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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1992 Dec 31;666:177-90.

Narrowing the zone of uncertainty between research and development in biological warfare defense.

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School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge 70803-8402.


Although "research" is not prohibited by the Biological Weapons Convention, States Parties to the Convention have maintained the spirit of the Convention in actions relating to research. The confidence-building measures agreed to at RC2 refer to research facilities, publication of research results, and promotion of contacts between scientists engaged in research related to the Convention. However, assessment of basic research on biological agents is not a productive way to distinguish an offensive from a defensive program. Additionally, if a country were to initiate a biological weapons program, basic research on biological agents may not be necessary. For example, the extensive published research on Bacillus anthracis, both as a cause of anthrax in cattle and other species and as a biological-warfare agent, would enable any motivated group or nation to initiate a biological weapons program that could immediately advance to the development and scale-up stages. Research on biological agents for offensive purposes would be characterized by activities such as selection for growth, virulence, and toxin production; improving stability under varying environmental conditions; and selection of strains that might overcome existing means of prophylaxis and treatment. A biological program with an offensive intent would in most cases be characterized by evidence of development efforts in mass production and dissemination, which are often agent-specific. Thus, an assessment of development may distinguish offensive from defensive programs. If a country were to initiate a biological weapons research program, and were willing to risk worldwide condemnation should existence of such a program become known, it is likely that such a program would include development and production capabilities. If a country were not committed to production capability, there would be no rationale for an offensive biological research that would bring worldwide condemnation. Critics of the U.S. Biological Defense Research Program have suggested that the program could easily and quickly be turned into an offensive effort. To accomplish this, however, we have to assume that all military personnel, including the civilians employed by the Department of the Army, are unethical and willing to break the law and run the risk of placing the U.S. in a noncompliance status. The Army is under constant scrutiny by governmental agencies, by visiting scientists, by audiences at scientific meetings, by scientists who review manuscripts for publications, by news media, and by private citizens.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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