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Dilemmas of a Dual-Use Technology: Toxins in Medicine and Warfare

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 May 2016

Jonathan B. Tucker
Affiliation:
Washington, DC, USA

Abstract

Several toxins are “dual-use” in that they have legitimate therapeutic, pharmaceutical, or scientific applications as well as potential military utility as toxin warfare (TW) agents. The growing peaceful applications of such toxins may complicate efforts to ban their use for warfare or terrorist purposes. Worldwide consumption of toxins for medical therapy and scientific research has increased from a few grams to the current level of hundreds of grams per year, and the projected future growth of toxin therapies will require tens to hundreds of kilograms of material annually, blurring the distinction between medically useful and militarily significant quantities. As a result, a proliferator might seek to acquire an offensive TW capability under the guise of “peaceful” activities permitted by the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). To examine this problem more closely, the case of ricin—a putative toxin warfare agent with expanding scientific and medical applications—is discussed in detail. Finally, an analysis of policy options for regulating dual-use toxins concludes that precise monitoring of toxin production would be impracticable in many cases, and that international efforts to achieve greater openness and transparency offer the most realistic basis for distinguishing between the legitimate and banned uses of toxins.

Type
Dual-Use Toxins
Copyright
Copyright © Association for Politics and the Life Sciences 

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