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Obituary: SPRU remembers Professor Julian Perry Robinson, expert in chemical and biological warfare prevention

Emeritus Professor Julian Perry Robinson

Julian Perry Robinson (centre) and Matthew Meselson (left) at Pugwash 2002

Chemical and biological warfare prevention expert Julian Perry Robinson, Emeritus Professor at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), sadly passed away on 22 April 2020, aged 78 years.

A trained chemist and patent lawyer, Julian possessed the ideal background to wrestle with the thorny issues regarding how to prevent chemical and biological warfare. Through his efforts over more than 50 years, first at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SPIRI), and then at SPRU, Julian – aided by his partner Mary Kaldor, and by his long-standing collaborator at Harvard, Professor Matthew Meselson – had an unparalleled influence in the shaping and implementation of the international conventions that have helped prevent chemical and biological warfare (CBW) from breaking out during our lifetimes.

In 1971, Professor Robinson joined the University of Sussex, and subsequently SPRU, working alongside Mary, whom he had met while working at SPIRI.

During his time at SPIRI in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Julian had been the principal author of the six volumes on The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare, a work that remains a seminal source of historical, legal and scientific information on CBW and required reading for all those entering the field. He had also produced ground-breaking reports on CBW for the United Nations and the World Health Organization. These were all essential inputs in the negotiation of the Biological Weapons Convention.

At SPRU, Julian and Mary established and led the Military Technology and Arms Limitation (MTAL) Group and the Armament and Disarmament Information Unit. In addition, together with Matthew Meselson, Julian set up and ran the Harvard-Sussex Program (HSP), with the two of them editing the CBW Conventions Bulletin, the journal of record in the field.

Julian was instrumental in helping shape SPRU and its values – values which are still very evident today: putting real-world problems first, not academic theory; the successful melding of different disciplinary perspectives; the adoption of an internationalist perspective; nurturing and encouraging the development of students and young researchers; intellectual generosity and a recognition that research benefits from working together rather than engaging in individualistic competition.

Julian’s legacy and influence at Sussex will live on through the continuing work of the HSP and Caitriona McLeish and others.

He will be greatly missed by his family, friends, colleagues and former students alike. Anyone wishing to contribute memories, stories or condolences can do so on his full obituary and memorial page.


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By: Serena Mitchell
Last updated: Thursday, 30 April 2020