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  • Author: Filippa Lentzos
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Fletcher Security Review
  • Institution: The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Abstract: International treaties prohibit the development and use of biological weapons. Yet concerns about these weapons have endured and are now escalating. It is high time to take a hard look at technical and political developments and consider how the international security policy community should respond. ​ A major source of the growing concern about future bioweapons threats stem from scientific and technical advances. Innovations in biotechnology are expanding the toolbox to modify genes and organisms at a staggering pace, making it easier to produce increasingly dangerous pathogens. Disease-causing organisms can now be modified to increase their virulence, expand their host range, increase their transmissibility, or enhance their resistance to therapeutic interventions.[1] Scientific advances are also making it theoretically possible to create entirely novel biological weapons,[2] by synthetically creating known or extinct pathogens or entirely new pathogens.[3] Scientists could potentially enlarge the target of bioweapons from the immune system to the nervous system,[4] genome, or microbiome,[5] or they could weaponize ‘gene drives’ that would rapidly and cheaply spread harmful genes through animal and plant populations.[6] ​ Concurrent developments in other emerging technologies are also impacting potential future biological weapons threats. Developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning could speed up identification of harmful genes or DNA sequences. Artificial intelligence and machine learning could also potentially enable much more targeted biological weapons that would harm specific individuals or groups of individuals based on their genes, prior exposure to vaccines, or known vulnerabilities in their immune system.[7] Big Data and ‘cloud labs’ (completely robotized laboratories for hire) facilitate this process by enabling massively scaled-up experimentation and testing, significantly shortening ‘design-test-build’ timeframes and improving the likelihood of obtaining specificity or producing desired biological functionality.[8] Other developments provide new or easier ways to deliver pathogens or biological systems. Nanotechnology could potentially create aerosolized nanobots dispersing lethal synthetic microbes or chem-bio hybrids through the air,[9] or in vivo nanobots releasing damaging payloads inside human bodies.[10] Aerosol or spraying devices attached to swarms of small unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, could be another potential means to disperse biological agents. Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, could circumvent barriers imposed by national export control systems on controlled laboratory equipment or dispersal devices. ​
  • Topic: Security, Health, Science and Technology, Treaties and Agreements, Biosecurity, Weapons
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Anthony McMichael, Easwaran Narassimhan
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Fletcher Security Review
  • Institution: The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Abstract: Projecting the precise outcomes of climate change on the health and economic well-being of humans is integral to conceiving a coherent climate policy, yet forecasts are often associated with uncertainty. Given the complex nature of the problem: as Anthony McMichael points out in his book – Climate Change and the Health of Nations – famines, fevers, and the fate of populations “the Earth system’s behavior is less amenable to exact description and measurement, and behavior under future unfamiliar conditions cannot be confidently estimated.” As countries work hard to meet their commitments under the Paris Agreement, this unpredictability has become a reason for a dead- lock among nations who are finding it challenging to negotiate the finer, disputable aspects of the Agreement. The issue of “loss and damage” compensation to the more vulnerable regions of the world in particular, has become a bone of contention. It is in this context that McMichael’s book is unique. Instead of being focused on the clichéd discussions surrounding the science and politics of climate change, it provides an account of how humans have evolved, survived, and struggled in an ever changing global climate. In doing so, he views climate change through a historical lens. The book begins by exploring how the ever-so-restless global climate has played a pivotal role in shaping many historical events and the fate of various life forms on the planet. McMichael explains how extreme climate conditions have been responsible for most of the natural extinctions and catastrophic transitions since the Cambrian explosion of new life forms around 540 million years ago. In separate chapters, he throws light on how changing climate conditions have coincided with the rise and fall of human civilizations: from the European Bronze Age to the fall of Rome, the Mayans, and the Anasazi to the little Ice-Age that gripped Europe and China. Throughout the book, McMichael emphasizes how temperature anomalies have proven to be a bane for food supply, human health, and economic well-be- ing, and how they have resulted in the evolution of various infectious agents and vectors. The intriguing nature of changing temperature becomes evident as one is exposed to the many natural extinctions that have been followed by either a rapid cooling or a rapid warming period. McMichael also attempts to associate such naturally occurring warming and cooling with the evolution of some human species and de-evolution of others over time. He quotes John Hooker in saying that “every modification of climate, every disturbance of soil, every interference with the existing vegetation of an area, favors some species at the expense of others.”...
  • Topic: Climate Change, Demographics, Health, History
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Nahid Bhadelia
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Fletcher Security Review
  • Institution: The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Abstract: China is currently experiencing its fifth epidemic of “bird flu,” or avian influenza H7N9, since 2013 when it was first noted to cause human infections. The virus, which is mainly transmitted from poultry to humans, is also prone to limited human-to-human transmission. To date, there have been 1,258 human cases, with one-third of those cases (460) occurring during this year’s epidemic alone.[1] There are many “subtypes” of avian influenza circulating in birds around the world and most of these viruses cause limited or no human infections. However, two avian influenzas subtypes causing high human mortality have jumped from birds to humans in the last decade, H5N1 and then H7N9. The significant potential of this class of viruses to cause a human pandemic is a global public health concern, particularly because the conditions leading to the rise of these infections are becoming more favorable — for the viruses.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Environment, Health, Infectious Diseases
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Global Focus