This article evaluates the security value of controls over biotechnology transfers and of new restrictions on the spread of scientific results: to what extent do they improve the implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention (bwc)? Although the questions of justice that have plagued the bwc regime since its creation in 1972 have been analyzed extensively, the effects of current controls over dual-use research and the propagation of scientific results on the implementation of the bwc have not been fully addressed. It is argued that although controls over biotechnology transfers increase security because they delay covert programs by creating integration challenges, controls on the spread of scientific results have no security value. They instead may lead to a decreased implementation of the bwc.
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It is important to note that in2004the u.s. government added the h5n1 flu virus in the so-called “select agents list” which inventories dangerous pathogens subject to special biosafety and biosecurity rules. Many of the microorganisms on the list have been used in the past for bioweapons purposes. The same year a u.s. government-sponsored study identified seven characteristics that can make dual-use research a security concern. One of them is the enhancement of a pathogen’s transmissibility (National Research Council 2004). Therefore even though the flu virus was never used for bioweapons purposes an adversary could view the h5n1 experiment as a potentially suspicious activity particularly when the u.s. and Dutch government attempted to halt publication of the results.
In1975an international conference was convened in Asilomar California to discuss the risks and benefits of recombinant dna technology a new technology which at the time raised many security and safety concerns. The conference designed voluntary guidelines to ensure the safety of work with recombinant-dna.