or disgruntled individuals. For example, research to understand the characteristics of anthrax or foot-and-mouth disease, while important for public health and agriculture, can also attract the attention of groups or individuals who are interested in using these pathogens as weapons of terrorism. This dual-use dilemma underlies the concerns set forth in the legislation calling for the study and this report.
As is widely recognized, many naturally occurring diseases continue to threaten health and agriculture on local, regional, and international scales. Each day, tens of thousands of people throughout the world die from infections, and untold quantities of animals and food supplies are lost on every continent due to the spread of lethal diseases. A global consensus has emerged that all nations need to work together to prevent pandemics due to naturally occurring diseases and to respond vigorously when outbreaks occur. The recent national responses to the outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and avian influenza, within a framework of coordination established by several international organizations, are good examples of constructive international efforts. Experience from these efforts should help shape responses to bioterrorist-instigated diseases, particularly those that cross international borders.
Still, effective international responses to the threat of deliberately introduced diseases by terrorist groups are not easy to mount. Perceptions of different governments as to the severity and the nature of emerging threats differ. Also, overcoming the bureaucratic challenges and the technical uncertainties in formulating international policies and programs that cut across many government agencies at the national level is formidable.
Several decades ago, concerned governments responded to the potential threat of biological weapons by taking initial steps in constructing a legally binding international regime to ban the use, development, stockpiling, and production of such weapons and to prevent countries and sub-national groups from acquiring them. This regime is based on the Geneva Protocol (entered into force in 1928) and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (entered into force in 1975), supplemented by the Australia Group’s export control guidelines (updated on a regular basis). At the time the components of the regime were initially developed, the primary concern was over hostile states, not terrorist groups, acquiring biological weapons. However, even with regard to activities of states party to the agreements, let alone to amorphous terrorist groups, effective measures for ensuring that illicit activities are not being carried out have been elusive, and there are only limited procedures for addressing suspected violations of the agreements.
In recent years, the U.S. government has led the international effort to develop new approaches to address the threat of bioterrorism while advocating compliance with treaty obligations. To this end, and in response to an initiative of the U.S. Congress in 1991 to establish the CTR program, during the 1990s DOD developed a number of programs that are now carried out through BTRP. BTRP is a very important component of the U.S. government’s programmatic approach for preventing the proliferation of biological weapons consistent with its legislative charge. BTRP is the primary focus of this report.