Submission from Professor Vivienne
Nathanson, Director of Professional Activities, British Medical
Thank you for inviting the British Medical Association
(BMA) to submit evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry
into Global Security: Non-Proliferation. The BMA is a voluntary
professional association with more than 138,000 members and
an independent trade union.
The BMA welcomes this inquiry and believes that
strong action on non-proliferation is essential to reduce the
threat to global security. Today, with globalisation and the increased
availability of dual-use technologies (eg nuclear energy technology
and equipment), proliferation challenges are evolving and gaining
a wider geographic presence. Global security requires action by
the international community of nations, by national governments
and by those with specific expertise in science, medicine and
The BMA believes that the UK Government should
work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons by condemning
the development, testing, production, deployment, threat and use
of nuclear weapons. It is vital that all governments refrain from
these activities, and work in good faith for their elimination
by calling for a nuclear weapons convention similar to those for
biological and chemical weapons. A progressive reduction in world
arms spending is also necessary to limit proliferation of nuclear,
chemical, biological and conventional weapons.
One of the greatest challenges facing the scientific
and medical community in the 21st century is to ensure that chemical
and biological agents are not used in hostilities. In 1999, the
BMA Board of Science published Biotechnology weapons and humanity
which stresses that urgent action is required to ensure the Biological
and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) is strengthened. It also reinforces
the central concept that biological weapons, whether simple or
complex in design and production, are wholly unacceptable. The
2004 BMA Board of Science report Biotechnology weapons
and humanity II
provides an update on the scientific developments since 1999,
and considers the progress on the development of international
arms control. In 2007, the BMA Board of Science published The
use of drugs as weapons
which highlights how the development and use of medicines as a
means of incapacitating people in law enforcement and combat situations,
risks undermining chemical and biological weapon conventions.
It also emphasises how the use of drugs as weapons is an example
of the dual use of medical knowledge and therefore damages the
trust that is an essential element of patient/doctor interactions.
Copies of these reports are enclosed for your information.
As highlighted in Biotechnology weapons and
humanity II, the development of effective weapons control
standards requires action by a number of different groups, including:
All statesmust take every
possible step to find ways of agreeing a means of strengthening
the BTWC through the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument,
as detailed in the UK National Security Strategy. States should
implement the official purpose of the BTWC which was to "promote
common understanding and effective action"
and should agree to demonstrate that they have met all their obligations
under the BTWC.
National governmentsto ensure
that the BTWC is safe, effective and secure, all national governments
need to take individual domestic measures, as well as participating
in inter-governmental actions. These include passing legislation
to implement fully the requirements of the BTWC, and sharing information
on implementation of legislation and other relevant materials
through the UN. Governments should commit to developing national
strategies to ensure compliance with the legal and ethical norms
of non-use of biological and toxin weapons. It is also important
that governments engage in debate with scientists, other experts
and journal editors about the control of biological experimentation,
and the dissemination of the results of such research.
Scientists and the medical professionscientists
need to be aware of how their work might impact on legal and ethical
norms that prohibit the development and use of biological weapons,
and of the risks associated with the rapid advances in biotechnology.
They should engage in a worldwide debate about how they police
their own areas of expertise and, in discussions with scientific
publishers/editors, on how they make decisions on whether to publish
the results of potentially "dangerous" research.
I hope you find this information helpful, and
I look forward to hearing the outcome of your inquiry.
26 November, 2008
376 British Medical Association (1999) Biotechnology
weapons and humanity.London: BMA. Back
British Medical Association (2004) Biotechnology weapons and
humanity II. London: BMA. Back
British Medical Association (2007) The use of drugs as weapons
London: BMA. Back
Not published. Already in the public domain. Back
BWC/CONF.V/17, paragraph 18a. Back