It urged the United States to stop blocking attempts to
strengthen the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) when
it comes up for renewal in 2006.
"This technology could be used by sub-state terror groups and
eventually by deranged individuals," Malcolm Dando, author of the
BMA's study, Biological Weapons and Humanity II, told reporters at a
He warned that the development of biological weapons designed to
target specific ethnic groups was coming closer to reality, and said
it was already theoretically possible to recreate devastating
viruses like the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic that killed 40 million
The anthrax attacks in the United States in 2001 and the
engineered nerve agent fentanyl used by the Russians to end the
Moscow theater siege with disastrous results in 2002 showed that
biological weapons already existed, Dando said.
Yet the BTWC, which dates back to 1975, contains no means of
monitoring and no powers of enforcement.
"The best way of describing it is as a gentleman's agreement,"
said Dando, who is head of peace studies at Bradford University.
He said there were strong international mechanisms controlling
nuclear and chemical weapons, but virtually nothing to control what
he termed the "riotous development" of biotechnology.
Dando said the United States, which under President Bush (news
sites) had turned its back on many international accords, was
the key reason the BTWC treaty remained weak after 19 years.
The U.S.'s powerful biotechnology industry has put pressure on
the administration not to sign up to international rules fearing
they could stifle research, he said.
But Dando noted that Bush's opponent in next week's presidential
elections, senator John Kerry (news
sites), had made positive comments about strengthening the
Russia, which was known to have developed a major biological
weapons capability in the closing stages of the Cold War, had also
kept a very low profile on the issue, he said.
"There are still several of its military laboratories that have
not been opened up for inspection. You have to wonder why," he said.
Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, said
it was vital scientists got involved in self-regulation to try to
ensure experiments and information were not misused.
"The real key to biosecurity, to not having to deal with
deliberately spread epidemics, is to make sure that these materials
are not produced," she said. "You can never provide 100 percent
security but you can create safeguards."
Too lax controls and Armageddon could be round the corner, but
too rigid regulation and vital advances on health sciences could be
What was needed was a code of ethics covering scientists and
governments and sensible international laws fully enforced.
"If we don't do the prevention side we have to be prepared for
those weapons to be used," Nathanson said.