The New Bioweapons Peril

A case to revisit the Biological Weapons Convention

Authors

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.55763/ippr.2022.03.01.004

Abstract

There is no evidence to suggest that SARS-CoV-2 was a biological agent. However, the ensuing pandemic has driven home the potential dangers of weaponised biological material, especially pathogens. Heightening the concerns about bioweapons is the growing ubiquity of gene editing tools like the CRISPR-Cas-9 system that enable both state and non-state actors to produce biological agents for various purposes. While these dangers are being recognised, this paper goes beyond highlighting the peril, to examining the drivers and constraints on bioweapons use, the ways in which bioweapons may be employed, and the trade-offs involved in mounting such attacks. Furthermore, the paper proposes concrete steps that can be taken in a renewed Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) to reduce the risk of bioweapons attacks. Earlier attempts at strengthening the treaty have focused on increasing verification. However, this has failed because states seek to protect their biotech industries from espionage and harassment. Instead of focusing on traditional verification, this paper proposes the creation of a scientific board under the BWC, that will monitor sensitive emerging technologies in the field, set standards for safety and reporting, and create an epidemiological database. To help deter attacks, it recommends ways to improve the response to disease outbreaks and impose penalties on perpetrators.

Keywords:

SARS-Cov-2, Biological Weapons Convention, CRISPR, Arms Control, Bioterrorism

Authors Bio

Shambhavi Naik, Takshashila Institution

Shambhavi Naik is Head of Research and Chairperson of Health and Life Sciences Policy at the Takshashila Institution. She has a Ph.D in Cancer Biology from University of Leicester, UK and over 3 years of experience as a PostDoctoral Fellow at NCBS and InStem, Bangalore. She has a PGP in Public Policy from the Takshashila Institution. 

Aditya Ramanathan, Takshashila Institution

Aditya Ramanathan is an Associate Fellow at the Takshashila Institution. Aditya has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and has previously worked at Mint and as a freelancer. 

Published

2022-01-14

Issue

Section

Science and Technology Policy