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Global Security Pulse: Weapons of Mass Destruction

26 Aug 2019 - 22:04
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Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Weapons

The Global Security Pulse (GSP) tracks emerging security trends and risks worldwide, allowing you to stay ahead in new security developments. 

The fourth Global Security Pulse of 2019 focuses on Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Weapons, or CBRN Weapons. These are often labelled as Weapons of Mass Destruction, although especially radiological weapons could better be considered as Weapons of Mass Disruption, as they will generally not be able to cause massive destruction but merely chaos and panic.

An important characteristic of CBRN weapons is that the specific materials to develop them are dual-use; with a few exceptions, materials required to build CBRN weapons can also be used for peaceful purposes. To prevent that any CBRN dual use material would be considered as weapon material, this Global Security Pulse uses a broadened version of the so-called General Purpose Criterion of the Chemical Weapons Convention: “A CBRN Weapon is CBRN material used to cause intentional death or harm through its CBRN properties.” Munitions, devices and other equipment specifically designed to weaponize CBRN materials also fall under the definition of chemical weapons.

Building upon previous Strategic Foresight publications on CBRN Weapons, we have looked for new and/or important signals regarding these weapons in relation to five key topics: proliferation, modernization of weapons, escalation potential, international CBRN regimes, and non-state actor access. In addition, we have scanned for new and/or important signals that can tell us something about the status of and developments with regard to the international order regarding CBRN weapons, especially concerning international norms and rules.

Read more Global Security Pulses.


Danny Pronk, Sico van der Meer and Kevin Raat (Clingendael Institute)

Contributors: Tim Sweijs and Patrick Bolder (HCSS)

Danny Pronk and Sico van der Meer are one of the trainers of our 8-day course International Security from 23 October until 1 November. Go to Training Course International Security.