Gene Watch Conference

Biological Weapons and the New Genetics - Avoiding the Threat

Summary of Bioweapons Issues - Prof. Julian Perry Robinson

Significant Issues from the conference for Prof. Robinson

  1. The importance of differentiating the future scenario from the now scenario. The now is dreadful, the future could be much worse. Maybe we need to consider building into the protocol mechanisms for future scenario.
  2. Another clear aspect is that the weapons for the future will be of a different kind to the present ones, and will be used in different ways. Not only may they be economic weapons quietly used, but there is implied risk in their use of damage to the species.
  3. Do we need a protocol. A decision to do nothing now, may in fact be a step backwards, because there is a cost implication in each decision. The danger of saying no to the protocol is that it may be interpreted as meaning there is no danger. It also removes the limited restrictions to a proliferation threat. And thirdly it implies a move away from co-operation and towards the defensive stances of e.g. "star-wars". The cost association of saying yes is that it could lead to a false sense of security.
  4. The benefits of saying yes are as follows.
    1. The ability for a state to give the assurance it complies with the protocol ( i.e. to have a defence against false accusation.)
    2. It deters cheaters because the camouflage of dual use is difficult and so such weapons have to be produced within secure and hidden facilities.
    3. There is the prospect of cheats being caught and the consequences thereof.
  5. The UN Security Council has been weak in enforcing the law. The Protocol would strengthen the right of enforcement.
  6. The protocol would also be a move which improves the rules for a global civil society. It should be noted that it is a treaty between states and not between governments, private companies, voluntary organisations, academics and clergy etc. all have a duty of care within the treaty.
  7. What should our role outside the government be.
    1. To be concerned about backsliding in compliance. Politicians may lose sight of the real purpose of what’s going on, negotiators therefore need support in a constructive way.
    2. To ensure that space is made for the US to be involved in the final resolution of the protocol. Going it alone is not really sensible. An interim process might be for the EU to establish a provisional trail inspection regime so that the genuine concerns of companies and governments can be worked out in a practical scenario.