Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Past as Prologue? The Risk of Adoption of Chemical and Biological Weapons by Non-State Actors in the EU

  • James REVILL

Abstract

There have been relatively few serious incidents of chemical or biological terrorism in Europe; however, there is growing concern over how non-state groups might exploit chemistry and biology for hostile purposes in the future. This article uses the historical record of past incidents of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) adoption by non-state actors to inform understandings of the current and future risks. To achieve this, the article analyses six interlinked clusters of factors that can be seen as important in assessing the risk of whether or not to adopt such weapons. These are: the perceived relative advantage of CBW and their utilities; the complexity of such weapons; their ideological compatibility; the role of organisational structures; the visibility and ‘fashionability’ of such weapons; and the wider environmental context. Drawing from past cases of CBW adoption and the present European context, an analysis of these factors suggests that sophisticated CBW with gigantic effect are possible, but unlikely; however, the adoption and use of scruffy low-level chemical weapons is a distinct possibility. Accordingly, European public health agencies need to prepare for the possibility of a variety of CBW, not all of which are likely to be weapons of “mass destruction”.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Past as Prologue? The Risk of Adoption of Chemical and Biological Weapons by Non-State Actors in the EU
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Past as Prologue? The Risk of Adoption of Chemical and Biological Weapons by Non-State Actors in the EU
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Past as Prologue? The Risk of Adoption of Chemical and Biological Weapons by Non-State Actors in the EU
      Available formats
      ×

Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Footnotes

Hide All
*

The author would like to thank Julian Perry Robinson and Caitríona McLeish of the Harvard Sussex Program and Hylke Dijkstra and Anniek de Ruijter for their comments on, and discussions around, earlier drafts of this paper. Thanks too go to Gary Ackerman and Markus Binder for additional insights pertaining to CB incidents; and Jeremy Littlewood for early conceptual conversations around this topic. The author would also like to thank the anonymous reviewer for their comments and suggestions which have also helped strengthen the paper. This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council grant ES/L014505/1 on Data Capture of Syria Chemical Weapons Allegations; and Economic and Social Research Council grant ES/K011324/1 on Strategic Governance of Science and Technology Pathways to Security. Data citation is included in the references and the body text of the paper.

Footnotes

References

Hide All

1 B Gates, “Speech by Bill Gates at the 53rd Munich Security Conference”, 53rd Munich Security Conference (Munich Security Conference Foundation, 2017).

2 Sweden, “Statement at the 84th Session of the Executive Council”, Eighty-Fourth Session of the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW, 2017).

3 Germany, “General Statement”, Eighth Review Conference of the States Parties to the BTWC (UN Office in Geneva 2016).

4 Malta on Behalf of the EU, “Statement on Behalf Of The European Union Delivered by H.E. Ambassador Joseph Cole Permanent Representative of The Republic of Malta”, 84th Session Of The Executive Council of the OPCW (OPCW, 2017).

5 Dolnik, A, Understanding Terrorist Innovation: Technology, Tactics and Global Trends (Routledge, 2009) and Crenshaw, M, “An Organizational Approach to the Analysis of Political Terrorism” (1985) 29 Orbis 465 .

6 Horowitz, MC, “Nonstate Actors and the Diffusion of Innovations: The Case of Suicide Terrorism” (2010) 64(4) International Organization 33 .

7 Rogers, EM, “Diffusion of Preventive Innovations” (2002) 27 Addictive Behaviors 989 , available at <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12369480>.

8 Crenshaw, supra, note 5.

9 Ackerman, GA and Pinson, LE, “An Army of One: Assessing CBRN Pursuit and Use by Lone Wolves and Autonomous Cells” (2014) 26 Terrorism and Political Violence 226 , available at <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09546553.2014.849945>.

10 Jackson, BA and Frelinger, DR, “Rifling through the Terrorists’ Arsenal: Exploring Groups’ Weapon Choices and Technology Strategies” (2008) 31 Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 583 .

11 MJ Rasmussen, “Terrorist Innovations in Weapons of Mass Effect: Preconditions, Causes, and Predictive Indicators” (Workshop Report, August 2010), available at <http://calhoun.nps.edu/bitstream/handle/10945/25358/2010_019_Terrorist_WME.pdf?sequence=1>.

12 Dolnik, supra, note 5.

13 Rasmussen, supra, note 11, 9.

14 Horowitz, supra, note 6, 33–64.

15 J Perry Robinson, “Gaps and Lies in Information on the Ghouta Event” Harvard Sussex Program, Syria Workshop Paper (March 2016).

16 See for example Robinson, J, Guillemin, J and Meselson, M, “Yellow Rain: The Story Collapses” (2016) 68 Foreign Policy 100 ; Geissler, E and Sprinkle, RH, “Disinformation Squared” (2013) 32 Politics and the Life Sciences 2 ; Leitenberg, M, Zilinskas, RA and Kuhn, JH, The Soviet Biological Weapons Program: A History (Harvard University Press, 2012) 411 ; M Leitenberg, “China’s False Allegations of the Use of Biological Weapons by the United States during the Korean War” (Cold War International History Project, Working Paper 78, 2016) 78.

17 JPP Robinson, “Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria”, Harvard Sussex Program Occasional Paper 4 (26 June 2013), available at <http://www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/spru/hsp/occasional papers/HSPOP_4.pdf>.

18 Rogers, EM, “Attributes of Innovations and Their Rate of Adoption” in EM Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 4th edn (The Free Press, 1995) 216 .

19 G Ackerman, ‘Appendix III: Understanding Terrorist Innovation through the Broader Innovation Context’ in Rasmussen, supra, note 11.

20 US Dept of Justice, “Report to Congress on the Extent and Effects of Domestic and International Terrorism on Animal Enterprises” (1993) 27.

21 WS Carus, “Bioterrorism and Biocrimes: The Illicit Use of Biological Agents Since 1900” (Centre for Counterproloferation Research, National Defense University, Washington DC, February 2001 Revision).

22 Carus, supra, note 21.

23 A Welch, “Iraq – The Evolution of the IED” (2008) Autumn CBRNe World 12.

24 Supra, note 20.

25 J Tucker (ed.), Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons (MIT Press, 2000) 250.

26 JV Parachini, “The Weather Underground” in Tucker, supra, note 25, 43.

27 Trend News Agency, “Czech Republic’s First Gay Pride Parade Attacked by Rightwingers” (2008) 15 Trend News Agency, available at <http://en.trend.az/world/other/1234372.html>.

28 “Woman Tried to Poison Mother in Plot Inspired by Breaking Bad, Court Told” The Guardian (2014).

29 C Doyle, “Bond v. United States: Validity and Construction of the Federal Chemical Weapons Statute”, CRS report for Congress (2014) <https://fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/R42968.pdf>.

30 Carus, supra, note 21.

31 “Poison Plotters Jailed” Manchester Evening News (12 January 2013), available at <http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/poison-plotters-jailed-941042>; see also D Ward, “Nationalist Denies Sending Caustic Soda through Post” The Guardian (8 January 2008).

32 AA Nehorayoff, B Ash and DS Smith, “Aum Shinrikyo’s Nuclear and Chemical Weapons Development Efforts” (2016) 9(1) Journal of Strategic Security 35.

33 Tucker, supra, note 25, 250.

34 M Healy, “FBI Probing Acid Attacks at Abortion Clinics” Los Angeles Times (19 July 1998).

35 CNS, “Chronology of CBW Incidents Targeting Agriculture 1915–2008” (2008).

36 CIA Directorate of Intelligence, “Tuzla, Bosnia and Hercegovina: A Review of the Geographical Realities”, Intelligence Memorandum. Office of Trade, Resources and Technology (7 July 1992).

37 J Revill, C McLeish and JP Robinson, “Case Study on Chemical and Biological Weapons”, Project on Strategic Governance of Science and Technology (under review 2015).

38 Gill, P and others, “Malevolent Creativity in Terrorist Organizations” (2013) 47 Journal of Creative Behavior 125 .

39 Europol, TE-SAT 2016, “European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2016”, doi:10.2813/525171; see also Gill, supra, note 38, 133.

40 Rasmussen, supra, note 11.

41 Rogers, supra, note 18, 242.

42 Dolnik, supra, note 5.

43 Cragin, K and others, “Sharing the Dragon’s Teeth Terrorist Groups and the Exchange of New Technologies” (RAND Corporation, 2007).

44 Revill, J, Improvised Explosive Devices – The Paradigmatic Weapon of New Wars (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

45 Welch, supra, note 23, 12–13.

46 “From 1993 to 1995, for example, Serbian forces launched six attacks on a Petrochemia facility near Kutina, Croatia, that stored large quantities of anhydrous ammonia as well as a variety of other potentially hazardous chemicals; these attacks involved rockets, bombs, artillery, and mortars”: Karasik, T, Toxic Warfare (RAND Project Air Force, 2002).

47 See for example the cases of food poisoning reported, although not confirmed, H Mohtadi and A Murshid, “A Global Chronology of Incidents of Chemical, Biological, Radioactive and Nuclear Attacks: 1950–2005” (7 July 2006), available at <https://people.uwm.edu/mohtadi/files/2016/07/A-Global-Chronology-of-Incidents-of-Chemical-Biological-and-Radionuclear-Attacks.doc-1u8sbvu.pdf>.

48 Kuntal Patel poisoning her “controlling” mother in law via a soft drink, supra, note 28.

49 See for example the case of the Minesota Patriots in N Khardori, Potential Agents of Bioterrorism: Historical Perspective and an Overview (2006) and Carus, supra, note 21.

50 See for example: the 2014 Kuntal Patel case of Coke poisoning; the 1984 Rajneesh cult poisoning of salad bars; Steven Robinsons’ contamination of Vladivar vodka in 2007; the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) plan to contaminate bottles of Lucozade in 1991; or the threatened – not undertaken – contamination of Coca-Cola and Nestlé products with hydrochloric acid by the Informal Anarchist Federation.

51 For example, in the 1960s the “Provos”, the Dutch counter-culture revolutionaries, threatened to disseminate LSD in the Dutch water system: Kempton, R, Provo: Amsterdam’s Anarchist Revolt (New York, Autonomedia, 2007).

52 As much is explicitly recognised in Anders Breivik’s manifesto, which suggests the use of anthrax requires “extensive practical knowledge, training, and highly advanced equipment”.

53 Revill, Mcleish and Robinson, supra, note 27.

54 SIPRI, The Prevention of CBW. The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare: Volume V (SIPRI, in association with Oxford University Press, 1971).

55 Kirby, RD, The Sergeant: A Biological Missile (Eximdyne, 2014).

56 Danzig, R and others, Aum Shinrikyo: Insights Into How Terrorists Develop Biological and Chemical Weapons, 2nd edn (Center for a New American Security, 2012), available at <http://www.cnas.org/files/documents/publications/CNAS_AumShinrikyo_SecondEdition_English.pdf>; Leitenberg, M, “Aum Shinrikyo’s Efforts to Produce Biological Weapons: A Case Study in the Serial Propagation of Misinformation” (1999) 11 Terrorism and Political Violence 149 .

57 This remains a controversial conclusion of the FBI investigation which remains unproved in a court of law as Ivins took his life before trial.

58 Epstein, Derek Cummings, Chakravarty, Shubha, Singa, Ramesh, and Burke J, Donald, Toward a Containment Strategy for Smallpox Bioterror: An Individual-Based Computational Approach (Brookings Institution Press, 2004).

59 In 2016, according to the DIY-bio website there are some 88 DIY bio groups, with 6 in Canada, 36 in the US, 6 in Latin America, 29 in Europe, 7 in Asia and 4 in Oceana. The DIYbio Google group has 4,665 members.

60 305 teams registered with 300 remaining in the 2016 Internationally Genetic Engineering Machines competition.

61 Immenkamp, Beatrix. “ISIL/Da’esh and ‘Non-Conventional’ Weapons of Terror,” 2015. <http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2015/572806/EPRS_BRI(2015)572806_EN.pdf>.

62 See Vogel, K, “Bioweapons Proliferation: Where Science Studies and Public Policy Collide” (2006) 36 Social Studies of Science 659 ; Revill, J and Jefferson, C, “Tacit Knowledge and the Biological Weapons Regime” (2014) 41 Science and Public Policy 597 .

63 DM Gerstein, “Can the Bioweapons Convention Survive Crispr?” (2016) Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 25 July 2016, available at http://thebulletin.org/can-bioweapons-convention-survive-crispr9679.

64 S Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, “Barriers to Bioweapons : Intangible Obstacles to Proliferation Barriers to Bioweapons” (2012) 36 International Security 80 .

65 Robinson, JP, “Near-Term Development of the Governance Regime for Biological and Chemical Weapons” (Science & Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex, 2006).

66 See J Revill and others, “Biosecurity Education: Surveys from Europe and Japan”, Inter Academy Panel Workshop on Promoting Education on Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences (2009).

67 OPCW, “The Hague Ethical Guidelines” (2016), available at <https://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/Science_Technology/Hague_Ethical_Guidelines_Brochure.pdf>.

68 Moghadam, A, “How Al Qaeda Innovates” (2013) 22 Security Studies 466 ,

available at <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09636412.2013.816123>.

69 G Ackerman, “Appendix III’ in Rasmussen, supra, note 11.

70 Price, RM, The Chemical Weapons Taboo (Cornell University Press, 1997); Jefferson, C, “The Taboo of Chemical and Biological Weapons: Nature, Norms and International Law” (University of Sussex, 2009).

71 J Littlewood, “How Norms Breakdown: Can Chemical and Biological Weapons Become Accepted?” ISA conference paper (2016).

72 R Guthrie, as quoted in E Graham-Harrison, “Chemical weapons attacks in Syria may normalise war crimes, experts warn”, The Guardian (11 August 2016).

73 Beatrix Immenkamp, “ISIL/Da’esh and ‘Non-Conventional’ Weapons of Terror” (2015), available at <http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2015/572806/EPRS_BRI(2015)572806_EN.pdf>.

74 Zanders, JP, “International Norms against Chemical and Biological Warfare: An Ambiguous Legacy” (2003) 8 Journal of Conflict and Security Law 391 .

75 Horowitz, supra, note 6, 33; Rasmussen, supra, note 11.

76 Kollars, NA and Bristert, PD, “The Terrorists That Couldn’t: Seeing Terrorist Innovation as a Risky Venture” (2014) 8 The Homeland Security Review 199 .

77 Revill, supra, note 44.

78 Nehorayof, Ash and Smith, supra, note 32.

79 Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd “Al Qaeda branch calls for new attacks against United States” CNN (5 August 2015).

80 C Ellis and others, “Lone-Actor Terrorism: Final Report” (2016), available at <https://rusi.org/publication/occasional-papers/lone-actor-terrorism-final-report>.

81 R Callimachi, “Not ‘Lone Wolves’ After All: How ISIS Guides World’s Terror Plots From Afar” The New York Times (4 February 2017), available at <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/04/world/asia/isis-messaging-app-terror-plot.html?_r=0>.

82 Ellis and others, supra, note 80.

83 J Burke, “The Myth of the ‘lone Wolf’ Terrorist” The Guardian (30 March 2017), available at <https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/mar/30/myth-lone-wolf-terrorist>.

84 Callimachi, supra, note 81.

85 M Leitenberg, “Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat”, Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) Monograph (2005).

86 Moghadam, supra, note 68.

87 Gill and others, supra, note 38.

88 Brown, S, “Man Who Bought Ricin Dealt in ‘death’, Prosecutors SayNew York Daily News (2015); supra, note 28; Stanton, S and Walsh, D, “Inspired by ‘Breaking Bad,’ Carmichael man turned to Internet poison salesThe Sacremento Bee (2016); Nelson, D, “Iowa man gets 35 years for ‘Breaking Bad’ ricin murder plot”, News 10 ABC (2016).

89 FBI, “FBI Warns Against Anthrax Hoaxes Recent National Press Releases” (Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 2001), available at <https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-warns-against-anthrax-hoaxes>.

90 J Welsh, “A Comparative Exploration of Acid Attack Violence”, Center for Global on International Health, Carolina Papers on International Health No 32 (2009).

91 Syrian American Medical Society, “A New Normal – Ongoing Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria” (2016).

92 OPCW/UN, “Third Report of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism” (2016); and OPCW/UN, 2016. Fourth report of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism.

93 Marea, Aleppo governorate, 21 August 2015. OPCW/UN, “Third Report of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism” (2016) p. 14.

94 France, “Allegations of Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria since 2012” (2017), available at <http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/170425_-_national_evaluation_annex_-_anglais_-_final_1_cle8211fe.pdf>.

95 Kollars and Bristert, supra, note 76.

96 Rogers, supra, note 7.

97 G Ackerman, “Appendix III’ in Rasmussen, supra, note 11.

98 See also Cragin, who argues that groups will seek to “test drive” a technology before committing to adopt can provide significant information and reduce adoption risks”: Cragin, K and others, “Sharing the Dragon’s Teeth Terrorist Groups and the Exchange of New Technologies” (RAND Corporation, 2007).

99 “Kibalchich [Narodnaya Volya] tested his explosive devices in the forest along the Russian/Finnish border; the [IRA] developed bombs in secluded locations away from the border, presumably in part to be able to test devices; and Marwan Kreeshat trialled his altimeter bomb in the mountains in Germany”; Revill, supra, note 44.

100 Nehorayof, Ash and Smith, supra, note 32.

101 Danzig, supra, note 56.

102 Carus in Tucker, supra, note 25.

103 See European Commission, “European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations” (EU/ECHO, 2016) <http://ec.europa.eu/echo/funding-evaluations/financing-civil-protection-europe/selected-projects_en>; see also Council of the European Union, “Council Conclusions on Strengthening Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Security in the European Union – an EU CBRN Action Plan” (2009).

104 Rasmussen, supra, note 11, 33; Ackerman has certainly illustrated this point in relation to the development of IRA mortars as a response to the fortification of key targets: see Ackerman, G, “The Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Development of Mortars” (2016) 9 Journal of Strategic Security 12 ,

available at <http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/jss/vol9/iss1/4/> 14.

105 Eden Consortium, “EDEN Project”, see <https://eden-security-fp7.eu/eden,id,11,about.html>.

106 European Commission, “European Commission Early Warning and Rapid Alert Systems in the Field of Health Threats” (European Commission Public Health, 2017), available at <https://ec.europa.eu/health/preparedness_response/generic_preparedness/planning/rapid_alert_en>.

107 Supra, note 39.

108 Revill, supra, note 44.

109 Tucker, JB, “The Future of Chemical Weapons” (2010) The New Atlantis 3 .

110 Karasik, supra, note 46.

111 Supra, note 39.

112 Sibylle Bauer and A Wetter, “Comparing Sanctions and Prosecutions Related to Export Control Violations in the EU” (UK Quadripartite Select Committee, 2007).

* The author would like to thank Julian Perry Robinson and Caitríona McLeish of the Harvard Sussex Program and Hylke Dijkstra and Anniek de Ruijter for their comments on, and discussions around, earlier drafts of this paper. Thanks too go to Gary Ackerman and Markus Binder for additional insights pertaining to CB incidents; and Jeremy Littlewood for early conceptual conversations around this topic. The author would also like to thank the anonymous reviewer for their comments and suggestions which have also helped strengthen the paper. This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council grant ES/L014505/1 on Data Capture of Syria Chemical Weapons Allegations; and Economic and Social Research Council grant ES/K011324/1 on Strategic Governance of Science and Technology Pathways to Security. Data citation is included in the references and the body text of the paper.

Past as Prologue? The Risk of Adoption of Chemical and Biological Weapons by Non-State Actors in the EU

  • James REVILL

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed