Jonathan E. Forman , Christopher M. Timperley , Siqing Sun and Darcy van Eerten

Chemistry and diplomacy

De Gruyter | Published online: September 24, 2018

Abstract

The Chemical Weapons Convention is a science-based international treaty for the disarmament and non-proliferation of chemical weapons. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) serves as its implementing body. The treaty bans chemicals weapons, includes a verification mechanism to monitor compliance, and requires scientific and technical expertise for effective implementation. This necessitates a continuous engagement with scientific communities, whether informal or institutionalized (as demonstrated by the Designated Laboratories, Validation Group, and Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), of the OPCW), to ensure operation of the treaty keeps pace with scientific advances, and that enabling opportunities to meet challenges through scientific advances can be seized. The effective use of science for treaty implementation demands scientific literacy for decision making. Herein, the Convention, its scientific basis, need for scientific expertise, and mechanisms through which the OPCW engages scientists, are described. The function of the OPCW SAB, its review of science and technology to advise disarmament and non-proliferation policymakers, and its role in raising awareness of science within the world of international diplomacy, are reviewed.

Introduction

The Chemical Weapons Convention (hereinafter “the Convention”) is an international disarmament and non-proliferation treaty prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons [1]. The 193 States Parties of the Convention (nation states obligated to the treaty) [2] must destroy any chemical weapon stockpiles and production facilities they possess, comply with a verification regime (which allows international inspectors to visit their territories, including commercial chemical production facilities) – and implement national laws that regulate the production and transfer of certain chemicals [3]. The Convention is the first disarmament treaty to introduce a verifiable ban on an entire class of weapons of mass destruction.

The international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), located in The Hague in the Netherlands, is the implementing body for the Convention [4]. The OPCW comprises a Technical Secretariat that reports to a Director-General, who is appointed by the States Parties to serve for up to two 4-year terms. This year the staff of the Technical Secretariat numbered around 400 people of over 80 nationalities (working as international civil servants, not national representatives). International chemical weapon inspectors account for nearly one quarter of the staff.

Verification of a chemical weapons ban that includes stockpile destruction [5] and non-proliferation elements requires on-site inspections [6] and investigations and fact-finding [7]. The Convention additionally contains provisions for assistance and protection for States Parties in the event of a chemical incident [8], [9]; promotes the peaceful use of chemistry through capacity building programmes for scientists [10]; and seeks to foster scientific collaboration amongst States Parties [11]. Capacity building and collaboration are important elements of the Convention, as the success of any international agreement depends on the States Parties building productive relations and finding common ground.

Negotiation and oversight of international treaties may seem the realm of the United Nations and foreign policy of States Parties, where policymakers and diplomats take center stage, yet effective implementation of the Convention requires technical expertise and scientific literacy amongst the decision makers. Scientific principles inform key articles of the Convention, including the definition of a chemical weapon, the mechanisms for verifying compliance, and the provision of assistance and protection. Science has played a key role in treaty negotiation and continues to provide the technical basis underpinning implementation policy [12], [13]. Recent events involving chemical weapons demonstrate how accurate scientific information and advice can inform and influence global decision making [14].

The Convention opened for signature in 1993, its drafting and negotiation amongst stakeholder States occurring mainly during the Cold War, and entered into force on 29 April 1997 [15]. The world has changed significantly since then: socially, politically, economically, and especially technologically. Recent decisions by the OPCW States Parties on threats posed by non-State Actors [16] and the use of chemical weapons [17] exemplify current challenges to the world’s security environment. Science itself presents unexpected challenges, as it provides new capabilities and new ways to look at, and define, how we see the world.

Scientific advances and technological change have enabled numerous capabilities unforeseen at the time of entry into force. These raise new concerns for their possible malicious use [18]. New scientific concepts and technologies may also blur and challenge the definitions used to develop policies for treaty implementation. The Convention was drafted with an understanding that scientific and technological change is inevitable. For the Convention to remain relevant, implementation must stay abreast of new developments that could affect its operation, and consider the use of scientific and technological advances [19].

Monitoring scientific and technological change, and predicting its potential impact on implementation, will always be challenging. Relevant technologies often develop through trans-disciplinary processes, requiring that scientific and engineering fields, and not chemistry alone, are not ignored. Likewise, knowledge and application of a range of scientific disciplines is required to develop, defend against, and respond to chemical weapons (Fig. 1). Viewing the scientific landscape, it is estimated that the annual output of scientific papers is around 2.5 million publications [20] and in 2016 there were more than 3 million patent application filings (across all fields of science) [21]. Such numbers can only be expected to increase. Keeping pace with technological change demands more than a passive view from afar and a sole reliance on reading scientific literature. Effective understanding of the impact and potential of new science requires insights that come from those driving scientific change and those turning technological change into real-world applications, whether in security-related or other fields.

Fig. 1: The trans-disciplinary nature of scientific and technical expertise for the implementation of a chemical weapons treaty.

Fig. 1:

The trans-disciplinary nature of scientific and technical expertise for the implementation of a chemical weapons treaty.

Operational implementation of the Convention requires that weapons inspectors have technical knowledge of both traditional and new chemical production processes, chemical weapon destruction methods, and chemical analysis. With the potential for OPCW staff (inspectors and others) to be called to deploy at short notice when the use of chemical weapons has been alleged and/or a State Party requires assistance, a variety of other practical highly-technical skills and knowledge is necessary. This requires awareness of scientific and technological change, maintaining adequate levels of institutional technical knowledge and expertise, engagement with scientific experts from outside the OPCW, and access to sound scientific advice.

Scientists and international science collaboration for treaty implementation

Ensuring that the OPCW remains adequately informed on scientific developments requires continual and active engagement within scientific communities. This is maintained in a variety of formal and informal ways. Individuals with an education and professional training in chemistry, chemical engineering, biochemistry, medicine, life sciences, mathematics and statistics, computer sciences and a variety of other Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields are found throughout the OPCW. Professional development and training of staff members provides access to technical communities, and OPCW scientists attend conferences and publish scientific papers [14], [22], [23], [24].

The OPCW’s capacity-building programmes provide scientists from developing countries and States with economies in transition with opportunities that include conference attendance and research project funding [10], [11]. There are also a variety of educational and training workshops offered by OPCW. In 2017, there were over 700 participants in these programmes [25].

Staff development and scientist participation in capacity-building programmes serve to provide visibility for the OPCW and the Convention within the professional and personal networks of the individuals involved, sustainability of technical expertise, and reach beyond these individuals. However, this is ad hoc and relies on individual initiative. More formal cooperation and promotion of the norms of the Convention within scientific communities proceeds through partnership and engagement with professional scientific societies.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and OPCW have collaborated for many years, organizing workshops to provide scientific input for the “Conferences to Review the Operation of the Convention”[1] [26], [27], [28], [29], and developing and endorsing tools for education and outreach, such as The Hague Ethical Guidelines [30], [31], [32] and the multiple uses of chemicals [33], [34]. IUPAC has also served as a resource of chemistry expertise to the OPCW, through interactions with the members of its technical divisions [35]. OPCW officials have served as observers and committee members on IUPAC panels (for example, on the Committee for Chemistry Education [36] and the Interdivisional Committee on Green Chemistry for Sustainable Development [37]). Likewise IUPAC officials have observer status on the OPCW’s Advisory Board on Education and Outreach (ABEO) [38], regularly participate in OPCW events (including the “Conference of the States Parties” [39]), and serve on the committee that selects the recipients of the OPCW-The Hague Award [40]. In 2016, the IUPAC and OPCW signed a memorandum of understanding to further cooperate in keeping abreast of developments in chemistry, promoting responsibility and ethics in science, and education and outreach [41].

Other chemical societies, including the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the European Chemical Society (and its associated member societies) [42], [43], [44], have expressed their support to the work of the OPCW through condemnation of the use of chemicals as weapons. The OPCW’s Director-General has also met with high-level officials of professional chemical societies, and in 2018, he spoke at events hosted by the ACS [45] and the Royal Society of Chemistry [46].

Engagement with professional societies provides a critical linkage to the scientific community. This requires that the partners find ways to maintain their engagement, often through collaborative projects and regular meetings at conferences and/or workshops. While these interactions are on-going, they require motivated individuals from both sides to drive them.

Building and maintaining a community of scientific experts that engages regularly with the OPCW in a continual and long-term capacity necessitates a degree of institutionalization. A network of Designated Laboratories [47], [48] facilitated by the OPCW Laboratory provides chemical analysis support for OPCW field operations. This network ensures a high level of confidence for the verification regime and acts as a deterrent to non-compliance [14], [49]. The laboratories within the network participate in rigorous proficiency testing and collaborate on the development of Recommended Operating Procedures for verification-related analysis [50]. A data validation group brings together scientific experts to review chemical information for inclusion in the OPCW Central Analytical Database (OCAD) [51], [52]. There is also a Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) [53], [54], whose existence is mandated by the Convention itself [19]; this Board is a subsidiary body of the OPCW that provides independent science advice to the OPCW Director-General.

The SAB membership covers a broad range of scientific expertise; members can include scientists from Designated Laboratories, who may also be on the Validation Group. This gives the Board wide reach into scientific communities and insights that benefit OPCW’s policymakers and the scientific experts needed for effective treaty implementation.

As of April 2018, the Designated Laboratory network consisted of 26 laboratories located across 19 States Parties, the validation group currently has membership from 14 States Parties, and the SAB is composed of scientists from 25 States Parties. Since it was first formed, the SAB and its temporary working groups (TWGs), which are described later, have included members from more than 40 States Parties (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: International scientific collaboration facilitated by the OPCW: The Scientific Advisory Board. This map depicts, with orange shading, the territories of the States Parties from which scientists have served on the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board or its Temporary Working Groups from 1998 to 2018.aaThe map is based on Map No. 4170 Rev. 15.1 United Nations (July 2018). The boundaries shown on the map do not imply endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations. The final boundary between Sudan and South Sudan has not yet been determined. The dotted line represents the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir agreed upon by India and Pakistan; the final status of Jammu and Kashmir has not yet been agreed upon by the parties.

Fig. 2:

International scientific collaboration facilitated by the OPCW: The Scientific Advisory Board. This map depicts, with orange shading, the territories of the States Parties from which scientists have served on the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board or its Temporary Working Groups from 1998 to 2018.a

aThe map is based on Map No. 4170 Rev. 15.1 United Nations (July 2018). The boundaries shown on the map do not imply endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations. The final boundary between Sudan and South Sudan has not yet been determined. The dotted line represents the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir agreed upon by India and Pakistan; the final status of Jammu and Kashmir has not yet been agreed upon by the parties.

To effectively maintain an international treaty, States Parties must find ways to demonstrate commitment to its norms and obligations to build confidence and trust. International scientific cooperation is one way to build such trust. The Designated Laboratory network, the Validation Group, and the SAB serve as examples of international scientific collaboration. This represents a form of science diplomacy that further supports and strengthens chemical disarmament and non-proliferation (Fig. 2).

The Scientific Advisory Board (SAB)

The provision of science advice by the SAB informs policy decision-making processes and deliberations, bridging the gap between the science and policy of the Convention. In this regard, the SAB functions as an independent advisory body, and its advice represents consensus outcome and agreement arising from the teamwork of all the board members.

The SAB members are nominated by their State Party and appointed by the Director-General. Members are selected for their expertise in scientific fields relevant to treaty implementation that they can bring to the Board. They come from a variety of backgrounds, including academia, industry, and governmental institutions. Recent calls for Board nominations have emphasized the need for expertise that reaches across traditional disciplinary boundaries [55]. The SAB has met 27 times since it was first established, most recently in March 2018 [56]. Reports from each session are submitted to the Director-General and made available to States Parties. The Director-General also issues a response to the SAB reports [57], which serves to provide guidance and views to both the SAB and the States Parties.

Every 5 years, the States Parties of the Convention meet to review the implementation of the treaty over the previous 5-year period and to discuss and give direction for the coming 5 year period. A key input to this review is a report submitted by the SAB on developments in science and technology [58], [59], [60], [61]. This comprehensive report is intended to assist the Conference of the States Parties during the Review Conference. Inputs to this scientific review are gathered by the SAB and reported on regularly over the course of the period between review conferences. The process requires a very active and scientifically engaged SAB.

In addition to the regular sessions of the SAB, held once or twice per year, the Board can also form TWGs and hold workshops. These facilitate access to broader expertise to focus on specific areas of interest. They also generate working papers for discussion and input to review conference reports. The TWGs are established in consultation with the Director-General and chaired by a member of the SAB. The membership of a TWG includes SAB members and experts in the topical area from outside the SAB. A TWG will meet several times per year over a defined timeframe, producing at the end of its term of reference a final report with conclusions and recommendations. These reports are reviewed and agreed on by the entire SAB before submission to the Director-General. TWGs [53] have addressed sampling and analysis [62], biomedical samples [63], ricin [64], analytical procedures [65], verification [66], requirements and specifications for on-site monitoring equipment [65], technologies for the destruction of chemical weapons [65], Adamsite [65] (1, an organoarsenical compound, named 10-chloro-5,10-dihydrophenarsazine, which was used as a chemical weapon in the First World War [67]), low-concentration limits for Schedule 2A and 2A* chemicals,[2] the convergence of scientific disciplines (especially chemistry and biology) [69], and education and outreach [70]. A TWG on investigative science and technology has also been formed; this TWG met for the first time in February of 2018 [71].

SAB workshops are organized, often in cooperation with external partners, to bring together international scientists to provide insights on and discuss topics of interest. The topics have included chemical forensics [72], mechanisms of chemical agent toxicity and emergency response [73], emerging technologies [29], and trends in chemical production [74].

The OPCW Director-General can also call upon the SAB to provide advice on issues that need more immediate attention. Since 2013, there have been six such requests, each resulting in the publication of an OPCW working paper, with recommendations available for consideration by the Director-General and States Parties. The topics covered have included medical countermeasures [75], [76], isotopically labeled and stereoisomers of controlled chemicals [77], chemical warfare agent sample storage and stability [78], riot control agents (RCAs) [79], and new types of nerve agents [80].

The provision of science advice: recommendations from the Scientific Advisory Board

The SAB works under a mandate to consider scientific issues relevant to disarmament and non-proliferation. However, taking the science advice forward into the world of multilateral diplomacy rests with the recipients of the advice, the OPCW and the States Parties. Willingness to take forward SAB advice requires interest and need from those receiving it, resulting in SAB recommendations moving forward in a variety of ways both formal and informal.

Recommendations that lend support to, or inform aspects of on-going programmes of work, might be adopted by initiatives within the OPCW. For example, new scientific developments, fieldable equipment or analytical methods reported on by the SAB might be of interest to evaluate for use by inspectors. This type of advice is very important to keep the OPCW scientifically informed. Making use of such advice requires those who can benefit from it to champion taking it forward.

An example can be seen from the work of the OPCW Laboratory, following recommendations from the TWG on biomedical samples for developing capability to analyze these types of samples for the verification regime [63]. Confidence building exercises for biomedical samples within the Designated Laboratory network were initiated in 2009 [81]. SAB recommendations continued to be made in support of biomedical proficiency testing [66], providing an independent technical assessment of the value of having such a biomedical analysis capability. The OPCW Laboratory held its first biomedical proficiency test in 2016 [82]. Even before the proficiency testing and designation of laboratories to perform biomedical sample analysis began, the methods validated during the confidence building exercises were used to help confirm that sarin had been used in the Syrian Arab Republic in 2013 [83]. This confirmation of the use of sarin informed decision making that led to an international agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapon programme [14]. The bioanalytical methods developed by the Designated Laboratories continue to be used in on-going OPCW fact-finding [84], [85] and assistance missions [86] related to the use of chemical weapons.

For recommendations potentially impacting on treaty implementation policies, discussions which ultimately require a decision to be taken by States Parties might be necessary. In order to move forward, the decision makers need compelling reasons to accept any changes, and they need to weigh these reasons against how the proposed change would affect other aspects of treaty implementation.

The content of the database used for on-site chemical analysis represents one such area where changes require a decision by States Parties. In an on-site inspection mission, samples are collected and tested on location using a portable gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer [24]. OPCW maintains a database of chemicals scheduled under the Convention. Gas chromatographic retention indices and mass spectral data collected in these on-site missions are compared to a library in the OCAD [52]. The 2018 version of the OCAD contains mass spectra and retention indices for more than 4400 chemical species [25].[3] With the Designated Laboratory network providing off-site sample analysis capability, the OCAD has served as a database for on-site use, especially for inspections to commercial facilities subject to declaration and inspection as part of the industry verification obligations of States Parties. In the interest of protecting proprietary information of chemicals being produced at commercial facilities, the OCAD database was originally populated only with chemicals found on the Schedules of the Annex on Chemicals of the Convention; a series of lists of chemicals subject to specific verification provisions [1], [68]. This limits the reportable data from the analysis only to scheduled chemicals (for which a routine industrial inspection would be seeking to verify the absence of undeclared scheduled chemicals).

If an on-site analysis was needed for investigative purposes, characteristic degradation and reaction products, and common impurities found in samples of chemical warfare agents might be highly relevant. As illustrated in Fig. 3, for a chemical agent like sulfur mustard (SM), these chemicals of interest include a broad range of unscheduled species [87], [88], [89], [90], [91], [92], [93], [94], [95], [96], [97], [98], [99]. With reports of SM being used in Syria and Iraq [85], [100], the ability to recognize SM-associated unscheduled chemicals could be important. The relevant unscheduled chemicals might be indicative of synthesis routes and previous presence of SM in samples containing degraded material. The SAB, through its TWG on analytical procedures, had recommended the addition of relevant unscheduled chemicals to the OCAD in 2000 [65], but it was not until 2013 that OPCW inspectors were faced with the task of analysing authentic samples arising from the use of chemical warfare agents, and a need to confirm whether or not such agents had been deployed. A decision was taken by the States Parties in October 2017 approving the inclusion of non-scheduled chemicals into the OCAD [101], and a number of SM associated compounds were added.

Fig. 3: The degradation and environmental fate of sulfur mustard (SM). The graphic illustrates the rich chemistry of SM, from its synthesis to its degradation by neutralization or under various environmental conditions, and the types of bio-adducts and metabolites that result from exposure. A number of impurities that have been reported in samples are also illustrated. Only 13 out of around 100 SM-related chemicals depicted in the graphic are scheduled under the Convention (these are denoted by a red dot). The cascade of chemical reactions and the impurities shown are illustrative and unlikely to be comprehensive [87], [88], [89], [90], [91], [92], [93], [94], [95], [96], [97], [98], [99].

Fig. 3:

The degradation and environmental fate of sulfur mustard (SM). The graphic illustrates the rich chemistry of SM, from its synthesis to its degradation by neutralization or under various environmental conditions, and the types of bio-adducts and metabolites that result from exposure. A number of impurities that have been reported in samples are also illustrated. Only 13 out of around 100 SM-related chemicals depicted in the graphic are scheduled under the Convention (these are denoted by a red dot). The cascade of chemical reactions and the impurities shown are illustrative and unlikely to be comprehensive [87], [88], [89], [90], [91], [92], [93], [94], [95], [96], [97], [98], [99].

Another area where SAB recommendations have treaty implementation implications relates to the meaning of the term “produced by synthesis”. This phrase appears in the Convention’s Verification Annex, which obligates States Parties to submit declarations on industrial chemical facilities where discrete organic chemicals are “produced by synthesis” [102]. Advances in biotechnology have enabled new capabilities for producing bulk, fine and specialty chemicals [103], through microbial fermentation and enzymatic processes. Some States Parties consider “produced by synthesis” to exclude biological processes. This in turn brings a degree of inconsistency into how different State Parties approach their declaration requirements. The issue of whether or not a biobased chemical production plant is subject to declaration and inspection under the Convention’s verification regime has been open and on-going since 1999, with the SAB maintaining that any process designed for the formation of a chemical substance should be covered by the term “produced by synthesis” [61]. Discussion on the issue was reinvigorated following the 2015 report of the TWG on Verification [66], with the States Parties participating in the deliberations expressing diverse views on the impact and potential exemptions for declaration of any chemical plants employing biological processes [104]. While this issue is unlikely to be resolved in the short term, it exemplifies how scientific perspectives may challenge the definitions upon which policy is based. More recent discussions by the SAB have noted the potential for a risk-based approach across chemical production facilities as one solution [61]; however, a diversity of views from States Parties is still to be anticipated.

Science advice does not always require action be taken, rather it can serve an informational purpose that is helpful in decision making or for the interpretation of technical information. An example is seen with the advice provided in 2016 on sample storage and stability [78]. In the response to a request from the OPCW Director-General, the SAB explained the significance and impact of degradation processes of chemical warfare agents, and how such degradation can influence the results of a chemical analysis. A key point to inform non-technical decision makers who might be asked to draw conclusions from chemical analysis reports is that validated analytical methods, run with suitable control samples, will produce credible scientific results; yet differences in the reported chemical composition of a sample might be found when there are time lags between measurements or differences in storage conditions of split samples. The SAB advice on sample storage and stability was later published in the scientific literature as a review article [49].

Situations can also arise where non-binding SAB advice is acted upon voluntarily by decision makers to influence policy. The SAB advice on isotopic labelling and stereoisomers of Scheduled chemicals presented in a paper in this volume of Pure and Applied Chemistry[105] provides such an example. The recommendations from this advice on how to recognize whether or not a chemical fits into one of the Schedules in the Convention’s Annex on Chemicals were incorporated into guidelines that one State Party provided to those involved in chemical research, production and trade, for declaration requirements under the Convention.

Advice on RCAs formulated by the SAB in a 2017 report [79] also lets States Parties voluntarily adopt recommendations. In this advice, a set of 60 chemicals identified as having been currently or historically deployed as RCAs, researched for use as an RCA, and/or recognized as having potential RCA applications, was reviewed. From the list of 60 chemicals, 17 were identified that meet the criteria of an RCA within the Convention.[4] Having such a list is valuable for policymakers, as the Convention requires that States Parties declare which RCAs they possess, yet it does not provide a list of chemicals that qualify as an RCA. The list of 43 chemicals found not to meet the criteria of an RCA is also informative as it identifies specific chemicals which may have at one time been used or considered for use as an RCA, but are now recognized using the criteria of the Convention as being unsuitable.

Science advice and science communication

For the advice to be useful and considered by those receiving it, communication and discussion with decision makers is of critical importance. For the SAB, this begins with remarks made in person by the OPCW Director-General during Board meetings [106], [107], which also provides a valuable opportunity for discussions between all Board members and the Director-General on topics of mutual interest. The publication of a response by the Director-General to reports of the SAB strengthens the science-policy dialogue and provides guidance to the Board. These responses are also informative for the States Parties, highlighting priority areas of the SAB’s work and its impact.

Engagement with the States Parties themselves is another important dimension of bringing science advice forward. The SAB holds briefings for States Parties alongside its regular sessions to provide updates on the work of the Board; briefings are also held for States Parties in various working groups, and the forums used to discuss treaty implementation. The SAB Chairperson addresses States Parties at their annual conference [108] and in 2014 the OPCW launched a “Science for Diplomats” initiative (Fig. 4) [109] to engage the diplomats in dialogue about the science underpinning the SAB’s advice and why it matters.

Fig. 4: The OPCW Science for Diplomats Initiative [109]. The Australian Ambassador to the Netherlands tasting wasabi (“activating his TRPA1 receptors”) during an explanation of how tear gas causes irritation (March 2017, top left). Delegations of States Parties of the Convention making ice cream by shaking ingredients and ice in zip-lock bags during a briefing on developments in chemical production (November 2017, top right). Taking a pH reading with a mini-drone and litmus paper, demonstrated to delegations as an example of making a measurement at a safe distance from a potentially hazardous chemical (October 2017, bottom left). Posters on which diplomats were asked to attach molecular models to the Schedules on which the chemicals fall under in the Convention’s Annex on Chemicals; the posters were combined with an augmented reality App to allow participants to check their answers [113], [114], [115] (July 2018, bottom right).

Fig. 4:

The OPCW Science for Diplomats Initiative [109]. The Australian Ambassador to the Netherlands tasting wasabi (“activating his TRPA1 receptors”) during an explanation of how tear gas causes irritation (March 2017, top left). Delegations of States Parties of the Convention making ice cream by shaking ingredients and ice in zip-lock bags during a briefing on developments in chemical production (November 2017, top right). Taking a pH reading with a mini-drone and litmus paper, demonstrated to delegations as an example of making a measurement at a safe distance from a potentially hazardous chemical (October 2017, bottom left). Posters on which diplomats were asked to attach molecular models to the Schedules on which the chemicals fall under in the Convention’s Annex on Chemicals; the posters were combined with an augmented reality App to allow participants to check their answers [113], [114], [115] (July 2018, bottom right).

The “Science for Diplomats” initiative has provided a forum where scientific concepts and principles can be explained and connected to the Convention. The briefings are designed as highly interactive events in an effort to engage and encourage the diplomats to ask questions and to view science not with suspicion but with interest and an open mind. As shown in Fig. 4, briefings have included wasabi tasting as part of the explanation of how riot control agents work through activation of TRPA1 receptors [110], [111], [112], mixing ingredients into a “disposable bio-reactor” (a plastic bag) to make ice-cream, flying a mini-drone to demonstrate “chemical analysis” while an inspector remains at a safe distance from the sampling site, and molecular models combined with an augmented reality app that allowed mobile device viewing of chemical structures as a “know your Schedules Quiz” [113], [114], [115].

It should be appreciated that scientific inputs represent just one of a multitude of considerations for policy-related decision making. While this can result in scientific advice and recommendations not always moving forward, science engagement with the policymakers ensures that their discussions are scientifically informed on pertinent issues, and serves to strengthen scientific literacy amongst them. The OPCW has actively expanded upon its scientific engagement since the Third Review Conference in 2013, demonstrating a commitment to the institutionalization of scientific literacy for the implementation of the Convention [116].

Reviewing science and technology: recommendations to a Review Conference

The next 5-yearly Review Conference, the fourth since entry-into-force of the Convention, is scheduled for November 2018, shortly after the publication of this paper. The SAB submitted its review on developments in science and technology, along with recommendations, in April 2018 [61], and the response by the Director-General was issued 2 months later, in June 2018 [117].

Throughout its history, chemistry has been a science of continual change, with the emergence of new and innovative technologies, as well as the repurposing of existing technologies for unanticipated new applications driving change. The technical skills and knowledge required for treaty implementation come not just from chemistry but also from across a trans-disciplinary and convergent scientific landscape. Given the pace of scientific advancement and the impact on the Convention, there is a need for continual review. This review must provide appraisal of potential benefits, as well as an understanding of potential risks. However, technological change is not easily controlled, and while some developments will generate security questions from their first appearance (yet may never be used to cause harm), other developments might not raise any concerns until they are unexpectedly used for harmful purposes.

With the above observations in mind, the SAB reviewed a range of trans-disciplinary scientific developments from a perspective of how these might provide opportunities for enhancement of existing, or enabling of new capabilities for the implementation of the Convention. The Board’s overall advice in regard to technological change was to take a practical approach on understanding capabilities that may be of interest to develop or evaluate, while recognizing where uncertainty might warrant continued acceptance, awareness, and monitoring.

Inputs to the SAB’s report came from work initiated in the lead up to the previous (Third) Review Conference in 2013 and the work of the Board in the period from 2013 to 2018. Contributions included relevant issues identified in SAB reports to previous Review Conferences [58], [59], [60], deliberations of the SAB during the regular Sessions of the Board from 2013 to 2018, deliberations of the TWGs that completed their terms of reference within 2013–2018 (as well as the first meeting of the TWG on Investigative Science and Technology [71]), a series of international workshops organized in 2016–2017, and responses to requests to the SAB for advice published from 2014 to 2017 (previously outlined in this paper), the participation of members of the SAB in scientific conferences and workshops, engagement with other scientific advisory mechanisms, a range of scientific literature and patents across diverse areas of relevance, and sharing of the individual expertise of the members of the Board.

In total 27 meetings and workshops were organized by the SAB and its TWGs. These had a combined participation of 747 (289 individuals from 58 States Parties), 32 reports were produced, and 453 presentations and briefings were received (from 201 individual speakers) [61]: a truly international science review.

The SAB’s report covers broad ground, with the executive summary encompassing eight topical areas (Fig. 5). These are: general trends and overview of recent scientific advances; advice on chemicals (including a recommendation for States Parties to review the Schedules); advances in chemical production and discovery (which include considerations relevant to the Convention’s chemical industry verification regime); advances in technologies for the delivery of toxic chemicals and drugs (which noted potential threats of small unmanned aerial vehicle technologies capable of carrying chemical payloads); science and technology relevant to verification (which expands on and provides new perspectives on the SAB’s 2015 advice on verification, particularly with regard to science and technology that might enhance capabilities of inspectors and laboratories for verification purposes [66]); assistance and protection; science and technology relevant to chemical safety and security; and scientific literacy and the provision of science advice [61].

Fig. 5: Topical areas of advice in the SAB report to the Fourth Review Conference [61].

Fig. 5:

Topical areas of advice in the SAB report to the Fourth Review Conference [61].

In his response to this report of the SAB, the OPCW Director-General encouraged States Parties to review the recommendations that could directly impact the policies developed for implementation of the Convention, particularly those concerned with the Schedules of the Annex on Chemicals and industry verification [117]. He also encouraged the States Parties to identify their own capability needs with regard to looking at the technologies described by the SAB, as there may be capability needs that could be addressed from the SAB’s advice; for example, in chemical safety and security applications [117].

As the Fourth Review Conference in November 2018 approaches, States Parties will be discussing the range of inputs that cover implementation of the Convention. The recommendations of the SAB are intended to provide them with insight on the scientific and technological dimensions of their deliberations. A working group of States Parties addressing future priorities published recommendations to the Fourth Review Conference in July 2018 [118]. Although this working group had begun drafting its report before the SAB report was published, the SAB had earlier this year presented views and findings to the group.

The working group recommendations included the consideration of a risk-based approach to verification, and the adoption of new technologies for use by inspectors, such as those identified by the SAB [118] (reflecting an agreement with some SAB recommendations). The working group report provides inputs from States Parties, but does not necessarily reflect a consensus amongst all the States Parties within the Convention. What it does show, is that at least some States Parties are including the SAB’s advice in their development of a vision of the OPCW’s future for the coming 5-year period, from November 2018 to November 2023.

Conclusions

The implementation of an international chemical weapons treaty cannot be effectively accomplished without strong scientific and technical expertise. This necessitates that the implementing body, the OPCW, engages with scientific expertise, and communities it can reach into, to stay abreast of scientific and technological change. An active discourse amongst scientific communities and an organization whose work focuses on disarmament and non-proliferation brings great benefits, providing access to technical expertise and knowledge, and building bridges between scientists from across the globe that will endure long into the future. In essence, this comprises science diplomacy to support a safer and more secure world.

As the OPCW and the States Parties of the Chemical Weapons Convention prepare for the future, it is important to realise that the Convention originated in the Cold War era, and that the mechanisms originally put into place were underpinned by issues of concern at that time. Since entry-into-force of the Convention in 1997, significant political, technological, social and economic changes have occurred. The Convention was drafted as a comprehensive treaty, intended to be a timeless instrument to counter the threat of chemical weapons. The recent decisions regarding threats posed by non-State Actors [16] and recent use of chemical weapons [17] illustrate the changing security environment that impacts the Convention, asking its States Parties to consider how they can use the tools within the Convention to respond to these changes. In addition to the security environment, challenges, whether real or perceived, also arise from scientific discoveries and developments, which will always be the case.

To implement a science-based treaty, it is critical to keep pace with scientific advancement, and seize upon enabling opportunities that these advances present to meet current and future challenges. Bringing scientific literacy into disarmament and non-proliferation requires continual engagement with scientific communities (for example, industry, academia, international unions such as IUPAC, and other learned societies), whether informal and ad hoc, or institutionalized as seen with the OPCW Designated Laboratories, the Validation Group, and the SAB. It is here that chemistry meets diplomacy, as scientific literacy cannot sit with scientists alone: the policymakers who must address scientifically-based disarmament and non-proliferation issues must also be adequately informed and have access to expert and impartial advisors. The upcoming Fourth Review Conference and the recommendations of the SAB clearly illustrate this need, a need that is only expected to increase as the world continues its evolution into an ever more complex technological future.

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank all of the members of the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board and its temporary working groups who served from 2013 to 2018 and provided inputs for the report to the Fourth Review Conference. All of these individuals helped the authors to develop the perspectives presented herein and we are grateful to them for their expert insights: Dr Pål Aas, Professor Mohammad Abdollahi, Dr Abdullah Al-Amri, Professor Isel Pascual Alonso, Professor Roberto Martínez-Álvarez, Professor Jan Apotheker, Dr Crister Åstot, Dr Khaldoun Bachari, Professor Mahdi Balali-Mood, Dr Augustin Baulig, Dr Renate Becker-Arnold, Professor Djafer Benachour, Dr Robin Black, Dr Veronica Borrett, Professor Flerida Cariño, Ms Hoe Chee Chua, Dr Philip Coleman, Dr Christophe Curty, Professor Vladimir Dimitrov, Dr Brigitte Dorner, Dr Devendra Kumar Dubey, Professor Temechgn Engida, Professor Roderick Flower, Dr Carlos Fraga, Dr Shuzo Fujiwara, Dr Michael Geist, Professor David Gonzalez, Professor Alastair Hay, Dr Jo Husbands, Mr William Kane, Dr Zrinka Kovarik, Mr Julius Kozma, Mr Hermann (Alex) Lampalzer, Professor Hua Li, Professor Peter Mahaffy, Dr Detlef Männig, Dr Robert Mathews, Mr Bimal Mehta, Dr Robert Mikulak, Dr Piers D. Millet, Mr Stefan Mogl, Dr Nicia Maria Fusaro Mourão, Dr Zafar-Uz-Zaman Muhammad, Professor Slawomir Neffe, Dr Evandro De Souza Nogueira, Dr Daan Noort, Dr William D. Provine, Mr Eric Pujol, Professor Ponnadurai Ramasami, Dr Syed Raza, Professor Syeda Sultana Razia, Mr Mehran Rouzbahani, Mr Valentin Rubaylo, Dr Per Runn, Professor Igor V. Rybalchenko, Professor Ahmed Saeed, Dr Yasuo Seto, Dr Maciej Sliwakowski, Ms Mui Tiang Sng, Dr Soon Ting-Kueh, Professor Alejandra Graciela Suárez, Dr Koji Takeuchi, Mr Cheng Tang, Professor Ferruccio Trifirò, Mr Francois Mauritz van Straten, Professor Paula Vanninen, Dr Rob Visser, Dr Slavica Vučinić, Ms Farhat Waqar, Dr Ed van Zalen, Professor Volodymyr Zaitsev, Dr Nan Zhang and Professor Mongia Said Zina. The authors also express their deep appreciation to Dr Brendan Whalen for a thorough review of the content of Fig. 3, and to Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü (OPCW Director-General 2010–2018) for supporting the Scientific Advisory Board, and its initiatives for enhanced interaction with States Parties, in the lead up to the publication of the SAB recommendations to the Fourth Review Conference, and for promoting its scientific work at international fora during his tenure.

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Published Online: 2018-09-24
Published in Print: 2018-10-25

©2018 IUPAC & De Gruyter. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. For more information, please visit: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/