U.S. announces new biological weapons stance

The United States has officially unveiled its strategy to crack down on biological weapons, though the new plan does not include international enforcement, which continues the Bush administrations' rejection of binding verification plans.

"It is also important that the new policy is being released in the most prominent international forum on this issue," Professor Barry Kellman of the International Security and Biopolicy Institute said. "By choosing this forum, the Obama Administration is signaling its commitment to addressing the global threat of bioterrorism in collaboration with the international community."

Ellen Tauscher, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control, expressed a desire to revitalize the Biological Weapons Convention. The United States walked out of that convention in 2001, rejecting international monitoring of military and pharmaceutical research.

The 1972 convention bars the development, trade and use of biological weapons, including anthrax, smallpox and other devastating toxins. That treaty, ratified by 163 countries, was not drawn up with enforcement provisions.

International monitoring was part of a new protocol diplomats began monitoring after the fall of the Soviet Union but, after more than a decade of talks, the Bush administration pulled out shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Washington said at the time that the inspection system would not work and would expose United States secrets to both its rivals and its enemies.

"The Obama administration will not seek to revive negotiations on a verification protocol to the convention," Tauscher said, shutting the door on that protocol for the time being.

The United States' goals with its new biological weapons strategy include, "with the international community to promote the peaceful and beneficial use of life sciences," Tauscher said, "to combat infectious diseases regardless of their cause. We will work to promote global health security by increasing the availability of and access to knowledge and products of the life sciences to help reduce the impact from outbreaks of infectious disease whether of natural, accidental or deliberate origin.

"Second, we will work toward establishing and reinforcing norms against the misuse of the life sciences."

The third goal of the strategy, Tauscher said, is to "we will implement a coordinated approach to influence, identify, inhibit, and interdict those who seek to misuse scientific progress to harm innocent people. We will seek to obtain timely and accurate information on the full spectrum of threats and challenges. This information will allow us to take appropriate actions to manage the evolving risk.

"Finally, and most relevant to this body, we want to reinvigorate the Biological Weapons Convention as the premier forum for global outreach and coordination."

Kellman said that policy is important because its it collects a wide range of initiatives meant to strengthen the security of pathogens, early detection and diagnosis of attacks as well as medical preparedness for treating infected people.

"A key component of this policy is the U.S. commitment to global health preparedness, including stockpiling and delivery of medical countermeasures against likely bioattack agents," Kellman said. "The policy also includes measures to enhance law enforcement capacities for stopping future attacks and restoring
public order.

"Altogether, the Obama Administration is taking a significant stride toward making the world safer from tomorrow’s emerging threats."