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Biological Merges with Nuclear Nonproliferation

Posted by Jill Marie Parillo on June 2, 2009

We had an intervention today at the conference in Paris by Roger Roffey from Swedish Defense Research Agency FOI.  Roffey has 30 years of experience in the field of nonproliferation and disarmament. He said that it is hard to distinguish between offensive and defensive activities in the field of biological weapon (BW) production and use. A nation could legally be researching a defensive BW program by developing agents that terrorist could use in order to prepare a response. Yet, this same research is dual-use, and could be used to build an offensive biological weapons program. 

To solve this problem, Roger recommends increasing transparency through more reporting requirements to an international agency, and having scientists involved in biological research follow a code of conduct, including a promotion of ethical codes in the field.  All of these things would also be helpful in overcoming obstacles in the nuclear nonproliferation regime.  The U.S. nuclear labs do follow codes of conduct, but it would be very valuable to promote international codes of conduct.  Just as in the nuclear field, to determine if a biological program is a weapons program there must be human intelligence. That is why safeguards are so important. Roger said that everything before a biological agent goes into a weapon could be said to be defensive.

Even if defensive biodefense programs are more transparent, what stops states from withdrawing and using the technology towards an offensive weapon program? The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime still has no set policy response to cases of withdrawal, like the North Korean case. North Korea illegally withdrew from the NPT, and used technology gained from the NPT regime to test two nuclear weapons and build six to eight. The NPT still has no established policy for cases of withdrawal. 

Roger offered as some help to create codes of conduct, including specific codes for biodefense programs.  This could assist in creating a global norm to prevent offensive capabilities from being created, but if all else fails to convince a state or scientist not to build an offensive capability, what mechanism will be implemented? These issues need also to be addressed in the nuclear field, since in a world free of nuclear weapons, the international community will need policies to deal with cases of noncompliance. 


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