‘We’re doomed!’ A critical assessment of risk framing around chemical and biological weapons in the 21st century

Mancini, Giulio and Revill, James (2017) ‘We’re doomed!’ A critical assessment of risk framing around chemical and biological weapons in the 21st century. In: Martellini, Maurizio and Malizia, Andrea (eds.) Cyber and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosives challenges: threats and counter efforts. Terrorism, security, and computation . Springer International Publishing, pp. 311-325. ISBN 9783319621074

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Risk’ and ‘risk assessment’ rhetoric has become pervasive in 21st century politics and policy discourses. Although a number of different meanings of ‘risk’ are evident, the concept frequently purports to be an objectively, quantifiable and rational process based on the likelihood and consequences of adverse events. However, using the example of chemical and biological weapons (CBW), this chapter argues that security-related risks are not always objectively analysable, let alone quantifiable. Moreover, the process of risk assessment is not always ‘rational’. This is, first, because efforts to quantify CBW-related risks normally require a body of data from which to inform assessments of probability when in fact there are limitations in data pertaining to the human dimension of CBW terrorism; with considerable gaps in knowledge of CBW incidents and a need for caution because of the emotive power of allegations of association with CBW. Second because the consequences of a CBW event are often informed by a wide range of variables, which make such weapons highly unpredictable. Third because conclusions that are drawn from any dataset often depend on the questions asked and the assumptions and values that ‘subjectify’ risk calculations, not least depending on if and how ‘expertise’ on risk is defined. This is not to say that risk assessment is not important, but that CBW risks might require a combination of a more rational phase of risk characterization with a more ‘subjective’ process of risk evaluation that acknowledges uncertainty of probabilistic modelling, deals with ambiguity, and opens-up the questions and assumptions that inform the risk assessment process to wider scrutiny and to the consideration of social and other factors.

Item Type: Book Section
Keywords: biological weapons, chemical weapons, risk, uncertainty, risk assessment, bioterrorism, chemical terrorism, security, threats, scientific advice.
Schools and Departments: School of Business, Management and Economics > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Research Centres and Groups: Harvard Sussex Program
Subjects: H Social Sciences
J Political Science > JZ International relations > JZ5511.2 Promotion of peace. Peaceful change > JZ5587 International security. Disarmament. Global survival
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Depositing User: James Revill
Date Deposited: 30 Jun 2017 15:32
Last Modified: 28 Nov 2017 11:03
URI: http://srodev.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/68913

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