Biosecurity 2011: Not a year to change minds

By Gerald L. Epstein | January 1, 2012

Yet another year passed without a biological attack, ensuring that the international community could spend its time focusing on strengthening global biosecurity measures, rather than responding to immediate threats. In 2011, two meetings—the Seventh Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference and the G8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction—made progress on finding ways to deal with biological threats posed by non-state groups. Less progress was made in countering the prospect of nation-state biological weapons programs, which is not surprising, the author asserts, since the life sciences are not amenable to the arms control tools that have been used to monitor state compliance with other nonproliferation agreements. The author looks at how the Biological Weapons Convention is evolving to adapt to the nature of the biological threat, and at how Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) inspires global efforts to implement biosecurity programs outside the former Soviet Union. The transition from CTR to global scientific engagement requires the G8 Global Partnership to change its philosophy, the author writes; as the original Soviet-based programs targeted scientists known to have worked in weapons programs, the new goal is not to redirect former weapons scientists, but to establish relationships with scientists who were never in weapons programs. The success of such collaboration depends strongly on treating collaborating scientists as partners, not threats. The central questions for biosecurity in 2012 will focus on the international community’s ability to cooperate and whether it can think creatively and strategically and agree to enter partnerships with scientists from all regions of the world.

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