Quick, what’s the bigger US national security threat, terrorism or cyberwar? Trick question. The enemy is small, invisible, and occasionally even within—within our guts and bloodstreams, that is. “It’s time to have an adult conversation about the threats posed by biology,” writes James Stavridis in Foreign Policy.
The retired four-star US Navy admiral and NATO supreme allied commander argues that “biological, not cybernetic developments will determine the course of the 21st century.” He cites Ebola, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and the Zika virus, which has spread to the mainland United States while a deadlocked Congress fails to pass a spending bill to help combat it. (The CDC’s latest case count on Zika, which causes birth defects, is here.) Those threats, though, are just a few of the better-known bio-enemies in our sights. We should also expect new uses and abuses of DNA sequencing and gene editing technology like CRISPR, as well as the advent of synthetic biological weapons, which won’t have the same limits as natural biological weapons.
The United States, Stavridis argues, needs to come up with a coherent biological strategy without knowing exactly what lies ahead. “Scientists are like soldiers on patrol in unmarked terrain, one that is occasionally illuminated by a flash of lightning, revealing steeper and more dangerous ground ahead,” he writes.