US President John F. Kennedy once warned that “every man, woman, and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment.” For more than 50 years, humanity has warily eyed that lethal pendulum while statesmen debated how to mend its fraying cords. The example of Reykjavik should remind us that palliative measures are not enough. Our efforts 25 years ago can be vindicated only when the Bomb ends up beside the slave trader’s manacles and the Great War’s mustard gas in the museum of bygone savagery.
For the past 20 years the international community concentrated its biological nonproliferation programs in the former Soviet Union. As a result, most of the Soviet bio-warfare infrastructure has dissolved; pathogen collections are in secure storage; scientists have engaged in peaceful cooperative research; and local disease surveillance capabilities have improved. Major international donors have recently begun shifting their biological threat reduction efforts to countries in Africa and Asia to address growing threats of terrorism and disease there. While there are good reasons for a shift in geographical focus, the international community should not ignore the remaining challenges in the former Soviet Union—such as training a new generation of specialists, strengthening personnel policies to prevent “insider” threats, and improving transparency and multilateral communication. With continued support, scientists from the former Soviet countries can make valuable contributions to nonproliferation and public health programs worldwide.
Program Associate, Global Green USA
February 11, 2011
Synthetic Biology: Perceptions of the Environmental and Security Communities
Marina Voronova-Abrams spoke today at the meeting “Synthetic Biology: New or Existing Risk? Impressions of the Presidential Commission on the Study of Bioethical Issues Synthetic Biology Recommendations,” organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Full text of the speech linked below.