University of Sussex
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Truth, science and chemical weapons: expert advice and the impact of technical change on the Chemical Weapons Convention

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:26 authored by Katie Smallwood
Scientific narratives are pervasive in international policy, in part, due to the increasing degree to which technological considerations enter modern thinking. These narratives are particularly visible in the chemical weapon prevention regime, which must accommodate changes in science and technology to ensure that they do not result in the application of new utilities for toxic chemicals as weapons. The dissertation investigates the function of technical experts, and the perceptions of their role, in the procedures of the chemical weapon prevention regime that address technical change. It explores expert involvement in three elements of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC): its negotiation; the Scientific Advisory Board; and in national policy formulation. Ethnography – from an extended placement within the Convention’s monitoring body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – as well as interviews and documentary sources provide the methodological basis for the research. The dissertation finds that science is often made political within the international policy setting, and shows how science is employed to support political aims whether it is in accelerating or slowing policy formulation, or in deflecting the policy agenda. It argues that whilst the role of experts and their capacity to influence policy vary with the forums in which they are placed, their effectiveness depends also upon other factors, including institutional support. The dissertation also holds that national approaches to expert advice are reflected in state relationships with experts advising at the international level. The research supports much of the Science and Technology Studies (STS) literature on experts in national settings and has substantial implications for a concept popular in International Relations (IR) literature, namely, ‘epistemic communities’. A case for reframing ‘epistemic communities’ is developed which incorporates notions drawn from STS, such as the important role of ‘boundary organisations’. These are applied to the CWC, and policy recommendations for the OPCW and its member states are presented.


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  • SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit Theses

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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