In Search of Solutions

BEGINNING in 1972 more than one hundred nations signed an international treaty prohibiting the development, production, and stockpiling of biological weapons. This treaty, called the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), was the first ever to ban an entire class of weapons. Its flaw was that it failed to outline a way to determine that nations were obeying the rules.

It is difficult to verify that countries are not developing biological weapons, since the same techniques and knowledge used for peaceful purposes can also be used to develop biological weapons. This “dual use” characteristic of biotechnology makes it easy to hide weapons development in fermentation plants and laboratories that appear to be pursuing legitimate civilian activities.

To resolve the difficulties of verification, delegates of various nations began to negotiate a binding protocol in 1995. For more than six years, they deliberated on what concrete measures could be taken to ensure that nations complied with the BTWC. On December 7, 2001, a three-week conference attended by 144 parties to the 1972 treaty ended in disarray. The problem was that the United States did not agree to the key proposals about how to verify compliance with the BTWC. Allowing outsiders to check their military and industrial facilities, the United States asserted, would expose them to spying.

 What Lies Ahead

Biotechnology has enormous potential for both good and evil. Other major technologies​—metallurgy, explosives, internal combustion, aviation, electronics—​have all been exploited not only for peaceful purposes but also for hostile ones. Is this to be true of biotechnology? Many believe the answer to that question is yes.

A 1999 report by the U.S. Commission on National Security said: “Individuals as well as groups . . . will gain power and influence, and many will have at their disposal alarming means of destruction. . . . There will be a greater incidence of ad hoc cells and individuals, often moved by religious zeal, seemingly irrational cultish beliefs, or seething resentment. Terrorists can now exploit technologies that were once the sole preserve of major states and pose attacks against large domestic population centers.”

Though we do not know what will occur in the immediate future, we do know what God has in mind for humankind. The Bible promises that the time will come when people on earth “will actually dwell in security, with no one to make them tremble.” (Ezekiel 34:28) To find out more about that comforting promise, contact Jehovah’s Witnesses locally or write to the appropriate address on page 5 of this magazine.

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Researchers are developing ways of neutralizing anthrax

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Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories

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Bioweapons Conference, November 19, 2001, Switzerland

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AP Photo/Donald Stampfli

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The Bible promises the time when all will “dwell in security”