Resurgence Of Chemical Weapons As Tools Of War

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FILE - In this Friday April 21, 2017 file photo, the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are seen in The Hague, Netherlands. The OPCW has been thrust once again into the international limelight by a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain and allegations of a chemical bombardment on the Syrian city of Douma. It is now attempting to investigate, but its experts have not yet been able to visit the scene. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

STRATEGIC EYE: A column on current affairs – relating to global issues.

OPCW Faces Challenges Of Tackling Non-State Actors And Use Of Certified Substances In Industries

By Ajey Lele & Nivedita Das Kundu@

Resurgence in the use of Chemical weapons has become one of the most challenging issues in the recent past.

The ongoing conflict in Syria demonstrates the constant use of chemical weapons.

The Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has undertaken this challenge head-on. Since, its inception during 1997, the OPCW is found to be working tirelessly towards addressing various threats involving chemical weapons without any prejudice.

The OPCW needs to be complimented for its efforts in addressing the Syrian threat at every level. Also, in order to support the efforts for greater international understanding with regard to the threat of chemical terrorism, the OPCW is engaging various stakeholders including counter-terrorism and chemical weapons experts.

However, the threat from chemical weapons is far from over. Accordingly one of the reports published by the Global Public Policy Institute from Germany that there have been at least 336 chemical weapons attacks over the course of the Syrian civil war – significantly more than has commonly been known.

Approximately, 90 percent of all confirmed attacks occurred after the infamous “red line” incident of August 2013. These findings are very scary and the OPCW is keeping a constant vigil on the situation in Syria.

FILE – This file image made from an AP video shows Syrians in protective suits and gas masks conduct a drill on how to treat casualties of a chemical weapons attack in Aleppo, Syria. Chemical weapons have killed hundreds of people since the start of Syria’s conflict, with the U.N. blaming four attacks on the Syrian government and a fourth on the Islamic State group. A suspected chemical weapons attack occurred over the weekend in the besieged rebel-held town of Douma that was subjected to a resumed government offensive for three days starting Saturday. (AP Photo via AP video, File)

Another pertinent issue has been the elevating level of crimes in the cyber-space. The recently attempted cyber-attack on the OPCW Headquarters’ network and information system, has been a wake-up call for member nations. It is high time that an example is set such that a fear of consequence is instilled among the perpetrators of crime. It is pertinent to strengthen the resilience of the international institutions in the digital domain to restore faith in global organizations.

There is a need to draw attention on the work of scientists, recently, one Indian scientist, who has researched, patented and published research which establishes that though Ricin is known to be dermally inactive to cause any toxicity, it does affect the growth of hair follicles by inducing dystrophy, suggesting its therapeutic potential in dermatology.

Though Ricin is under early stages of clinical development as a pharmaceutical drug, a proof-of-concept of this technology is already in the market as clinically tested herbal cosmetic product with castor bean extract as the active ingredient.

Additionally, scientists around the world have been exploring its use as an “immunotoxin”—a substance that can assist the immune system by killing only dangerous cells. More research on this subject could tell us about Ricin’s effectiveness to treat patients suffering from colon-cancer, lymphoma and leukaemia.

However, as Ricin is classified as a Schedule 1 substance in Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) as a ‘placeholder’ for protein toxins, the technological and commercial exploitation of this opportunity for peaceful therapeutic purposes is challenging. This issues needs a debate.

Botulinum toxin is a torch bearer for de-glamorizing potential bio-crime agents into successful therapeutic agents with huge economic impact.

OPCW’s efforts to find solution to such challenges is remarkable, OPCW conducts various workshops for addressing the challenges faced due to the non-state actors misusing chemicals and assisting countries in formulating plans to implement the CWC are praiseworthy.

The CWC and OPCW have greatly contributed to norm building against chemical weapons and they would continue to do so. However, there are several key issues that will need to be discussed, and strategies for arms control and chemical weapons destruction that need to be evaluated and reassessed.

The war in Syria is just one way in which the modern chemical threat has reinvented itself, and today more than ever, nation states need to be aware of the dangers of negligence. Moreover, achieving total demilitarization has proved difficult in the past, and remains a challenge.

Without collaborative efforts, these challenges cannot be mitigated, as States would need to put aside their suspicions for the sake of countering such emergent threats together. OPCW should be able to redefine its purpose owing to changing geopolitical realities.

  The OPCW has an interest in developing a culture of prevention. This is possible when the policymakers, the scientific community, non-governmental organizations and the chemical industry work together.

Rightfully so, in this regard, the focus of the OPCW has been on education, outreach, international cooperation and training.  Also, considerable efforts go into regional and national capacity-building in areas such as emergency response, forensics, and designing and implementing security and safety practices for chemical laboratories.

The chemical industry has been an integral part of the global economy for long.

During the last few years, the chemical industry’s total contribution to global GDP has been equivalent to approximately six to seven percent of the world’s total GDP per year.

The expanse of this industry is almost global.  Obviously, safety and security becomes an issue of paramount importance for this industry.

For long, the issue of “Human Reliability” is being discussed mainly in the context of the nuclear, aviation and petroleum industries. This is essentially because such industrial sectors demand high standards of safety. However, the rapidly growing chemical industry in the era of Industry 4.0 also needs to be proactive in reducing the possibilities of any chemical mishap.

In this Monday, April 16, 2018 photo, man walks just meters away from where the alleged chemical weapons attack occurred in the town of Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack, near Damascus, Syria. The survivors blamed the attack on the Army of Islam, the powerful rebel group that controlled the town before it was taken over by Syrian government forces this week, although they did not offer evidence to back up their claims. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

At this backdrop, there is a need to address possible inherent risks of human behaviour or actions or inactions that introduce errors in the operation of a system or process.

Human factors can either positively or negatively affect the performance in a workplace. Although, human errors can be minimized through education and training programmes, there are some human actions which could be called as insider actions, these could be intentional, to compromise the safety and security at the workplace due to ideological, economic, political or personal motivations.

For this purpose there is a need for a Human Reliability Programme (HRP) which could ensure that individuals who occupy positions with access to critical assets and operations meet the highest standards so that they adhere to safety and security rules and regulations, ensure confidence in individuals based on their character and their physical and mental stability.

Over the years, OPCW have indeed come a long way since the Convention was opened for signature in 1993. But still there much to do, especially looking into the challenges today of chemical weapons use.  The CWC and the OPCW have greatly contributed to norm-building against chemical weapons and they would continue to do so.

@Ajey Lele, Ph.D &  Nivedita Das Kundu, Ph.D,  Subject experts and participant of Conference of State Parties (CSP) 24, Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, The Hague, Netherlands

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