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Improving the response to technological, biological, and chemical threats

Our research has examined emerging biochemical security threats.

Two people in chemical suits examining test tubes and using a laptop
Our research has examined emerging biochemical security threats.

Dr Brett Edwards, Professor David Galbreath and Dr Mattia Cacciatori from the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies have conducted extensive research over the last decade to examine security threats and international relations. Their research has enhanced our understanding of biochemical technology development and shaped discussions in how policy and best practice can reduce harm internationally.

Chemical and biological weapons

There is a long standing global prohibition of biological and chemical weapons. However, in recent violations by states, as well as other actors- have emphasised the need to consider the changing threat environment- and to strengthen global prohibition regimes.

Syria and Salisbury

As part of the ongoing Syrian civil war, nerve agent and chlorine have been used in multiple attacks affecting both military and civilians. While in 2018, the chemical agent Novichok was used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, UK. The use of these agents as weapons drew much attention internationally.

Dr Brett Edwards along with Dr Mattia Cacciatori have worked in recent years on the question of how to ensure that those use chemical weapons are held accountable, in a fraught international contexts. Some of their commentary on this issue was published on The Conversation.

Following the poisonings in Salsbury, Dr Brett Edward's Dr Brett Edwards work turned towards a number of key issues, of relevance to thinking about the future of the global chemical and biological weapon prohibition regimes:

Forecasting the impact on national security

Dr Brett Edwards and Professor David Galbreath both worked as part of the Biochemical Security 2030 project. Their research examined how biological and chemical science has advanced in recent decades and sought to forecast the likely impacts of this evolution on issues of national security.

The project brought together work on arms control, security governance, science and policy-making to examine the question of regime effectiveness. The membership of the project included:

  • scientists
  • universities
  • security services

These groups generated evidence-informed national resilience against the misuse of these scientific developments.

Through the project, 10 policy briefs were made freely available, disseminating accessible and relevant information to a broad range of research users.

In November 2014 a 2-day conference at the Royal Society that hosted international speakers, including from OPCW, entitled Biological and Chemical Security in an Age of Responsible Innovation.

Raising awareness of the challenges

Building on the research conducted, Dr Brett Edwards worked with Biosecure to develop an online course. The course was launched on FutureLearn in 2020 entitled Next Generation Biosecurity: Responding to 21st Century Biorisks.

Through the course attendees were able to explore the types of biosecurity and biological threats, and learn about the methods for how to counter them.

Related groupings

Explore the associated departments and research groupings for this research.