Biosecurity in the Global Age: Biological Weapons, Public Health, and the Rule of Law

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Biosecurity comprehensively analyzes the dramatic transformations that are reshaping how the international community addresses biological weapons and infectious diseases.

The book examines the renewed threat from biological weapons, and explores the new world of biological weapons governance. Gostin and Fidler argue that the arms control approach in the Biological Weapons Convention no longer dominates. Other strategies have emerged to challenge the arms control approach, and the book identifies four important policy trends—the criminalization of biological weapons, regulation of the biological sciences, management of the biodefense imperative, and preparation for biological weapons attack.

The book also explores the challenges to public health resulting from new security threats. The authors look at the linkages between security and public health policy, both at the national and international level. For instance, Gostin and Fidler scrutinize the difficulty of developing policies that improve defenses against both biological weapons and the threat of infectious diseases from new viral strains.

The new worlds of biological weapons and public health governance raise the importance of crafting policy responses informed by the rule of law. Thinking about the rule of law underscores the importance of finding globalized forms of biosecurity governance. The book explores patterns in recent governance initiatives and advocates building a "global biosecurity concert" as a way to address the threats biological weapons and infectious diseases present in the early 21st century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Fidler and Gostin have produced the best description yet of the traditional as well as the newly emerging laws, regulations, treaties and policies in international biosecurity. They navigate through a broad range of topics, while lucidly explaining the public health issues of the new biosecurity age."—Victoria Sutton, Professor and Director of the Center for Biodefense, Law and Public Policy, Texas Tech University, and author of Law and Bioterrorism

"Fidler and Gostin's work is essential reading for anyone concerned about either public health or national security—two topics that they make clear must from now on be analyzed together. This pathbreaking book provides an analytic framework for the real world's merger of public health and national security threats. It is both fascinating and important."—Hank Greely, Stanford University

"Individuals who are concerned with these challenging questions would be well informed if they read Biosecurity in the Global Age: Biological Weapons, Public Health, and the Rule of Law with a clear-cut title that epitomizes the subject matter, the book distinctly lays out the crisis facing the world's biosecurity. This forward-looking book enables the reader to understand the complexities involved in such a task."
Law and Politics Book Review

"Biosecurity in the Global Age: Biological Weapons, Public Health, and the Rule of Law, by internationally renowned law professors Lawrence Gostin and David Fidler, provides an opportunity to develop a robust understanding of biosecurity and its role in national and international policy." —Journal of the American Medical Association

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804750295
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 1/2/2008
  • Series: Stanford Studies in Jewish History and C Ser.
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 997,398
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

David P. Fidler is James Louis Calamaras Professor of Law at Indiana University School of Law. Professor Fidler's recent books include International Law and Public Health: Materials on and Analysis of Global Health Jurisprudence (2000) and SARS, Governance, and the Globalization of Disease (2004). Lawrence O. Gostin is Associate Dean and Linda D. and Timothy J. O'Neill Professor of Global Health Law at Georgetown University, and Visiting Professor at Oxford University. Professor Gostin's latest books include Public Health Law: Power, Duty, Restraint (2008) and Public Health Law and Ethics: A Reader (2002).

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Read an Excerpt

Biosecurity in the Global Age

By David P. Fidler Lawrence O. Gostin


Copyright © 2008 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-5029-5

Chapter One


The Challenge of Biosecurity in the Twenty-First Century


In the first years of the twenty-first century, the United States and the rest of the world have endured shocks, crises, and fears captured in the haunting images, words, and events that define our turbulent times-September 11th, Al Qaeda, weapons of mass destruction, USA PATRIOT, axis of evil, SARS, quarantine, HIV/AIDS, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Darfur, bird flu. This troubling lexicon captures pressing dangers individuals, countries, and the international system face today.

Some of these dangers are not new, such as war, tyranny, and torture. They represent recent manifestations of age-old threats to human dignity, national security, and international peace. Other dangers combine, however, to create new threats to individuals, countries, and the global community with few, if any, precedents. This book focuses on one of these new dangers-the threat infectious diseases pose to human life, the security of states, and international political and economic stability. In short, the world confronts a serious biosecurity threat.

The argument that something called biosecurity has emerged as a new issue in national and international politics may be greeted with skepticism because states addressed challenges posed by biological weapons and naturally occurring infectious diseases for most of the twentieth century. The Geneva Protocol banned, for example, the use of bacteriological agents in warfare in 1925 (Geneva Protocol 1925). States established international health organizations tasked with cooperation on infectious diseases in the first decade of the twentieth century (Rome Agreement 1907; Weindling 1995). In addition, international cooperation on infectious diseases dates back to at least the mid-nineteenth century (Goodman 1971; Howard-Jones 1950; Howard-Jones 1975).

The emergence of biosecurity as a policy concern connects, thus, to historical efforts made to address biological weapons and infectious disease epidemics. What has transpired recently, however, represents a policy revolution, the implications of which are still unfolding and are not yet fully understood. So much of such importance has happened so rapidly with respect to the challenges of biological weapons and infectious diseases that synthesis presents a daunting challenge. This book takes up the challenge and explores the emergence of biosecurity as a critical policy area in the first decades of the twenty-first century.


We argue that biosecurity encompasses threats from both biological weapons and naturally occurring infectious diseases. The policy revolution that biosecurity represents requires integrating two policy realms previously separate from one another-security and public health. We stress the importance and difficulty of this integration strategy throughout this book. Integrating security and public health requires changing entrenched perspectives and practices and building new, sustainable governance approaches to threats posed by pathogenic microbes.

As discussed more later, our argument about integration touches on one of the many controversies that surround biosecurity. Traditionalists in both security and public health resist weaving these new areas together. The integrative task is, however, critical. Approaching this task forthrightly forces both security and public health leaders to re-think their approaches to the challenges of governance convergence. One of the most important of these challenges involves the role of the biological sciences in the pursuit of biosecurity. We argue that the development of the biosecurity challenge requires supervision of the biological sciences as part of the integration of security and public health.

The policy thrust for such supervision comes from worries that malevolent actors may transform scientific advances into weapons of mass terror and destruction. We acknowledge the prudence of these worries and accept the need for oversight to prevent or deter misappropriation of scientific progress for evil ends. The dynamics of oversight cannot, however, sacrifice science's critical function in improving humanity's health on the altar of narrowly construed notions of national security.

As illustrated by the novel challenge of balancing scientific freedom and security fears, the integration of security and public health requires policy makers to engage in complex decisions often characterized by a lack of complete information. We argue that, in such an environment, embedding biosecurity policy in the rule of law becomes critical. Whether the issue is the supervision of science for security and public health or another of the myriad challenges biosecurity presents, the governance framework provided by the rule of law approach serves as a lodestar for biosecurity policy.

Our belief in the rule of law does not mean we claim that this approach always provides the "right" response. The choices biosecurity threats force policy makers to confront are too complex and contingent for any approach to be foolproof. We do assert, however, that the rule of law philosophy of governance provides a tested methodology for policy formulation and execution that allows material interests to be pursued without losing sight of core normative values.

The integration of security and public health within the rule of law raises the problem of achieving these ends in a world increasingly characterized by globalization. We argue that effective biosecurity policy has to involve globalized forms of governance. As with many policy areas transformed by globalization, security and public health can no longer view the world through the state-centric lenses of national governments and intergovernmental coordination. Governance mechanisms have to reflect the malevolent and benevolent roles non-state actors play in world politics.

Crafting effective globalized governance for biosecurity is, however, difficult. The enormity of the challenge often tempts people to revert to traditional governance approaches, especially retrenchment into narrow conceptions of a nation's self-interests in security and health. As the book explores, these backward-looking reversions have a powerful logic that flows from the sheer difficulty of making globalized governance work coherently. We acknowledge this difficulty but maintain that biosecurity, even narrowly defined, cannot be achieved and maintained in a sustainable way without robust globalized governance efforts.

The book develops these arguments in greater detail, but, before launching into systematic analysis, more introductory context for the biosecurity policy revolution would prove useful to readers. We have designed this book to be useful to different academic and policy disciplines, so establishing some baseline understanding with our readers on key themes is useful. The next sections of this chapter accomplish this objective by exploring the concept, controversies, and key challenges of biosecurity policy in the early twenty-first century.


We generally define biosecurity to mean society's collective responsibility to safeguard the population from dangers presented by pathogenic microbes-whether intentionally released or naturally occurring. With respect to the malevolent use of microbes, our use of the term biosecurity is not novel because many experts have used it to describe efforts to defend against threats from biological weapons and biological terrorism. These threats are indeed primary subject matter for biosecurity policy, and Part I of this book addresses the threat of violence perpetrated through biological means, or what Kellman has called the perpetration of bioviolence (Kellman 2006b).

Our approach to biosecurity includes, however, more than the development and use of biological weapons. Biosecurity concerns two intertwining strands of pathogenic threats that include biological weapons and naturally occurring infectious diseases. Biosecurity is as much about public health as arms control because of the dangers infectious diseases pose to human societies in the twenty-first century. We agree, "Biological security ... must address both the challenge of biological weapons and that of infectious disease" (Chyba 2001, 2349), and "We need to pay much closer attention to biological security" to build "an effective global defence against bio-terrorism and overwhelming natural outbreaks of deadly infectious disease" (UN Secretary-General 2004, viii). Understanding the threats of naturally occurring infectious diseases and biological weapons "is critical to formulating an effective biosecurity policy" (Grotto and Tucker 2006, 1). The threats presented by biological weapons and natural disease epidemics weave together to form an interdependent policy challenge the likes of which we have never seen before.

Acknowledging interdependencies in policies on biological weapons and infectious diseases does not mean that all infectious disease outbreaks are biosecurity problems. Many infectious disease events remain localized, low-impact outbreaks. To include these infectious disease issues within the scope of biosecurity wrongly equates this concept with public health generally. The biosecurity concern is with infectious disease outbreaks and problems, whatever their source or origin, that could potentially disrupt the normal functioning of societies.

Societal disruption is not, of course, a concept capable of precise measurement or prediction because too many factors are involved. Infectious disease outbreaks can powerfully affect the human psyche in ways that extend beyond statistics on death and illness. Even harms that are small statistically can generate destabilizing effects within and among societies. The social, economic, and political disruptions caused by the anthrax attacks in 2001 and the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 illustrate the disruptive potential of even low morbidity and mortality events.

Our approach to biosecurity deviates from traditional policy perspectives on what "security" means. Security has historically been concerned predominantly with threats of military violence by one state against another state. In our view, the least pressing biosecurity concern involves the possible use of biological weapons by one state against another state. Although our concept of biosecurity includes the potential for inter-state use of biological weapons, we recognize as security concerns possible biological attacks perpetrated by non-state actors-bioterrorists-and the transnational threat presented by naturally occurring disease epidemics.

Expanding the notion of security beyond its conventional paradigm has proved controversial, whether the focus of the expansion involves pathogenic threats, environmental degradation, or other candidates for new security challenges (see more later). Threats of military conflict by one state against another remain security concerns, as worries in the United States about China's growing military power, North Korea's claimed possession of nuclear weapons, and Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons suggest. Conventional wisdom about security does not, however, provide sufficient guidance when we consider the spectrum of serious threats posed by infectious diseases.

The frequency and intensity with which bioterrorism and the specter of contagious pandemics have appeared on U.S. national and homeland security agendas indicate that significant real world developments inform our analysis (White House 2002; Office of Homeland Security 2002). In its latest National Security Strategy, issued in March 2006, President George W. Bush's administration again conceived of "public health challenges like pandemics (HIV/AIDS, avian influenza) that recognize no borders" as a national security problem related to globalization (White House 2006a, 47). The Bush administration argued that the risks to social order from naturally occurring disease epidemics can be "so great that public health approaches may be inadequate, necessitating new strategies and responses" (White House 2006a, 47). One of these new strategies and responses is to conceive of naturally occurring infectious diseases as security threats, as we do in our definition of biosecurity.

As subsequent chapters discuss, the real challenge is not justifying the shift away from conventional wisdom on what security means. Rather, the task involves how best to balance the need to protect against the proliferation of biological weapons and the perpetration of biological attacks by terrorists and the need to address threats presented by naturally occurring infectious diseases. Calibrating these aspects of biosecurity constitutes a policy challenge wholly unlike previous security tasks, such as how much political détente and how much nuclear deterrence the United States needed to address the Soviet threat during the Cold War. This unprecedented task also affects traditional understandings of public health, as the position of the Bush administration in its latest National Security Strategy demonstrates.


The emergence of biosecurity has generated significant controversies at virtually every level and step of analysis. For that reason, the terrain of biosecurity policy is a conceptual and practical minefield, making it a very politically charged arena of debate. The disagreements begin with attempts to define security in ways that include more than inter-state military violence. Efforts to include naturally occurring infectious diseases within security thinking form part of a larger controversy about redefining security, especially national security, away from its traditional state-centric, military-biased perspective. This conventional perspective has been particularly strong in the United States because "traditional definitions of U.S. national security have focused almost exclusively on the potential of violent attack by other countries on the United States, its citizens, and its vital overseas interests" (Bergen and Garrett 2005, 1).

Many security experts are leery of expanding the traditional concept of security to include new types of threats from non-state actors or transnational phenomena. In some respects, this wariness is warranted because discourse on new security threats often threatens to collapse notions of security with notions of governance (e.g., as happens with the concept of human security). In other respects, security traditionalists are fighting a losing battle. The terrorist attacks of September 11th laid to rest the debate whether non-state actors really represented national security threats to the United States. With the traditional state-centric framework penetrated, policy space has opened for considering the potentially disruptive effects of transnational, nonmilitary phenomena. The Bush administration's willingness to include threats from naturally occurring infectious diseases repeatedly in its national and homeland security strategies suggests that a sea change, however controversial, has indeed occurred. Leading nongovernmental analyses also reflect this sea change (Grotto and Tucker 2006; Ikenberry and Slaughter 2006).

In addition to disagreements about what threats security policy should address, many other controversies have accompanied biosecurity's emergence as a new policy endeavor. Debates rage, for example, about what type of security threat bioterrorism really presents to countries today. Some, such as former Senator Bill Frist, have argued that bioterrorism constitutes one of the most serious existential threats to U.S. national security in the early twenty-first century (Hirschler 2005). Other analysts challenge this assessment and assert that bioterrorism is not one of the most pressing issues facing the United States or the world today (Leitenberg 2004, 2005).


Excerpted from Biosecurity in the Global Age by David P. Fidler Lawrence O. Gostin Copyright © 2008 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Tables and Figures....................vii
List of Abbreviations....................ix
1 Introduction: The Challenge of Biosecurity in the Twenty-First Century....................1
2 The Problem of Biological Weapons....................23
3 The New World of Biological Weapons Governance....................55
4 The Securitization of Public Health....................121
5 The New World of Public Health Governance....................147
6 Biosecurity and the Rule of Law....................187
7 Globalizing Governance: Toward a Global Biosecurity Concert....................219
8 Conclusion: The Burden and Opportunity of Biosecurity in the Global Age....................257
Annex 1 U.S. Government Select Agent List....................263
Annex 2 Geneva Protocol of 1925....................267
Annex 3 Biological Weapons Convention of 1972....................269
Annex 4 Provisions Connected to Human Rights in the International Health Regulations (2005)....................275
List of References....................277
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