Global Security: Non-Proliferation - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

 Submission from Professor Vivienne Nathanson, Director of Professional Activities, British Medical Association

  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 law.

  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[376] 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[377] 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[378] 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.[379]

  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 states—must 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"[380] and should agree to demonstrate that they have met all their obligations under the BTWC.

    —  National governments—to 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 profession—scientists 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

377   British Medical Association (2004) Biotechnology weapons and humanity II. London: BMA. Back

378   British Medical Association (2007) The use of drugs as weapons London: BMA. Back

379   Not published. Already in the public domain. Back

380   BWC/CONF.V/17, paragraph 18a. Back

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