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

By David P. Fidler; Lawrence O. Gostin | Go to book overview

2
THE PROBLEM OF BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS

I. INTRODUCTION

The rise of the biosecurity challenge owes much to the growing security and public health concerns about the threat the development and use of biological weapons pose. Although biological weapons have been a feature of international relations since the early twentieth century, the past decade has seen fears about them increase with each passing year. The anthrax attacks in the United States in 2001 elevated these fears and helped make biological weapons a higher security and foreign policy priority for the United States and other nations. Skeptics responded to this heightened importance by arguing that policy makers and experts were hyping the threat unnecessarily, creating distortions in making and implementing policy.

The attention biological weapons have received underscores this threat's centrality to thinking about biosecurity as a policy and governance challenge. The importance of the biological weapons threat has increased the scrutiny of, and the stress upon, prevailing governance mechanisms designed to address the threat, namely the arms control approach embodied in the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC 1972). This chapter examines the biological weapons problem in light of the dramatic changes affecting actors, technologies, and norms in this area. The chapter's objective is to provide the reader with a sense of the problem biological weapons represent in the early twentyfirst century.

We begin with an overview of the biological weapons problem. Our analysis stresses the tensions created by a situation characterized by controversies

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