Expert says Chemical Weapons Convention now more important than ever

Professor Ulf Schmidt, an expert on Porton Down and Britain’s chemical and biological warfare programme since the First World War, has commented on the announcement by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Professor Schmidt, of the University’s School of History, said: ‘The OPCW Technical Secretariat has today confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that the substance used against the Skripals in Salisbury was an extremely toxic nerve agent and that the samples collected and examined were of “high purity”.

‘The “almost complete absence of impurities”, together with other evidence, adds further weight to the suggestion that high level experts and state actors may have been involved in the production, planning and execution of what is an unprecedented nerve agent attack on European soil, at least since the Second World War.

‘At the same time, it highlights, more than ever, the importance of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) as an internationally agreed framework for the systematic monitoring, verification, and destruction of chemical weapon stockpiles in the world.

‘For most governments, the use of chemical weapons is seen as “morally indefensible” and a “repugnant crime”, which neither state nor non-state actors can be permitted to commit with impunity.

‘Historically, it is a subject deemed to be so sensitive that politicians sometimes feel justified to act in the name of “human civilization” beyond the national limits of their political mandate. At the same time, it touches upon areas of secrecy that nations guard most closely.’

Ulf Schmidt is Professor of Modern History. His book Secret Science: A Century of Poison Warfare and Human Experiments (OUP, 2015) charts the ethical trajectory and culture of military science, from its initial development in response to Germany’s first use of chemical weapons in 1915 to the ongoing attempts by the international community to ban these types of weapons once and for all.