Bloomberg News

Clinton Warns of Biological Weapon Threat, Need for Control

December 09, 2011

Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the international community to focus on preventing terrorists from acquiring biological weapons, warning that a “mass outbreak” could threaten fragile economies the world over.

Speaking before the Review Conference of Biological and Toxin Weapons in Geneva, Clinton said biological agents such as anthrax are getting easier to develop and terrorist groups are working to acquire them. She called on the 165 nations that are party to the convention to strengthen their abilities to detect and respond to attacks and outbreaks.

The “ability of non-state actors to get weapons is growing and therefore this must be a focus,” Clinton said. “There are warning signs and they are too serious to ignore. Terrorist groups have made it known they want to acquire these weapons.”

Clinton added that “a mass outbreak could cripple an already fragile global economy by cutting off the movement of people and goods and sparking food shortages.”

Clinton is on a five-day trip to Europe, where she met her counterparts to discuss Afghanistan and is speaking on democracy and human rights issues.

The international accord bans the development, production, stockpiling, and transfer of biological weapons, as well as biological agents and toxins, according to the Congressional Research Service. It also bans equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict, and it requires parties to the convention to destroy all relevant “agents, toxins, weapons, equipment and means of delivery.” It permits defensive biological warfare research.

U.S. Opposition

The U.S. does not back the effort to create a verification regime for biological weapons, similar to the one run by the International Atomic Energy Association to track nuclear materials, Clinton said. In the past, the U.S. has expressed the view that a verification process wouldn’t work and might endanger the security of U.S. biodefense programs and U.S. commercial proprietary information, according to the Sept. 20 CRS report.

Instead, members of the convention should do more to bolster confidence that “enough is being done,” Clinton said.

U.S. opposition to a verification system has drawn criticism from countries such as Iran. Prior review conferences, in 2001 and 2006, bogged down over disagreements about verification and technolology-transfer control issues, according to CRS.

--Editors: Steven Komarow, Terry Atlas

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Gaouette in Geneva at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva

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