Terrorists potentially target millions in makeshift biological weapons ‘laboratories’, UN forum hears

The United Nations Office at Geneva, where multilateral discussions on biological weapons have been taking place.

UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré The United Nations Office at Geneva, where multilateral discussions on biological weapons have been taking place.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.
Rapid advances in gene editing and so-called “DIY biological laboratories”which could be used by extremists, threaten to derail efforts to prevent biological weapons from being used against civilians, the world’s only international forum on the issue has heard.

At meetings taking place at the United Nations in Geneva which ended on Thursday, representatives from more than 100 Member States which have signed up to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) – together with civilian experts and academics – also discussed how they could ensure that science is used to positive ends, in line with the disarmament blueprint set out by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Although the potential impact of a biological weapons attack could be huge, the likelihood is not currently believed to be high. The last attack dates back to 2001, when letters containing toxic anthrax spores, killed five people in the US, just days after Al Qaeda terrorists perpetrated the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Nonetheless, the rise of extremist groups and the potential risk of research programmes being misused, has focused attention on the work of the BWC.

“There’s interest from terror groups and we’re also seeing the erosion of norms on chemical weapons,” said Daniel Feakes, head of the BWC Implementation Support Unit at the UN in Geneva.

“That could spread to biological weapons as well,” he said, adding that “at the worst, you could be talking of epidemics on the scale of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, or even a global pandemic that could result in millions of deaths.”

In a bid to stay on top of the latest biological developments and threats, the BWC’s 181 Member States hold a series of meetings with experts every year, traditionally in the summer. The reports that are discussed during these sessions are then formerly appraised in December.

At the eight-day session just ended, science and technology issues were debated for two days – a measure of their importance.

Among the developments discussed was the groundbreaking gene-editing technique CRISPR. It can be applied – in theory – to any organism. Outside the Geneva body, CRISPR’s use has raised ethical questions, Mr. Feakes said, but among Member States, security ramifications dominated discussions.

“Potentially, it could be used to develop more effective biological weapons,” he said, noting that the meetings addressed the growing trend of “DIY biological labs”. However, the meetings also focused on the promotion of “responsible science” so that “scientists are part of the solution, not the problem”.

In addition to concerns that the Biological Weapons Convention lacks full international backing, the body has also faced criticism that its Members are not obliged to allow external checks on any illegal stockpiles they might have.

The issue highlights the fact that the BWC lacks a strong institution, its handful of administrators dwarfed by larger sister organizations including the OPCW – the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The OPCW’s 500-strong staff – based in the Hague – have weapons inspectors training facilities, Feakes notes, explaining that the BWC’s focus is therefore much more “about what States do at a national level”.

Concern for the future

Looking ahead, and aside from the rapid pace of scientific change, the biggest challenge is keeping the Biological Weapons Convention relevant – which appears to still be the case today.

“There are no States that say they need biological weapons,” Mr. Feakes says. “That norm needs to be maintained and properly managed. You can’t ban CRISPR or gene editing, because they can do so much good, like finding cures for diseases or combating climate change. But we still need to manage these techniques and technologies to ensure they are used responsibly.” Gene editing, in simple terms, involves the copying of exact strands of DNA, similar to cutting and pasting text on a computer.

The latest BWC session in the Swiss city also involved key intergovernmental organizations, scientific and professional associations, academic institutions, think tanks and other non-governmental entities.

Formally known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, the BWC was the first multilateral disarmament treaty to ban an entire category of weapons.

It opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975. It currently has 181 States Parties, and six States that have signed but not yet ratified it.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

93 million children with disabilities ‘among the most likely to be left behind’: UN rights chief

Accelerating a more sustainable industrial revolution with digital manufacturing

Trust links up supply chains. How do you establish it in the digital era?

We need to talk about failure in the social sector

Israel is joining forces with Arab states to save coral from climate change destruction

Why banks escape from competition rules but not pharmaceutical firms

A critical European young voice on Net Neutrality: the distance between Brussels and Washington

The next EU President will first have to drink his tea at Downing Street

COP21 Breaking News_10 December: the final sprint of the Final Agreement Negotiations

Ambassador Zhang Ming: “Work Together for a Better Globalization”

EU’s new environmental policy on biofuels impacts both the environment and the European citizen

YO!Fest back in Strasbourg for the 2nd edition of the European Youth Event – 20-21 May 2016

Idlib deal could save three million ‘from catastrophe’ says UN chief, as militants are urged to lay down arms

What does global health translate into?

UN calls for support to implement Central Africa’s newly minted peace agreement

The global suicide rate is growing – what can we do?

‘Continuing absence’ of political solution to Israel-Palestine conflict ‘undermines and compounds’ UN efforts to end wholesale crisis

Parliament adopts new rules for short-stay visas

UN refugee agency presses States to aid 49 refugees stranded on Mediterranean

Can we balance conservation and development? Science says yes

The IMF overstates the risks for Eurozone and downgrades the threats for the US economy

Mechanism to protect democracy in the EU needed more than ever, says the EP

Main results of Environment Council of 09 October 2018

Better training ‘a necessary and strategic investment’ in peacekeeping that saves lives: Guterres

Monsoon rains turn millions of children’s lives ‘upside down’ across South Asia

EU’s Finance Ministers draft plan to raise tax bills of online giants like Google and Amazon

Access to health in the developped and developing world

Brexit: Britain and the Continent fighting the battle of Waterloo again

As inequality grows, the UN fights for a fairer world

Towards seamless patent registration and protection in 25 EU countries

This new form of currency could transform the way we see money

EU-China relations under investigation?

Trade, taxes and other takeaways from Li Keqiang’s speech to the World Economic Forum

ILO discusses world of work response to global refugee crisis

Militias force nearly 2,000 to leave Libyan capital’s largest shelter for internally-displaced: UNHCR

Scale of displacement across Myanmar ‘very difficult to gauge’, says UN refugee agency

Why Microsoft is a regular to Almunia’s

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: “European unity and cooperation is being called on question”, Vice President Joe Biden criticizes from Davos

How to unleash the enormous power of global healthcare data

Britain in chaos: May stays as Tory leader and PM but none can defuse the Brexit time bomb

“We need to accelerate our negotiation on the China-EU Investment Treaty”, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang highlights from the 21st EU-China summit in Brussels

Pumping more money into banks but leaving them unregulated doesn’t help

Schools in Florida now have to teach mental and emotional health

“Leaked” TTIP document breaks post 8th negotiations round silence and opens door to critics

Brexit: UK business fear of a no-deal scenario preparing for the worst

After music and TV, where will the streaming revolution take us next?

UK Labour Party leader Corbyn readies to change Brexit political backdrop

5 technologies that will forever change global trade

The world needs carbon-neutral flying. Here’s how to bring it one step closer

The glimmers of hope in the latest dire climate report

Who is to lose from the 6-month extension of the EU economic sanctions against Russia?

Large parts of the world are growing more fragile. Here are 5 steps to reverse course

These are the world’s most positive countries

This Japanese company pays its employees to get a good night’s sleep

COP24: Huge untapped potential in greener construction, says UN environment agency

Sweden is a top performer on well-being. Here’s why

Could play be a game-changer for the world’s forests?

UN affirms ‘historic’ global compact to support world’s refugees

Eurozone banks are unable to support real economy’s dawning growth

Getting vaccinated should just be considered a human right?

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s