From Biological Disarmament to Biosecurity: Securitisation or Humanisation of Biological Weapons Control After September 11, 2001?

The global discourse about security has been in transformation since the 1990s. Traditional security issues have been reframed from a humanitarian perspective – such as bans on anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions – and are finding implementation, in opposition to the military preferences of the great powers, on the back of such humanitarian arguments. Concurrently, new issues such as health are being framed in security terms and “securitized” as actual or potential security threats. Moreover, the attacks on September 11, 2001 seem to have strengthened this trend towards securitization.

The regime for controlling biological weapons finds itself at the intersection of security and humanitarian issues. It gained attention as a matter of security in the context of the perceived growing threat of bioterrorism. This has simultaneously led to stronger emphasis being placed on aspects of bio-security in laboratories and public health – issues with humanitarian connotations, in terms of health, and unrelated to military security. The tensions arising from these developments have been reinforced by a decades-old conflict between obligations to prevent the proliferation of biological weapons and to foster the use of biotechnology for peaceful purposes to the greatest extent possible. This conflict is embedded in the bio-weapon regime and closely relates to the issues of distributive and participatory justice.

Against this background, the project aims to analyze the consequences of merging security issues with humanitarian health matters in terms of biological disarmament and the role that various justice claims may thereby assume. Based on this research, the project also sets out to develop pragmatic policy options aimed at rendering the ban on biological weapons more effective and at preventing the emergence of new biological weapons threats.

Project director:


Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders”, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders”, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt