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Commission Cites Need for Bio-Specific WMD Strategy

Senators Graham and Talent Emphasize Investment in Response, Preparedness

JULY 22, 2009—Baltimore, MD—Bob Graham and Jim Talent, chairman and vice chairman of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, advocate a U.S. biodefense strategy that focuses on the unique characteristics of the biothreat, in contrast to the nuclear threat. Their guest editorial, “Bioterrorism: Redefining Prevention,” appears in the June 2009 issue of Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science and is available online at https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/bsp.2009.0610.

The Commission released its report, World at Risk, in December 2008, with a set of recommendations designed to improve the ability of the United States to prevent weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism. The Commission unanimously concluded that, unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013—and that a biological attack is more likely than a nuclear attack.

In this editorial, Graham and Talent focus on the fundamental differences between nuclear and biological threats: the materials needed for a biological attack are more accessible; there are an almost infinite number of organisms that can be used to create weapons; and technologies for dispersal are readily available. In particular, they write, “There is no peaceful pursuit of nuclear weapons technology. But many countries are aggressively pursuing peaceful applications of biotechnologies” with a range of professionals who have the specialized training needed to create bioweapons.

They outline several responses, including supporting and investing in international treaties, such as the Biological Weapons Convention and UN Resolution 1540, and taking steps to ensure that a biological weapon can be prevented from causing mass lethality after an attack, through investments in medical countermeasures and public health infrastructure. “A major part of our biodefense strategy should be based on reaching a level of preparedness that will effectively remove bioweapons from the category of WMD,” they write.

Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science, a quarterly peer-reviewed journal, is published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. It provides an international forum for debate and exploration of the many key strategic, scientific, and operational issues posed by biological weapons and bioterrorism.

The Center for Biosecurity is an independent, nonprofit organization of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) whose mission is to strengthen national security by reducing the risks posed by biological attacks, epidemics, and other destabilizing events, and to improve the nation’s resilience in the face of such events.

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