Ethical and National Security Implications of Genetic Weapons

May 2023 No Comments

Speaker: Dr. Yelena Biberman (Skidmore College; South Asia Center, Atlantic Council; Davis Center, Harvard University)

Date: 24 May 2023

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Dr. Yelena Biberman (Skidmore College) as part of its SMA General Speaker Series.

At times, biotechnology appears to blend science fiction and reality. The potential warfighting applications of biotechnology and the size of the bioeconomy has made biotechnology a focus point of the US-China rivalry. Dr. Biberman described the different steps and viewpoints of both nations relating to biotechnology and bioengineered weaponry. Since 2006, Chinese military officials have commented on the potential benefits of integrating biotechnology into the armed forces. A current perception is that China is one step ahead of the US. China focused on military-civil fusion during the 1990s and developed a five-year bioeconomic plan for 2021-2025. However, Dr. Biberman clarified that the US retains some dominance. The Biden Administration has acted to ensure the US remains ahead of China, including signing an executive order to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing innovation. The order is designed to grow the US bioeconomy while also ensuring that this growth is achieved sustainably, safely, and ethically. 

The implications of biotechnology extend further than the battlefield, however. Scientists both worry and are optimistic about biotechnology’s impact on human evolution (e.g., creating of super-human soldiers). This has led to an ongoing moral and ethical conversations contemplating if this technology could result in the end of humanity or at least the essence of humanity, or if this is simply the next step in human evolution. To develop a safe and effective bioeconomy, nations and companies will have to answer many ethical and moral questions. The application of biotechnology for the military is immense, the technology itself is versatile, and the possibilities stretch our imaginations. 

Speaker Session Recording

Briefing Materials

Biography: Yelena Biberman is an associate professor of political science at Skidmore College, associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center, and nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center. She is also a former Modern War Institute at West Point Fellow, Fulbright Scholar, and United States Institute of Peace Jennings Randolph Peace Scholar. Her work encompasses three main areas: biotechnology and security; South Asian politics; and militarism. Her book, Gambling with Violence: State Outsourcing of War in Pakistan and India, was published by Oxford University Press in 2019. Biberman’s research has appeared in academic journals, such as Journal of Strategic Studies, Asian Security, Modern Asian Studies, Terrorism and Political Violence, and Political Science Quarterly, as well as in policy and mainstream media, such as the Military Review, Foreign Policy, Texas National Security Review, and Washington Post. She received her B.A. from Wellesley College, Master’s from Harvard University, and Master’s and Ph.D. from Brown University. She has also worked as a journalist in Moscow, Russia.


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