US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought on Wednesday to rally international efforts against the threat of a biological attack, saying the warning signs were “too serious to ignore”.
Clinton spoke at a meeting on the Biological Weapons Convention, a decades-old ban on bio-weapons currently under review at a three-week conference in Geneva.
“I am here today because we view the risk of a bio-weapons attack as both a serious national security challenge and a foreign policy priority,” Clinton said.
“In an age when people and diseases cross borders with growing ease, bio-weapons are a transnational threat.
“We can only protect against them with transnational action.”
Scientific advances may have made it possible to prevent and cure more diseases but they have also made it easier for terrorists to develop biological weapons, Clinton warned.
“Even as it becomes easier to develop these weapons, it remains extremely difficult to detect them, because almost any biological research can serve dual purposes.
“The same equipment and technical knowledge used for legitimate research to save lives can also be used to manufacture deadly diseases.”
The most high-profile delegate at the review meeting, Clinton said halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction was a “top goal” of the Obama administration.
The United States does not underestimate the risk of a mass biological attack or major outbreak, doubted by some in the international community, Clinton said.
“The United States has made no such conclusions. The warning signs are too serious to ignore,” she said.
Clinton, currently on a European tour, urged more transparency from member states to boost confidence that signatories were living up to their obligations under the 1975 treaty.
This could be achieved through a review of the annual reporting system, she suggested.
Clinton also called for improved international coordination to detect and respond to bio-outbreaks.
“Finally, we need thoughtful international dialogue about ways to maximise the benefits of scientific research and minimise the risks that it will be turned against us,” Clinton said.
Delegates from the 165 signatory states are taking part in the five-yearly review conference which runs until December 22.
Members will consider updating the convention and discuss the implications of scientific developments, secretary general of the conference Richard Lennane said.