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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Investigation of alleged chlorine attacks in the Idlib Governorate (Syria) in March – May 2015

On 29 October, the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) circulated three reports on investigations of alleged chemical weapons (CW) use in Syria. On 5 November Reuters published some details from the one addressing the alleged use of sulphur mustard agent in Marea, a town to the north of Aleppo, on 21 August. The two other reports address a series of incidents between 15 December 2014 and 15 June 2015 at the request of the Syrian government and between 16 March and 20 May 2015 in the Idlib Governorate documented by a variety of non-governmental sources.

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Innocence Slaughtered: Introduction

Innocence Slaughtered will be published in December 2015

In November 2005 In Flanders Fields Museum organised and hosted an international conference in Ypres, entitled 1915: Innocence Slaughtered. The first major attack with chemical weapons, launched by Imperial German forces from their positions near Langemarck on the northern flank of the Ypres Salient on 22 April 1915, featured prominently among the presentations. I was also one of the speakers, but my address focussed on how to prevent a similar event with biological weapons. Indeed, it was one of the strengths of the conference not to remain stuck in a past of—at that time—nine decades earlier, but also to invite reflection on future challenges in other areas of disarmament and arms control. Notwithstanding, the academic gathering had a secondary goal from the outset, namely to collect the papers with historical focus for academic publication.

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Innocence Slaughtered – Forthcoming book

The introduction of chemical warfare to the battlefield on 22 April 1915 changed the face of total warfare. Not only did it bring science to combat, it was both the product of societal transformation and a shaper of the 20th century societies.

This collaborative work investigates the unfolding catastrophe that the unleashing of chlorine against the Allied positions meant for individual soldiers and civilians. It describes the hesitation on the German side about the effectiveness, and hence impact on combat operations of the weapon whilst reflecting on the lack of Allied response to the many intelligence pointers that something significant was afoot.

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Innocence Slaughtered

Innocence Slaughtered
Gas and the transformation of warfare and society
Jean Pascal Zanders (ed)

Publication: December 2015

Innocence Slaughtered cover

Table of Contents

  • Ahmet Üzümcü (Director-General Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons): Preface
  • Jean Pascal Zanders: Introduction
  • Jean Pascal Zanders: The Road to The Hague
  • Olivier Lepick: Towards total war: Langemarck, 22 April 1915
  • Luc Vandeweyer: The Belgian Army and the gas attack on 22 April 1915
  • Dominiek Dendooven: 22 April 1915 – Eyewitness accounts of the first gas attack
  • Julian Putkowski: Toxic Shock: The British Army’s reaction to German poison gas during the Second Battle of Ypres
  • David Omissi: The Indian Army at the Second Battle of Ypres
  • Bert Heyvaert: Phosgene in the Ypres Salient: 19 December 1915
  • Gerard Oram: A War on Terror: Gas, British morale, and reporting the war in Wales
  • Wolfgang Wietzker: Gas Warfare in 1915 and the German Press
  • Peter van den Dungen: Civil Resistance to Chemical Warfare in the 1st World War
  • Leo van Bergen and Maartje Abbenhuis: Man-monkey, Monkey-man: Neutrality and the Discussions About the ‘Inhumanity’ of Poison Gas in the Netherlands and International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Jean Pascal Zanders: The Road to Geneva

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Becoming the largest weapon-control treaty

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has just announced the accession of Angola to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The country deposited its instrument of accession with the UN Secretary-General on 16 September, which means that it will become a party to the CWC 30 days later, that is, 16 October.

Angola will thus be the 192nd state to join the OPCW. No other treaty limiting possession or use of a particular type of weaponry can boast that many parties. The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has 191; the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) 173.

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Inserting useful tools into the BTWC

Since that fateful year of 2001, when the Ad Hoc Group (AHG) negotiations on a legally binding protocol to strengthen the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) collapsed and the 5th Review Conference failed following an attempt by the Bush Administration to terminate the AHG mandate, states parties have been trying to develop useful activities to keep the ailing treaty alive.

A lot of what has been going on since then I would qualify as Beschäftigungstherapie—you know, engaging in games, energising dexterity and developing practical skills to strengthen and motivate an ailing patient. It worked to a large extent. But like any treatment continuing for too long, its efficacy dwindles and the patient begins to question why he has to go to yet another session.

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DURC – a chemical angle

Dual-use research of concern—often referred to by its ugly acronym, DURC—is another one of those moronic concepts to have entered the disarmament / arms control discourse as a diversion from real disarmament questions. Of concern to whom? Who defines the dual-use characteristics of research? Who defines the threat? And why the heck should we be scared again of any new development? Anyway, the term is also tautological: Is there dual-use research not of concern?

The term arose in the biological field: genetic manipulations of pathogens to better understand possible mutations might increase infectivity among humans. The risk of escape from laboratories or laboratory accidents drive the concerns about this type of research. Initially the threat was presented as one of catastrophic terrorism. Now the debate has abated somewhat, but global health concerns continue to animate discussions. Meanwhile, the DURC label has stuck. So questions animating debates under the banner of biological weapons control are whether research can be published in full or whether scientists should apply for an export license to have their results printed in overseas scientific journals.

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