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Steps to Enhancing Chemical Security in Indonesia

chemical weapons East Asia

Chemical security refers to efforts to prevent intentional theft or misuse of chemicals typically found at research institutions, plants, or along supply chains. In Indonesia, this remains a new concept for some who work with chemicals. Despite the country’s familiarity with the consequences of lax chemical security measures—including hazardous chemicals found in food and several bombing incidents—implementation of a more rigorous security protocol at the national level still has not occurred. For instance, in December 2016 in Bekasi, a city just outside Jakarta, Indonesian authorities discovered materials to make dirty bombs.1 Thereafter, the arrest and interrogation of five suspects yielded details of a suicide bomb plot targeting the state palace.

The chemical ingredient used in this attempt was triacetone triperoxide (TATP), sometimes called “mother of Satan” because of its highly explosive nature. At base, TATP consists of acetone, hydrogen peroxide, and strong acids like sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid, common chemicals that are widely available through scientific laboratories, the chemical industry, and even pharmacies. Such chemicals are referred to as “dual use,” implying that they can be diverted to do harm alongside their commercial purposes. Dual-use chemicals increasingly pose a global threat, as evident in terrorist attacks in Paris (2015), Brussels (2016, 2017), and Manchester (2017).

Chemical Security in Indonesia

When I started my career at the Research Center for Chemistry at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (RC Chem LIPI) in 2010, my research focused primarily on the trace analysis of hazardous chemicals, including degradation products of chemical warfare agents. Like other laboratory personnel, I did not have a great deal of experience in chemical security. 

After four years in the laboratory, I was accepted into U.S.-based nonprofit, CRDF Global’s respected Robin Copeland Memorial Fellowship (RCMF) program. This program allows early and mid-career women scientists in key countries to participate in a multifaceted yearlong chemical, biosecurity, or nuclear security fellowship. My fellowship, focused on chemical security, was open to eligible applicants in Southeast Asia—specifically, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. I arrived in the United States in August 2014 and spent eight months learning about chemical nonproliferation, international relations, and potential ways countries like Indonesia could improve chemical security at their facilities, not to mention becoming acquainted with American culture.

The RCMF program is divided into three phases: coursework, a practical internship, and a capstone project. In the first phase, over one semester, I studied nonproliferation and international conventions at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies–Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (California). In addition to attending lectures and seminars related to nonproliferation, I explored the level of awareness Indonesian chemists have regarding chemical security in their laboratories.

I started my research by interviewing twenty-four chemists at six universities, five government research institutions, three high school labs, and nine service labs,2 all in Indonesia. Quickly, the reality emerged that the respondents knew very little about chemical security. In the interview and accompanying questionnaire, I asked interviewees about how they kept chemicals secure in their laboratories. Ninety-five percent (twenty-three people) answered that they kept their chemicals in open chemical cabinets and fume hoods. Their reason for securing their chemicals, they reported, was to protect workers from chemical exposure, an approach that aligns more with chemical safety than chemical security. I also found that many of the laboratories (of all types) had not properly kept a chemical inventory, making it impossible to track chemicals “from cradle to grave” in their life cycle.

I began to realize that some of the barriers to implementing chemical security in Indonesia stemmed from miscommunication between chemists and policy makers. It was clear that researchers still had no idea about the meaning of chemical security and its importance. Whereas scientists were focused on gaining the quickest possible access to chemicals for their research activities, policy makers sought to create regulations for procurement of chemicals without clearly explaining the underlying reasoning—leaving researchers frustrated at what they deemed over-complicated bureaucracy. For example, buying chemicals classified as “precursors” such as sulfuric acid required proper documentation,3 and lab workers sometimes also needed recommendation letters from the Indonesia National Authority of CWC to purchase chemicals regulated under the Chemical Weapon Conventions (CWC).4 Moreover, the lag between ordering chemicals and their arrival can be very long—sometimes up to three months due to regulations or transportation. Without the complete picture of chemical security, researchers did not understand the role of regulations in the Indonesian government’s effort to monitor procurement, distribution, and use of hazardous materials.

Hands-on Training: An Important Step

During the second phase of my fellowship—a three-month internship—I had the opportunity to learn directly from professionals at the Office of International and Security Affairs (OISA), within the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publisher of Science & Diplomacy; OISA was then known as the Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy (CSTSP). There, I consulted with CSTSP staff and learned that Indonesia was not alone in confronting challenges related to chemical security implementation. Many other countries did as well, even developed countries.

For the final phase of my fellowship, I returned to Indonesia to carry out a capstone research project. Based on my experiences in the United States, I conducted a workshop with scientists and experts who had experience both implementing the CWC and working with universities and the Indonesian chemical industry. The main goals of the workshop were to raise awareness among chemical practitioners about the importance of chemical security implementation and of “responsible science” through presenting real-life case studies of misuse (e.g., Nobel Prize-winning chemist Fritz Haber employing his expertise to weaponize poisonous gas during World War I).

I gathered experts from preeminent institutions such as:

  • Responsible Care Indonesia (RCI)
  • Indonesian Chemical Society (HKI)
  • Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – former OPCW inspector
  • University of Gadjah Mada, Indonesia

I was impressed with the deep knowledge and experience these individuals had in the field of the implementation of the CWC. For instance, the former OPCW inspector worked at the organization for ten years and is now the advisor for Indonesia National Authority of CWC. Experts from RCI and HKI, for their parts, have large networks in both Indonesian chemical industries and universities. RCI, in particular, has had extensive collaboration with the Indonesia National Authority of CWC to enhance awareness and best practices for chemical safety and security in chemical industry workplaces. Furthermore, RCI and HKI have also had a great deal of experience working with U.S. entities to conduct workshops and training in certain regions in Indonesia. Their partners have included labs such as the U.S.-based Sandia National Laboratories, U.S. nongovernmental agencies such as CRDF Global, and U.S. government programs such as the U.S. Department of State’s Chemical Security Program.

During the workshop, attendees identified weaknesses and areas for improvement to raise awareness of the implementation of chemical safety and security, such as the need for guidelines and best practices; risk assessments for chemical safety and security; and adoption of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for classification and labeling of hazardous chemicals. One key finding, as alluded to earlier, was that politicians and scientists view the issue of chemical security very differently and often speak a different language. It was clear from the workshop discussions and my fellowship experience that a real need exists to build better communication between these two diverse stakeholder groups.

Current Chemical Security Efforts

In Indonesia, efforts are increasing to educate scientists and university students about chemical security earlier in their careers in addition to embedding a more robust chemical safety and security culture in laboratories.56 HKI, which includes a division known as the National Network on Chemical Safety and Security, has cooperated with the Sandia National Laboratories since 2008 and maintains a strong commitment to educating members about chemical safety and security awareness.

One of the many ways HKI disseminates information to its members—Indonesian chemists—is a chemical inventory management system, a database that stores chemical data and helps track the movement of chemicals. Only authorized personnel, as designated by their institute, can gain access to the data for security purposes. By being able to trace chemicals’ movements, this system can help guarantee chemicals are not being misused or misplaced. If every research institute in Indonesia used such a system, the country could reduce some of the rules that researchers face while purchasing chemicals, without sacrificing security.

Indonesia has also worked with the OPCW to hold a number of trainings aimed at strengthening national implementation of the CWC. For example, in July 2017, Ambassador Ahmet Uzumcu, the current OPCW director-general, visited Indonesia, boosting expectations for benefits including capacity building, enhanced laboratory quality, and increased expert participation from Indonesia on OPCW training programs.

Lessons Learned

Through my experiences studying chemical security in Indonesia, I have learned the importance of continued investment in these types of opportunities for science diplomacy and international collaboration. One central element of the RCMF program was its emphasis on establishing relationships with global counterparts in the chemical industry. In the years since my fellowship ended, those relationships have allowed me to take on new roles in Indonesia and internationally. In particular, I have served as a deputy executive assistant for HKI’s National Network on Chemical Safety and Security and have been part of the International Centre for Chemical Safety and Security’s Global Team for Southeast Asia. I have also worked alongside international partners such as the U.S. Department of State’s Chemical Security Program to conduct workshops, seminars, and trainings on the necessity of chemical security and responsible science.7,8

Global security cannot be achieved without solid national security, an area in which research laboratories and universities have roles to play.9 To be sure, it is important to look beyond chemical industries to academia which has a great deal to contribute given the implications of dual-use chemicals. Finally, particularly for universities, young, aspiring chemists need guidance about codes of ethics and the specific rules that apply to them—to keep their chemicals not only safe but secure.



  1. “Three Suspected Militants Killed during Raid on Jakarta Outskirts,”, December 21, 2016,
  2. Patricia Vicka, “Pembelian Asam Sulfat H2SO4 Harus Disertai Surat Khusus – Purchasement of Sulfuric Acid H2SO4 Must be Accompanied by an Official Letter,”, April 13, 2017,
  3. “Fritz Haber and WWI Gas Warfare—A Summary,” History in an Hour,
  4. Laura Smith-Spark, Erin McLaughlin, and Pauline Armandet, “Explosive TATP Used in Brussels Central Station Attack, Initial Exam Shows,” CNN, June 21, 2017,
  5. Minister of Trade of the Republic of Indonesia, “Second Amendment of Regulation of the Minister of Trade, Number 44/M-DAG/PER/9/2009 Concerning Procurement, Distribution, and Hazardous Material Supply,” Regulation 75/M-DAG/PER/10/2014.
  6. Republic of Indonesia, “On the Use of Chemicals and the Prohibition of Use of Chemicals as Chemical Weapons,” Law No. 9 of 2008, available at
  7. National Research Council, Containing the Threat from Illegal Bombings: An Integrated National Strategy for Marking, Tagging, Rendering Inert, and Licensing Explosives and Their Precursors (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1998),
  8. “Global Chemical Industry Compliance Programme,” Chemical Weapons Convention, vers. 1.0 (U.S. Department of Commerce, December 2016), available at
  9. Eka Dian Pusfitasari, “Culturing Security System of Chemical Laboratory in Indonesia,” Indonesian Journal of Chemistry 17, no. 1 (2017),
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