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Brumley Fellow Warns of Biotechnology Arms Race in the Wake of COVID-19

Sep 24, 2020 |

Marigny Kirschke-Schwartz, a Strauss Center Brumley Fellow specializing in defense policy, recently published an op-ed in The National Interest titled “America Must Act To Avoid A Biotechnology Arms Race.” In it, she highlights a potentially dangerous externality of the expansion of biodefense infrastructure which has occurred as countries race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Namely, she notes that the expansion of this infrastructure in the era of great power competition can further obscure the distinction “offensive and defensive work, or dual-use technology,” and thereby further expand the “gray zone” of biodefense. Kirschke-Schwartz then provides an overview of the U.S., China, and Russia’s various efforts to integrate biotechnology into their national security policies, which make it clear that states are concerned about the potential dual-uses of biotechnology. The uncertainty, she notes, relates to their willingness—or lack thereof—to disclose information regarding their biotechnology capabilities. Kirschke-Schwartz then moves to a discussion of multilateral efforts to address this issue, most prominently exemplified by the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and its associated annual review conference. COVID-19, she argues, serves as a catalyst for change in the multilateral approach to biological weapons—one which could lead to useful outcomes, if efforts are made to avoid preclude a biotechnology arms race. Kirschke-Schwartz provides several recommendations for the forthcoming 2021 BWC review conference, all geared towards the establishment of a consensus approach to grappling with the growing dangers of biotechnology. She concludes by noting that COVID-19 may have provided states with the necessary common ground to effectively address biological incidents which threaten global stability. Read the full op-ed here.

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