Science in Society Archive

Bush U-Turn on Bioweapons & GM

In a dramatic, sweeping statement, President George W. Bush is calling for procedures to address Biological Weapons Convention compliance, oversight for genetic engineering of pathogenic organisms, a universal ethical code for biosciences and responsible conduct in the study, use, modification and shipment of pathogenic organisms.

The full text of President Bush's statement, released 1 November, is reproduced below [1].

"Disease has long been the deadliest enemy of mankind. Infectious diseases make no distinctions among people and recognize no borders. We have fought the causes and consequences of disease throughout history and must continue to do so with every available means. All civilized nations reject as intolerable the use of disease and biological weapons as instruments of war and terror.

For almost thirty years, the vast majority of nations has banned all biological weapons, in accordance with the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). This landmark accord -- now with 144 nations as parties -- prohibits the possession of all biological weapons.

Before the BWC, the United States had independently and unconditionally renounced the possession and use of biological weapons. The United States unilaterally destroyed its biological weapons stockpiles and dismantled or converted to peaceful uses the facilities that had been used for developing and producing them.

Today, we know that the scourge of biological weapons has not been eradicated. Instead, the threat is growing. Since September 11, America and others have been confronted by the evils these weapons can inflict. This threat is real and extremely dangerous. Rogue states and terrorists possess these weapons and are willing to use them.

The United States is committed to strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) as part of a comprehensive strategy for combating the complex threats of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. With this objective, my Administration is proposing that all Parties:

  • Enact strict national criminal legislation against prohibited BW activities with strong extradition requirements;
  • Establish an effective United Nations procedure for investigating suspicious outbreaks or allegations of biological weapons use;
  • Establish procedures for addressing BWC compliance concerns;
  • Commit to improving international disease control and to enhance mechanisms for sending expert response teams to cope with outbreaks;
  • Establish sound national oversight mechanisms for the security and genetic engineering of pathogenic organisms;
  • Devise a solid framework for bioscientists in the form of a code of ethical conduct that would have universal recognition; and
  • Promote responsible conduct in the study, use, modification, and shipment of pathogenic organisms.

I have directed my Administration to consult with our friends and allies, as well as with Congress, industry, and non-governmental experts, on these proposals. We look forward to hearing the new ideas on how best to achieve our common aim of eliminating biological weapons.

Our objective is to fashion an effective international approach to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention. The ideas we propose do not constitute a complete solution to the use of pathogens and biotechnology for evil purposes. However, if we can strengthen the Convention against the threat of biological weapons, we will contribute to the security of the people of the United States and mankind as a whole."


  1. "Strengthening the International Regime against Biological Weapons" STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT, THE WHITE HOUSE, Office of the Press Secretary, November 1, 2001
    (Thanks to Edward Hammond of Sunshine Project for the Press Release

Article first published 06/11/01

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