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Sept 25, 2002

Chemical Weapons

Calvin College mathematics professor James Bradley worked on a number of interesting projects during an 18-month long sabbatical at the U.S. State Department in 2000 and 2001.

Among them was a mathematical model for random inspections of countries with the capacity to make chemical weapons, a topic that was significant at the time
and has been launched into the headlines with a vigor in recent days because of Iraq.

"Iraq has the capability to manufacture chemical weapons," says Bradley, "and has used them in the past. But they have not signed on for inspections as part of the CWC or any other way. So we don't know much about what's happening in Iraq now."

In a nutshell, says Bradley, there are about 4,000 sites in the world (counting only the 145 signatories of the Chemical Weapons Convention) that do not explicitly manufacture weaponizable chemicals but whose activities could be diverted to that purpose.

The CWC thus mandated an inspection regime that would allow the 145 signatories
to keep track of each other. But at the time Bradley started his research work
only about 40 inspections were planned per year, a number that since has risen
to 80.

"Only a small fraction of the sites will be visited each year," says Bradley. "Thus the US (and other countries) were concerned that the inspection resources be used as effectively as possible."

That's where Bradley came in.

His mathematical model for inspections has since been adopted as the official U.S. position on how these sites should be selected for inspection. And his paper was then circulated among CWC treaty signatories. He made one trip to the Netherlands in February 2002 for a meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (the organization the CWC signatories set up to manage all issues related to the treaty and compiance with it) and presented his ideas to the OPCW's technical staff (the inspectors and their managers) and to the Executive Council (the diplomats).

His work was, he says, "well-received" and so in May 2002 he returned to the Netherlands as a technical support person for the US delegation. The U.S. now is asking the Executive Council to adopt Bradley's model as the methodology for selecting these sites. A decision is not expected until May 2003.

Bradley will speak about his model on Thursday, September 26 at a Calvin-sponsored Mathematics Colloquium. The talk is at 3.40 p.m. in room 276
of North Hall.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-957-6475 (v)
616-957-7069 (f)