Biological weapons experts assess new threat

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UN Member States discuss disarmament affairs in Geneva. Photo: UN Photo.

A key examination of the risks posed by biological weapons has begun at the UN in Geneva.

Last held in 2011, the Review Conference of The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) highlights how scientific discoveries or regional political instability may require action from signatories of the international accord.

The convention came into force in 1975 and more than 170 UN Member States are signatories.

Daniel Johnson has more.

A lot can change in five years; nowhere more so than in the field of biological weapons – bacteriological and other toxin-based instruments of death.

In a review at the UN in Geneva , Member States are preparing to hear how cutting-edge science and regional political instability could pose new threats to global security.

Daniel Feakes is chief of the Implementation Support Unit of the Biological Weapons Convention at the UN in Geneva.

He said that since the last review in 2011 there had been "dramatic advances…discoveries" and growth in gene editing, biology and biotechnology which could change the level of threat posed.

Mr Feakes also cited allegations of plots by non-state groups such as ISIL looking to diversify their threat:

"There's also been the possibly growing risks of non-state actors acquiring and using biological weapons as well…"

Historically, the use of biological weapons by non-state actors has been relatively low; one of the last known cases dates back to 2001, when anthrax bacteria was sent in the post to media outlets and politicians.

Critics of the convention point out that there is no international verification system in place to monitor biological weapons.

Efforts to put such a procedure in place faltered in 2001.

Mr Feakes said that the current review could see Member States push for a verification procedure once again, although the issue remains "contentious".

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 1’32″




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