Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
Experts Advocate Incremental Approach to Biotechnology Norms
WASHINGTON — Any effort to create a new international oversight mechanism for dual-use biotechnology research can only be done incrementally, given the difficulty of regulating scientific inquiry, speakers on a panel on controlling deadly pathogens said here yesterday.
Biological weapons programs are not the only concern in the realm of bioterrorism, said Tara O’Toole, CEO and director of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. O’Toole said that a “huge swath” of biotechnology research is for dual-use items, meaning that legitimate scientific research could be turned to illegitimate uses.
“It’s not just about bad bugs,” O’Toole said during a panel discussion at a two-day nonproliferation conference held by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Creating international norms for oversight of dual-use research would be a gradual, “trust-building exercise,” O’Toole said. She noted that in most cases scientists would have to be trusted with self-governance even after rules are established.
“It won’t matter what the governments do if scientists don’t agree to the oversight,” she said.
She also agreed that a licensing regime could ultimately be implemented for research involving biological agents. However, O’Toole said that she now has “no idea what that license should entail.”
Any oversight program should be comprehensive — meaning that it would apply to government, academia and industry — mandatory and global, said Elisa Harris, senior research scholar at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland.
She also said greater transparency in U.S. biotechnology research would help avoid spurring biological weapons work in other countries and that a global body to implement research rules could be modeled on World Health Organization oversight of smallpox research. Harris also advocated licensing of researchers and facilities, as well as advance peer review of proposed experiments.
David Franz, vice president of the Chemical and Biological Research Division at the Southern Research Institute, said he was more concerned with emerging infectious diseases than with intentional weaponization of deadly pathogens, given what he described as an atmosphere of “relative openness” compared to earlier eras.
“It is harder in open environments for states to have large biological weapons programs,” Franz said.
The recently established National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity is expected to develop national guidelines for divulging information about dual-use research and would look to extending such guidelines to the “international arena,” said Mary Groesch, senior adviser for science policy at the National Institutes of Health.
Groesch also said the board would devise training programs to educate scientists at federally funded institutions about dual-use research.
March 20, 2013
This report is part of a collection examining implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to implement measures aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring NBC weapons, related materials, and their means of delivery. It details implementation efforts in Central America, South America and the Caribbean to-date.
March 12, 2013
The UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection examines implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to implement measures aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring NBC weapons, related materials, and their means of delivery. It details implementation efforts in all of the regions and countries of the world to-date.