2014 Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Mohamed Ali Alhakim notified UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that ‘armed terrorist groups’ had entered the Muthanna complex on 11 June. The next morning  a project manager observed them looting of some equipment via the camera surveillance system before the ‘terrorists’ disabled it. The document, as cited by the Associated Press, explicitly referred to the capture of bunkers 13 and 41, two locations still holding chemical weapons (CW) so severely damaged during the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait that until today they could not be disposed of in a safe way.

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Enhancing BWC Compliance – Options for the EU

The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) is neither in crisis nor at a cross roads, and hyperbole to the contrary is unhelpful. Yet it is perhaps because the BWC continues to trundle steadily along towards an undecided destination, that the period of relative calm should be exploited to bolster the Convention, to future proof the BWC and the norm against the hostile exploitation of infection that it embodies. To do this, there is a need for a more ambitious approach. The first two intersessional processes may have proved unexpectedly fruitful; however, this approach appears to have moved beyond its ‘best-before-date’ and gone stale. Accordingly, several states have proposed alternative approaches to building the BWC: France has proposed and piloted a peer review mechanism, something taken further forward by the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg; the Czech Republic along with Canada and Switzerland have explored compliance assessment; Russia has proposed returning to the 1994 mandate (see discussion at Days of Future Past); and several countries, including the UK, Australia, Canada, Finland, Lithuania, Spain and the US, have constructively engaged in a debate on compliance. Although there is little agreement on exactly what should be done, there does appear to be an emerging critical mass, seeking to move beyond ‘tinkering around the edges’ and, once again, deal with the difficult topic of compliance.

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Days of Future Past

Russia proposed to return to negotiations on a legally binding protocol to strengthen treaty implementation at the Meeting of Experts of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), which was held in Geneva from 4–8 August. Its informal note discusses the creation of an international body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Biological Weapons (OPBW). It also tackles two frustrations prevalent among states parties: the convention’s institutional deficit and the lack of any progress in the so-called intersessional process—a series of annual Meetings of Experts (MX) during the summer followed by Meetings of States Parties (MSP) in December in between the quinquennial review conferences.

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The banalisation of tear gas

I am not the only person who is concerned by the banalisation of tear gas as a riot control agent. Over the past few years, the intensity with which such agents have been used has increased markedly, to the point that whole sections of cities now routinely become saturated with the toxic chemicals. In particular Michael Crowley of Bradford University’s Non-Lethal Weapons Project has published studies on the fast technological development and growing global markets of riot control agents and their delivery systems: one in collaboration with the Omega Research Foundation, and one, co-authored with Dana Perkins, then expert of the 1540 Committee, for the Biochemical Security 2030 Project, University of Bath. Likewise, the Physicians for Human Rights issued a report in 2012 on the Bahrain government’s indiscriminate use of tear gas, and in 2013 another one on tear gas excesses in Turkey.

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Gradually making sense of Syria’s CW declarations

Since my last update on the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapon (CW) capacities in May, all precursor chemicals have finally left the country. Some have been shipped to facilities in Finland and the USA, where they are in the process of being destroyed. The United Kingdom meanwhile completed the destruction of 190 tonnes of chemicals at an incinerator in Ellesmere Port.

As of 7 August, 74.2% of Syria’s entire stockpile of chemical warfare agent precursors have been destroyed. Other chemicals are meanwhile being neutralised on board of the US vessel Cape Ray in the Mediterranean, and the resulting reaction mass will eventually be commercially incinerated too.

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Enhancing BTWC Compliance – Workshop Report

Jean Pascal ZANDERS
Senior Research Associate
Fondation pour la recherche stratégique

WORKSHOP REPORT

Enhancing compliance of the BTWC
through national implementation and other means

Brussels, 24 April 2014

(PDF version)

I.    Participation

The workshop, organised by the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium in cooperation with the European External Action Service (EEAS), was held in Brussels on 24 April 2014. Its purpose was to have an in-depth brainstorming session on the future of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) with officials from EU Member States.

The event was the 1st Ad Hoc Seminar to be organised under the new Council Decision 014/129/CFSP of 10 March 2014 supporting the continued activities of the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium.

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1996 ICJ advisory opinion on nuclear weapons: reflections

The Asahi Shimbun (Japan) is publishing a set of  four articles on the Advisory Opinion on the legality of nuclear weapon use in armed conflict issued by the International Court of Justice in 1996.

They include a commentary and interview with former ICJ president Mohammed Bedjaoui, as well as a commentary and interview with former ICJ judge Christopher Weeramantry.

I am not sure whether they make up the total package, but in case of future additions the articles can also be accessed from: http://ajw.asahi.com/tag/NUKE%20JUDGEMENT

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OPCW announces final CW shipment out of Syria

Announcement to media on last consignment of chemicals leaving Syria
Monday, 23 June 2014

Statement by Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General OPCW

Just under 9 months ago in October, I addressed you members of the press – in this same place, here in The Hague – to announce the deployment of the first OPCW inspectors to Syria to begin an historic and unprecedented mission. The mission was to destroy the chemical weapons programme of the Syrian Arab Republic.

A major landmark in this mission has been reached today. The last of the remaining chemicals identified for removal from Syria were loaded this afternoon aboard the Danish ship Ark Futura. The ship made its last call at the port of Latakia in what has been a long and patient campaign in support of this international endeavour.

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