Koblentz on Viral Warfare, Cyber Security, Chem/Bio, and Nuclear Weapons Accidents

GMU Biodefense Deputy Director Dr. Gregory Koblentz has a slew of new publications out of topics ranging from the nexus of bioweapons and cybersecurity to new frameworks for understanding chem/bio threats.

His article, “Regime Security: A New Theory for Understanding the Proliferation of Chemical and Biological Weapons”, is available in this month’s Contemporary Security Policy. Here’s the abstract:

“The literature on the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) emphasizes the role of external security threats as the primary motive for states to acquire and use these weapons. As recent events in Syria demonstrate, governments lacking political legitimacy may use these weapons to repress domestic challenges to their rule. The concept of regime security provides a theoretical framework for understanding how the threat of military coups, insurgencies, or domestic rivals influences the acquisition and use of CBW by authoritarian regimes. The cases of South Africa and Iraq illustrate how a government’s concerns about internal security threats can impact its CBW proliferation decision-making. Omitting regime security as a factor in CBW decision-making may lead to the adoption of inappropriate nonproliferation and deterrent strategies. In light of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, developing a deeper understanding of the influence of regime security on the acquisition and use of chemical and biological weapons should be a priority.” (available here)

Dr. Koblentz also co-published an article with GMU Biodefense PhD student Brian Mazanec, “Viral Warfare: Security Implications of Cyber and Biological Weapons” – the article examines the relatively emergent threats of biological and cyber warfare, exposing several commonalities between the two. The article was published in the November issue of Comparative Strategy, available here (access required).

Abstract – “Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, two new threats have received increased attention: biological warfare (BW) and cyber warfare. While it may appear that these two threats have little in common, they share several characteristics that have significant implications for international security. This article examines the two modalities side-by- side to review these common characteristics. In light of these commonalities and due to the extensive experience and rich history of dealing with BW threats, strategies for enhancing cyber security could advance more quickly by drawing meaningful insights from the biological warfare experience, such as the prospect of developing constraining international norms.” (available here)

Finally, Koblentz has a new review out  in Foreign Affairs, on Eric Schlosser’s new book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.  The first paragraph is below – read the rest here.

Between 1950 and 1980, the United States experienced a reported 32 “broken arrows,” the military’s term for accidents involving nuclear weapons. The last of these occurred in September 1980, at a U.S. Air Force base in Damascus, Arkansas. It started when a young technician performing routine maintenance on a Titan II missile housed in an underground silo dropped a socket wrench. The wrench punctured the missile’s fuel tank. As the highly toxic and flammable fuel leaked from the missile, officers and airmen scrambled to diagnose the problem and fix it. Their efforts ultimately failed, and eight hours after the fuel tank ruptured, it exploded with tremendous force. The detonation of the missile’s liquid fuel was powerful enough to throw the silo’s 740-ton blast door more than 200 yards and send a fireball hundreds of feet into the night sky. The missile’s nine-megaton thermo­nuclear warhead — the most powerful ever deployed by the United States — was found, relatively intact, in a ditch 200 yards away from the silo.

(image: CDC)

Ben Ouagrham-Gormley on Bioweapons Proliferation

GMU Biodefense’s Dr. Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley evaluates the effect of increased state efforts to deter bioweapons threat in her recent article, ” Dissuading Biological Weapons Proliferation”. Check out the abstract below, and look for the full article in this month’s issue of Contemporary Security Policy.

Abstract – “The terrorist and anthrax attacks of 2001 spurred many countries to raise defences against a possible biological weapon attack, and potentially dissuade state and non-state actors from developing these weapons. Yet these programmes’ dissuasive value – creating strong barriers to entry – has never been analysed. This article argues that current biodefence efforts are counterproductive and more persuasive than dissuasive, because they rest on a biological threat narrative that emphasizes the benefits of bioweapons rather than their problematic development and use, and they fail to impose a high cost of entry in the bioweapons field. The dominant biological weapons narrative perpetuates several misconceptions, including that there are no barriers to biological weapons development, that expertise is easily acquired from scientific documents, and that new technologies are black boxes with de-skilling effects. The net result is popularization of a cost/benefit analysis in favour of bioweapons development. To remedy the situation, I suggest correcting these misconceptions by reshaping the biological threat narrative, and recommend policies to achieve a greater dissuasive impact, stressing the role of the Biological Weapons Convention, preventing access to tacit biological weapons skills, and criminalizing bioweapons proliferation by making the development and use of biological weapons a crime against humanity.”

The full journal article is available here (access required).

(Image: a single Bacillus anthracis colony, credit CDC/J. Todd Parker; PhD and Luis Lowe; MS; MPH)