On October 4, CRDF Global hosted a Thought Leadership Series event titled “Disinformation and the Evolving Threats of Chemical Weapon Proliferation” featuring a conversation with Sarah Jacobs Gamberini, a Policy Fellow at the National Defense University Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Dr. Marc-Michael Blum, the former head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) laboratory. Abigail Stowe-Thurston, a Project Lead at CRDF Global, moderated the event. CRDF Global Vice President Tom Callahan provided welcome remarks.
Ms. Gamberini and Dr. Blum explained how and why, in the wake of the Russian government’s use of Novichok-class chemical weapons against Sergei Skripal in 2017 and Aleksei Navalny in 2020, Moscow has leveraged disinformation campaigns to evade attribution and accountability for actions that violate global nonproliferation treaty obligations. Dr. Blum described the initial period after a targeted chemical weapons attack has occurred as the “void of non-information.” Absent a fact-based understanding of what has occurred, disinformation is likely to spread during this period. Ms. Gamberini noted that there are many similarities between disinformation related to public health and the COVID-19 pandemic and false narratives spread with the intention of challenging global nonproliferation norms.
When asked about strategies for countering the spread of non-proliferation-related disinformation, Ms. Gamberini and Dr. Blum emphasized the importance of amplifying credible information and verified experts in order to prevent speculation. While addressing proliferation challenges has traditionally been the responsibility of government professionals, mitigating the proliferation risks posed by disinformation campaigns must be a whole-of-society effort that includes nongovernment organizations, digital and traditional media companies, and educators.