U.S. stance on bioweapons important, doesn't need inspectors, professor says

The Obama administration's recently announced biological weapons stance is, Professor Barry Kellman of the International Security and Biopolicy institute said, "crucial and complicated," and, he said, so nuanced that its hard for the lay reader to grasp.

"Addressing biothreats is simultaneously one of the most important things we do nationally and internationally for security and, at the same time, the most multifaceted, multidimensional, nuanced undertaking in the entire security domain," Kellman said. "President Obama's policy gets that complexity and importance and integrates the promotion of public health, which is necessary for responding to a bioattack, with promotion of law enforcement, which is necessary for preventing it.

"It integrates support for life sciences, which is necessary for identifying suspicious activities and producing medicines for preparedness, with keeping an eye on bioscience because it may produce, intentionally or inadvertently, methods for bioterrorism."

Most importantly, Kellman says, the new stance highlights that preventing biological attacks is an international security challenge requiring international collaboration.

"Pathogens," Kellman said," have no respect for borders."

In addition to the ease with which bioweapons, as contagious disease, can cross borders, Kellman said that they are easy to move through airports, which allows them to go wherever a terrorist wants to take them.

Critics of the new stance have raised the point that it does not include international enforcement, something Kellman says is not important.

"Very few serious experts think a verification system is appropriate," Kellman said. "That is a holdover from nuclear arms control where it does make enormous sense with no logical adaption to what makes bioweapons development fundamentally different. People who see this as arms control want monitoring because nuclear weapons and chemical weapons have a monitoring scheme.

"It's a myopic concern not with the reality of the threat but with the superficial inflation of arms control mechanisms simply and entirely for the sake of building up arms control mechanisms.

"They're fixated on what makes it superficially the same and when they get confronted by a very detailed policy focusing on what makes the threat unique and it doesn't look like what they used to. It isn't about setting up an organization with inspectors."

Fundamentally, Kellman says, the most important part of the new stance is that the administration is saying that it has been listening to experts. The new BWC, he says, reflects the best of all of the disconnected agendas and priorities.

"This announcement just makes it patently clear to the community that there's some guys in the White House who get it," Kellman said. "Underneath this very detailed policy are even far more detailed tactics.