Tag: shameless Student-who’s-Earned-A-Little-Flattery (S.E.L.F.)-promotion

Biological Weapons

A few years ago, a mid-career biochemist enrolled in my master’s level international relations course because he was burned out of working in academic and commercial settings in his field. He wanted to apply his background in biological sciences to his new interest in security politics. The 2001 anthrax attacks, in particular, had influenced his thinking.

Phil McCauley turned out to be a very bright and capable student and we soon figured out a meaningful way to connect our common interests. After all, I spent much of the past decade thinking and writing about the “Bush Doctrine” of preventive war. Fear of biological weapons (BW) proliferation could potentially trigger American use of force.

Many states are surreptitiously working on BW, meaning that international arms control efforts to limit proliferation are failing — or at least that perception is growing globally. In 2001, the Bush administration almost unilaterally killed a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons treaty. The taboo against BW use, however, has been strengthened in the past decade.

We wrote a paper explaining our concerns about these developments and presented it at the 2008 ISAC/ISSS conference in Vail. Here’s the abstract:

States have constructed an ill-considered and potentially dangerous biological weapons (BW) taboo that rebukes the fundamental logic of arms control. Historically, to prevent war, minimize the costs and risks of arms competition, and curtail the scope and violence of war, states embraced an arms control regime that limited both the acquisition and use of BW. However, efforts to limit BW capabilities have stalled even as prohibitions on their use have been maintained and strengthened. The new regime effectively allows states to retain suspicious capabilities that will be viewed as very threatening by their peers. This approach is particularly troublesome as many states now embrace counterproliferation strategy and the prospect of preventive war. The Obama administration seems to have preserved perilous elements of the so-called “Bush Doctrine.” The international community should redouble efforts to build a more effective and verifiable biological weapons nonproliferation regime to augment the existing taboo against use.

The Illogic of the Biological Weapons Taboo was published this week in the Spring 2010 issue of Strategic Studies Quarterly.

The paper explores Obama administration policy documents and concludes that it has not rejected the Bush Doctrine. As the news story linked above explains, it also decided in December not to reverse the Bush policy on the 2001 Verification Protocol.

Feedback on the paper would be welcome.


A Protection Paradox

It is always wonderful, at this time of year, when grading a student’s paper teaches a professor something and leaves him/her thinking anew about ethical ironies in world politics.

My MPIA student, Christopher Farnsworth, who is now being recruited by the US Department of Defense, just wrote a fascinating analysis of Congressional policy on the sale of precision-guided munitions for my class on the “Rules of War.” (The paper, which is still in draft form as these things go, nonetheless contains a wealth of information on this issue, and is available here for those who know as little about this policy process as I did before I read it.)

Here’s the ethical irony his analysis raises. The US is generally committed to more bloodless war for primarily humanitarian reasons (hence the development of smart bombs and non-lethal weapons to avoid killing enemy civilians) but is highly selective as to which governments it will share this technology with so that they, too, can avoid hitting foreign civilians in their various wars. Why?

Farnsworth points out that humanitarianism would be better served by relaxing the rules for the dissemination of smart bomb technology. Yet he concludes it this option – selling our most precise weapons to those governments we trust least – would be politically unpopular. Americans, he thinks, are unlikely to support handing our potential adversaries advanced weapons, merely on the grounds it might save innocent lives elsewhere.

But I wonder. Why shouldn’t the US public support open sales of PGMs – that is, putting smart-bombs in the hands not only of our allies but also our enemies, out o sel-interest? Why would we (civilian voters) want to prevent our adversaries from having the capacity to avoid hitting our homes in an assault if someday they so chose? Shouldn’t our government want to extend us this protection?

Instead, the Presidential criteria for a country’s eligibility for Foreign Military Sales includes “strengthens the security of the United States and promotes world peace.” (World peace being very unlike jusr war.) In other words, we sell smart bombs to our allies (sometimes) but want our enemies – those likeliest to attack us – to use dumb bombs; and we associate this policy with national security and world peace. Why?

The paper (which is mostly about whether to ban dumb bomb sales) only speculates as to the logic here, but to me it seems like a puzzle that could be thoughtully investigated.


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