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October 29, 2022
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‘Poor Man’s Atomic Bomb’ Made of Dual-Use Biological, Chemical Material Replaces Nuclear Weapon for Non-State Actors, First Committee Told

Securing High-Containment Biological Labs Can Avert Next Pandemic

Chemical and biological weapons had become the best alternative to nuclear weapons for rogue States and non-State actors, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) heard today as it concluded its thematic debate on weapons of mass destruction and opened debate on conventional weapons. 

The path to chemical and biological weapons was easier and cheaper than developing a nuclear bomb, said Myanmar’s representative.  The “poor man’s atomic bomb” could be created using equipment and materials that had a host of civilian applications.  He urged the international community to tighten its grip on their proliferation and added a call to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention.  Its lack of a verification system weakened its effectiveness and relevance.

Deeply concerned about the risk, India’s representative tabled its annual resolution on the dangers of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the potential for their exploitation by non-State actors (document A/77/C.1/L.60).  The text urged support for international efforts to combat that threat, as well as strengthen national measures.  India had a robust national export‑control system and a control list of sensitive material, equipment and technologies consistent with the highest international standards.

Similarly, the representative of Bangladesh expressed concern over the growing possibility of terrorists and other non-State actors using or gaining access to weapons of mass destruction.  The COVID-19 pandemic had revealed global vulnerability to the potentially catastrophic consequences of pathogens and other biological threats, he said, calling for an international body mandated to investigate suspected outbreaks of biological agents.

Indeed, said Pakistan’s speaker, the COVID-19 pandemic had laid bare the fragilities of the global public health architecture, including the intersecting issues of life sciences, viruses and infectious diseases.  There were important lessons for the Biological Weapons Convention regime from the pandemic, such as the mutually reinforcing nature of its prevention and protection aspects, as well as the urgency of amplifying international assistance and cooperation in the field of life sciences.

“We have witnessed and experienced the catastrophe of a pandemic and we cannot afford to have another,” the representative of Sri Lanka said.  He sought a harmonized international regime that ensured biosafety and biosecurity.  Confidence-building measures among States would facilitate greater information‑exchange within the research community and create trust for a verifiable common standard against biological weapons.

Dual-use material was worrying, agreed Colombia’s representative, who supported bolstering biological control mechanism to prevent access and weaponization by non-State actors.  She advocated for international cooperation in the field of biocontainment to enhance capacity to prevent and respond to those types of threats, asserting that the pandemic had highlighted the need to safeguard that material for strictly peaceful use.

While biological weapons were “poorly regulated”, chemical weapons were under intense scrutiny, said Brazil’s speaker.  It was unfortunate that, even with all the institutional apparatuses, “much to his revulsion”, chemical weapons were still used.

Algeria’s representative said that the Chemical Weapons Convention had made progress, but faced challenges at all levels in today’s changing world.  He welcomed reductions in chemical weapons stockpiles, but said divisions among States parties were concerning.

Also speaking on weapons of mass destruction were representatives of China, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Spain, Republic of Korea, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Türkiye, Japan, Cuba, Hungary, Syria, Israel, Ireland, Angola, Ukraine and Iran.

Exercising the right of reply were representatives of the Russian Federation, United States, Syria and Ukraine.

Speaking on the theme of conventional weapons were representatives of Cambodia (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Mexico, Canada, Egypt, Finland and Norway.