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Chemical weapons convention

On 18 February 2013, the Royal Society held a seminar at the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to inform preparations for the third Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) taking place in April 2013. The seminar discussed the implications for the CWC of convergent trends in science and technology (S&T) as identified in Royal Society’s 2012 report, Brain Waves 3: Neuroscience, conflict and security. Three case studies were profiled: incapacitating chemical agents, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology. The seminar brought together leading scientists, policy experts, diplomats and senior officials, including the OPCW Director-General.

Key findings

  • States Parties (those countries that have ratified or otherwise acceded to the CWC) should address the provisions of the CWC on the definition and status of incapacitating chemical agents (ICAs) at the forthcoming Review Conference. The UK Government should clarify its position on ICAs by publishing a statement on the reasons for its apparent recent shift in position on the interpretation of the CWC’s law enforcement provision.
  • States Parties should reaffirm the comprehensive scope of the CWC at the forthcoming Review Conference. The OPCW’s verification system should be revisited; in particular, the quantitative thresholds that trigger the Other Chemical Production Facilities regime.
  • There needs to be better co-ordination and information sharing between the implementing bodies of the CWC and Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) on convergent trends in science and technology (S&T).  Convergence should feature in the S&T review processes of the five yearly review conferences of the CWC and BWC. The OPCW Technical Secretariat could increase its, and the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board’s, interaction with experts associated with the BWC.
  • A fresh effort is needed to inculcate the awareness of dual-use challenges amongst scientists at an early stage of their training. States Parties should be encouraged to include information on the CWC in educational materials and programmes for scientists. The OPCW should design and implement an effective, systematic and well-funded education programme to raise awareness.
  • More effective engagement between the CWC and the wider scientific community is needed to alert and inform intergovernmental decision making about the major benefits and risks posed by convergent trends in S&T. More effective engagement with the wider scientific community would also build capacity among national delegations.