Preserving the norm against chemical weapons: A civil society initiative for the 2018 4th review conference of the chemical weapons convention

Peer-reviewed paper by Michael Crowley, Lijun Shang, Malcolm Dando
Published on 15 March 2018


  • The norm of non-use of chemical weapons is embodied in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
  • The norm is threatened by the use of chemical weapons and by advances in science that could be used to develop new weapons.
  • A non-government initiative aimed at helping to strengthen the CWC at the 2018 Review Conference is described.


Acceleration of the applications of cutting edge science is often most likely in situations involving conflict and warfare between different groups. That is the focus of this paper. It asks what we know of the past, present and possible future applications of advances in our understanding of the brain in the development of chemical weapons, and what might best be done to moderate the most dangerous aspects of that process at the present time, particularly by members of civil society. The paper therefore begins by examining this possibility of hostile manipulation of the brain in some detail. It then briefly reviews the current state of the chemical and biological arms control and disarmament regime as embodied in the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) following the 2016 8th Five Year Review Conference of the BTWC and in the lead up to the 2018 4th Five Year Review Conference of the CWC. Finally, our civil society initiative to assist in achieving a successful outcome of the 2018 CWC Review Conference is described. This initiative involves the production of a multi-authored edited book, to be published in advance of the Review Conference by the UK Royal Society of Chemistry that explores many of the critical issues facing the CWC States Parties as they seek to agree effective measures to prevent the development and use of chemical weapons, as the life and chemical sciences advance.

This paper was published in a Special Issue of Futures edited by Dr Adrian Currie, which collected many papers which were originally presented at our first 2016 Cambridge Conference on Catastrophic Risk in 2016.

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