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Threat of Deliberate Disease in the 21st Century (From Biological Weapons Proliferation: Reasons for Concern, Courses of Action, P 10-36, 1998, -- See NCJ-193965)

NCJ Number
Graham S. Pearson Ph.D.
Date Published
January 1998
27 pages
This essay describes the threat of use of biological weapons during this century and safeguards that need to be adopted to prevent their use.
The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) has no verification provisions. The international community has begun to embrace on-site inspections and other intrusive measures to verify arms control accords. Although the dual-purpose nature of the chemical industry presented a challenge to devising effective verification measures, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) treaty operates on the philosophy that participating states bear the burden of demonstrating compliance to inspectors. The dual-purpose nature of the biotechnology industry will present even greater challenges for the crafting of a BWC verification protocol. Concerns for non-compliance sharpened when it was admitted that for 20 years the former Soviet Union continued an offensive biological weapons program in breach of the BWC. Since the BWC did not have a verification protocol, members of the treaty lacked an easy way to investigate these suspicions officially. Confidence was further shaken in 1995 when Iraq was found to have a significant biological weapons program. In the spring of 1995, Aum Shinrikyo released the nerve gas sarin in Tokyo’s subway at the height of commuter rush hour. This group’s attacks and pursuit of chemical and biological weapons made the danger that these weapons of mass destruction (WMD) could be used for terrorist purposes very clear. One of the most disturbing facts of modern life is the speed with which diseases can spread around the globe. Efforts to reduce disease, whether of natural or deliberate origin, should be one of the highest priorities on the agendas of governments and industry worldwide. Protective measures against biological warfare need to be strengthened. Domestic laws against biological weapons should be enacted, criminalizing the misuse of biological materials. The BWC should be strengthened through a legally binding instrument comprising declaration of relevant activities, routine on-site inspections, and challenge inspections. Additional steps needed to diminish this threat are the widespread adoption of broad export controls of pathogens and dual-purpose equipment and a determined national and international response to violations of the BWC.