Case study

Global Threat Reduction Programme: Biological Non-Proliferation Programme

This programme is aimed at addressing potential proliferation risks in the biological sciences. It supports the original goals and principles…

This programme is aimed at addressing potential proliferation risks in the biological sciences. It supports the original goals and principles to which the Global Partnership committed at the 2002 G8 Summit in Kananaskis, including to:

  • promote the adoption, universalisation, full implementation and strengthening of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), which prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling or retention of biological weapons
  • develop and maintain appropriate, effective measures to account for and secure biological material
  • develop and maintain appropriate, effective physical protection measures at facilities that house biological material
  • adopt and strengthen efforts to minimise holdings of dangerous biological pathogens and toxins

At the 2010 Muskoka Summit, the G8 Leaders recognised the continuing global threats from weapons and materials of mass destruction, as well as the importance of continuing joint efforts to address them in the years ahead.

The UK programme is managed by the Ministry of Defence; efforts to date have focused on Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East and North Africa. Technical and scientific input is generally provided by expert UK agencies, including the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Health Protection Agency, and Veterinary Laboratories Agency.

Work includes redirection of former weapons scientists and seeks to engage more widely with people whose scientific expertise could be misused for weapons purposes.

A key feature of biological science is that much work with naturally occurring pathogens is potentially “dual use”. This means it can either be used for beneficial purposes – such as development of vaccines to prevent disease – or misused for harmful purposes deliberately to cause disease. As a result, efforts to reduce the risks of misuse can at the same time provide benefits such as contributing to improved public, veterinary and plant health in the donor and beneficiary states, for example through better understanding of diseases and their causes, and the development of measures to respond to disease outbreaks.

Expansion of the UK Programme

2009 and 2010 saw a significant expansion of the UK programme. As well as engaging at an institute level, the programme now seeks to increase engagement with national governments and to develop regional collaborations in order to maximise impact, support the emergence of sustainable scientific networks, and improve awareness of and compliance with the BTWC.

Most of the projects in the former Soviet Union are being implemented as “Partner Projects” through the International Science and Technology Centre (ISTC) in Moscow. Activities are closely coordinated with other Global Partnership members who have major programmes in the biological area, in particular the US, Canada and the European Union. During 2010 the UK agreed to contribute funding for key equipment for a new laboratory to be built by Canada in the Kyrgyz Republic, which will improve safety and security.

The UK also signed agreements with the US Department of State (DoS), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) under which the UK will contribute funding to major projects which will strengthen biological safety and security in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

Projects and activities implemented by the UK include:

  • training in biosafety, modern diagnostics and disease surveillance, including support to related scientific research, and covering both human and animal diseases
  • surveillance of key crop pathogens to help improve plant health and crop production
  • technical advice and training for laboratories holding dangerous pathogens
  • collaborative research into the immune response to anthrax vaccinations
  • support for development of regional biosafety associations
  • participation in regional workshops in support of the BTWC, and funding attendance of scientists from the Former Soviet Union at the annual BTWC Meeting of Experts

The programme is expected to continue to develop in scale and geographical range over the coming years, increasingly beyond the Former Soviet Union. Activities will continue to focus on engagement with biological scientists and provide support for the safe and secure development of “dual use” biological science, in compliance with the BTWC.

There will continue to be an emphasis on developing sustainable projects in collaboration with partner governments, other national programmes and non-governmental organisations, making use of the beneficial aspects of “dual use” science to enhance and protect public health and agriculture.

Published 19 January 2013