No humanitarian justification for biological weapons

On 11 January Digital Journal, an online publication touching upon current events and with a penchant for science and technology affairs, published an Op-Ed by Megan Hamilton, an animal and nature-loving journalist based in Costa Rica, on Technology and the art of modern warfare. The piece is worrying enough for all the new technologies under consideration: fast-firing guns that could be deployed on satellites, direction-changing bullets, laser guns to knock out enemy drones, and so on.

The item that caught my attention was a discussion about a project once run by US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that turned insects into surveillance cyborgs (See also the Gizmodo blog). As Hamilton described it:

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Chemical weapons in Syria: The reports 2013–16

Chemical weapon disarmament in Syria

Monthly reports

[In preparation]

Assessment

Investigation of alleged use of chemical weapons

Investigations under the UN Secretary-General’s Mechanism

Investigations by the OPCW Fact-Finding MIssion

Summary report of the work of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria covering the period from 3 to 31 May 2014 (16 June 2014) Second report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria: Key findings (10 September 2014) Third report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria

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Syrian soldiers exposed to ‘sarin or a sarin-like substance’

In November I presented the main findings of the preliminary Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) report of 29 October. This particular investigation of alleged use by the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had been requested by Syria. Government officials had transmitted four Notes Verbales alleging  26 chemical weapon (CW) events resulting in 432 casualties. The preliminary report focussed primarily on incidents at Jobar (northeast of Damascus) on 29 August 2014. While the investigators believed that government soldiers had been exposed to an irritant, they could not confirm that the chemical had been used as a weapon. They as good as ruled out chlorine or a neurotoxicant, such as sarin, as the causative agent.

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Understanding the Dutch export licence requirement for publishing life science research

During the Meeting of Experts of states parties to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) last August, the Netherlands organised or co-hosted three side events relating to safeguarding the life sciences. A significant incident, in which the Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier and his team were required to obtain an export licence to publish their research on how they had mutated H5N1 into an aerosol-transmissible avian influenza virus variant, undeniably informed the need to clarify national policies and approaches to biorisk management. A month earlier the Appellate Court had annulled the ruling by a lower court in support of the government position on procedural grounds. Does this annulment validate the Dutch government’s position or does it imply that the whole debate about the publication of so-called dual-use research in the life sciences is back to square one? Moreover, in the meantime the debate had evolved from a terrorist proliferation risk to one of health security in which the ethics and utility of this type of gain-of-function research stand central. In other words, do biosafety worries warrant biosecurity policy measures, such as the imposition of non-proliferation export controls?

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Why stopping acid attacks is a matter of chemical weapons control

By Brett Edwards, James Revill, and Valentina Cartei

December 2, 2015 11.13am GMT

Republished from The Conversation

The use of acid as part of violent crime is apparently on the rise in the UK, and various efforts are being made to reverse what’s become a very disturbing trend

The Daily Express has started a campaign to “end the evil of acid attacks”, hot on the heels of a similar initiative by The Sun. Both campaigns focus on restricting access to the types of acid most commonly used in such attacks. The Express has launched a petition demanding that “the sale of any acid which could be used as a weapon be properly licensed”.

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An appeal from the Pugwash Council to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference

Avoiding threats to human civilization

An appeal from the Pugwash Council to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference

Since the middle of the 20th century, scientists have consistently raised alarm about the risks posed by climate change due to the increase of carbon in the atmosphere emanating from human activities. Collective scientific endeavour of thousands of researchers organized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, warns of unequivocal global warming that under the current conditions is likely to lead to further environmental degradation mass migration and increase global insecurity. The impacts of climate change will be uneven across the planet, and less developed and vulnerable communities will be more severely affected. Moreover, climate change is not just a peril for humanity today: it poses existential challenges for future, as yet unborn generations.

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CW incidents alleged by the Syrian government: an industrial chemical as likely cause?

My previous posting (16 November) presented the findings by the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concerning allegations of the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon in Syria’s Idlib Governorate. The FFM concluded that the incidents likely involved the use of a toxic chemical containing the element chlorine as a weapon.

This report was one of three that the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW transmitted to states party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) for consideration at a special session of the Executive Council on 23 November. The other two reports address allegations of mustard agent use at Marea in northern Syria and chlorine attacks against Syrian government forces around Damascus.

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Innocence Slaughtered – Book launch at OPCW

Innocence Slaughtered coverDescribed by Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General of the OPCW, as a ‘remarkable compilation of materials, rich in detail and edited in the finest traditions of highly readable scholarship’, Innocence Slaughtered is a new book that will launch with a panel discussion on 2 December, from 13.00-15.00 at this year’s Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Edited by Dr Jean Pascal Zanders, the book features the writings of eleven experts and historians on gas warfare and chemical weapons and is being published to coincide with the first phosgene attack in WWI on 19 December 1915.

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