New funded PhD position: Expertise and the Future of Global Biochemical Weapon Control

Expertise and the Future of Global Biochemical Weapon Control

Applications are invited for a full-time University studentship (full funding for UK and EU students) to support and work in the Department of Politics, Languages and International Relations at the University of Bath.


The recent use of chemical weapons in the Middle-East and the re-emergence of western concerns about chemical and biological terrorism have reaffirmed the importance of global Chemical and Biological Weapon (CBW) control. CBW are prohibited through a complex international regime. However, advances in science and technology, changes in the international security environment and transformations in global governance raise fundamental challenges. Responding to these challenges is associated with an increasingly broad and complex set of expertise needs. How for example, do we ensure that advances in science in technology, or changing public values do not undermine the prohibition of such weapons?

The key sub-questions to be addressed within the project include:

  • How is policymaking expertise currently conceptualised within the field of international relations?
  • What is the existing expertise landscape in the CBW control issue area?
  • What are the primary means though which epistemic communities impact upon policymaking in this area?
  • To what extent do existing expertise capacities meet existing and future institutional needs in this area?

The student will position themselves between policy practitioners and relevant academic literatures in order to analyse contemporary and future expertise needs in this policy area; in particular in relation to security concerns about cutting-edge civilian science and technology. The student will rely on a range of qualitative data collection and analysis techniques. This will include carrying our elite interviews and the analysis of technical documents.

The Project

This project will build upon recent work of Dr Edwards and Professor David Galbreath as part of the Biochemical Security 2030 Project. As part of this project there is an opportunity for a suitable student to undertake a paid internship at a specialist Non-Governmental Organisation (VERTIC). The placement will help the student refine the proposal based on academic interests as well as policy needs. The student will also build links to help with conducting research and communicating project findings to relevant practitioners.

This project is embedded in the new Centre for Technology and War and the candidate will work alongside a range of other scholars with interests in governance, conflict and security within the department.

The Successful Candidate should:

1. Fulfil the entrance requirements for a Department for Politics, Languages and International Studies MPhil/PhD
2. Have at least a strong understanding of international security and international organization
3. Have training in relevant social science research methods

The Award

The successful candidate will be supported for three 3 years, and will include a stipend, Home/EU tuition fees and an annual Training Support Grant. Terms and conditions and details of other Awards can be found on the Graduate School website.

How to Apply

Applicants should apply online to study for a full time MPhil/PhD in Politics. It is important to quote the project title (see above) on your application.
Please note that the application form will refer to a formal proposal. As this studentship is to work on a specific project, there is no need to write this formal proposal in this case.
The application will also ask you to complete a funding request form available here which you must complete. Use this outline  your experiences and reasons for applying for this studentship. (maximum 500 words).

Application closing date o4 February 2016, 12:00 (noon) GMT

Informal Enquiries Should be addressed to Dr. Brett Edwards (

Why stopping acid attacks is a matter of chemical weapons control

Brett Edwards, University of Bath; James Revill, University of Sussex, and Valentina Cartei, University of Sussex

The use of acid as part of violent crime is apparently on the rise in the UK, and various efforts are being made to reverse what’s become a very disturbing trend.

The Daily Express has started a campaign to “end the evil of acid attacks”, hot on the heels of a similar initiative by The Sun. Both campaigns focus on restricting access to the types of acid most commonly used in such attacks. The Express has launched a petition demanding that “the sale of any acid which could be used as a weapon be properly licensed”.

These campaigns are noble enough – but they raise some rather difficult questions.

Would such controls be practically feasible? Obviously, for this proposal to work, it would need to be substantially refined in terms of scope and implementation. This might mean the identification and restriction of specific products, or of ways to purchase acid that are particularly concerning.

Without refinement, we risk a situation in which the very idea of licensing is discounted as unfeasible, without due consideration being given to more modest and realistic proposals.

It’s worth noting, for example, that Acid Survivors Trust International has already demonstrated the value of curbing availability in countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan.

In the UK, a sustainable approach to dealing with acid violence will need to involve a web of measures, not just one or two new laws or regulations. This means tightening up existing health and safety and product legislation if necessary, as well as getting producers, suppliers and retailers on board and supporting the accreditation of responsible business practices. Nonetheless, a determined individual would always be able to identify and purchase one of the wide range of products that contain strong acid.

But there’s another problem besides. If we treat this as a simple material control issue, focusing exclusively on the weapon, we risk neglecting both the motivations behind acid attacks and the obligation to support survivors.

On the rise

The reported rise in attacks in Britain, and elsewhere in the world, cannot be explained by increased availability alone.

Media coverage, for instance, plays an obvious part. It is of course important to stigmatise and punish those who commit such acts of violence, but the use of sensational language and graphic images of injury may perversely increase the appeal of these weapons to those who would use them. This is in addition to discussions of whether certain types of coverage might further stigmatise victims.

We have had a similar debate time and again in relation to school shootings; it’s time to have one about acid violence.

The need for tighter regulation mustn’t obscure the urgent imperative to provide support. That’s especially true in parts of the world where medical care may not be available and where survivors may face social, psychological and economic consequences which need direct responses; and which could be alleviated in the long term through public education.

Finally, we must reflect on how society should respond to this issue at national and international level. The development of national strategies on this issue will undoubtedly be important. And some of these strategies will need to be tailored to the specific groups who are targeted – such as women and girls.

Acid is a chemical weapon

For example, in 2010, the British government set up a new national strategy on combating Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), focusing mainly on domestic and sexual violence, but also on other forms of harm including stalking, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

A key question is whether the government will commit to specifically tackle acid violence against women and girls, in terms of regulating access to acids, as well as support to victims.

It is also essential to remember that these debates are international and act accordingly. One particularly well placed organisation could be the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Acid violence shares many characteristics with traditional chemical warfare agents in terms of its effects on the human body.

However, the fact that acid violence attacks are rarely associated with mass casualty events has made them all too easy to ignore. As a result, it the OPCW seems not to have dealt with the issue in any depth.

But things can change. The Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation has long dealt with the prevention of other kinds of chemical violence, and has experience in controlling chemicals which can be used for hostile as well as peaceful purposes. Moreover, the OPCW advocates the provision of support for victims of chemical warfare. It strikes us that the OPCW could be the right place to foster a meaningful international response.

It’s not possible to simply regulate acid violence out of existence. We must take a much closer look at the causes and consequences of these crimes – and do everything we can to foster a sense of global responsibility to those affected.

The Conversation

Brett Edwards, Lecturer in Security and Public Policy , University of Bath; James Revill, Research fellow, University of Sussex, and Valentina Cartei, Associate Tutor in Psychology, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.