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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2002

Volker Beck, Advisor to the German Foreign Office, Berlin, Germany

Biography

Volker Beck is currently Advisor to Federal Government Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control at the German Foreign Office on BW and CW issues.

From 1972 to 2001 he served the German Armed Forces in different military functions, being for instance from 1986 to 1993 Head of the Medical NBC Defence Department and Coordinator B-Defence of the German Armed Forces at the Federal Ministry of Defence.

He was involved in several activities developing and strengthening national legislation on war weapons control, export controls and genetic engineering as well as in Australia Group biological activities. From 1992 to 1994 he served USCOM (United Nations Special Commission) as inspector and chief-inspector and on technical exchanges on Iraq issues.

From 1991 he assisted the German Foreign Office in Geneva on Review and Special Conferences to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). He acted as a German representative at the VEREX- and the Ad Hoc Group to strengthen the BWC.

He is a pharmacist and food-chemist and received his PhD in science from W├╝rzburg University.

Abstract

Advances in science and technology: Risks, perspectives and responsibilities

After 25 years of ample activities by several states to produce biological weapons the 'Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BTWC)' was signed in 1972. At that time biological weapons were estimated to be of less military significance compared with the available inventories of conventional, nuclear and chemical weapons. Since then advances in biology and biotechnology occurred that opened new venues not only to the benefit of humankind but also for the misuse for weapons activities. In parallel with the knowledge and availability of new biological materials, R&D activities improve production, stabilization and application of known and new substances. Without information technology today's developments in genomics and proteomics would not have been possible. But information technology today also provides huge data collections on patients, diseases and pathogenic pathways that may uncover new vulnerabilities. Activities in pharmaceutical industry to improve consumer compliance of drugs by new application routes as well as use of nanotechnology for drug targeting and of aerosolized vaccines in veterinary medicine improve the knowledge on how to apply new substances best. States have implemented measures to regulate and control so-called dual-use technologies and materials to prevent their possible misuse by 'states of concern'. The possible misuse by terrorists adds an additional risk. The measures consist of national legislation including criminal law, physical protection of dangerous materials, export controls, disaster preparedness, military B-defence, international treaties and others. However, national implementation as well as application of laws and regulations differ widely from state to state. Disagreement exists in the international community whether usual methods of arms control like increased transparency and confidence building are supportive to strengthen the BTWC. Some believe that increased transparency will harm their biotech industries' interests as well as national security.

After September 11, states have started to improve their legislation. Besides further restrictions on access to dangerous agents and dual-use equipment, some started discussions on limiting access to science and technology in academia, a discussion that requires the participation of responsible scientists.