New From The Biodefense Faculty

On this #FacultyFriday, we’ve got recent publications from two George Mason Biodefense faculty members.


Dr. Gregory Koblentz looks at America’s next big nuclear challenge from Iran.

The April 2 framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran fails to address an important risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Through a combination of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities and facilities and more intrusive verification mechanisms, the framework adequately addresses two major risks posed by Iran’s nuclear program—breakout and sneakout. The framework, however, completely ignores the risk of leakout: the proliferation of nuclear technology and expertise from Iran to other countries. Iran, once the recipient of foreign nuclear assistance, is now poised to provide that assistance, either deliberately or through unauthorized acts by scientists or companies, to other countries.

His entire piece in The National Interest can be found here.


Dr. Trevor Thrall (and Pandora Report staff writer Erik Goepner) make the case against ground engagement with the Islamic State.

The most common argument made by hawks for U.S. engagement is to prevent future Islamic State-sponsored terrorism against the U.S. homeland. Our track record on homeland security since 9/11, however, reveals that a ground war is unnecessary. In the 13 years before 9/11, Islamist-inspired groups launched five attacks on U.S. soil. In the same period since 9/11, just four attacks have been carried out in the U.S. despite the rapid rise in Islamist mobilization and growth in global terrorism. From 2000 to 2013, the number of Islamic-inspired terrorist groups on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations spiked 185 percent, while the estimated number of Islamist fighters rose 243 percent. Clearly, the United States’ success at limiting attacks on its homeland has come not from destroying terrorist groups abroad, but through improved intelligence and other homeland security-focused efforts.

Their piece in The Detroit News can be found here.

New from the Biodefense Faculty

On this #FacultyFriday, we’ve got recent publications and appearances from two George Mason Biodefense faculty members.


Dr. Gregory Koblentz appeared on CBC Radio’s The Current to disucuss the recent Canada-India uranium deal. Listen to the whole segment here.


Charles Blair reflects on the Oklahoma City bombing as the 20th anniversary of the event nears.

Often erroneously explained away as psychopathic, Timothy McVeigh actually comported with psychologist and terrorism expert Clark R. McCauley’s finding that, “the best documented generalization is negative; terrorists do not show any striking psychopathology.” Though abhorrent, McVeigh’s actions are certainly intelligible. Examined extensively by psychiatrist John Smith in the months after the attack, McVeigh was judged as sane—“not delusional.” When asked why McVeigh “would commit such a terrible crime,” Smith concluded that “it was a conscious choice on his part, not because he was deranged … or misinterpreting reality … but because he was serious.”

His entire piece in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists can be found here.

New from the Biodefense Faculty

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in their Agree to Disagree roundtable, is hosting a Winter-Safe Deterrence Debate. The premise of the debate follows:

In a recent opinion column for the Bulletin, “Deterrence, without nuclear winter,” Seth Baum argued that the biggest danger posed by world nuclear arsenals is a nuclear winter that could be sparked by even a limited exchange of nuclear weapons. Baum’s piece went on to suggest that “the world’s biggest nuclear powers [might] meet their deterrence needs without keeping the large nuclear arsenals they maintain today. They could practice a winter-safe deterrence, which would rely on weapons that pose no significant risk of nuclear winter.”

Baum’s column and the study from which it draws, “Winter-safe Deterrence: The Risk of Nuclear Winter and Its Challenge to Deterrence,” published in the journal Contemporary Security Policy, have been vigorously disputed in social media. In this roundtable, security experts Gregory Koblentz, Martin Furmanski, Brett Edwards, Gigi Kwik Gronvall, and Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley and Baum debate his column and winter-safe deterrence ideas in more depth.

GMU Biodefense Faculty members Gregory Koblentz and Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley have each offered two replies in the debate which are available here and here for Koblentz and here and here for Ouagrham-Gormley.

All replies in the debate are available here.

New from the Biodefense Faculty

While the GMU Biodefense students have been finishing their semester work, the GMU Biodefense faculty have been busy too! Below is an update of the latest published work from members of the faculty.


Dr. Trevor Thrall, Director of the Graduate Program in Biodefense, wrote a piece on ISIS’ strategies for U.S. News and World Report.

President Barack Obama declared the latest beheading by the Islamic State group – this one of American aid worker and former Army Ranger Peter Kassig – an act of “pure evil.” But as ugly as the act was, it was also an action taken with a strategic end in mind. The question we should be asking is: To what end? Why has the Islamic State group pursued a strategy of beheading Westerners, and specifically Americans?

The entire article is available here.


Dr. Gregory Koblentz, Deputy Director of the Biodefense Graduate Program, has been writing on nuclear issues including Op-Eds for the LA Times–“How to Keep Future Cold Wars Cold: Mind the Missiles“–and The National Interest–“The Silver Lining of an Extension of the P5+1 Nuclear Talks with Iran

Since the end of the Cold War, three challenges to strategic stability have emerged. The first is the increasing complexity of deterrence relations among the nuclear weapon states. Whereas the first nuclear age was shaped by the bipolar global ideological and military competition between the United States and Soviet Union, the second nuclear age has been marked by the emergence of a multipolar nuclear order composed of states linked by varying levels of cooperation and conflict. Rising nuclear powers such as China, India and Pakistan are not party to the web of treaties, regimes and relationships that girded strategic stability between the United States and Soviet Union (and now Russia).

Dr. Koblent’z full articles are linked above.

GMU Biodefense Faculty at the CFR

Since the end of the Cold War, a new nuclear order has emerged, shaped by rising nuclear states and military technologies that threaten stability, writes George Mason University’s Gregory Koblentz in a new Council on Foreign Relations report: Strategic Stability in the Second Nuclear Age.

 

During the Cold War, the potential for nuclear weapons to be used was determined largely by the United States and the Soviet Union. Now, with 16,300 weapons possessed by the seven established nuclear-armed states—China, France, India, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—deterrence is increasingly complex. Since most of these countries face threats from a number of potential adversaries, “changes in one state’s nuclear policy can have a cascading effect on the other states.”

 

Though many states are downsizing their stockpiles, Asia is witnessing a buildup; Pakistan has the fastest-growing nuclear program in the world. By 2020, Pakistan could have a stockpile of fissile material that, if weaponized, could produce as many as two hundred nuclear devices. The author identifies South Asia as the region “most at risk of a breakdown in strategic stability due to an explosive mixture of unresolved territorial disputes, cross-border terrorism, and growing nuclear arsenals.”

 

Emerging technologies such as missile defenses, cyber and anti-satellite weapons, and conventional-precision strike weapons pose additional risks, Koblentz warns, and could potentially spur arms races and trigger crises.

 

“The United States has more to lose from a breakdown in strategic stability than any other country due to its position as a global leader, the interdependence of its economy, and the network of security commitments it has around the world,” he asserts. The United States and Russia still possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Despite the increasing chill in U.S.-Russia relations, Washington’s highest priority should be to maintain strategic efforts with Russia and China, the two states with the capability and potential intent to launch a nuclear attack on the American homeland.

 

The United States should work with other nuclear states to address sources of instability in the near term and establish processes for multilateral arms control efforts over the longer term, writes Koblentz. He urges the Obama administration to:
  • enhance initiatives that foster transparency, confidence-building, and restraint to mitigate the risk that emerging technologies will trigger arms races, threaten the survivability of nuclear forces, or undermine early warning and nuclear command and control systems;
  • deepen bilateral and multilateral dialogues with the other nuclear-armed states; and
  • create a forum for the seven established nuclear-armed states to discuss further steps to reduce the risk of deliberate, accidental, or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.

GMU Biodfense faculty in the Washington Post

This week, GMU Biodefense Deputy Director Gregory Koblentz contributed to and Director Trevor Thrall was quoted this week in the Washington Post article titled “If news media had covered Ebola sooner, could latest outbreak have been contained?” Read the whole article here.

“Some of the American media’s indifference to the story may have reflected entrenched attitudes toward Africa, said A. Trevor Thrall, the director of George Mason’s biodefense graduate program. “Thanks to low public interest in Africa and the fact that very few U.S. news organizations have any footprint in Africa, Africa is more or less invisible in the U.S. media most of the time,” he said. “With a few exceptions, Africa shows up only when something happens that directly affects Americans or when the U.S. government takes some kind of action.”’

Dr. Gregory Koblentz discusses Ebola on CTV News

In case you haven’t watched the news today (or looked at a newspaper, or been on the internet), yesterday, President Obama pledged he would send 3,000 American military personnel to West Africa in order to help with the Ebola outbreak which is continues to ravage that region.

George Mason University Biodefense Deputy Director, Dr. Gregory Koblentz was on CTV News this morning to discuss the continuing outbreak and reaction to the President’s decision.

Watch Dr. Koblentz’s interview here

If you’re interested in learning more about the West African Ebola outbreak, join us tonight at 7:00 for the September Biodefense Policy Seminar featuring Dr. Michael Smith, of the Department of Defense, who will discuss, “Biosurveillance and the Atypical Epidemic: The 2014 West African Ebola Epidemic”. The talk will be held at the GMU Fairfax Campus in Research Hall room 163.

Dual-use research as a wicked problem

Biodefense Professor Dr. Gregory Koblentz, of the George Mason School of Policy, Government and International Affairs, has published an article which appears in a special edition of Frontiers in Public Health. An excerpt of the article is available below with a link to the full article.

The challenge of dual-use research in the life sciences emerged vividly in 2011 as scientists and policy-makers debated what to do about article manuscripts that described how to modify the H5N1 avian influenza virus so that it could spread between mammals (1, 2). Since H5N1 emerged in Southeast Asia in 2003, it has sickened 667 people and caused 393 human deaths, as well as the deaths of millions of domestic and wild birds (3). The virus has not, however, demonstrated the ability to engage in sustained human-to-human transmission. If a new strain of H5N1 emerged with that capability, and it retained a high level of virulence, it could cause a global pandemic. The experiments by Yoshihiro Kawaoka from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ron Fouchier from Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands not only demonstrated that mammalian transmission of the virus was possible but also provided information on how to construct such a virus.

Read the entire article here.

Meet Your 2014 Summer Program Faculty: Gregory Koblentz

In preparation for the GMU Summer Program in International Security, this week we will highlight the course directors. EARLY BIRD REGISTRATION HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO JUNE 15! Register by June 15 to save $300 on a three-day course and $200 on a two-day course. Use the links below for more details including registration.  Questions? Comment to this post or email spis@gmu.edu.


Koblentz

Dr. Greg Koblentz, Associate Professor of Government and International Affairs and Deputy Director of the Biodefense Program at George Mason University, is the course director for this summer’s short course: Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security. The course will run July 21-23.

Dr. Koblentz’s research and teaching focus on international security, biosecurity, and weapons of mass destruction. His recent publications include “Biosecurity reconsidered: Calibrating biological threats and responses.” and “The threat of pandemic influenza: why today is not 1918.” His book, Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security, remains one of the most influential publications in the field of biodefense since its publication in 2009. In fact, we often tell prospective students to read his book for a “one book version” of our Biodefense Master’s program. He is at work now on a book on nuclear proliferation.

Dr. Koblentz is also a Research Affiliate with the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the Scientist Working Group on Chemical and Biological Weapons at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, DC. He received his PhD in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his Master in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and his Bachelor of Arts from Brown University.

Click here to register for Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security.

Meet Your 2014 Summer Program Faculty: Gregory Koblentz

In preparation for the GMU Summer Program in International Security, this week we will highlight the course directors. Remember, EARLY BIRD REGISTRATION ENDS MAY 15! Register by May 15 to save $300 on a three-day course and $200 on a two-day course. Use the links below for more details including registration.  Questions? Comment to this post or email spis@gmu.edu.


Koblentz

Dr. Greg Koblentz, Associate Professor of Government and International Affairs and Deputy Director of the Biodefense Program at George Mason University, is the course director for this summer’s short course: Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security. The course will run July 21-23.

Dr. Koblentz’s research and teaching focus on international security, biosecurity, and weapons of mass destruction. His recent publications include “Biosecurity reconsidered: Calibrating biological threats and responses.” and “The threat of pandemic influenza: why today is not 1918.” His book, Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security, remains one of the most influential publications in the field of biodefense since its publication in 2009. In fact, we often tell prospective students to read his book for a “one book version” of our Biodefense Master’s program. He is at work now on a book on nuclear proliferation.

Dr. Koblentz is also a Research Affiliate with the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the Scientist Working Group on Chemical and Biological Weapons at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, DC. He received his PhD in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his Master in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and his Bachelor of Arts from Brown University.

Click here to register for Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security.