Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Alastair Hay Phd, University of Leeds


  I am Reader in Chemical Pathology in the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds. My interest in chemical warfare related issues began in 1972 with a review of the then use of the herbicide Agent Orange in Vietnam. I have been interested and involved in chemical warfare related issues since that time.

  In February 1981—together with a number of other scientists we published an appeal calling on our scientific and technological colleagues not to become involved in any research which was associated with the development or production of chemical weapons. We also called on the then government to continue the policy of its predecessors in pursuing negotiations to secure comprehensive treaties which would outlaw the use of both chemical and biological weapons. I enclose a copy of the appeal.

  Since that time I have been actively involved in chemical and biological warfare issues with my principal aim being to encourage the British Government to continue its efforts to secure treaties. For many years I chaired a working party on chemical and biological warfare which had a similar aim. We were financed by the Rowntree Trust.

  I wish to comment on two of the terms of reference of the committee. The first concerns the progress and effectiveness of the control regimes for chemical and biological weapons and the second the encouragement of non signatory states to sign appropriate treaties.

  My expertise is primarily in the field of chemical warfare although I also have an interest in biological warfare control regimes, however, the latter is one in which I have not been as active.


  I welcomed the Chemical Weapons Convention. This treaty had a very long gestation time which was not unexpected given the complexity of the control regimes required to monitor chemical weapons. Together with other colleagues in the United Kingdom (and abroad) we continued to present a case in favour of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Following signature of the Convention by the British Governement we were heavily involved in pressing for certain clauses to be added to the Chemical Weapons Bill—legislation which fixed the Chemical Weapons Convention in UK law. Some of this work involved briefing members in both Houses of Parliament. Since the Chemical Weapons Convention became binding international law and the responsibility of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), I have had a less active involvement in the chemical warfare issue in terms of the politics and legislation. I do however retain an active interest in the investigation of alleged incidents involving the use of chemical warfare.

  It is my perception that the Chemical Weapons Convention is working well. An increasing number of countries are becoming states parties to the Convention, having taken a decision that it is in their national interest to do so. Many of us who witnessed the final stages of the negotiations to secure the Convention were apprehensive about the rate at which countries would become party to it. This is now much less of a worry. I am greatly relieved that so many countries have now ratified the Convention and agreed to its requirements and policing provisions.

  It is the requirement for information and the ability to carry out systematic and challenge inspections which makes the Convention so robust. I believe that it is these provisions which provides considerable reassurance to signatories that any significant development in chemical warfare (by signatories) is likely to be detected.

  My two principal concerns about the current control regime centre around the rate of destruction of chemical warfare munitions in the Russian Federation and the fact that a number of major states in the Middle East are still not yet party to the Convention.

  The Russian Federation has considerable economic problems. Although the Federation has ratified the Convention, and agreed to the destruction of chemical weapon munitions it may take much longer that originally envisaged.

  It would be helpful if the Foreign Affairs Committee were to investigate this issue and to consider what help might be provided to the Russian Federation to assist it with the destruction of its chemical stockpile. Given some of the concerns about the way in which loans may have been misused in the past, it may be more appropriate for western governments, including the UK, to provide assistance to the Russian Federation in the form of technology and expertise, rather than direct financial aid.

  Those countries which have signed the Convention clearly believe that it provides them with the best guarantee that they will not be the subject themselves of a chemical warfare attack. It also allows signatories to be involved in trade involving chemicals as they have given a guarantee (by becoming party to the Convention) that none of the chemicals which they acquire will be used to make chemical weapons. It is a concern, therefore, that some significant states in the Middle East still believe that it is not in their interest to be party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. In the past some of the Middle East states have indicated that they would be prepared to sign a treaty like the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) forswearing use of chemical weapons if Israel would do the same for nuclear weapons. This linkage may still be an issue for some of these countries and it would be helpful if ways could be found to try to break it by persuading states that being party to the CWC would enhance their protection. It would remove a degree of uncertainty created by them remaining outside, and it would also provide much needed reassurance for the majority of nations who are signatories.


  Until all countries are states parties to the CWC there will remain a need to investigate alleged incidents of the use of chemical warfare in those countries which are not yet signatories. Having been involved in investigations in two of these countries (Iraq and Bosnia/Serbia) it is clear that there will have to be some mechanisms in place to allow investigations outside the remit of the CWC. Unless such investigations take place there will be no evidence collected to either confirm or refute allegations of use. It is my view that such investigations are of crucial importance for they may well encourage additional member states to sign the Convention.

  It was with some regret therefore that no prompt investigations were conducted in Khartoum following the attack on it by the United States using cruise missiles. The attack on the pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum was allegedly to destroy a facility that was said to have been involved in the production/storage of the chemical warfare nerve agent VX. The evidence from the United States that Sudan was involved in this activity would appear to be very weak indeed. However, it would appear that when Sudan requested that international scientists undertake investigations at the pharmaceutical plant under the auspices of the UN, that the United States applied pressure to prevent this happening. This was a most regrettable move and it does not enhance control, rather, the reverse.

  A view from the committee on the need to investigate incidents of alleged use/storage of chemical warfare agents in countries which are not signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention would be helpful.


  The British Government has been active in the negotiations to secure a Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention which will provide the much necessary policing and auditing function which the previous 1972 Biological Weapons Convention lacked.

  It is my view that a control regime for biological weapons and toxins is as important as the Convention to control chemical weapons.

  It could be argued that the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention do already constrain countries who might want to use biological weapons or toxins in warfare. However, it is apparent from the information now available that these Conventions did not inhibit work in the former Soviet Union (now Russian Federation) nor in Iraq or South Africa. It is clear that a new Convention on biological agents and toxins is needed which has auditing and policing provisions similar to that offered by the Chemical Weapons Convention.

  Toxins do need to be covered by a control regime because they do not sit neatly under a chemical weapons regime. Some toxins are small molecular weight chemicals whereas others are proteins which are produced by biological organisms. A regime which refers specifically to toxins is needed because it will cover toxins including those which some might argue were proteins, and, as such, not true chemicals (although proteins are in fact more complex chemicals). Such a regime would also cover the methods by which these materials were produced. Many toxins are likely to be produced by growing bacteria in culture and subsequently harvesting the bacteria and removing the toxins.

  Some years ago there was a concern that a large number of industries, including the likes of breweries, would also have to be covered by a regime which controlled biological weapons. This is because many bacteria are produced using fermentation procedures. These processes are used throughout the brewing industry. However, to produce significant quantities of biological agents which would be used for biological warfare, would require specialised industrial facilities with a high degree of protection for the workforce. Most factories which employ fermentation techniques do not have this degree of containment. There would seem to be little point therefore in subjecting these companies to any inspection regime.

  Other industries which use fermentation techniques for the production of vaccines, are likely candidates for inspection. The pharmaceutical industry which operates most of these facilities will have to support a biological and toxins weapons regime. The pharmaceutical industry would appear to be willing to support a Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention but seems concerned about the intrusiveness and reach of the inspection regime.

  It is also clear that laboratory facilities which have high degrees of containment for investigating the transmission of biological agents in aerosols will also have to be subject to the provisions of Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention.

  It is my view that a control regime for biological and toxin weapons whilst likely to investigate fewer facilities than the Chemical Weapons Convention will none the less require to be both intrusive and able to mount inspections at short notice through a challenge. It is this type of inspection regime which will encourage countries to become state parties to a new Convention on biological weapons and toxins. It is my view that it is the control regime provided by the Chemical Weapons Convention that appeals to those countries which are states parties. The Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention should be equally robust.


  It must be a concern that the Russian Federation, Iraq and South Africa continued to research biological warfare with a view to using it in an offensive capacity.

  The evidence suggests that the biological weapons programme in the Russian Federation has been significantly curtailed and that the threat posed previously by this work is much reduced. It would be helpful if the committee were to comment on this.

  Although the evidence from South Africa suggests that there was interest in biological warfare and the use of genetic engineering techniques to enhance the pathogenicity of a number of biological agents, it would appear that the programme was primarily laboratory-based. There would appear to have been some exaggeration about both the extent and the significance of the South African biological warfare programme by some of those who were involved in it. It may be helpful if the committee were to express a view on the South African programme as well.

  It is reassuring that the Foreign Affairs Committee is reviewing the control regime on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and I look forward to reading your conclusions.

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