From Biological Disarmament to Biosecurity: Securitization or Humanization 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. Since the mid-1990s, and especially with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent Anthrax letters, the threat of bioterrorism was perceived to increase. 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 questions of distributive and participatory justice.

Against this background, the project analysed the consequences of the merging of security issues with humanitarian health matters in terms of biological disarmament, and the role that various justice claims play in this. The analysis showed that this merging has blurred the boundaries between the biological weapons control regime and other political areas outside the security realm. Moreover, the relevant stakeholders have diversified and increased in numbers. Both developments have impacted negatively on the possibilities for effective governance in the regime, including in its core areas of security and disarmament. Likewise, the justice conflicts that were identified significantly reduce the willingness and leeway of actors to develop pragmatic solutions for known problems. The regime evolution has hence stagnated for years.

Based on these research results, pragmatic policy options are now being developed which aim at rendering the ban on biological weapons more effective and at preventing the emergence of new biological weapons threats.

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B-Waffen-Übereinkommen. 8. Überprüfungskonferenz 2016 | 2017

Becker-Jakob, Una (2017): B-Waffen-Übereinkommen. 8. Überprüfungskonferenz 2016, in: Vereinte Nationen, 1/2017, 31,

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Building Confidence over Biological Matters in the Middle East | 2015

Becker-Jakob, Una (2015): Building Confidence over Biological Matters in the Middle East, in: Müller, Harald/Müller, Daniel (eds), WMD Arms Control in the Middle East. Prospects, Obstacles and Options, Farnham and Burlington, 165-173.

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Balanced Minimalism | 2013

Becker-Jakob, Una (2013): Balanced Minimalism. The Biological Weapons Convention after its 7th Review Conference, PRIF Report No. 120, Frankfurt/M.

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