‘We’re Doomed!’ a Critical Assessment of Risk Framing Around Chemical and Biological Weapons in the Twenty-First Century

  • Giulio Maria ManciniEmail author
  • James Revill
Part of the Terrorism, Security, and Computation book series (TESECO)


‘Risk’ and ‘risk assessment’ rhetoric has become pervasive in twenty-first 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.


Biological weapons Chemical weapons Risk Uncertainty Risk assessment Bioterrorism Chemical terrorism Security Threats Scientific advice 


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Directorate-General of Migration and Home Affairs of the European CommissionBrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.Harvard Sussex Program, SPRUUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

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