Weapons of Mass Destruction Governance after the Pandemic: Threats, Challenges and Lessons Learned

Phantitra Phuphaphantakarn


Phantitra is an OSCE – UNODA Peace and Security, Arms control and Disarmament training, scholarship 2021 alumni. She is also running an online blog called SEAcurity Saga where she discusses strategic studies and arms control in Asia – Pacific and the rest of the world.


The pandemic unavoidably shifts political agenda and public attention away from long-term affairs such as weapons of mass destruction governance, regardless of their continued existence in the post-pandemic world. It demonstrated the danger of biological weapons, reminded the significance of Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) verification regime and set back the nuclear arms control and disarmament efforts back to the stage of less security and more challenges.

Weapons of mass destruction are generally referred to as weapons capable of bringing significant harm or killing (human, environment, artificial structure, etc.) However, to capture the importance factor of weapons of mass destruction governance in global politics, this article will discuss three main categories of weapons of mass destruction, recognized by the United Nations, consisting of biological weapons, chemical weapons, and nuclear weapons.
The pandemic has been worsening the global development gap which directly affects the dynamic of international security affairs such as the weapon of mass destruction governance. When governments around the world are hustling the virus, other discussions irrelevant to the pandemic were postponed. It is important to also imagine the world after the crisis and understand how the pandemic would shift the global dynamic of security, especially one existed since the World War era.The pandemic has shifted global order and way of life as we know it. For the past year, the world has faced a continuous state of emergency. While Covid-19 as a virus carried out a health crisis worldwide, it also created a series of other emergencies and setbacks in various areas of national and international issues; weapons of mass destruction governance is no exception.

Destruction Demonstrated: the Biological Weapons Concerns after the Pandemic

Biological weapons have long history associating with concerns regarding the pandemic. Most of the biological weapons programs originated back in wartime were carried out under the pandemic prevention agenda. The pandemic in itself is an effective demonstration of the danger concerning biological and chemical weapons. How quick Covid-19 travelled across the world from one continent to another and created a series of emergencies around the world is exhibiting the capacity of its destruction threats posted on humanity and explaining why biological weapons are categorized as weapons of mass destruction.

As the world experienced this particular demonstration, the international security community might realize two essential lessons; the importance of the Biological Weapons Convention (BCW) enforcement and the urgency of pandemic prevention through research and technology as well as its consequences.

Nowadays, biological weapons are prohibited under BCW, but their threats and danger are not entirely eliminated from the world. Unlike Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), BCW lack of the “verification” function which would facilitate the norm enforcement and confidence building assurance. Therefore, many loopholes existed within the convention. This pandemic has effectively shown the danger of biological weapons to allow the international community to review and reinforce the norms against biological weapons again.

The urgency of pandemic prevention through research and technology and the demand for biological research programs will continue to rise. However, as one of the most challenging biological and chemical agents is their “dual-usage” nature, these demands will also be accompanied by the concern regarding the development of the harmful use of biological agents, which prospect the more sensitive international community and global security affairs. In this scenario, it is also worth noting that the international concerns regarding “bioterrorism” might be revived.

The Importance of Verification Regime: Reinforcing Norms against Chemical Weapons

The pandemic is mostly studied and understood through the perspective of biological weapons due to its familiar nature, as mentioned above. Therefore, fewer studies and discussions regarding the direct effect and relationship between the pandemic and chemical weapons were found and discussed. However, in the past several years, chemical weapons were evidently being used. Therefore, even though biological weapons might receive more attention due to the outbreak’s nature, the international community expressed concerns regarding the norm against chemical weapons still exists and is relevant nowadays.

Looking into the nature of chemical weapons, they are much less technical than nuclear weapons and, therefore, easier to access and manufacture than biological weapons. The global chemical weapons governance operated under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) with the unique function of the “verification regime” run by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which allowed “challenge for inspection” when CWC member states suspicious of other member states chemical programs.

Reminiscing the period of an early Covid-19 outbreak, the international collaboration were fussy and ineffective. The information which would facilitate the outbreak investigation were not shared while the infection had gone out of control. This CWC verification regime is noted among the confidence-building measures studies to be both practical and effective regarding information sharing and confidence assuring which can be applied to future pandemic prevention.

The effect of the pandemic on chemical weapons governance might not be as observable as one on biological weapon governance; nevertheless, it is possible to say that due to the fact that CWC is still being violated for the past years, together with the failure of the pandemic management on its early outbreak, might lead to the more efforts regarding reinforcing the norms against chemical weapons through the enforcement of CWC and perhaps humanitarian accountability.

 Arms Control Setbacks: Rising Global Inequality and Nuclear Disarmament

The fact that nuclear threats and deterrence challenges are still relevant nowadays since the world war era is self-explained its complexity. The pandemic effect on nuclear weapons governance may not be as visual as the case of biological or chemical weapons, which is also considered more practical in terms of attacks. Nonetheless, the pandemic created an impact on the global governance level and nuclear weapons governance is no exception. 

As the greatest threat to humanity in terms of weapon attacks, international community efforts concerning nuclear weapons disarmament and arms control has been implemented since the Cold War era. A good deal of international discussions and attempts to reduce nuclear weapons as well as the number of nuclear weapon states (states which possess nuclear weapons) were invested, and yet, with or without the pandemic, challenges and threats still remained.

To carry out a nuclear arms control and disarmament agenda, confidence and accountability among states are crucial factors. However, the pandemic had widened the development gap among nations and created distrust among the international community. The pandemic also evoked a series of emergencies, from health crisis to public bankruptcy, which also unavoidably shifted global and public agendas away from the long-term issue regardless of its continued existence in the post-pandemic world.

The widened development gaps and increased distrust among nations implied the potential threats against nuclear weapons enforcement norms. Therefore, the country without the capacity to mitigate the impact of the pandemic will be left behind even further from arms control and disarmament discussion while the threats continue posting on humanity as a whole and require global efforts for its solution. This set back the long invested nuclear arms control and disarmament efforts and added more sensitivity to nuclear politics, demanding much more attention from the global community towards nuclear weapons governance.

Additionally, the pandemic is also adding more barriers and setbacks to arms control discussion through the shifted political agenda and public attention with the evoked series of emergencies.


The pandemic has shifted global order and way of life as we know it. It evoked a series of national emergencies which unavoidably is shifting political agenda and public attention away from long-term problems, regardless of their continued existence in the post-pandemic world. The pandemic demonstrated the danger of biological weapons reminded the international community of the significance of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). It also set back the nuclear arms control and disarmament efforts back to the stage of less security and more challenges. The weapons of mass destruction governance may seem to be relatively less urgent affairs for the international community to feel concerned about in a time of a pandemic. But regardless of its priority among global political and public agenda, the global inequality and insecurity issues exist, assuring the world dynamics in which these long-term, less urgent problems will manage to stay after all. And therefore, as a chain of difficulty continues to rise, and governments are forced to deal with urgent problems day by day, the question regarding the post-pandemic world needs to be understood, imagined and discussed. What kind of the world has the pandemic left us within the future to come? The one with both pandemic traumas and threats from weapons of mass destruction?


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