The possibility of genetically engineered bioweapons that target groups sharing a common DNA marker (i.e. all humans with brown eyes) is more than science fiction. With the mapping of the human genome, it represents an imminent threat to the future of the human species. Such bioweapons are almost certainly under development in a number of countries, and in my opinion will turn out to be the greatest horror of the century that has just begun.
As reported in Al-Jazeera, a recent British Medical Association report strongly warns of the potential misuse to which recent rapid advances in biotechnology could be put:
Describing the "riotous" progress in the biotechnology industry on Tuesday, the report concluded that the world may soon face horrific dangers should yet more advances continue unchecked.
Biotechnology is already near a stage where devastating diseases can be recreated and illnesses created that could target specific ethnic groups, says the study's author.
Is the BMA report unduly alarmist? Hardly. In the late 1990's the neocon Project for a New American Century (PNAC) provided the following recommendation in their manifest Rebuilding America's Defenses:
...advanced forms of biological warfare that can 'target' specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.
This PNAC policy position is even more alarming considering that its authors and supporters are now firmly entrenched as the dominant policymakers of the current Bush Administration.
There have been a few little-publicized reports by reputable sources that certain countries have already made efforts to develop ethnic bioweapons:
On November 15, 1998, the London Times reported that Israel claimed to have successfully developed a genetically specific "ethnic bullet" that targets Arabs. When an Israeli government spokesman was asked to confirm the existence of ethnic weapons, he did not deny that they had them, but rather said, "we have a basket full of serious surprises that we will not hesitate to use if we feel that the state of Israel is under serious threat."
The Internet journal From the Wilderness has also reported on the topic:
Research that could be used to develop ethnic weapons has historically been based upon natural susceptibilities, or upon the absence of vaccination within a target group. Genetic engineering of biological agents, to make them more potent, has been carried out covertly for some years, but not as an overt step to produce more effective weapons. In genetic terms there are more similarities between different people and peoples than there are differences. But the differences exist, and may singly or in combination distinguish the members of one social group (an "ethnic" group) from another.
According to the FTW article, in 1996 Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, the British Medical Association's Head of Science and Ethics told a congress of the World Medical Association that ethnically targeted genetic weapons were now possible, and she cited as example the possibility of designing an agent that could sterilize or pass on a lethal hereditary defect in specific ethnic groups.
The Federation of American Scientists, long a watchdog in the area of weapons of mass destruction, has posted a declassified CIA report on the future of bioweapons. While it doesn't discuss the ethic targeting issue, it provides some frightening examples of what these pathogens could be designed to do.
One particularly troubling aspect of biowarfare is that the cost of funding a capable research program is much less than would be required to develop nuclear weapons. It has been estimated that the cost of developing a "gene weapon" might be in the neighborhood of $50 million, which would be well within the capabilities of most national governments, and possibly extra-governmental groups such as Al-Qaeda as well. Another troubling aspect of such technology is its potential for being used covertly, disguised as a particularly severe flu virus, for example.
The tremendous potential of such weapons as tools of warfare makes their funding and development by the world's great and not so great powers practically inevitable. Like the nuclear arms race of the Cold War, the fear of other nations gaining a strategic advantage by taking a technological lead in this area has likely already induced the United States and its potential adversaries to devote substantial resources for researching ethnic bioweapon technology.
A comprehensive international convention with an inspection protocol is the world's only practical hope of averting the continued development and stockpiling of these pathogens. No momentum for such a convention can possibly develop until the issue is publicised enough for the public to exert the necessary pressure on world leaders. I'm hoping that concerned bloggers will act to spread the word about this terrible threat to humanity before their genocidal potential is actualized.
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