Bio-Security Challenges in the Asia-Pacific Region

Takaya Suto
Director, Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation
Japan Institute of International Affairs

Paper for the Second Annual Asia-Pacific Homeland Security
Summit and Exposition

Honolulu, Hawaii
15 November 2004
(Check Against Delivery)

Mr. Chairman, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to speak before you today, to share with you the Asian perspectives on bio-security. First and foremost, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the State of Hawaii for organizing this valuable summit.

(The threat of biological weapons)

In recent years, threats from use of biological weapons and abuse of biotechnology by non-state actors or terrorist groups, in particular, have been increasing. In the United States, the anthrax-laced letters were sent to several media offices and Senators during September and October 2001, and deadly ricin was found in the mailroom of the Federal Senate office buildings in February 2004. In January 2003, the British authorities arrested seven men suspected of possessing ricin in north London. As evidenced by these cases, it has now become pressing and critical for the international community to address the biological weapon threat as a global security issue.
     Here, I would like to point out two unique natures of biological weapons. Firstly, the materials, technologies and equipments to be used into production of biological weapons are mostly for dual-use, and have been widespread, compared to those of other weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear and chemical weapons. It is not easy to regulate many biological-related facilities which use such materials, technologies and equipments.
     Secondly, unlike nuclear and chemical weapons, the strains of bacteria or virus can be mass-cultivated whenever needed at a lower cost without much difficulty. In addition, bacteria or virus are incubated in human body for some period before biological devastation has broken out, so that a perpetrator might have enough time to escape from the attack site. Gene engineering technologies might be abused to render natural disease agents more lethal and environmentally persistent, evade detection and diagnosis, and defeat existing drugs and vaccines. Because of these features, terrorists might perceive biological weapons attractive. Considering these aspects, it is urged for the international community to contemplate how to tackle with the biological weapon threat.

(International efforts to strengthen the BWC)

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975, is the only international legal framework for prohibiting biological weapons and abuse of biological technologies. While the BWC has 151 state parties as of today, there are 16 signatories that have not ratified the Convention, and 25 non-signatories. Further international efforts are needed for promoting the universality of the BWC.
     It has been proposed to strengthen the BWC since it lacks the provisions for verification and inspection procedures. In order to redeem this lack and to increase the effectiveness of the Convention, the state parties launched negotiations for drafting a BWC Verification Protocol in 1995. It is regrettable, however, the negotiation was suspended in 2001 on the ground that the United States, after reviewing its policy on the BWC, rejected the draft Verification Protocol and withdrew from the six and a half year negotiation. At the reopened Review Conference of the BWC in November 2002, the state parties sought to agree to other BWC strengthening mechanism as an alternative to a Verification Protocol. After difficult negotiations, a three-year work plan for enhancing the BWC was finally approved. On our part, the Japanese Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament at that time, Prof. Inoguchi played a significant role to help the Chairman mediate the different interests among the state parties, find common ground and draw up the three-year work plan.
     Currently, based on this three-year work plan, the BWC state parties hold the expertsf and the state partiesf meetings every year to enhance the common understanding in the following five areas: 1) national implementation measures, 2) bio-security, 3) disease surveillance, 4) emergency preparedness and responses, and 5) code of conduct for scientists. Each of the five areas is considered essential to strengthen the BWC and prevent terrorists from developing biological weapons and abusing biotechnology. The importance of the BWC has also been highlighted in the UN Security Council Resolution 1540 adopted in April 2004 and the G8 Action Plan on Non-Proliferation to Counter the Proliferation of WMD. The UNSC Resolution 1540 under the Chapter VII decides that all states shall refrain from providing any form of support to non-state actors that attempt to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use WMD including biological weapons and their means of delivery. The G8 Action Plan also stresses the importance of universalization of treaties on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. It also encourages the states to implement their obligations under such treaties, to build law enforcement capacity, and to establish effective export controls.

(Current situation in the Asia-Pacific region)

Ladies and gentlemen,

Now, I would like to speak about the bio-security challenges especially in the Asia-Pacific region and the Japanfs efforts to strengthen bio-security, followed by my personal thoughts and suggestions.
     In the Asia-Pacific region, the recent high economic growth and the rapid development of industrial infrastructure have brought about a fast advancement of biotechnology. In this region, however, threat perception and public awareness against biological weapons are not necessarily high. Few regional states have already established a national legislation for controlling biological weapons. Nor have sufficient national and international measures for implementing the BWC domestically been taken so far although almost all the states in the Asia-Pacific region acceded to the BWC. Thus the potential for countries in this region to become suppliers of dual-use materials, technologies and equipments which could be diverted to develop biological weapons is increasing. This presents a dangerous situation because rogue states or terrorist groups may try to exploit the weakest point in the international non-proliferation network as a loophole. Moreover, as the Asia-Pacific region is heavily populated and congested, the damage from biological terrorism would be remarkably extensive. These assessments have convinced us that it is highly important and urgent to address the biological weapon threat by terrorists particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

(Japan's efforts)

Facing with this situation, the government of Japan as a member of the Asia-Pacific region, places a high priority on the promotion of regional efforts towards, among others, establishing national legislation and enhancing law enforcement capabilities and export control of the Asia-Pacific countries. For example, in September 2003, the government of Japan organized a Seminar on Consequence and Crisis Management of Chemical and Biological Terrorism in the Asia-Pacific Region with the aim of enhancing crisis management capabilities against biological and chemical terrorism, in which 25 experts from ASEAN countries, China and Papua New Guinea participated. And in November 2003, Japan organized the first Asian Senior-level Talks on Non-Proliferation (ASTOP) in Tokyo and promoted policy dialogue on various non-proliferation issues with the Asia-Pacific states. In the Japan-ASEAN Commemorative Summit in December 2003, the Japan-ASEAN Tokyo Declaration and the Japan-ASEAN Plan of Action were promulgated, in which the leaders agreed to genhance cooperation in the areas of disarmament and non-proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery, and related materials.h Moreover, at the meeting of BWC state parties in December 2003, Japan distributed the English translation of its national BWC implementation law as a reference for those countries that have not yet enacted their own national implementation law.
     Japan will continue every effort to share its experiences with the Asia-Pacific countries in order to contribute to capacity building in the region. The Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, for which I am working as director, highly values such efforts by the government of Japan. This year, we are conducting research and analysis of several ASEAN countriesf national legislation and implementation measures for disarmament and non-proliferation and their possible needs for assistance. Our Center would like to continue to actively contribute to improving their national implementation measures. At the same time, I think the public awareness of the necessity for such efforts should be promoted. We, the United States, the Asia-Pacific countries and Japan, have to work together to achieve this task. In this respect, it would be desirable to hold a conference like this Asia-Pacific Homeland Security Summit in one of the Asian countries.


Ladies and gentlemen,

With the development of bio-industry and the increase of facilities possessing hazardous biological agents, it is becoming more important and urgent to take preventive measures against illicit access to hazardous agents by terrorist groups. Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese infamous religious cult for the sarin attacks, had attempted terrorist attacks with botulinum and anthrax several times before the sarin attacks. Their attempts failed because the strains and the disperse equipments they possessed were not strong and effective enough for using as a weapon. One of the lessons from reviewing the case of Aum Shinrikyo is that restricting access to strains and disperse technologies will help prevent bio-terrorism and so it is essential to strengthen bio-security. However, as ensuring bio-security requires commitments of various ministries and agencies, it takes a long time for many countries to develop the appropriate measures and integrate them into an unified program. Even after such a program is introduced, it would not be easy to put it into practice.
     The United States is now most advanced in carrying out bio-security measures effectively through enacting legislation to regulate facilities and personnel handling hazardous biological agents, introducing a registration system to account for dangerous pathogens and formulating bio-security guidelines for laboratories. From the perspective of non-proliferation, I think we can learn many lessons from the US experiences in order to strengthen our own bio-security measures. Among them, it would be particularly important to regulate national and international transfers of dual-use strains and technologies, for example, by obliging declaration of end-users and their ultimate purposes which will be appropriately checked and examined.

(Bio-security guideline)

The Asia-Pacific countries have not taken such bio-security measures so far and it would be difficult to set up universal bio-security measures. There still remains a huge gap in industrial infrastructure between less-advanced countries in bio-industry including the Asia-Pacific countries and advanced countries such as the United States, EU, and Japan. Imposing the same strict measures to every country would place an enormous burden on less-advanced countries, which might result in deteriorating their international competitiveness and impeding the international cooperation for medical and industrial purposes. In the meantime, introduction of multinational inspection and verification system of bio-security might cause a leakage of confidential information. Differences in legal culture, domestic institutions and social circumstances also make it difficult to immediately establish a legally binding international framework. But continuous efforts toward realizing such a framework should be essential as terrorists may try to exploit the weakest links. For that purpose, it may be useful to start with an international bio-security guideline, which will be commonly applied with some degree of flexibility to all countries in the world and may hopefully be developed into a legally binding regime in the future. In this regard, development of a guideline should be urgently discussed either in one of the international organizations such as WHO or in the forum of the BWC member states as a part of its intersessional review process. Under such circumstances, the government of Japan, aiming at encouraging member states to deal with bio-security, issued a working paper, titled gPossible Measures for Strengthening Biosecurity, (BWC/MSP2003/MX/WP.11)h at the experts meeting of the BWC in August 2003. Ms. Kotake will explain the details of this working paper later. The best practices mentioned in this working paper should be incorporated into a bio-security guideline to be agreed upon.
     International cooperation to build such a bio-security framework might be promoted by some means of incentives rather than penalties. For, many developing countries are more concerned with natural epidemics of infectious disease than with bio-terrorism, which is so far chiefly a preoccupation of the Western industrialized countries. Developing countries may be willing to implement bio-security measures in exchange for international financial and technical assistance in the struggle against infectious scourges such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

(National bio-security measures in Japan)

Ladies and gentlemen,

Now I would like to say some words about bio-security measures in my country.
     In order to implement the BWC appropriately, Japan established in 1982 the law to prohibit production, possession and transfer of biological weapons and dispersion of biological agents, and secures its enforcement with penalties for violations.
     In Japan, measures to prevent the accidental release of hazardous pathogens from facilities and laboratories for bio-safety have been taken for decades for the sake of health and safety of workers and local inhabitants. However, it is only quite recently that people have become aware of the importance of taking additional measures for bio-security to prevent bio-terrorism.
     Driven by the anthrax incidents occurred in the United States in 2001, the government of Japan held the Ministerial Meeting on Measures Against NBC Terrorism, and agreed in November 2001 to the Governmentfs Basic Policy on Responding to Biological and Chemical Terrorism, which consisted of the following five items: 1) strengthening public health system such as countermeasures against infectious diseases and stockpile of vaccines, 2) strengthening linkages of health and medical institutions and improving response capabilities at the outbreak of diseases, 3) tightening the control over biological and chemical agents as well as increasing security and precaution against terrorism, 4) strengthening response capabilities of the police, self-defense forces, fire department, and coast guard, and 5) accurate and timely provision of information to the public. Upon agreement of this plan, the government has taken various measures including making manuals for improving capability of first responders, strengthening verification systems by agencies, establishing special forces in the police and fire departments and providing training for them, strengthening the capability of the self- defense force, and providing stockpiles of medicines and vaccines.
     As for bio-security measures, a number of ministries have been implementing administrative guidance and other policy measures vis-a-vis research institutes and industries of their jurisdiction. Currently, discussions to strengthen and harmonize such measures are underway. Much remains to be done. There are many things that Japan should learn from the United States experiences and practices. I would like to call for more vigorous cooperation between Japan and the United States in this regard. My center is considering collaborating with the US research institutes or think tanks for raising public awareness and making policy recommendations for bio-security.

(Code of conduct)

Ladies and gentlemen,

As mentioned in the beginning of my presentation, biotechnologies have widely been utilized for civilian purposes, but no verification measure exists, in contrast to nuclear and chemical weapons non-proliferation regimes. Preventing abuse of biotechnology has to depend eventually on behaviors and intentions of scientists to a large extent.
     In this respect, I believe that the further cooperation among government, academic and industry is essential for establishing the code of conduct for scientists with a view to preventing abuse of biotechnologies. By applying the code of conduct to all scientists, the chance of illegal access to strains or toxins and leakage of technologies to disperse bio-weapons would be reduced. It may also be effective to establish a kind of epistemic society of scientists by strengthening networks among them, which may help them gblow the whistleh when any of them finds suspicious activities in his/her peers.
     In this context, at the BWC preparatory meeting next year, the issues on code of conduct for scientists will be discussed. It is also noteworthy that CBACI and IISS-US, American think tanks, are leading the industrial initiative to establish a code of conduct for corporations and institutes.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Based upon my earlier arguments, I would like to conclude my presentation with six suggestions to address the biological weapon threat with special emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region.
     First, it is important to raise the public awareness that the threat of biological weapons is real and growing at each level of research institutes, industry, and citizens as well as governments. Coping with the biological weapon threat should be given a top priority. Raising the public awareness is the essential factor to secure the budget and fund for promoting measures against biological weapons. Especially, much effort should be required in the Asia-Pacific region in order to increase the public awareness, as the countries in this region have many challenges to establish national implementing measures and to regulate biological weapons.
     Second, it is essential to establish a code of conduct for scientists. A code of conduct for corporations would also help prevent the proliferation of biological weapons and abuse of biotechnology. It is equally important to provide ethics education for scientists at university level.
     Third, networks among scientists should be cultivated. Such a societal mechanism would enable a scientist to launch early warning or whistle blowing to colleaguesf illicit activities. To that end, an epistemic community would be able to prevent effectively misuse of human resources, materials, technologies and equipments for malicious purposes.
     Fourth, it is necessary to provide assistance to the Asia-Pacific countries in order to establish their national legislation and mechanism for implementing the BWC domestically, for example by offering technical cooperation, organizing seminars, and providing training for experts. Financial cooperation should also be considered as needed.
     Fifth, all countries must commit themselves to the international efforts to strengthen the BWC. The efforts must be led to a concrete achievement. One of such efforts should be strengthening the treaty in the five areas. It is also worth examining to make illicit use of biological weapons and biotechnologies a international crime.
     Finally, it is necessary to establish an international standard for bio-security. Although it is ultimately desirable to adopt a legally binding agreement, it would take a long time in reality. Hence, for the time being, it is urged for the international community to seek an international guideline to be commonly applied to all countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To sum up, it is requested that the Asia-Pacific countries including Japan make much more efforts to raise the public awareness on the biological weapon threats and to establish and enhance norms and regimes to prevent proliferation and abuse of biological weapons.

Thank you very much for your attention.

>> ߂
>> Back to Index


Copyright © 2004 Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation
Japan Institute of International Affairs
c@l{ۖ茤 RkEsgUiZ^[