The New Bioweapons Peril
A case to revisit the Biological Weapons Convention
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.