Biosecurity and International Security Implications

Authored by: Frida Kuhlau , John Hart

The Routledge Handbook of New Security Studies

Print publication date:  January  2010
Online publication date:  January  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415484374
eBook ISBN: 9780203859483
Adobe ISBN: 9781135166205


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Biosecurity is an important component to protecting international peace and security from biological warfare threats. Analysts, government officials, and others have given increased attention to the concept of ‘biosecurity’ in recent years partly because of the anonymous mailing of anthrax spores to politicians and members of the media through the US post in 2001. The term is related to ‘biosafety’ and, in some languages, a single word can mean either biosafety or biosecurity, leading to some confusion (e.g. in French, Russian, and Swedish). While biosafety is well-established in the research community and industry in terms of protection of the environment and workplace safety, it has not been generally implemented within a national security paradigm. Governments and various international institutions are continuing to consider and to develop a variety of overlapping initiatives and measures in the field of biological weapons prevention and response partly by establishing and implementing biosafety and biosecurity measures. Such activities are carried out, for example, by the World Health Organization (WHO), within the framework of the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) and under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004). Some states and institutions can be reluctant to ‘securitize’ activities that have traditionally been viewed principally as health and safety issues, rather than measures that may be useful for countering perceived bioterrorism or other bio-crime threats. This reflects broader disagreement among the states on whether or how to ‘securitize’ select measures. Efforts to identify and mitigate perceived biological weapon threats that fall under biosecurity include the further development of inventories of sensitive materials and the implementation of measures to make more safe and secure high-level containment facilities (BSL-3 and BSL-4 level) and awareness raising (e.g. of generic scientific and technological developments). Some of these activities are carried out as part of biosafety measures. Conversely, some biosafety measures, such as waste handling and minimizing aerosols during manipulation, can be viewed as part of biosecurity. Finally, it is important to consider differences between political and legal commitments, where they exist, to biosecurity measures and their actual implementation.

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