Skip to content
Open menu Close menu

Report shines spotlight on incapacitating chemical agent weapons

Published: Mon 27 Oct 2014
Report shines spotlight on incapacitating chemical agent weapons

The Universities of Bradford and Bath have produced a joint report highlighting how contemporary chemical and life science research may potentially be applied to the study or creation of incapacitating chemical agent weapons.

The report 'Down the slippery slope?’ coincides with the 12th anniversary of the Moscow theatre siege, where many hostages were ultimately killed by an incapacitating chemical agent (ICA) intended to aid their release. This report highlights specific areas where concerns or mis-perceptions might arise as to the nature and intended uses of chemical and life-science research. The report also explores how States can ensure that such dual-use research is not used in prohibited chemical weapons development.

Poster for “BBQ-901 narcosis gun” on display on State 9616 Plant stand at Asia Pacific China Police Expo 2006, Beijing, China, 24th -27th May 2006. © Robin Ballantyne/Omega Research Foundation The study was produced jointly by the Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project and the Biochemical Security 2030 Project in Bath. It examines contemporary research in pharmacology, medicinal chemistry and neuroscience exploring a range of pharmaceutical chemicals potentially applicable to the study or development of ICA weapons.

Professor Malcolm Dando co-author of the report and Professor of International Security at the University of Bradford states: “The development and introduction of ICA weapons threatens to create a “slippery slope”. Once introduced there is a danger that such weapons will consequently be used for an increasingly broad range of purposes.

“Our study indicates that dual-use research being conducted in a variety of institutional environments and for a range of (stated or unstated) purposes could potentially be applied to the study or creation of ICA weapons.”

As well as documenting contemporary research by Russian scientists, the report highlights the possession of ICA weapons by the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army, their previous use by the Israeli security services, and examines unconfirmed allegations of use in Syria. In addition, the report explores potentially relevant research activities undertaken since 1997 in the Czech Republic, India, Iran, the United Kingdom and the United States.

ICA weapons come under the scope of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and their use in armed conflict is absolutely prohibited. However there are differing interpretations as to whether, and in what circumstances, such toxic chemicals could be employed for law enforcement purposes.BBQ-901 tranquiliser gun

In 2013, certain States - including the U.K. and U.S. – formally declared they do not develop or possess ICA weapons; however others remain silent. To date this issue has not been satisfactorily addressed by the CWC States Parties as a whole. This new report, published as governments prepare for the forthcoming CWC Conference of States Parties in December, is intended to spotlight this issue. The report calls on States to halt all development, stockpiling and use of ICA weapons until CWC States Parties have collectively determined whether or not such weapons should be permitted in law enforcement.

Dr Michael Crowley co-author of the report argues that: “Because the possession and utilisation of ICA weapons currently appears to be restricted to a relatively small number of countries, there is still time for the international community to act.

“There is now a window of opportunity for the CWC States Parties to take a precautionary and preventative approach. If the international community does not adequately respond to these challenges, there is a danger that more States may be become intrigued by these weapons, with the consequent threat of their proliferation and misuse.” 

Professor Rod Flower, FRS and Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology at the William Harvey Research Institute said: "Twelve years ago, Russian Special Forces terminated the seige of a Moscow Theatre by Chechen Separatists by pumping a potent anaesthetic gas into the ventilation system. During the operation, 130 hostages lost their lives following exposure to the gas, prompting a widespread debate on the use of such 'incapacitating chemical weapons'. Crowley & Dando's Report provides an in-depth study of the subsequent development of incapacitating chemical weapons by states around the world. It provides a valuable resource for those who are concerned about the proliferation of such weapons as well as a timely reminder that there is no such thing as a 'safe' incapacitating chemical agent."

Steven Rose, Emeritus Professor of Biology (neuroscience) at the Department of Life Health and Chemical Sciences, The Open University said: “Continuing advances in neuroscience, pharmacology and biotechnology are fueling a new interest in the military and law-enforcement potential of incapacitating agents (ICAs)–‘non-lethal’ or better ‘less-lethal’ anaesthetic or disorienting chemicals . Published on the 12th anniversary of the disastrous use of an ICA in the attempt to rescue hostages trapped in a Moscow theatre, Crowley and Dando have compiled an authoritative account of the state of the art in ICAs. Drawing on open-source literature, they assess the scale of research and development of the agents among the major international players, and conclude with recommendations as to how the international treaties prohibiting chemical weapons should be amended to deal with these new threats. An important and salutary report.”

The full report can be found here

Image above left: Poster for “BBQ-901 narcosis gun” on display on State 9616 Plant stand at Asia Pacific China Police Expo 2006, Beijing, China, 24th -27th May 2006. © Robin Ballantyne/Omega Research Foundation.

Image above right: “BBQ-901 tranquiliser gun” being displayed at a People's Liberation Army “open day”, Shek Kong Air Base, Hong Kong, 2nd May 2011. © Gordon Arthur / King Arthur's Writes.

Share this