Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity: 23-24 September 2002 - The Montreux Meeting, Switzerland
On 23 and 24 September 2002 the ICRC convened a meeting in Montreux, Switzerland, on " Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity. " This meeting brought together government and independent experts to discuss concerns related to the fields of biotechnology, biological weapons, disarmament law, international humanitarian law, ethics and social responsibility.
During the meeting, the ICRC President, Jakob Kellenberger, presented the ICRC Appeal to the governments and experts attending. A draft Declaration on Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity was also given to governments proposing a range of measures which could reduce the potential for biotechnology to be put to hostile uses.
Summary report of the meeting
- Bradford University, Department of Peace Studies - Preventing Biological Warfare
- British Medical Association: Biological Weapons
- The Harvard Sussex Program on CBW Armament and Arms Limitation
- The South African Chemical and Biological Warfare Programme
- World Health Organisation- Biological Weapons
|1900 Welcome drinks for out-of-town participants|
|09:30-10:30|| Session 1 - OPENING SESSION|
Dr. François Bugnion, Director for International Law and Cooperation within the Movement, International Committee of the Red Cross
Appeal on "Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity"
Dr. Jakob Kellenberger, President, International Committee of the Red Cross
Keynote address: Genomics and the Ethics of Science
Dr. Albert Jacquard, University of Paris, France
|10:30-11:00|| Coffee break|
|11:00-13:00||Session 2 - ANCIENT NORMS: NEW THREATS|
Germs, warfare and the human impulse to keep them apart
Dr. Julian Perry Robinson, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK,
Co-director, Harvard-Sussex Program on CBW Armament and Arms Limitation
Biotechnology and the potential for abuse
Prof. Malcolm Dando, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, UK
Neurosciences and future weapons
Dr. Tamas Bartfai, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, USA
A military perspective on biotechnology, weapons and humanity
Maj. Gen. (Ret'd) Dipankar Banerjee, Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies,
New Delhi, India
|15:00-16:00|| Session 3 - REINFORCING THE LEGAL NORMS Chair: Mr. Peter Herby, ICRC|
Universalising the Biological Weapons Convention
Mr. Alfredo Labbé, Minister Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Chile to the
Conference on Disarmament, Geneva
A convention on international criminalisation
Prof. Matthew Meselson, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology Harvard University, USA
Co-director, Harvard-Sussex Program on CBW Armament and Arms Limitation
|16:00-17:30||Session 3 - REINFORCING THE LEGAL NORMS (cont.)|
National implementing legislation for the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention
Withdrawal of reservations to the 1925 Geneva Protocol
Introduction: Robert Young & Marie-Claude Michon, Legal Division, ICRC
|Tuesday 24th September|
|9:00-10:30||Session 4 - THE ROLE OF SCIENTISTS AND MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS|
Chair: Dr. Robin Coupland, ICRC
Disease surveillance and assistance
Dr. Ottorino Cosivi, Department of Communicable Disease, Surveillance
and Response, World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva
Science compromised: Lessons learned from South Africa's chemical and biological warfare program
Mr. Mafole Mokalobe, Researcher, Centre for Conflict Resolution,
Pretoria, South Africa
Codes of conduct for biomedical researchers
Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, Director of Professional Activities,
British Medical Association, London, UK
|11:00-12:00||Session 4 - THE ROLE OF SCIENTISTS AND MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS (cont.)|
Panel discussion: Towards national and global co-operation on scientific responsibility
|12:00-13:00||CLOSING SESSION Chair, Dr. François Bugnion, ICRC|
A potential role for a high-level political declaration on "Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity"ICRC
Concluding remarks by the Chair
|Copyright © 2002 International Committee of the Red Cross||16-September-2002|
Maj. Gen. (Ret'd) Dipankar Banerjee
About Maj. Gen. (Ret'd) Dipankar Banerjee
Major-General (Ret'd) Dipankar Banerjee is the Executive Director of the Reginial Centre for Strategic Studies, a South Asian think tank located at Colombo. He has held various operational and planning assignments as a combat officer of the Indian Army followed by research on national and international security issues as Deputy Director of the Institute for Defence and Analyses in New Delhi. On October 2002-2003 he will be a Senior Fellow at the United States Institute for Peace in Washington, DC.
Statement by Major-General (Ret'd) Dipankar Banerjee
It is a delight and an honour to address this important conference on Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity. At a time of great change and scientific inventions, weapons of war too undergo major changes affecting not merely the conduct of military operations, but raising major issues of humanity, security and the rule of law. These changes are often rapid and sudden, taking the world unawares. As a result their impact and the consequences of their use are seldom appreciated as comprehensively as they deserve. It is good to see such a distinguished gathering here. Quite appropriately the majority are from the community of diplomats, experts on international law and biotechnology. This is m ost appropriate, for your deliberations will help evolve policies for the security of humanity in the future, a threat that is much nearer than what might otherwise be expected.
A brief military perspective is necessary as well. For weapons are meant for use in war and discoveries in science rapidly find military utility. Today, there is an even more significant difference. Technology now makes it possible for new weapons to have quite dramatic capabilities and biological weapons have the potential, perhaps only a potential, to eradicate humanity. It is only prudent then that before these weapons enter the arsenals of the world, we ask how their effects will impact on humanity and the laws that govern war.
War has been defined as a brutish and violent act; but, it too has its laws. Remarkable but true, all civilisations throughout history have recognised and accepted this fact and have had rules governing the conduct of war. I can speak with some credibility on the Laws of War framed in ancient India and codified under the sage Manu. These apply equally to all other civilisations as well. These laws for example regulated the seasons when wars could be fought, laid down its timings, for example sunrise to sunset, weapons that could not be used, treatment of prisoners and those wounded in battle and a host of others. Military ethics around the world have strongly and consistently held against violence against women and non-combatants and particularly on non-use of illegal weapons. Like with all laws, there have been notable violations and many breaches to adherence. But, this has in no way undermined the very strong sentiments within the military around the world regarding both the necessity and acceptance of certain conduct as against all military ethics. The use of biological weapons in war in particular, has been among the leading taboos in military conduct.
Till about a half century ago, wars were also largely c onfined to combatants, and fought by armies trained, prepared and committed to follow orders of kings and republics. Damage inflicted and suffering caused were indeed severe. But, this was restricted mainly to soldiers and the pain and suffering was to be borne by them stoically as normal to their vocation. They were also trained to bear this loss, though I must admit through several decades of military service, I have not come across a single case where their suffering was any the less for this or where death or injury was any less traumatic for soldiers, their families and societies as a whole. But war, usually did not target civilians. Indeed, during the Napoleonic wars and even later, spectators often watched a battle much like today’s soccer matches, from a distance of course, but fairly secure in the knowledge that they will not be targeted.
In the First World War about ninety per cent casualties were within the military. By the Second World War it was about half, with of course deaths to civilians related to military causes exceeded this number substantially. Today’s wars, both inter-state and intra-state, target civilians both directly and specifically. This is a trend that does not seem likely to change any time soon.
Another current reality is the fact that the world today has entered an era of international terrorism. Where globalisation, advances in information technology and scientific discoveries rapidly disseminated, combine to present a formidable capability to these terrorist organisations to inflict enormous destruction. This trend again is likely to continue and grow even as global imbalances create expectations in large groups of people that cannot be fulfilled in a realistic time frame. Also it will last as long as doctrines of hate find ready acceptance among large sections of people around the world. This is a new type of war, to which the armies are only beginning to now address themselves.
How do these develop ments affect the future and particularly how possibly will these relate to the use of biological weapons, a subject that we are to consider here?
We know of course that biological weapons have been used in wars in the past. Some records are available from ancient wars, when inflicting disease on one’s opponent was considered an effective way to victory. When forts were the principal defensive positions to guard territory and protect people, there emerged opportunities to try and winkle the defenders out. Dead bodies were thrown inside forts to spread disease. Water supplies were poisoned to inflict illness. Attempts were made to smuggle in contaminated clothing, blankets and goods, contact with which would then replicate the disease. It is not possible to conclude today whether these methods proved decisive in battle.
As forts passed in to history and became objects mainly of tourist interest, effectiveness of biological weapons may be said to have reduced. A captive target within a closed locality was no longer available where diseases might have the greatest effect. There are examples of biological weapons use in the First and Second World Wars and the period in between. Attempts were to infect and kill live-stock as a nation’s resource or as instruments of war as pack animals. There are reports of biological agents use in Asia during this period as well, with attempts at deliberate spread of cholera, anthrax, plague and other diseases targeting the civil population.
The possible spread of biological weapons was tackled by the international community in several ways. Through improved research in preventive medicine and developing more effective counter measures. Better health care eliminated certain particularly widespread diseases like small pox and polio through international vaccination programmes. There were military reasons as well. With warfare becoming much more mobile and open in the Second World War, the concept of frontlin es diminished. Diseases spread deliberately or otherwise would now affect both sides, thus reducing the advantages enormously. Then the high probability of retaliation by similar means again proved a deterrent. Finally, perhaps the 1925 Protocol and the 1972 Convention provided the international norm, the violation of which would not be readily acceptable to the world. The reality is and I would like to emphasise the point, the 20th Century witnessed far less use of biological weapons than might otherwise have been likely.
The question is, is this changing? Will there be a reversal of this trend and possible use of biotechnology for developing usable weapons in the future? The answer will probably lie with science. The first few decades of the new century is likely to be dominated by bio-technology, just as the last two decades of the last Century was driven by information technology. We have already witnessed dramatic developments in the breaking of the genomic code and other inventions that we discussed in the morning. It has helped usher in a new era, where remarkable progress in human health care, agricultural production and a host of other areas have moved from science fiction to the realm of possibility. These are likely to have enormous positive developments in the world and are to be welcomed. But, a few possible developments can also influence their use in war. Let me discuss some of them:
I. First, manipulating existing biological agents to multiply their effectiveness, so that they become much more potent and can inflict enormous damage, thus making them more usable.
II. Second, converting existing harmless widely available microbes to deadly pathogens, thus providing a wider range of agents that may be used.
III. Next, the ability to vaccinate own soldiers against specific agents. The equivalent perhaps of an impregnable shield defending against nuclear attack, opening up the possibility of hostile use without risk of retaliation.
IV. Fifth, The ability to produce custom made biological weapons from synthetic materials.
V. Next, designing bio-regulators to alter bodily functions, already in use in medicine, this may soon be capable of effective delivery through aerosols thus making these suitable for battlefield use.
VI. Finally, will we see the development of “genetic weapons” that are capable of targeting a specific population by ethnicity or such distinct characteristics?
When one considers these possible new capabilities along with the characteristics of the production of biological weapons, one can more readily comprehend the military implications. Biological weapons are still relatively cheap, can be illegally produced in small laboratories, precursors may be easily available, competent scientists from poor countries can be easily lured to participate in research or production programmes, weapons development can be merged in to commercial research and finally, scientific information may be both easily available or illegally acquired.
The combined effects of this is that biological weapons are likely in future to be many times more lethal, capable of specific targeting and easy to produce. A deadly combination if ever there is one. When one considers the possibility of these falling in to terrorist hands, the implications can be devastating.
Let me Mr Chairman, conclude with a hope and a prayer. The hope that we will now enter an era, for the first time in history, when scientific developments will focus entirely and exclusively on human welfare and not human destruction. My prayer is that let this begin with this conference in this beautiful city of Montreaux.
Mr Tamas Bartfai
About Mr Tamas Bartfai
He is member of Academia Europa, an honorary member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and has won many awards and prizes throughout his career including, the Ellison Senior Neuroscientist Award (2000) and the Eriksson Prize of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1992, shared with Håkan Persson). He has acted as a consultant to Governments, industry and international and non-international organizations.
Statement by Mr Tamas Bartfai
The central and peripheral nervous system represent a key target for the rapid and deadly action of large number of toxins that biological evolution has brought forth. Similarly, the nervous system has been the target of the earliest chemical weapons andall generations of nerve gases target acetylcholineesterase, an important protein in neuronal signaling to both muscle and nerve.
Examination of the case of acetylcholineesterase inhibitors from the point of view of threatof weapon development (as it took place in the past 50 years when the successive generations of nerve gases were developed and produced in large scale) and medical opportunity (as it took place in the past 15 years) is also instructive in the context of weapons and medicines targeted at the nervous system.
The presently approved drugs for treatment of the devastating neurodegenerative disease Alzheimer disease are all inhibitors of acetylcholineesterase. Would there be a general prohibition on working on this protein and on inhibitors of this proteinthen patients and society would be without the benefits of the partial relief these drugs (Arisept, Excelon, Galantamine) bring to Alzheimers disease patients (40 mio) and their relatives.
The new developments in biology: the data from the human genome project; HGP, polymorphism studies and the potential of genotyping of people with respect to e.g. sensitivity to organophosphates - and other acetylcholine esterase inhibitors or other agents that affect the nervous system will be covered briefly, with respect to their potential of selecting soldiers to reduce bodily harm due to genetic vulnerability or aiming at populations in ethnic conflict – as the most dangerous potential use of emerging human genetic data.
Using psycho tropic agents directed at the central nervous system may also be aimed at incapacitating rather than killing the opponent: creating confusion, anxiety and earesing memory: are all actions of such agents that have been examined and even employed in smaller scale – as “dirty tricks”.
Neurotropic viruses as potential biological weapons and viral vector based genetherapy will be discussed with respect to medical potential and as agents that may be subject to weaponisation.
The medical application of recombinant proteins for immunisation (passive and active), the use of recombinant growth factors for promotion of regeneration of damaged nerves and the emerging studies on neuronal stem cells will be highlightedwith respect to their potentialas agents of healing wounds sustained.
The lecture will examine the problem of rapidly expanding knowledge in molecular neurobiology, and the risks that arise from the factthat this knowledge because of its huge medicinal potential is being pursued in so many sites: academic and industrial that adequate control of efforts to weaponise some breakthroughs of this research are becoming difficult-although not impossible.
This situation is significantly different from that of the [previous decades when research into weaponisable agents affecting the nervous system has been carried out at few large centrally controlled sites in the world and thus in principle could easier been checked. It is also important to note that as the ability to produce weapons directed against the nervous system shifts to smaller actors, the agenda may significantly change from aiming at winning a war to terror, to back threats with demonstration of access to such weapons. These uses assume less emphasis on large scale testing and thus escape detection of programmes easier.
The rapid progress of biology - has great healing and devastating potential in the area of the nervous system actions -, that has to be continuously surveyed.
Dr. François Bugnion
About Dr. François Bugnion
He joined the ICRC in 1970 and served as a delegate in Israel and the occupied territories (1970-1972), Bangladesh (1973-1974), Turkey and Cyprus (1974), Chad (1978), Vietnam and Cambodia (1979). From 1989 to 1996, he was Deputy Director for Principles and Law. From 1996 to 1998 General Delegate for Eastern Europe and Central Asia and from 1998 to 1999, Diplomatic Adviser of the Directorate. He published twenty-five articles or books on international humanitarian law or Red Cross history, in particular : Le Comité international de la Croix-Rouge et la protection des victimes de la guerre (The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Protection of War Victims), ICRC, Geneva, 1994.
Mr. Robin Coupland
About Mr. Robin Coupland
Doctor of Political Science (Public International Law), is since 2000 the Director for International Law and Cooperation within the Movement of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Robin M. Coupland is the adviser on armed violence and the effects of weapons for the International Committee of the Red Cross. He joined the ICRC in 1987 and worked as a field surgeon in Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Angola, Somalia, Kenya and Sudan. He has developed a health-oriented approach to a variety of issues relating to the design and use of weapons. A graduate of the Cambridge University School of Clinical Medicine, UK, he trained as a surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and University College Hospital, London. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1985. He has recently taken a year's sabbatical leave from the ICRC to study for a Graduate Diploma in International Law at the University of Melbourne in Australia.
As part of his current position he has focused on the effects of conventional and anti-personnel weapons. He has paid particular attention to the effects of anti-personnel mines and, by using the Red Cross wound classification, fragment injuries and the disruption of bullets. He has developed and published an analytical framework of armed violence as a tool for reporting and communication.
Prof. Malcolm Dando
About Prof. Malcolm Dando
Malcolm Dando is Professor of International Security in the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University, UK. Professor Dando trained originally as a biologist and after a period in Operational Research joined the Department of Peace Studies in 1979. In Bradford he has worked on issues of arms control, first concentrating on nuclear arms control and then, since 1991, increasingly on biological arms control. Professor Dando is currently spending half of the year as the International Institute for Strategic Studies Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Security Research in Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. His recent publications include The New Biological Weapons (Lynne Rienner, 2001) and Preventing Biological Warfare (Palgrave, 2002).
Statement by Prof. Malcolm Dando
Biotechnology and the Potential for Abuse
In the latter part of the nineteenth century the revolution in bacteriology resolved controversies over pathogenesis and le d to powerful new means of dealing with many infectious diseases. Unfortunately, the same knowledge was soon applied in warfare, in anti-animal biological warfare during World War I. Throughout the twentieth century, there was a series of offensive biological weapons programmes, in major states such as Japan, the UK, the US and the former Soviet Union. These offensive programmes used the growing knowledge of biology, for example in aerobiology, production microbiology and genetic engineering as these capabilities became available. Today, it appears probable that'tailoring'of classical agents such as anthrax - for example to increase antibiotic resistance - is possible through the use of genetic engineering.
It is argued that biological warfare presents a complex problem for policy-makers since the potential targets, scale of attack and agents can all vary. Furthermore, the ongoing merging of chemistry with biology in the genomics/proteomics revolution significantly expands the potential threat spectrum that has to be considered. It is suggested that unless States Parties to the BTWC and CWC move beyond recognition of the problem to doing something serious about it, Professor Matthew Meselson's hypothesis will come true. Then we shall increasingly see modern biology applied in major ways to terrorism and warfare - and all manner of life processes will be at risk as our scientific understanding of them increases.
Mr Peter Herby
About Mr Peter Herby
Peter Herby is Coordinator of the Mines-Arms Unit in the Legal Division of the International Committee of the Red Cross. His primary responsibilities involve the use and prohibition of weapons under international humanitarian and the relationship between humanitarian and disarmament law. In this capacity he was a member of the ICRC delegation to all landmine negotiations from 1994-97, both in the context of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and of the " Ottawa process " .
He has written and spoken extensively on issues such as landmines, blinding laser weapons and the basic norms of humanitarian law applicable to the use of arms. He formerly directed the disarmament and arms control program of the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva (1983-93), specialising in chemical and biological arms control and European and Middle East security issues. He holds Masters degrees in International Relations from the University of Cambridge (UK, 1992) and in Peace and Conflicts Studies from the Universit y of Bradford (UK, 1979).
Dr. Albert Jacquard
Dr. Albert Jacquard
In a series of 3-4 minute talks broadcast by the radio channel France Culture, Albert Jacquard spoke about biotechnology developments and the dangers of genetics being put to warlike uses (Monday 14 to Friday 18 October 2002, in French only).
On the 15th, the well-known geneticist outlined the ICRC's history of preventive action and stressed the importance of its recent appeal on biotechnology, weapons and humanity.
Dr Jakob Kellenberger
About Dr Jakob Kellenberger
Dr Jakob Kellenberger, born in Heiden, Switzerland in 1944, finished studies of literature and linguistics with a PhD degree at the University of Zurich. He joined the Swiss Diplomatic Service in 1974. As State Secretary for Foreign Affairs from 1992-1999 he also was Chief negotiator/coordinator for the bilateral negotiations between Switzerland and the European Union which lasted from 1994 to 1998. On 1 January 2000 he became President of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Statement by Dr Jakob Kellenberger, ICRC president
I would like to begin by thanking you all for being here today to join the International Committee of the Red Cross in reflecting on the challenges of " Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity " . Many of you have spent years, and some decades, working on issues at the intersection of biology, military affairs, law and morality. We will certainly benefit from your wisdom and advice. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would also like to con vey to you, and through you to your governments, scientific and medical circles and industrial partners, its profound concerns.
The ICRC's preoccupations and call to action are contained in an " Appeal on Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity " which has been adopted at the highest level of the institution. You will receive the Appeal in its entirety later this morning. It is being sent today to all governments through Permanent Missions in Geneva and New York and will be made public later this week.
Before presenting the essence of the Appeal I would briefly like to explain the concerns which have prompted the ICRC to launch this initiative.
The " age of biotechnology " , like the industrial revolution and the " information age " , promises great benefits to humanity. Yet if biotechnology is put to hostile uses, including to spread terror, the human species faces great dangers.
Potential benefits of advances in biological sciences and technologies are impressive. These include cures for diseases, new vaccines and increases in food production, including in impoverished regions of the world.
Yet testimonies from states, United Nations agencies and scientific circles warn of a range of existing and emerging capacities for abuse. These include:
Deliberate spread of existing diseases such as typhoid and anthrax and smallpox to cause death, disease and fear in a population.
Alteration of existing disease agents to make them more virulent, as already occurred unintentionally in research on the " mousepox " virus.
Creation of viruses from synthetic materials, as occurred this year using a recipe from the Internet and gene sequences from a mail order supplier.
Possible future development of ethnically or r acially specific biological agents.
Creation of novel biological warfare agents for use in conjunction with corresponding vaccines for one's own troops or population. This could increase the attractiveness of biological weapons.
New methods to covertly spread naturally occurring biological agents to alter physiological or psychological processes of target populations such as consciousness, behavior and fertility.
Production of biological agents that could attack agricultural or industrial infrastructure.
Creation of biological agents that could affect the makeup of human genes, pursuing people through generations and adversely affecting human evolution itself.
The International Committee of the Red Cross considers these examples of possible abuses, which may be elaborated in more detail in the course of our discussions, to be profoundly disturbing. The life processes at the core of human existence must never be manipulated for hostile ends. In the past, scientific advances have all too often been misused. New developments in biotechnology will almost certainly be abused if urgent action is not taken before it is too late.
If the revolution in biotechnology we are witnessing today is harnessed for hostile ends such acts would undermine one of the most fundamental norms of customary international humanitarian law: the prohibition of poisoning and the deliberate spread of disease as a method of warfare. It would be an affront to the ancient taboo against the use in war of " plague and poison " , passed down for generations in such diverse cultures as ancient India, the Middle East, Greece and Rome. Such acts would run counter to the survival instinct by which humanity protects itself from disease.
The ICRC deeply regrets that lengthy negotiations to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention t hrough a compliance-monitoring regime did not come to fruition as expected in November 2001. When this diplomatic impasse is seen in light of the potential for abuse inherent in the " biotech revolution " , the case for a renewed commitment by all States to existing norms and to the effective control of biological agents is compelling.
And now I come to the essential elements of the Appeal.
In keeping with its mandate to protect and assist victims of conflict and to promote and uphold international humanitarian law, the ICRC appeals firstly to all political and military authorities:
To resume with determination efforts to ensure universalisation and faithful implementation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol and 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and to develop appropriate mechanisms to maintain their relevance in the face of scientific developments,
To adopt stringent national legislation for implementation of these instruments and to enact effective controls on biological agents with potential for abuse,
To ensure that any person who commits acts prohibited by the above instruments is prosecuted,
To undertake actions to ensure that the legal norms prohibiting biological warfare are known and respected by members of armed forces,
To encourage the development of effective codes of conduct by scientific and medical associations and by industry to govern activities and biological agents with potential for abuse,
To enhance international cooperation, including through the development of greater international capacity to monitor and respond to outbreaks of infectious disease.
However, the responsibility to prevent hostile uses of biotechnology extends well beyond governments. It belongs, in particular, to scientists and industry.
Secondly, then, the ICRC appeals to the scientific and medical communities and to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries:
To scrutinize all research with potentially dangerous consequences and to ensure it is submitted to rigorous and independent peer review
To adopt professional and industrial codes of conduct aimed at preventing the abuse of biological agents,
To ensure effective regulation of research programs, facilities and biological agents which may lend themselves to misuse, and supervision of individuals with access to sensitive technologies,
To support enhanced national and international programs to prevent and respond to the spread of infectious disease.
The ICRC calls on all persons to assume their responsibilities as members of a species whose future may be gravely threatened by abuse of biological knowledge. We urge you to consider the threshold at which we all stand and to remember our common humanity.
And finally, as part of a renewed effort to address the risks and assume the responsibilities arising from the current situation, the ICRC urges States to adopt at a high political level an international Declaration on " Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity " containing a renewed commitment to existing norms and specific commitments to future preventive action. We look forward to working with you in these vital efforts.
I thank you for your attention.
Minister Counsellor Alfredo Labbé
About Minister Counsellor Alfredo Labbé
Minister Counsellor Labbé is the Deputy Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations and the international organisations in Geneva. He is also Deputy Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament. Minister Labbé has held various posts with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chile and lead his country's delegations in many bilateral and multilateral discussions and negotiations. He is a specialist in issues related to Disarmament, International Security, neighbouring relations (with focus on boundary questions) and cultural affairs. He has won several appointments and awards including the Diplomatic Merit Medal of Chile (1994).
Statement by Minister Counsellor Alfredo Labbé
Universalising the prohibition of biological and toxin weapons
In the first place allow me to thank the International Committee of the Red Cross for its kind invitation to participate in this very significant gathering.
At the outset, let me emphasise that the modest contribution I intend to make to our discussions today does not necessarily reflect the views of my Government. So, the shortcomings are my own... or so they teach you at the Diplomatic Academy.
As we all know, this Conference takes place at a very critical juncture, when the growing threats concomitant with scientific and technological progress are not
being matched by equivalent movement in the multilateral field.
In July 2001 we witnessed the foundering of seven years of negotiations to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention with a verification Protocol. Moreover, in December, the Fifth Review Conference came to a halt when insurmountable differences prevented the adoption by consensus of a Final Declaration - otherwise agreed in 95% of its text.
And recent news from Washington cast a shadow over its resumption in November.
Multilateral efforts toward the strengthening of the rules prohibition biological and toxin weapons require indeed the participation of all the players in the international stage. And the United States is the major of all of them.
The quest for the universalisation of the BWC and other arms control instruments presuppose belief and confidence in an international rule of law. By its very nature such rule of law must be placed above the interests or security requirements of individual states, no matter how powerful they might be. Its multilateral origin bestows legitimacy, which is the true foundation of democracy and civilised coexistence. No national security interest is greater than those of the International Community as a whole, and only the International Community - through legit imitate multilateral proceedings - is entitled to define those common interests. No " Pax Romana " can substitute a " Pax Communia " , built and shared by everyone.
But neither a mere reassertion of our multilateral profession of faith nor a futile exercise in recrimination will provide us with practical answers.
In diplomacy - particularly the diplomacy of small and medium States - the policies and behaviour patterns of big powers are to be treated as given factors and complaining about them is of little use. Trying to exert whatever degree of influence is a much better course of action... while taking care not to sleep to close to the elephant.
So, where are we in terms of the universality of the norms proscribing the biological and toxin weapons?
These norms are contained in the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare and the 1972 Convention of the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction.
As of today the Geneva Protocol comprises 133 States Parties. The latest to accede was St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in March 1999.
The BWC is legally binding for 144 States Parties. Algeria is the most recent, having acceded on July 2001.
Another 18 States have signed but not yet ratified the Biological Weapons Convention, among them Burundi, the Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, Gabon, Morocco, Myanmar, Somalia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. Israel - a State Party in the Geneva Protocol is neither Party nor signatory of the Convention.
The Protocol and the Convention complement each other.
In legal terms, the prohibition of the use of biological weapons is contained in the Geneva Protocol while the Convention bans their development, production, stockpiling, acquisition or retention.
Nevertheless, the Parties to the Convention have stated in the Final Declaration of the Fourth Review Conference that the use by the States Parties, in any way and under any circumstances, of microbial or other biological agents or toxins, that is not consistent with prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes, is effectively a violation of Article 1 of the Convention.
From the perspective of true universalisation (my word processor programme insisted in underlining this word in red, unaware of my diplomatic immunity), an additional problem is posed by the reservations maintained by 21 States Parties to the Protocol, including Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Jordan, North and South Korea, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Portugal, Russia, Viet Nam and Yugoslavia. These reservations generally declare that the Protocol is binding only as regards other States Parties and that it shall cease to be binding as regard to any enemy state whose armed forces or whose allies fail to respect the prohibitions laid down in it.
The reservation of Israel is even more precise, declaring that " The protocol shall cease to be binding on Israel in regard to any enemy state whose armed forces, or the armed forces of whose allies, or the regular or irregular forces, or groups or individuals operating from its territory, fail to respect the prohibitions which are the object of the protocol " .
It is understood that these reservations were drafted by some States Parties in order to keep a so called " right to retaliate " against an enemy who has used lethal gases or bacteriological methods of warfare. The retaliation could involve - theoretically at least - the use of similar gases and methods.
That is why the Final Declaration of the Fourth Review Conference in 1996 established that " ...reservations concerning retaliation, through the use of any of the objects prohibited by the (...) Convention, even conditional, are totally incompatible with the absolute and universal prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition and retention of bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons, with the aim to exclude completely and forever the possibility of their use " .
Chile, Mexico and Peru had proposed an even stronger wording, indicating that " ...the reservation of a purported right to retaliation, even conditional, through the use of any of the objects prohibited by the Convention is totally incompatible with the absolute and universal prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition and retention of bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons, with the aim to exclude completely and forever the possibility of their use " .
Our countries do not recognise a self-bestowed right to retaliate. Under the International Rule of Law the only legitimate use of force is that authorised or permitted by the United Nations Charter.
So, any campaign to universalise the legal norms prohibiting biological weapons has to pursue a threefold objective: accession by every State to the BWC and the Geneva Protocol, plus the withdrawal of the outstanding reservations to the latter.
Now, from a purely statistical point of view it could be argued that a vast majority of States - including all the big powers - is already bound by both instruments, (although the lack of commitment from key nations in the Middle East region does warrant concern).
Furthermore, in a purely doctrinal sence one could believe that the ban of biological weapons has reached the status of " jus cogens " , t hat is rules of international law of an imperative standing, which do not admit contradiction.
But enhanced and ideally, absolute universalisation is needed " per se " and to boost the actual efficacy of what the Final Declaration of the Fourth Review Conference called " ... the absolute and universal prohibition of (...) (biological) weapons, with the aim to exclude completely and forever the possibility of their use " .
In disarmament jargon we talk about horizontal proliferation and vertical proliferation. With the first we point to the number of States in possession of a certain category of weapons or means of delivery. With the second we refer to the qualitative development of both within a certain State.
Accordingly, if horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons remains at present relatively contained, vertical proliferation is growing at least in some of the nuclear States.
I propose you to borrow the second notion in order to advocate for vertical universalisation, a qualitative sort of commitment to the multilateral instruments prohibiting biological weapons.
Apart from ratification or accession to the treaties, enhanced vertical universalisation implies:
a) true awareness of the rules contained therein at all pertinent levels of society;
b) true national implementation of the legal obligation contained in the BWC and the political obligations emanating from the Final Documents of its Review Conferences; and,
c) internalisation of the aforementioned standards by civil society, including the related professions.
Dissemination of the rules banning biological weapons at high school level is advised under category a); exemplary criminalisation of conducts prohibited by the Convention pertains to category b), while ethical Codes of Conduct - a powerful tool for strengthening the ban at root ground - fall under category c).
Vertical universalisation is, therefore much more than a relatively straightforward constitutional process: it is also a political, deontological and even sociological undertaking requiring conscious and willing participation of all significant echelons in society. As such, it can even benefit from a doses of diplication and repetition if only for the sake of awareness.
The Fourth Review Conference’s Final Declaration requests all States Parties to “encourage wider adherence to the Convention”.
Likewise, it welcomes regional initiatives that would lead to wider accession to the Convention.”
The regional dimension has played an important role in nuclear disarmament, particularly through the establishment of Nuclear Free Zones.
With the Tlatelolco Treaty of 1967 Latin America was the first densely populated geographical region to strive for such status; last week Cuba announced its ratification of both the Tlatelolco Treaty and the NPT, thus consolidating the Latin American region as a genuine Nuclear Free Zone.
Strict parallels to the biological weapons ban are problematic (there are no “biological States” to put alongside the “nuclear States” recognised by the NPT), but some examples could be provided to demonstrate the feasibility of regional initiatives.
In September 1991 –that is, before the finalisation of the Chemical Weapons Convention- Argentina, Brazil and Chile subscribed the “Mendoza Commitment”, a political statement intended to affirm their full commitment to never use, develop, produce or otherwise stockpile, retain or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical or biological weapons. The “Mendoza Commitment” –which also signalled the willingness of its signatories to jointly endeavour to a succ essful Third Review Conference of the BWC- was later adhered to by Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Later, in 1999 the Presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay agreed the “Political Declaration of the MERCOSUR (region) as a Zone of Peace”. The Declaration reinforces the “Mendoza Commitment” by stating that the MERCOSUR (area) will be free of all weapons of mass destruction.
Last June Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú and Venezuela adopted the Andean Charter for Peace and Security which reiterates the absolute ban of weapons of mass destruction in the Andean region.
This led almost immediately to the “South American Peace Zone Declaration” signed in Guayaquil on July 27 by the Presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Perú, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Its second operative paragraph proscribes the emplacement, development, production, possession, deployment, experimentation and use of all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical, biological and toxic, as well as their transit through the countries in the region. As a result, South American has become the first zone free of all weapons of mass destruction.
These political initiatives could and should be replicated in other continents, starting perhaps with Africa.
In the Review Conference Paper Nº 7 of the series titled “Strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention” published by the Department of Peace Studies of the University of Bradford, Professor Graham Pearson indicates that “Promotion of universality could be best tackled together by a concerted effort involving the co-depositaries for the BTWC, the depositary for the 1925 Geneva Protocol and also the depositary for the Chemical Weapons Convention, as well as the OPCW with the objective being to increase the universality of the BTWC, the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the CWC together with the withdrawal of reservations from the 1925 Geneva Protocol. Awareness should first be raised by preparation of regional comparative tabulations, showing which States have yet to accede or to withdraw their reservations”.
This is an excellent suggestion.
I would only add that since all the States Depositaries alluded by Professor Pearson -the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States for the Biological Weapons Convention and France for the 1925 Geneva Protocol- are permanent members of the Security Council, they are in a privileged position to put forward a Resolution from this body to urge ratification of, or accession to both instruments by all UN member States that have not yet done so.
Such a Resolution would carry the same considerable political authority of the Resolutions on Terrorism passed after September 11.
Regrettably, an equally desirable appeal from the Security Council to withdraw the outstanding reservations to the 1925 Geneva Protocol could be prevented by the fact that Beijing and Washington still insist in keeping theirs.
These ideas do not exhaust the possibilities, but are a starting point.
Finally, I find it my obligation to say that universalisation of the Biological Weapons Convention and the 1925 Geneva Protocol must to be accompanied with a strengthening of the first with a legally binding Verification Protocol.
Such a Protocol can only emerge from a truly multilateral negotiation process. And if present times are not propitious for multilateral endeavours we can at least keep the faith, while awaiting –and praying- for a revival of the Wilsonian spirit.
Mr. Mafole Mokalobe
About Mr. Mafole Mokalobe
Mr Malole Mokalobe is a researcher with the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, South Africa. His areas of expertise include security, demobilisation, disarmament, mediation in civil-wars and conflict resolution.
He is a co-manager of the Centre's Project on Mediation in African Civil Wars. Mr Mokalobe has presented and published numerous papers in his areas of research. He is also a member the Centre for Conflict Resolution's " Track Two " journal editorial board.
Statement by Mr. Mafole Mokalobe
Science and Scientists: Lessons from Learned from South Africa’s Chemical and Biological Warfare Programme
On one account or another, a segment of the white scientific community played a prominent role in the South African Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW) programme. This programme, code-named, “Project Coast”, which was established by the South African Defence Force (SADF) in 1981, became the hub of production of weapons of mass destruction.
Here, balancing professional ethics and good science was never an issue for scientists involved in Project Coast. Instead, science became much part of the broader apartheid government war machine. Science was consumed under the rubric of politics and became slave to politics of apartheid. Scientists devoted their energies in developing chemical and biological weapons with less concern about their use and implications. In short, scientists involved in Project Coast compromised science.
On 11 April 2002, the apartheid government CBW programme chapter was closed with the acquittal of Dr. Wouter Basson, Project Coast officer, on all criminal charges against him. Nonetheless, this experience provides plenty of lessons to be learned. Fashioned by its particular experience and the apartheid legacy, this paper asks what lessons can be learned from the South African CBW programme. Emphasis is on the involvement and role of scientists in Project Coast, and how they compromised professional scientific ethics.
Prof. Matthew Meselson
About Prof. Matthew Meselson
Matthew Meselson is the Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences at Harvard University. He is recognized as one of the foremost experts in the field of biological weapons and has published extensively on this subject. His work was instrumental in leading the US Government to support the negotiation of the Biological Weapons Convention and the destruction of US biological weapon stocks. Professor Meselson was a leading commentator on reports of biological weapons use in Indochina in the 1970s and led international scientific efforts to investigate the release of anthrax from a previously secret biological weapons program at Sverdelovsk in the Soviet Union . Professor Meselson is the Co-director of the Harvard Sussex Program on CBW Armament and Arms Limitation and a member of the chemical and biological weapons working group of the Pugwash Movement.
Statement by Prof. Matthew Meselson
A draft convention to prohibit biological and chemical weapons under international criminal law
Any development, production, acquisition or use of biological or chemical weapons is the result of decisions and actions of individual persons, whether they are government officials, commercial suppliers, weapons experts or terrorists. The international conventions that prohibit these weapons, the BWC and the CWC, being directed primarily to the actions of states, address the matter of individual responsibility to only a limited degree.
Article IV of the BWC requires each state party to prohibit the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition and retention of biological weapons anywhere within its territory. Article VII of the CWC requires each state party to enact penal legislation applicable to acts committed in the territory of that state and also to acts committed by its nationals anywhere.
However the BWC and the CWC do not attempt to make the development, production, possession or use of biological and chemical weapons an international crime for which states establish jurisdiction over prohibited acts regardless of the place where they are committed or the nationality of the offender, nor do these treaties contain provisions dealing with the extradition of suspects.
Neither are these deficiencies remedied by the provisions applicable to biological and chemical weapons in the Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, opened for signing in January 1998, or in the Statute of the International Criminal Court signed in Rome in July 1998. The Bombing Convention does not apply to the activities of military forces in the exercise of their official duties or to internal state acts — such as the use of CBW weapons by a leader against a population within his own state. Nor does the scope of either of these agreements extend beyond the actual use of CBW weapons to include, as do the BWC and the CWC, the ir development, production and possession.
What is needed is a new treaty, one that defines specific acts involving biological or chemical weapons as international crimes, like piracy or aircraft hijacking, obliging states either to prosecute or extradite offenders who are present in their territory. Treaties defining international crimes are based on the concept that certain crimes are particularly dangerous or abhorrent to all and that all states therefore have the right and the responsibility to combat them. Certainly in this category, threatening to the community of nations and to present and future generations, are crimes involving the weaponization of disease or poison and the hostile exploitation of biotechnology.
The Harvard Sussex Program, with advice from an international group of legal authorities, has prepared a draft convention that would make certain acts involving biological and chemical weapons crimes under international law. The proposed convention would make it an offence for any person, regardless of official position, to order, direct or knowingly to participate or render substantial assistance in the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of biological or chemical weapons or to threaten the use of such weapons or to create or retain facilities intended for the production of such weapons. Any person who commits any of the prohibited acts anywhere would face the risk of apprehension, prosecution and punishment or of extradition should that person be found in a state that supports the proposed convention.
The proposed convention would oblige each state party: (i) to establish jurisdiction with respect to the specified crimes extending to all persons in its territory, regardless of the place where the offence is committed or the citizenship of the offender, and (ii) to prosecute or extradite any such offender found in its territory or any other place under its jurisdict ion. Decisions regarding sentencing, including consideration of the severity of the offence and of any mitigating circumstances, are left to individual states parties.
The same obligations, to establish criminal jurisdiction and to extradite or adjudicate, aut dedere aut judicare, are included in international conventions now in force for the suppression and punishment of international crimes including aircraft hijacking and sabotage (1970; 1971), crimes against internationally protected persons (1973), hostage taking (1979), theft of nuclear materials (1980), torture (1984) and crimes against maritime navigation (1988).
The proposed convention defines biological and chemical weapons as they are defined in the BWC and the CWC, on the basis of the general purpose criterion — and its definitions of prohibited acts are modeled closely on the definitions in these treaties. Commission of a prohibited act is defined as a crime only if committed “knowingly” and it is an admissible defence that the accused person “reasonably believed” that the conduct in question was not prohibited. The proposed convention also includes provisions requiring states parties to cooperate in investigations and to provide legal assistance to one another in the adjudication of offences.
One way forward would be for a group of states to submit the proposed convention or a similar draft in the form of a resolution for consideration by the UN General Assembly, seeking its referral to the UNGA Sixth (legal) Committee for negotiation of an agreed text. If the negotiated text receives the commendation of the General Assembly, the convention may then be opened for signature and ratification, leading to its entry into force. Adoption and widespread adherence to such a convention would create a new dimension of constraint against biological and chemical weapons by applying international criminal law to hold individual offenders responsible and punishable wherever they may be a nd regardless of whether they act under or outside of state authority. Such individuals would be regarded as hostes humani generis, enemies of all humanity. The norm against chemical and biological weapons would be strengthened, deterrence of potential offenders would be enhanced, and international cooperation in suppressing the
prohibited activities would be facilitated.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson
About Dr Vivienne Nathanson
Dr Vivienne Nathanson is the Director of Professional Activities for the British Medical Association. She has worked extensively on issues related to health policy, ethics and science, Dr Nathanson is Chair of the BMA Steering Group on Human Rights, the UK Council member of the International Rehabilitation Council for the Care of Victims of Torture and a members of the Central Ethical Surveillance Group of Unilever PLC.
Statement by Dr Vivienne Nathanson
Codes of Conduct for Biomedical Researchers
The aim of any system we establish must be to prevent the development of either weapons themselves or knowledge that is only of use in the making of such weapons, as an accidental or deliberate product of biomedical research.
The systems that we develop must be effective. We know when codes of conduct on other areas work which gives us clues as to how to d evelop codes that are likely to be effective in this area.
I shall give some examples of codes of practice and codes of conduct and analyse how much we know about when and why they work well, or why they fail to work. I shall examine some of the processes gone through to develop the new version of the Declaration of Helsinki, and why that new version (dated October 2000) is already under threat
Amongst other things I shall look at concepts such as key stakeholders in research, “ownership” of the code of conduct, developments of parallel ethical frameworks and values statements and the relationship of researchers with governments, industry and other controlling influences.
I shall also refer to a statement on biological and other weapons which will be discussed (and I expect adopted as policy) at the World Medical Association meeting in Washington a week after the ICRC conference. I will identify the elements within this that might demonstrate a willingness to engage in this debate by part of the biomedical community.
From that examination I shall draw out some lessons for a process that will identify a code that relates to weapons, and attempt to set out an operating model that will build upon the strengths of the biomedical research community.
Dr Julian Perry Robinson
About Dr Julian Perry Robinson
Julian Perry Robinson is a Professorial Fellow of Science & Technology Policy Research at the University of Sussex, England and the Co-Director of the of the Harvard Sussex Program. Since 1967 he has published some 400 papers and monographs on chemical/biological-warfare armament and arms limitation including Effects of Weapons on Ecosystems (1979), Chemical Warfare Arms Control (1984), NATO Chemical Weapons Policy and Posture (1986), and The Problem of Chemical-Weapon Proliferation in the 1990s (1991).
He also authored much of the 6-volume SIPRI study The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare (1971-76). Along with Matthew Meselson of Harvard University, he is co-editor of the CBW Conventions Bulletin, one of the few journals in the field of chemical and biological weapons. Professor Robinson is currently coordinating two international studies: Public Health Response to Biological and Chemical Weapons: WHO Guidance (for the World Health Organization), and. a prospective study of relationships between science and bioterrorism (for an element of the European Commission.
Professor Robinson has served as an advisor or consultant to a variety of governmental and nongovernmental organisations, including the World Health Organ ization, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the UK National Authority for the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Statement by Dr Julian Perry Robinson
Germs, warfare and the human impulse to keep them apar
Brief broad-brush historical introduction to the more technical matters that this panel is to address.
Disease and war have always gone together. Only rather recently have wartime combat deaths tended to exceed wartime disease deaths. Better disease control. Deadlier weapons technology.
Yet the deliberate exploitation of disease as a weapon of war is exceedingly rare in the historical record. An occasional ruse de guerre (for example in siege warfare, or in attacks on draft animals), never anything approaching a conventional method of warfare. Possibly there is a technological explanation for this seeming restraint – lack of knowledge of how to do it. Yet this does not seem sufficient. Have other constraints contributed?
Consider poison. It is a potential weapon of war whose use as such has long been regarded as peculiarly reprehensible [e.g.von Senfftenberg on Hunyadi’s poison gas at Belgrade in 1456 ] . Poison weapons have been subject to express prohibition since ancient times. Alva Myrdal [probably drawing on Marin (1956) ] describes this vividly in The Game of Disarmament (1976). She wrote of how the Manu laws of India two and a half millennia ago, and the Vedic precepts from which they stemmed, forbad the use of poison weapons. So, too, she observed, did the warfare regulations that the Saracens drew from the Koran 1400 years ago, rules that are nowadays regarded as the first systematic code of international l aw. In Roman and then European law, to take two further examples, analogous prohibitions are to be found. Resort to chemical warfare – no doubt also subject to technological constraint -- thus seems to have been inhibited by societal constraint.
If so for poison warfare, then surely for disease warfare too. Before germ theories of disease began to emerge in the Nineteenth Century, concepts of disease and poison overlapped, often wholly. SIPRI [TPCBW vol 3 (1973) ] has recalled for us that, in the deliberations preceding the International Declaration Concerning the Laws and Customs of War (Brussels, 1874), which continued the express proscription of poison warfare, the reference to poison and poisoned weapons clearly subsumed the deliberate spreading of disease. Even today, for example in WHO publications, “infectious disease”, which is attributable to germs, is a subcategory of “disease”, which may have all manner of causes, including the toxic action of chemicals. The essential unity of chemical and biological warfare is expressed in the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which outlaws both.
It is this notion of societal constraint on germ warfare that the title of my presentation reflects. In the Geneva Protocol do we not see the transcription into formal international-treaty language of what is actually an ancient taboo? In our present age of nuclear weapons and of ever more dreadful conventional weapons, the continuing respect for the Geneva Protocol, so resoundingly reaffirmed at the 1989 Paris Conference, is striking for its seeming irrationality: why is CBW banned when so much else that is horrible remains licit? Call it irrational, but this singling out of disease weapons for special treatment is surely the product of something altogether deeper than a comparison of one form of injury with another. It goes to the roots of what humankind finds acceptable and unacceptable. Multicultural, multiethnic and longstanding: perhaps, as Michael Mandelbaum [The Nuclear R evolution (1981) ] has suggested, the taboo is somehow innate in us. Maybe it is a form of adaptation at the social level that serves
to protect our species from infection and toxicity, just as, at the level of the individual, evolution has brought with it different forms of physiological protection against such imperceptible-until-too-late threats. Maybe it is actually something quite else but, whatever it is, it exists.
In this taboo – in this norm of behaviour that eschews biological warfare and even, since the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, rejects the study as well as the acquisition of armament for it – there is a foundation for building further societal constraint. Such strengthening of the norm is becoming essential as we face a new peril of our times: the great upsurge of biotechnology that is taking place within a social environment that seems heedless of its duality – its potential application both to the common good and to immensely threatening new weapons. As science and commerce push biotechnology still more deeply into this dire ambivalence, the taboo may be our one remaining hope.
For what the new science could be doing is not only opening up new weapon concepts for the hostile use of disease. It could also be diminishing those technological constraints to which some commentators have attributed the rarity of biological warfare.
Whether that attribution is in fact correct is questionable, even though, during 1930-1990, the technology of biological armament developed rapidly under the stimulus of war. About half-way through that period, as microbial and viral aerosol weapons for long-range delivery systems began to succeed in their field trials [e.g. a single aircraft over a Pacific test site inducing disease in test animals over an area of 2300 square kilometres ] , it no longer seemed extravagant to compare biological warfare with nuclear warfare. Yet, even though it is true that the pecu liar conditions of the Cold War engendered preparations for continent-wide lethal biological warfare, and even though certain other forms of biological warfare were actually tried out, albeit generally to little effect, it remained the case that the hostile use of disease by human beings against human beings remained a perverse enterprise of extremely rare occurrence.
Too detailed to be presented here is a compilation of data prepared by a colleague of mine that presents particulars of all known deliberate releases of harmful biological agents during the past sixty years. Even though it includes episodes to which some doubt still attaches because of the difficulty of verification, it nevertheless records only 8 episodes.
So the challenge for today is twofold. First, how to preserve the norm so as to perpetuate that rarity. Second, how to strengthen the norm so as to preclude emergence of the profoundly new types of weapon that biotechnology could be bringing closer. Weapons perhaps capable of interfering with the fundamental biology of human beings, even to the point of exposing our very humanity to manipulation and change.
The international arms-control enterprise, in its application to the strengthening of the Biological Weapons Convention, has become too vulnerable to short-term political considerations to be capable of meeting more than a part of that challenge. Given the existence of a human impulse against the hostile use of disease, the way forward must surely lie in internatio
Ms Anna Segall
About Ms Anna Segall
Ms Anna Segall is currently working as Legal Adviser, ICRC Advisory Service on IHL, responsible for promoting ratification and implementation of IHL in common law States. She has also worked in the ICRC's Division for Policy and Cooperation within the Movement, working on preparation of the 27th International Conference, National Society statutes and recognition questions, and policy issues. From 1994 to 1996, Ms Segall was Manager of the Australian Red Cross IHL Programme.
Ms Segall has worked previously for five years in Melbourne, Australia, practicing law in a major firm, for two years in Milan, Italy, as a teacher and translator, and for two years in Canberra, Australia, as legal and policy adviser with the Australian government.
Recent publications include " Punishing Violations of International Humanitarian Law at the National Level: A Guide for Common Law States " (ICRC, 2001, 200 pages) and " Economic Sanctions: Legal and Policy Constraints " (IRRC, 1999, pp 763-784).
Mr Robert M. Young
About Mr Robert M. Young
Mr Young is a Legal Adviser in the Mines-Arms Unit in the ICRC's Legal Division, working on the ICRC's Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity initiative. He previously worked in Canada's foreign ministry on international law matters, especially IHL, representing Canada at meetings at the UN, NATO and on international treaties. He advised the Canadian Red Cross on the development of a national IHL programme and worked for the ICRC as Delegate in Ethiopia.
Mr Young has been a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada (Ontario, Canada) since 1995. He practiced law in a major firm in Ottawa, worked at the Commission of Inquiry into the Deployment of Canadian Forces to Somalia and at the Department of Justice (Canada). He is co-author of On the Front Line: Uprising in Enclavia, an IHL training simulation activity published by the Canadian Red Cross, and (with Maria Molina) of " IHL and Peace Operations: Sharing Canada's lessons learned from Somalia " , YIHL, Vol. 1 (1998) 362.