You are here

Chemistry and Diplomacy: Science Education and Science Communication in Disarmament


Jonathan Forman,
Science Policy Adviser, Office of Strategy and Policy,
Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons


Science plays a critical role in international disarmament policy and diplomacy; it informs negotiation of international agreements and underpins the key provisions that define the mechanisms of treaty implementation.   From an outside view, the world of international disarmament appears to be driven by diplomats and policy makers, not scientific experts; yet, to be effective, disarmament treaties require a sound science and policymaker partnership.   Such a partnership must overcome challenges to communication and trust (much like the partnerships between States Parties to international treaties), begging the question, how can this work?   It requires clear science communication and engagement between the two perspectives – scientists providing analytical thinking and technical assessments to policy makers, who in turn provide global perspectives on the role and need for science in their work.

Exemplifying the need for scientific (and specifically chemistry) expertise in diplomacy is the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), an international disarmament treaty that completely prohibits an entire class of weapons of mass destruction.   The implementing body for the CWC, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), bridges the gap between policy makers and scientific experts through its scientific advisory board and a variety of science communication initiatives.   Initiatives that include “Science for Diplomats” briefings and informal science and technology newsletters that are both accessible to non-technical audiences and provide useful links to informative technical publications.   We describe here the role of science in disarmament and look at materials and resources made available to scientific and diplomatic communities alike through the OPCW website (Figure 1).

Figure 1:  Online resources available from and OPCW social media accounts; this figure is interactive with hyperlinks to the indicated materials and information.


History is rich with examples of “game-changing” scientific discoveries with both positive and negative societal and political impact.  Science brings forward beneficial changes to the way we live and work; technological advances provide opportunities for economic development; and in a world concerned about sustainability, climate change, and supporting a planet with more than seven billion human inhabitants - advice requiring inputs from scientific experts, has never been more important.  Studying science on its own, however, may not be enough to prepare an individual to effectively bring their scientific expertise into the realm of policy and world affairs – an effort that requires understanding and awareness of policy needs and consequences of science, and the ability to effectively communicate science to decision makers (whose educational backgrounds and experience are likely to lie outside of scientific disciplines).1

Looking across the broad spectrum of policy and diplomacy with strong scientific dimensions, international efforts for the disarmament of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) nicely highlight the critical need for scientific expertise in an international political endeavor.  Disarmament provides examples of the intersection of science and diplomacy that might prompt science students to explore how the subject they study finds its way into global initiatives.  Disarmament lends itself to introducing students to the intricacies and nuances of effectively informing and communicating science to decision makers; people who must balance a complex set of technical and non-technical inputs in their work (and students will inadvertently be exposed to similar circumstances in their post-educational work experiences, regardless of the sector in which they build professional careers).  In this regard, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC),2 an international disarmament treaty banning chemical weapons, could serve as a subject matter example; perhaps inspiring chemistry students to consider using their scientific training to bring technical insight into the realm of policy and diplomacy.



The Chemical Weapons Convention and the OPCW


Opened for signature in 1993, the CWC entered into force on April 29, 1997, with eighty-seven States Parties (The nations supporting the treaty); today there are 192 States Parties, the most recent being Angola, as of 16 October 2015 (see Figure 2).  Along with the CWC, there are two other widely recognized (and in-force) international treaties regulating disarmament and nonproliferation of WMDs, these being the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT, 191 States Parties)3 and the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC, 173 States Parties).4


Figure 2:  States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.   As of 16 October 2015, four states remain not party to the CWC:  Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, Israel (signed, but not ratified) and South Sudan.

The CWC was designed to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction by prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer, or use of chemical weapons by States Parties; all under strict international verification. The States Parties are obligated to enforce this prohibition within their jurisdiction, including destroying chemical weapon stockpiles that they possess. Implementation revolves around a verification regime, agreed to by the States Parties, that allows international chemical weapons inspectors to verify the destruction of military stockpiles and to inspect chemical production facilities (including commercial facilities) meeting certain criteria within their territories.  Can you imagine international chemical weapons inspectors visiting the very same commercial chemical production facilities where some of today’s chemistry students might ultimately find employment?  This actually happens, with the consent of the governments of the territories where such facilities are located, across the States Parties.  In 2014 nearly 3000 days of chemical weapons inspector time was spent visiting industrial facilities!5  The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the recipient of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize "for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons",6 oversees this verification mechanism as the implementing body for the CWC.

There are four areas of focus in CWC implementation as illustrated in Figure 3: destruction of chemical weapons; non-proliferation and the prevention of re-emergence of chemical weapons (this includes verification activities such as declarations, inspections and investigations); capacity building and training in assistance and protection; and promoting international cooperation in the peaceful use of chemistry for economic and technological development (implemented through a series of capacity building programmes7).  All of these focal areas require that the science of chemistry be an integral part of treaty implementation.  A requirement that demands the OPCW interact with the greater chemistry community; place priority on education and engagement to raise awareness of its work and the contributions both from and to science in chemical disarmament; and a requirement for scientific experts within the OPCW to effectively engage policy makers on technical subject matter.


Figure 3:  Areas of focus for the OPCW in the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.


Science and the CWC

Treaties like the CWC, the NPT and the BWC are underpinned by science and technology.  Scientific principles directly inform definitions of classes and categories of weapons; as well as the governing mechanisms and verification of compliance, inspection, and assistance and protection. Science likewise played a key role in treaty negotiation, providing a technical basis on which to build policy.  Furthermore, technical experts are necessary to define methods of disarmament and oversight, and to provide scientific recommendations for technical aspects of cooperative agreements and assistance measures.  Despite this basis in science, science and disarmament are often seen to be in opposition. From a security perspective, scientific and technological advancement generates concerns about “dual-use”;8 concerns that can overshadow the consideration of potential benefits.  Multidisciplinary scientific development (a common and beneficial practice amongst scientists) has led to concerns of potential challenges to treaty implementation policies which might be based on traditional viewpoints of what does or does not fall under a specific scientific discipline (e.g., the “convergence” of chemistry and biology9).  Even scientific collaborations, which when focused on peaceful uses of chemistry support the norms of treaty implementation (see Figure 3), generate security concerns due to proliferation of technical knowledge with misuse potential.  With scientific and technological developments occurring at a pace that leaves laws, regulations, and treaties lagging behind,10 there will almost certainly continue to be tensions between science and disarmament related security perspectives.

In the world of chemical weapons disarmament, such tensions (and the potential for distrust of science) are further fueled by recent reports of the use of chemical agents in Syria and Iraq; the commemoration of the first large scale use of chemicals weapons, one-hundred years ago in World War One11 (under the supervision of chemist and Nobel Laureate Fritz Haber12); the legacy of old and abandoned chemical weapons from long gone military programmes;13 reminders of how the first nerve agents were developed from research on pesticides,14 and how the first chemotherapy agents were discovered by examining the victims of mustard agent exposure15 (in this case, perhaps an example of a reverse dual-use discovery).

On the other hand, for a science based treaty that promotes scientific cooperation to build trust between States Parties (“science diplomacy”), scientific development and practices also provide opportunities to adopt new methods for and support the norms of treaty implementation.16  Given these considerations and science-security tensions, how does a disarmament focused organization effectively use science advice and engage scientists?

To ensure the availability of scientific advice, CWC Article VIII explicitly states that there is a need to “review scientific and technological developments that could affect the operation of this Convention”.17 The OPCW addresses this need through its Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), an independent body of twenty-five scientific experts nominated by States Parties and appointed by the Director-General, to render specialized advice on science and technology (see Figure 4).18  The SAB meets once to twice a year and has held twenty-two meetings since 1998, the most recent in June 2015.

The technical experts of the SAB are called upon to provide advice to policy makers.  Reports of the SAB meetings (the most recent from June 201520) are written in a manner that makes their proceedings accessible and understandable to these policy makers; while at the same time, the considerations and questions addressed by the SAB require researching and compiling substantive scientific information and evaluating scientific conclusions (recent examples include reports on medical treatments for blister and nerve agent exposure,21, 22 fact-sheets on the toxins ricin23 and saxitoxin24, and advice on chemicals that meet the definition of a riot control agent25). 


Figure 4:  The OPCW Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) in 2015.19


Ultimately, the effectiveness of the SAB lies in its ability to communicate – to take complex scientific information and present it to policy makers clearly enough to inform their policy decisions.  Likewise, when policy makers need sound technical advice, they need to ask sound technical questions of the SAB.  To help facilitate this communication, the chairperson of the SAB holds briefings to States Parties,26 where technical recommendations and findings of the SAB can be explained and discussed.

In effect, the ability to translate scientific and technical conclusions into information that can be used to inform and guide policy is the most critical aspect of providing science advice.27  Examples of this translation in the context of the CWC can be found in the SABs report on developments of science and technology to a Review Conference of the CWC held in 201328 and the response to this report from the OPCW Director-General.29


Education and Engagement

Reports from the SAB30 and documents related to their work31 are readily available.  Reviewing such materials, however, might suggest a highly specialized Board and conversation; with perhaps little accessibility or familiarity to the subject matter for those outside CWC circles (this is really no different from a diplomat reading a paper in a peer-reviewed scientific journal).  Such materials, while informative in regard to the scientific issues of relevance to the OPCW, may not be ideal for engaging broader communities of scientists and non-scientists alike.  To facilitate awareness raising about chemical disarmament and chemical safety and security issues into broader communities, the OPCW engages in social media and makes a number of publications available through its website, (see Figure 1).  The OPCWs efforts in education and outreach have been further supported through advice and activities from an SAB working group that met from 2012 to 2014.32

Just as other international organisations, along with governments and world leaders have embraced social media (especially Twitter)33, 34 for engaging with the wider world (and one another) – the OPCW maintains a social media presence through which it provide updates on its work, makes available informational (and educational) materials and engages with its stakeholders and the general public.  OPCW social media accounts are provided in Figure 1. 

To further support awareness raising activities, OPCW produces publications intended to be accessible to broader audiences (Figure 5).  Three of these publications may hold interest to those who study and teach chemistry.

The first is a series of Fact Sheets that cover historical, procedural, and some technical aspects of the work of the OPCW (top of Figure 5).35


The second, the OPCW Today (bottom of Figure 5) is an in-house periodical with articles contributed by OPCW staff and outside experts.36 The August 2014 edition is notable as the first issue of OPCW Today to be dedicated to science and technology,37  containing articles that highlight science in the work of the OPCW and technical papers that include a review of the chemistry of chemical weapon destruction38 and the chemistry used in the analysis of blood samples to detect exposure to nerve agents.39


Figure 5:  Examples of OPCW publications: (Top) Fact Sheets35, (Middle) Science and Technology Monitor40, and (Bottom) OPCW Today36.

The third of these publications is the OPCW Science and Technology Monitor (middle of Figure 5),40 a science focused newsletter.  The Monitor started as an intern project to report on new scientific developments; it has since become a sort of platform for science communication – providing links and references to technical reports and papers, highlighting descriptive materials accessible to those who may not be subject matter experts, looking at broad and intersecting areas of science and technology, and presenting material in a sometimes humorous fashion to generate interest in science.  The OPCW Science and Technology Monitor mailing list includes scientists, social scientists, staff members of governmental agencies and ministries, diplomats and policy makers from across the States Parties of the CWC.  If one considers that answers to the “S&T Puzzle” feature of the newsletter have been submitted by both scientists and policy makers, the newsletter has informally facilitated scientist-policy maker engagement!


The OPCW website hosts other links to resources for students and teachers interested in CWC relevant topics.41  These include: e-learning modules about the OPCW and online training tools for those involved in CWC related activities (specifically declarations and industry inspections);42 materials from a 2014 conference on education for peace that brought together stakeholders to discuss best practices for raising awareness on disarmament and non-proliferation issues in educational institutions; 43 and, the Fires Project,44 a series of short films exploring personnel stories with chemical weapons related dimensions. Fires stories include the ethical dilemma raised by the use of one’s chemistry training to produce weapons (e.g. Fritz Haber)45 and the story of a man who as a child survived a 1988 mustard agent attack in Halabja46.

The OPCW supports projects by science educators, a recent example being the IUPAC Multiple Uses of Chemicals Project.47 The “Multiple Uses of Chemicals” is an interactive online tool that explores the beneficial uses, misuses, and abuses of multi-use chemicals, both historically and presently; the website is designed to be informative for students, educators and policymakers.48

Outreach activities of the OPCW are further strengthened through public engagement by staff members.  Such engagements cover a diversity of audiences and interests across many sectors of society.  For those interested in how the OPCW raises awareness about chemical disarmament, non-proliferation and the role of science when communicating beyond scientific and diplomatic communities; speeches and statements publicly delivered by the OPCW Director-General are available online.49  Figure 6 is a visualization of the Director-General’s words and provides a high level glimpse at the topics addressed in these public venues.


Science for Diplomats (and Diplomacy for Scientists)


The education and engagement resources thus far presented, offer information about the CWC, the OPCW, and pertinent issues in the field of chemical disarmament.  Effective science and policy maker engagement, however, needs more than reference materials; it requires building trust and forming “partnerships”.  When effective, scientists would support policy decisions with analytical thinking and technical insights; while policy makers would provide guidance on where scientific research, inputs, and applications are best suited to help solve global problems.


The first step is learning to communicate.  A scientific approach to a problem might start from making an observation then forming a hypothesis, followed by asking questions (running experiments).  As those of us trained in science realize, the answer that comes from an experiment often has a bit of uncertainty associated with it, and this is good because it allows us to ask new (and perhaps more interesting) questions.  In the world of policy makers, answers to questions are desired (answers that are not themselves question) and uncertainty can bring down political careers!  Combine these different approaches to problem solving with the science-security tensions previously mentioned and productive engagement can become difficult.


Figure 6:  The words of the OPCW Director-General.  This word cloud, highlighting the common thematic words within the speeches, is the compilation of 22 public speeches delivered from 22 January to 10 October 2015 to audiences that span many sectors of society.49


Policy makers seen by scientists as “science literate” serve to help reduce science-security tensions, this requires good and clear science communication.  To help promote science literacy and to compliment other science communication tools, the OPCW initiated a series of “Science for Diplomats” briefings in 2014.  These briefings are held as lunch time events during meetings of the States Parties and have covered topics that include: CWC relevant chemical50 and biomedical51 analysis, biobased chemical production methods,52 unintended by-products from chemical processes,53 medical countermeasures to chemical agents54 and the technical aspects of the algorithm used to select chemical facilities for CWC inspections55.  While such briefings are not in-depth science lectures, they serve an important purpose by “de-mystifying” science and creating a link between science and the world of the policy makers.  This is especially relevant when considering how to take forward advice and recommendations from the SAB.  Additional briefings on science and CWC implementation are provided to meetings of National Authorities of States Parties and new diplomats assigned to CWC delegations.56  Presentations from the Science for Diplomats and related briefings are available online.57  This material might lend itself for use as introductory or supplementary information to a chemistry lecture.


Figure 7:  A poster illustrating the mechanism of action of organophosphorus nerve agents and some of the types of medical countermeasures used to mitigate these effects.61  This poster is one of a number of technical graphics available from the Science and Technology section of the OPCW website.62


From a policy maker’s viewpoint and in light of science-security tensions, scientists who are seen as aware of the potential for misuse of science and who promote responsible practices to prevent such misuse can help to build trust.  In this regard, the topic of codes of conduct and ethics for scientists as a way to promote responsible science is often raised.58  In support of ethical practices in chemistry relevant to the CWC, a group of chemistry practitioners recently drafted “The Hague Ethical Guidelines”,59 a set of elements that provide CWC relevant inputs to complement the many already existing codes from chemistry relevant organisations.60


Science for scientists


For those interested in more in-depth scientific and technical aspects of the work of the OPCW, the Science and Technology section of hosts science resources in the form of presentations and posters.61  Figure 7, a poster explaining the mechanism of action of organophosphorus nerve agents and medical countermeasures against them, is one example;62 a collection of similar graphics is available online and new documents are regularly added to the site.63


Concluding Thoughts


There is a clear need to engage those with scientific and technical expertise to address issues of global importance.  As forward looking and robust policies in any sector rely on sound technical inputs, it is valuable to explore ways to inform students about the intersection of science with world events and decision makers.  While many examples can be found to meet these needs, disarmament treaties, in particular the CWC, can provide examples from chemistry to help make such connections.  In this regard, Figure 1 is an interactive map to a variety of resources from the OPCW that may provide opportunities to discuss disarmament issues with chemistry dimensions.


Spring 2016 presents another opportunity to discuss the CWC, the OPCW and the role of chemistry in global events.  The OPCW, the IUPAC Committee on Chemistry Education (CCE) and the ACS CHED Committee on Computers in Chemical Education (CCCE) are offering a Spring 2016 ConfChem online conference on “Chemistry, Disarmament and Education”, to start on 6 May 2016.  Papers will highlight examples from the CWC in the teaching of chemistry; describe the analytical chemistry of chemical weapons inspection and how it is used for decision making; examine definitions of toxicity; explore the chemistry of riot control agents; consider how simple sensors can be used to teach concepts in analytical chemistry and facilitate international collaborations; and discuss responsible science and ethical considerations in chemistry.  This is an open access virtual colloquium and all are welcome.  Further information is available from the ConfChem homepage.64




 The author wishes to acknowledge colleagues in the OPCW Office of Strategy and Policy (OSP) and other divisions across the OPCW for support and guidance in navigating the world of science and policy.  Many of the graphical materials described in this paper were prepared by a talented international group of interns who the author has had the pleasure of working with: Edoxie Allier-Gagneur (France), Wesam Alwan (Iraq), Wardah Amir (United States of America), Lisa Bergstrom (United States of America), Natalie Childress (United States of America), Amaury Crucy (France), Thomas Cummings (United Kingdom), Thomas Faria (Brazil), Amir Imani (Iran), Beatrice Maneshi (United States of America), Grace Massey (United Kingdom), Johannes Niemeier (Germany), and Inam Siraj (Bangladesh).





  1. While not an OPCW resource, those interested in science advice to policy makers and governments can obtain useful information and resources from the International Network for Government Science Advice;
  1. Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction; Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, available at
  1. Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs,
  1. The Biological Weapons Convention: Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction; United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs,
  1. Annual reports of OPCW activities available at:
  1. See also
  1. In this regard, OPCW offers a number of capacity building programmes for science in developing countries; more information is available at
  1. “Dual-use” describes science and technology developed or used for civilian purposes that has the potential for military application or can contribute to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
  1. Convergence of Chemistry and Biology: Report of the Scientific Advisory Board’s Temporary Working Group; Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, June 2014,
  1. Jim Whitman, “The Challenge to Deliberative Systems of Technological Systems Convergence,” Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 20, no. 4 (December 2007): 329–342.
  1.  Sarah Everts, “When Chemicals Became Weapons of War,” Chemical and Engineering News 93, no. 8 (23 February 2015): 9-21.
  1. Sarah Everts, “Who was the father of chemical weapons?”, Chemical and Engineering News 93, no. 8 (23 February 2015): 18-23.
  1. Debora MacKenzie, “Gas! Gas! Gas!”, New Scientist 228, no. 3044 (24 October 2015): 34–37.
  1. Försvarets forskningsanstalt, A FOA briefing book on chemical weapons: threat, effects and protection, Sundbyberg 1992.
  1. Sarah Hazell, Mustard gas – from the Great War to frontline chemotherapy, Cancer Research UK Science Blog, 27 August 2014.

  2. Beatrice Maneshi, Jonathan E. Forman, “The Intersection of Science and Chemical Disarmament,” Science & Diplomacy, Vol. 4, No. 3 (September 2015)

  3. Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction; Article VIII, Part B, Paragraph 21(h), Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,
  1. Additional information about the OPCW SAB is available at:
  1. This figure is available as an infographic from: 
  1. Available at:
  1. Response to the Director-General’s Request to the Scientific Advisory Board to Provide Further Advice on Assistance and Protection, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 29 April 2014,
  1. Response to the Director-General’s Request to the Scientific Advisory Board to Provide Further Advice on Assistance and Protection, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 10 June 2015,
  1. “Ricin Fact Sheet”, organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 28 February 2014,
  1. “Saxitoxin Fact Sheet”, organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 28 February 2014,
  1. Declaration of Riot-Control Agents: Advice from the Scientific Advisory Board; Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 1 May 2014,
  1. The most recent Briefing by the SAB Chair, from 7 October 2015 is available at:
  1. For a useful perspective on science advice to governments, see: Peter Gluckman, “The art of science advice to government”, Nature 507 (13 March 2014): 163–165 doi:10.1038/507163a,
  1. Report of the Scientific Advisory Board on Developments in Science and Technology for the Third Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties to Review the Operation of the Chemical Weapons; Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 29 October 2012,
  1. Director-General’s Response to the Report of the Scientific Advisory Board on Developments in Science and Technology for the Third Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties to Review the Operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention; Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 31 January 2013,
  1. Education and Engagement: Promoting a Culture of Responsible Chemistry; Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, November 2014,
  1. “How do International Organisations Tweet in 2015?”,  Mentioned in this article is the communication on Twitter from the Nobel Prize Committee on 11 October 2013 – the announcement that OPCW had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
  1. “Twiplomacy Study 2015”,
  1. Available at:
  1. Available at:
  1. OPCW Today: Science and Technology, Issue 3, no. 1 (August 2014);
  1. Roberto Martínez Álvarez, “The Chemistry of Destruction”, OPCW Today: Science and Technology, Issue 3, no. 1 (August 2014): 10 - 13.
  1. “Conducting Analysis of Biomedical Samples to Assess Exposure to Organophosphorus Nerve Agents”, OPCW Today: Science and Technology, Issue 3, no. 1 (August 2014): 18 - 21.
  1. Current and past issues of the OPCW Science and Technology Monitor are available at:  To be added to the mailing list, sign up at the link above or email
  1. See
  1. Information on how to get access to OPCW e-learning tools can be found at:
  1. Education for Peace:  New Pathways for Securing Chemical Disarmament; conference held from 22 – 23 September 2014,
  1. The Fires Project,
  1. Fires: A Teachers Mission; The link includes materials for a classroom lesson related to Fritz Haber and the ethics of applying the knowledge of chemistry to warfare.
  1. Ich Liebe Dich,
  1. Peter Mahaffy, Joseph Zondervan, Alastair Hay, Daniel Feakes, Jonathan Forman; “Multiple Uses of Chemicals IUPAC and OPCW Working Toward Responsible Science”; Chemistry International 36 (2014): 9-13.  DOI:10.1515/ci-2014-0508; see also DOI:10.1515/ci-2014-0509 and DOI:10.1515/ci-2014-0510.
  1. Multiple Uses of Chemicals.
  1. See:
  1. “Chemical Analysis in the Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention”, Science for Diplomats 9 July 2014,
  1. “Conducting Analysis of Biomedical Samples to Assess Exposure to Organophosphorus Nerve Agents”, ,
  1. “The Science of the Bioeconomy”, Science for Diplomats, 5 December 2014,
  1. “Schedule 1 and 2 chemicals as captive intermediates and unintended by-products”, Science for Diplomats, 17 March 2015,
  1. “The Science of Medical Countermeasures”, Science for Diplomats, 8 July 2015,
  1. “Data Analytics and the CWC: An Introduction to OCPF Site Selection Methodology”, Science for Diplomats, 8 July 2015,

  1. “The Impact of Science and Technology on the Implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention”, 15th Workshop for Diplomatic Personnel Involved in the Work of the OPCW, 30 September 2015,
  2. See:
  1. For example:
  1. The Hague Ethical Guidelines.
  1. An analysis of existing codes performed as a part of the workshop that drafted The Hague Ethical Guidelines, identified 142 existing codes of conduct and ethics relevant to chemistry – the list included only English language documents and was by no means comprehensive.  More information can be found in the workshop report (the compiled set of codes are available on request, email
  1. Science and technology Special Section of the OPCW website.
  2. “Organophosphorus (OP) Nerve Agents and their Countermeasures”,
  1.  Science and technology Resources,
11/09/15 to 11/11/15


Thanks for providing this amazing paper and its links to the important information provided by the OPCW.

With a physicist and a biologist, I teach a course at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey called Science and Technology for Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies. I'm the chemical weapons and explosives guy for the course. Because of this, I'm familiar with a lot of the information provided by the OPCW, but your paper has already led me to new resources, so thanks again.

Is Figure 1 with its links available somewhere on the OPCW site? It's a great organizational tool for directing folks to various resources, and I'd like to make it available to my students.

Is it OK if I use some of your images in my PowerPoint presentations? You and others can see PDFs of my presentations at

The most specific presentations are at

I've also made a Flash-based animation describing a simplified version of the physiological effects of nerve agents and their antidotes.

Comments and suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks again for your paper.

Mark Bishop

Hi Mark,

You are most welcome to use the images. The image with the links can be download as a pdf (with working links) here:

Feel free to share with your students. I'll pass on your comment about putting this up to our website people and see what we can do.

You have compiled and summarized quite a lot of information - the tie in with historical (and current) events is quite interesting and relevant. Can we host a link to your materials in one of our upcoming S&T Newsletters?

I'm glad you find the materials we post useful. Through our internship programme, we've had a number of students (or recent university graduates) come through the office for a few months at a time and they have really taken off with creating infographics and educational materials. I've found having the interns work on these kind of materials has helped them learn a bit of science (or more science for those of them who have science backgrounds) and sparked a few ideas on science communication - and it helps me learn things too (definitely one of the fun parts of the job).



Hi Jonathan,

Thanks for the permission to use the images. Is it OK to upload the PDF for your paper to my website and provide a link for my present and future students? I really think it will be a great resource for them.

Please feel free to add a link to one of your S&T Newsletters. I'd be honored.


rpendarvis's picture

Hello Jonathan,

I also find your resources quite interesting and useful because I teach an online course in forensic science every spring. I hope you do not mind my using the links provided in the PDF. Are the URLs given reasonably permanent?



All are welcome to use the PDF file and the links from the article as they see fit (subject to any rules Bob has for CCCE newsletter papers of course)

The links are reasonably permanent for the time being. There will be some OPCW website updates in the coming future, but I will request the links to pages hosting resources keep the same addresses - hopefully that will go smoothly.

Mark's suggestion on having the Figure 1 as a guide to navigating the website is a good one, I will suggest to add such navigation guides in website updates to make it easier to find it all.

The whole idea of the CCCE Newsletter is to share material and give people access to information they may not otherwise have access to. The only "IP right" the CCCE seeks is the right to post the papers on our website and to archive them, and the discussions, although we do reserve the right to remove inappropriate comments (which has never happened).

But if you ask me, that is the whole idea behind this, and we are most pleased if people reuse or benefit from material in our Newsletter. That means we are doing something right!


The folks in our Media Department incorporated the Figure 1 from the article into one of the website pages for easier navigation at

Its currently within the science/tech section but should appear in more general sections of the website shortly

Bob Belford's picture

Hi Jonathan,

I would like to concur with Mark, and simply state that this is an amazing article, and thank you. Until I met you I had no idea of all of the educational resources the OPCW provides, and I look forward to the upcoming ConfChem on OPCW educational resources and initiatives.

I am going to ask several left-field questions. The first deals with what is the difference between being a Signatory State, and a Ratified State to an international treaty. If I am correct, the U.S. signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but it was not ratified by congress. Is that correct, and what does it mean? Do we provide equipment to monitor prohibited activities, while at the same time allowing ourselves to perform them? And who gets the data? Did you not once tell me that data for monitoring NPT related activities could “hear” icebergs fall apart, and potentially provide a measure of global warming (I am extrapolating the later part of this). Would you expound a bit on this? Are there other examples where data networks set up to monitor a specific phenomena (like an underground nuclear explosion) picked up other signals that were totally unrelated to the equipment’s original intent, but that could forward science

Do data centers like the Peace Informatics Lab at Leiden University, work with OPCW and other organizations that monitor global treaties? Is there public data that is being gathered that we may be able to access in our classes?

Once again, thank you for sharing this incredibly resource intensive paper, and for getting us to think about the interplay of science and diplomacy.


Thanks Bob! These are great questions.

1. I'll start with the diplomatic jargon

A signatory State is a State (an internationally recognized nation), that has signed a treaty. However, signing the treaty does not obligate the State to the treaty, this comes from ratification or another appropriate process followed by depositing the signed treaty and thus committing to the treaty obligations. I'm not a lawyer, so I'm trying to give a simple explanation here - if you want the full jargon and nuanced answer, a lawyers answer may be more accurate!

One thing to note is that just because a State is not State Party to a treaty, it does not mean that this State is somehow in violation of the norms and obligations of such a treaty - it just means that the State is not committing itself to be so obligated. In the case of a signatory state that has not ratified a treaty, the signature might suggest that in principle the State supports the idea of the treaty, but they are not ready/willing to commit to its obligations.

2. The nuclear treaties

When you refer to the NPT in your question, you seem to actually be asking about the CTBT (The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty).

The USA is a State Party to the NPT - this treaty is not actually a disarmament treaty because it still allows some states possessing nuclear weapons (the "possessor states" who signed the original treaty) to still possess them. The NPT is in force in the USA. The nuclear safeguards inspections and verification mechanism of the NPT are implemented through the International Atomic Energy Agency - and this provides an example of the nuances of obligations to treaties and States not Party to a treaty. India for example is not a State Party to the NPT, but India is a Member State of the IAEA.

The CTBT requires that a certain number of nuclear states ratify before it can go into force. It currently has 183 States that have signed, but only 164 that have ratified - the USA being one of the non-ratifying nuclear states; China has also signed but not ratified. Russia has both signed and ratified. You can see the list of these nations for the CTBT at:

A recent statement on the US position on the CTBT can be found here:

This is different than the CWC, whose entry into force was dependent on a minimum number of states ratifying – but these states were not required to be made up of a minimum number of possessor states of chemical weapons (and only 8 States Parties of the 196 to the CWC joined the Convention as possessor States – which of course resulted in their having an obligation to destroy their chemical weapons).

The current status of the CTBT is that without the ratification of the required number of nuclear states, this treaty is not in force (hence I did not refer to it in the article in the description of the other "in force" treaties). For now, if a country performs a nuclear test, they would not be in violation of this treaty, because the treaty is not in force.

3. Big Data and the CTBT (e.g. icebergs!)

In preparation for a time when the CTBT may be in force, there is an international organisation – The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Organisation, CTBTO – that exists as a preparatory commission (since 1996). They have built a worldwide network of stations for seismic monitoring, hydroacoustic monitoring, infrasound monitoring, and radionuclide monitoring. More information on this is available here

So, the treaty is not in force but the monitoring is ongoing and continuous. All the recent North Korea nuclear tests were detected by the system as have been earthquakes, tsunamis, and much more. The data is collected from across the stations, collated, and made available to scientists in CTBTO member States (there is a process by which scientists can become part of the network – information would be available through

The reference to the icebergs that Bob brought up comes from studies that scientists have done with the data collected on sound and how it can be used to study the planet we live on. CTBTO hosts Science and Technology meetings every two years where the scientists involved in the network share their data and show how science for nuclear test monitoring purposes can have many other interesting peaceful applications including disaster warning, see for example

The last Science and Tech conference from CTBTO was held this past June, some of the content of the meeting is available online:

The CTBTO also maintains a number of education resources that people might find interesting:

Here's the second part of Bob's question:

As you might imagine, States can be very sensitive about data being collected outside formal verification regimes and mechanisms (you can even see this in regard to environmental monitoring as there have been citizen science projects that caused local governments to establish rules on how such data might be allowed to be collected!).

In this regard, a University data center like the Leiden University Peace Informatics Lab, is unlikely to be working with a disarmament organization to do monitoring that is actually used in verification (verification applications require agreements with the States Parties and follow well defined and negotiated mechanisms that dictate what data might be collected and how it would be validated and used). However, such data centers might work with international organizations to help facilitate projects that meet other goals of the organizations. In the case of the OPCW this could be facilitation of educational projects and engagement with scientific communities; we do actually have a small project with data collection dimensions under European Union funding to use chemical informatics for facilitating international scientific collaborations - you can read about this and other EU funded initiatives at

The Leiden example is interesting to look at. They have been involved in some of the United Nations Global Pulse projects - looking at ways to use data for humanitarian purposes and to promote peace. There are some very clever and interesting uses of a wide variety of types of data in these projects.

Some links for those interested:

UN Global Pulse:

Annual Report from 2014 on UN Global Pulse: