At the 5th Review Conference for the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in November 2002, BWC States Parties agreed to "discuss and promote common understanding and effective action" on five specific issues, including "national mechanisms to establish and maintain the security and oversight of pathogenic microorganisms and toxins." Pathogenic microorganisms and toxins can be used for purposes prohibited by the BWC, such as the development or production of biological or toxin weapons. The reason for addressing the security and oversight of such materials is thus clear.
In recent years, bioterrorism concerns have led a number of countries to tighten the security of pathogens and toxins under their control through the adoption of new restrictions on access to such materials. National oversight of work with pathogens and toxins has a longer history, but has focused largely on safety issues, particularly the safety of those carrying out the work, or of the surrounding environment. Little attention has been given to the actual work that is being undertaken with pathogens or toxins, including the possible creation of disease agents more dangerous than those that currently exist. This is not a theoretical problem.
The slides from this presentation are available here.
Elisa D. Harris is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for International Security Studies at Maryland.