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Foreign AffairsGuillemin's account of biological weapons is lucid and concise, providing an excellent guide through the evidence on the past and issues for the future.
— Lawrence D. Freedman
Until the events of September 11 and the anthrax attacks of 2001, biological weapons had never been a major public concern in the United States. Today, the possibility of their use by terrorists against Western states looms large as an international security concern. In Biological Weapons, Jeanne Guillemin provides a highly accessible and compelling account of the circumstances under which scientists, soldiers, and statesmen were able to mobilize resources for extensive biological weapons programs and also analyzes why such weapons, targeted against civilians, were never used in a major conflict.
This book is essential for understanding the relevance of the historical restraints placed on the use of biological weapons for today's world. It serves as an excellent introduction to the problems biological weapons pose for contemporary policymakers and public officials, particularly in the United States. How can we best deter the use of such weapons? What are the resulting policies of the Department of Homeland Security? How can we constrain proliferation? Jeanne Guillemin wisely points out that these are vitally important questions for all Americans to consider and investigate—all the more so because the development of these weapons has been carried out under a veil of secrecy, with their frightening potential open to exploitation by the media and government. Public awareness through education can help calm fears in today's tension-filled climate and promote constructive political action to reduce the risks of a biological weapons catastrophe.
Biological Weapons is required reading for every concerned citizen, government policymaker, public health official, and national security analyst who wants to understand this complex and timely issue.
Columbia University Press
— Lawrence D. Freedman
— Karl Helicher
— Thomas May
— Karl M. Johnson, M.D.
— John Ellis van Courtland Moon
— Alan D B Malcolm
— Susan Lindee
— Malcolm Dando
Biology today is as susceptible to hostile exploitation as were chemistry in World War I and physics in World War II. The formidable power of international commerce is behind this basic science, moving it toward innovations that, along with marketable medical value, might also be turned to destructive ends. If exploited by states, the science and technology of biological weapons could pose one of the most serious problems humanity has ever faced. A new generation of biological weapons, if pursued with vigor, could make them technologically competitive, especially for human control and domination. Unless the power of biotechnology is politically restrained, it could introduce scientific methods that would change the way war is waged and increase the means for victimizing civilians.
The question at present is whether sufficient national and international restraints against this danger are in place, especially when scientific knowledge itself is at issue. In the past, various, at times serendipitous, combinations of legal norms, public oversight, technical obstacles, and political leadership prevented the use of biological weapons. Overall, though, the world has beenlucky, in that influential political actors took action at critical junctures and that the general historical trend of the last century has been toward transparency and open government.
History shows that the problem of biological weapons proliferation is too complex to be solved by any single restraint. A reasoned assessment of threats and measures is the first step to resolving the problem of proliferation. This problem should be understood as potentially more serious now than in the past, in great measure because human malice coupled with human ingenuity is a constant in world history. History also tells us that without a long-term commitment to nonproliferation, we are gambling with the future.
Trust and Mistrust
The United States' definition of its interests sets a standard to which the rest of the world cannot help but react. Even before September 11 and the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, the United States was in retreat from new international initiatives to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), while it also reinforced its homeland security policies. The Bush administration reinforced American unilateralism and a confrontational approach to international relations that, as in the Reagan era, depended on conspicuous military might. After September 11, "waging war on two fronts" was President Bush's apt description for America's militancy abroad and civil-defense orientation at home.
At the core of the US government's rejection of a strengthened BWC was the belief that the United States was exceptionally trustworthy and could therefore interpret and implement legal norms as it chose. Close allies of the United States, especially the United Kingdom, were trustworthy as well. In distinct contrast, suspect nations such as Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Syria, and Iran posed the most serious threat because they were too closed and perfidious to abide by law. Other states, such as China, India, Pakistan, and later Russia, were too well armed and large to ignore but still not fully trusted.
This perception of a global division between "haves" and "have-nots" is often shared among advanced industrial nations and has influenced treaty negotiations on weapons of mass destruction. From this viewpoint, the world appears divided into "responsible" Western states that can be trusted with nuclear weapons and "irresponsible" non-Western states that cannot be trusted with the weapons they have or that must be prevented from acquiring any. In this view, arms control is but one element of a web of restraints imposed by the North on the South, encompassing export controls, strong biological and chemical defenses, and a "determined and effective" military response.
A competing political vision assumes inseparable common interests among all the world's states in reducing the threat of weapons of mass destruction and of war and violence in general. It holds that the benefits of biomedical technology should be shared between wealthy nations and those in economic need. This perspective promotes the international mobilization of citizens, including scientists and physicians, to promote the interdiction of biological weapons. Far from being antagonistic to American or Western values, this approach is based on openness and democratic participation, extended to a global context. It encourages nongovernmental and grassroots organizations and the idea of civil society as part of the long-term international solution to present dangers.
The dichotomy between the two approaches is less sharp than it may appear. Despite the forces of globalization, the importance of sovereign state governments and state law in reducing weapons proliferation endures. The initiatives of advanced industrial states can be vitally constructive, provided there are options for broader cooperation. International measures based on trust are likewise essential for persuading a range of governments that openness through, for example, mutual onsite inspections and scientific partnership, is preferable to continued secrecy.
The BWC and US Military Secrecy
At present 151 nations are parties to the Biological Weapons Convention, and 132 nations are parties to the Geneva Protocol, a strong testimony to the international norm. The BWC's lack of verification and compliance provisions is frequently referred to as its greatest shortcoming in reducing the threat of proliferation. What, then, is the solution?
US government objections to a protocol that would strengthen the treaty have been based on what it has argued is its exceptional need for military secrecy and the proprietary needs of its pharmaceutical industries. This double argument raises the question of whether, regarding this category of weapon, the safety of one nation is strictly divisible from all others, even, for example, from that of European allies like the United Kingdom, which have supported treaty compliance and transparency.
The US defensive program is the largest in the world, a fact that US representatives have often underscored. But how large and, more important, how secret should it be to serve national interests-which are fundamentally public interests-or those of its allies? The 1991 BWC Confidence-Building Measures, to which the US government agreed, require declarations of legitimate defensive projects and locales, leaving the substance of the classified work undisturbed. These declarations have compliance, not total transparency, as a goal. Further, they are intended as a means of distinguishing between legitimate programs and the illegitimate ventures that are more likely to be hidden and therefore undeclared. The United States should have no need for biological defense programs whose locations and general nature must be kept secret. But how much secrecy is too much?
If, as the covert CIA and Department of Defense projects suggest, the United States has a stake in undeclared projects at undeclared sites, it may be engaged in activities that increase the risks of proliferation and therefore danger to the public. With the world's largest military, the United States could set broad and dangerous standards for biological weapons research. Escalation within a defensive program, for example, could advance the laboratory and delivery technology for biological weapons. Small-scale, arbitrary projects, such as those leaked to the press in 2001, could pave the way for new agents or for attack simulations on a large, elaborate scale, to second-guess what a suspected enemy might develop. In time, other states or organizations would gain access to the same or similar classified technology, whether for a new agent, drug, bomb, or missile.
The US presumption that the threat of biological weapons is foreign is generally supportable, but several domestic crimes, including the 2001 anthrax letters, point to risks within the United States, perhaps from its own programs. Intelligence and defense officials may want to explore what an adversary might do, but secret knowledge and materials generated by their own biodefense projects could be put to hostile use by the increasing numbers of Americans with access and special skills.
Transparency in the name of public safety need not require front-page headlines, but it does require oversight and accountability. Ample US military funding without civil review fueled biological weapons proliferation in the past, and it could pose a danger again.
Legal Restraints and the Pharmaceutical Industry
The second US objection to strengthening the BWC concerns the protection of the proprietary rights of pharmaceutical companies. During negotiations on the BWC protocol, the lobby for the American pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), was vocal in its objections to onsite inspections by international teams as an economic threat.
The cooperation of American pharmaceutical companies is vital to an effective BWC. At present their position resembles that of the American chemical industry in 1925 when the Geneva Protocol ratification was debated in the Senate. Competition then was strong among American companies and between American industry and European chemical manufacturers, while the non-Western world of vast colonies and emerging states lagged far behind in industrial capacity and consumption.
During the 1990s, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries were beginning to reap unprecedented rewards from years of basic research, much of it funded by the federal government. Earlier public fears about experiments with recombinant DNA had been resolved by the creation of institutional and federal government oversight committees. The exploitation of revolutionary technological advances, for example, gene-splicing and genome sequence databanks, promised to be highly profitable. In this competitive atmosphere, protecting patents and confidential business information was primary.
Predictably, the probusiness Bush administration defended the industry's right to secrecy. The pharmaceutical industry, though, is different from others in that its products directly promote health and save lives and therefore have a value that is universally subsidized by advanced industrialized nations for their citizens. That said, these corporations have responsibilities to stockholders and they protect their turf. For example, nearly every major pharmaceutical company joined in a 2001 suit against the government of South Africa's intent to import cheap generic AIDS medications, which the industry feared would set a global precedent. The bad press that followed this suit, which was subsequently dropped, motivated a number of the giant corporations to work with the World Health Organization to provide inexpensive, subsidized HIV medications for needy nations.
Nations differ greatly in the accountability they demand of their pharmaceutical industry and the controls they impose on them. Western European states, perhaps uniquely in the world, have required openness and accountability in the name of the public good. Perhaps as a consequence, Western European pharmaceutical companies were more accepting of protocol declaration and inspection proposals than PhRMA. In the United Kingdom, a strong supporter of the protocol, the political context for emerging biotechnologies allowed the public and environmentalists to review laboratory and manufacturing processes. This emphasis on social participation grew out of the government's assumption of responsibility for health and safety risks during World War II, which evolved into the United Kingdom's socialized medicine based on local citizen councils. In Germany, pharmaceutical accountability to the public has been accorded even higher priority, for the general environmental risks that manufacturers might cause.
In contrast, the American approach to biotechnology has been to shield the manufacturing processes from oversight and to emphasize the product, which is judged by federal regulators and in the marketplace, where individual consumers might seek legal compensation if they have grievances. This American emphasis on product helps explain US industry's resistance to the BWC protocol. Yet, throughout the years of Ad Hoc Group discussions, the emphasis was on inspection with regard to large-scale production, which left ample room for the protection of commercial secrets during sensitive research and development leading to patents. Even this end-of-process verification, though, proved unsatisfactory to the United States.
With the US Bioshield program and increased funding for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), American pharmaceutical companies now have a stake in civil defense that bears watching. The companies involved in biodefense are in a more precarious position than their officers may realize. They stand to gain only if there is a technical invention from basic research, for instance, a generally effective antiviral drug or other discovery beyond traditional defenses against the relatively arcane biological weapons agents. If pharmaceutical companies are drawn into national vaccine or drug distribution campaigns, they could emerge as heroes or, if there is a false alarm or exaggerated risk, they might be seen as purveyors of sickness and death. Even before that, a spate of laboratory accidents, a product that causes injury in tests, a scientist who perpetrates a biocrime, extensive monkey and other animal research-any of these could harm the industry's image. In the long run, corporate leaders in biotechnology may eventually want to assume a larger role in preventing biological weapons proliferation, as the US chemical industry did after Vietnam and the use of chemicals in that war.
Preoccupied with defending American pharmaceuticals, the United States failed to consider how other nations-for example, China, Russia, India, and Brazil-with state-owned and state-protected biotechnology companies might be susceptible to military exploitation. The potential for "niche states" developing second, third, and further generations of biological weapons would be greater in the absence of verification and compliance measures. Iraq and South Africa are examples of program proliferation in an era of political indifference to their activities. Is such indifference supportable now?
Excerpted from Biological Weapons by Jeanne Guillemin Copyright © 2006 by Columbia University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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PrefaceIntroduction1. Biological Agents and Disease Transmission2. The United Kingdom and Biological Warfare: The Remorseless Advance of Military Science3. The United States in World War II: Industrial Scale and Secrecy4. Secret Sharing and the Japanese Biological Weapons Program (1934-1945)5. Aiming for Nuclear Scale: The Cold War and the US Biological Warfare Program6. The Nixon Decision7. The Soviet Biological Weapons Program8. Bioterrorism and the Threat of Proliferation9. National Security and the Biological Weapons Threat10. Biological Weapons: Restraints Against Proliferation
Columbia University Press