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Barriers to Bioweapons

Barriers to Bioweapons: The Challenges of Expertise and Organization for Weapons Development

Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    Barriers to Bioweapons
    Book Description:

    In both the popular imagination and among lawmakers and national security experts, there exists the belief that with sufficient motivation and material resources, states or terrorist groups can produce bioweapons easily, cheaply, and successfully. InBarriers to Bioweapons, Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley challenges this perception by showing that bioweapons development is a difficult, protracted, and expensive endeavor, rarely achieving the expected results whatever the magnitude of investment. Her findings are based on extensive interviews she conducted with former U.S. and Soviet-era bioweapons scientists and on careful analysis of archival data and other historical documents related to various state and terrorist bioweapons programs.

    Bioweapons development relies on living organisms that are sensitive to their environment and handling conditions, and therefore behave unpredictably. These features place a greater premium on specialized knowledge. Ben Ouagrham-Gormley posits that lack of access to such intellectual capital constitutes the greatest barrier to the making of bioweapons. She integrates theories drawn from economics, the sociology of science, organization, and management with her empirical research. The resulting theoretical framework rests on the idea that the pace and success of a bioweapons development program can be measured by its ability to ensure the creation and transfer of scientific and technical knowledge. The specific organizational, managerial, social, political, and economic conditions necessary for success are difficult to achieve, particularly in covert programs where the need to prevent detection imposes managerial and organizational conditions that conflict with knowledge production.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7193-3
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. CHAPTER 1 The Bioproliferation Puzzle
    (pp. 1-16)

    When at the end of 2011 scientists at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands announced their plan to publish a major finding about the H5N1 bird flu, they set off an unprecedented debate about the usefulness of scientific research with potentially serious security repercussions. The Erasmus team, led by Ron Fouchier, had created a mutant strain of H5N1 that spread more easily among mammals. Although only about six hundred humans are known to have contracted H5N1 in the last decade, 60 percent of those infected by the virus died from it. Thus, the new strain sounded alarm bells within...

  5. CHAPTER 2 The Acquisition and Use of Specialized Knowledge
    (pp. 17-36)

    At a meeting in Geneva in December 2011, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton warned of a potential bioterrorism threat, saying, “a crude, but effective, terrorist weapon can be made by using a small sample of any number of widely available pathogens, inexpensive equipment, and college-level chemistry and biology.”¹ Her statement reiterates a belief common since 2001 and now shared by most policy experts and political scientists alike: scientific knowledge is cumulative, is easy to acquire and use, and does not depreciate over time. Yet the academic and practical evidence suggests that the acquisition and effective use of specialized...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Impediments and Facilitators of Bioweapons Development
    (pp. 37-63)

    The challenges of knowledge creation, transfer, and use, and the interdependence of knowledge reservoirs, discussed in chapter 2, raise two important questions: How can a program create the appropriate conditions to ensure efficient knowledge use? And, what conditions might prevent success? Understanding what factors impede or facilitate knowledge acquisition and successful use has rarely been the focus of extant policy and political science literature.¹ This lacuna is due to the assumption that success requires nothing more than assembling adequate scientific and engineering talent and providing the equipment they need. Testimonies from former bioweapons scientists and historical accounts of past bioweapons...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The American Bioweapons Program: Struggling with a Split Personality Disorder
    (pp. 64-90)

    After almost three decades of operation, President Richard Nixon unilaterally terminated the U.S. bioweapons program in 1969. Most studies explain the program’s termination by focusing on the weight of outside political and social pressure, and on the program’s inability to produce weapons that met military requirements. Notably, U.S. political and military elites alike were dismayed by how this program was burdened not only by moral concerns but also by uncertainties about the predictability of weapon effects and reliability. These circumstances prevented the development of a use doctrine for these weapons and fostered growing social opposition to biological and chemical weapons...

  8. CHAPTER 5 The Soviet Bioweapons Program: Failed Integration
    (pp. 91-121)

    When the first American delegation visited the anthrax production plant in Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan, in 1995, they were struck by the enormity of the place. Spanning a territory of two square kilometers, the plant was composed of more than fifty buildings. The main production building alone was almost two football-field lengths and contained ten 20,000-liter fermentors, each four stories high, capable of producing 300 tons of anthrax a year. The facility housed a unique indoor 300-cubic-meter explosive test chamber with a removable dome. A line of bunkers hidden under a hill, sporting thick metal doors and two-meter-thick walls, were used to...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Small Bioweapons Programs and the Constraints of Covertness
    (pp. 122-143)

    Achieving covertness in a bioweapons program truly has the character of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, though it can shield an illicit program from outside scrutiny while the program seeks the materials needed to commence its objective, it can also be a powerful impediment to success, as the case of the Soviet bioweapons program demonstrates. Its increased financial burden and its effects on knowledge management can derail a program, even one with a long history of bioweapons development. We will see in this chapter that these same characteristics are also prominent in the most recently discovered state and...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Preventing Bioweapons Developments: Policy Implications
    (pp. 144-168)

    In the case study chapters, we have observed how endogenous and exogenous characteristics of a bioweapons program can facilitate or hinder its development. Although access to material resources is important, it is the combination of organizational, managerial, political, and economic circumstances characterizing a program that ultimately affects its ability to produce and use knowledge, and thus affect the pace and ultimate program output. These case studies also offer an interesting gradation of variables and illustrate the importance of analyzing their effects as they interact to achieve a realistic assessment of a program’s outcome. More importantly, the case studies underscore how...

  11. APPENDIX 1: American Bioweapons Program: Contractors
    (pp. 169-174)
  12. APPENDIX 2: American Bioweapons Program: Approximate Budget Figures
    (pp. 175-178)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 179-212)
  14. Index
    (pp. 213-220)