The convergence of biology and chemistry: Implications for arms control verification

By Jonathan B. Tucker, November 1, 2010

As biological and chemical production technologies grow increasingly
interrelated, the implications of this convergence for preventing the spread of
biological and chemical weapons are becoming more serious. The author writes
that the routine verification regime of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
does not cover biologically mediated production processes or the synthesis of
most natural toxins by chemical means—gaps, he says, that are likely
to expand as these technologies advance. To address the implications of
convergence for biological and chemical disarmament, CWC member states should
enhance the treaty’s verification measures. The author suggests that
a panel of experts should examine the technical feasibility and
cost-effectiveness of using biotechnological methods to produce classical
chemical warfare agents; that CWC parties should increase the total number of
inspections of declared chemical industry facilities that can be conducted per
year in a member state; and that the scope of CWC verification should be
broadened to cover production by chemical or biological means of natural
peptides and structurally related molecules, some of which are highly toxic.
Although efforts to update the CWC verification regime will face political
resistance, he writes, it would be short-sighted to ignore this problem until
determined cheaters start using undeclared biotechnology plants to manufacture
chemical warfare agents, or exploit the chemical synthesis of bioactive peptides
to develop a new generation of biochemical warfare agents.

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