By Guo Xiaobing
Deputy Speaker of Russia’s Federation Council Kosachev recently said that evidence has been found proving the military purposes of America’s biolabs in Ukraine. That’s actually no secret.
According to the report submitted by the US to the Meeting of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in November 2021, the Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP) of the US Department of Defense (DoD) alone has supported 336 biolabs in Africa, East Europe, Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, along with a number of overseas biosecurity labs directly operated by the DoD. What’s the US up to with such a massive amount of biolabs?
First, it wants to timely discover abrupt contagious diseases and signs of terrorist bio-attacks to ensure homeland security. That’s why it has extended its antenna for biosecurity beyond its borders to discover and prevent risks as early as possible. Second, it wants to make sure the US military’s overseas operations won’t be obstructed by contagious diseases or bio-attacks, and the troops could be able to act effectively even in face of a pandemic. Third, it wants to collect various kinds of viruses and bacteria that might be used in bio-warfare and occupy a spot at the forefront of this potential new battlefield. It is also reported that the overseas biolabs associated with the US military are working with biopharmaceutical companies, and the viruses and bacteria collected overseas are used for commercial profits.
A review of history would show that the US military has set up biolabs across the world to directly serve the national strategy for hegemony, and has deployed them according to the expansion of America’s military and political clout. During WWII, it set up the No.2 and No.3 medical research institutes of the navy in Guam of the Pacific Theater and Egypt of the North African Theater. During the Cold War, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) set up the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) Medical Research Laboratory in Southeast Asia for the main purpose of containing China.
After the Cold War, overseas biolabs are mostly located in hotspot regions. In Northeast Asia, America carried out the Jupiter program in Busan, ROK for anthrax and botox tests; in Eurasia, the US military had a “cooperative bio-contact program”, under which biolabs are built in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
In recent years, the US military has adjusted the layout and tasks of its overseas biolabs as the focus of its combat-readiness efforts is moved from counterterrorism to major-country competition. It moved the No.3 naval medical research institute from Egypt to Italy with its contracting forces in the Middle East. As per the request of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff meetings, the overseas biolabs have also made the bio-monitoring network more flexible, agile and modular to better support the country in prolonged battles, crises, and conflicts. The series of activities by the US have put relevant countries on high alert. Even before the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out, Moscow accused Washington of deliberately collecting the DNA samples of Russian people for suspicious purposes.
The US military claimed that its overseas biolabs collected the various pathogens for bio-defense purposes rather than to develop bio-weapons. We would like to believe that, but as is said in the arms control circle, we “trust but verify”. Unfortunately, the US refuses to demonstrate its self-claimed “transparency” on this issue but has unilaterally obstructed the adoption of the BWC verification protocol while complaining about smearing and demonization by other countries.
Biological arms control is special in that the biological agents can serve dual purposes, are easy to hide, and cannot always draw a clear line between attack and defense. To address this, the verification protocol has proposed a series of feasible measures including application, visit, questioning and verification, which have been endorsed by most countries.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown clearly that viruses can lend a heavy blow to human development and security. If they are used in bioweapons, or they or bacteria are modified by certain state or non-state actors into more targeted and destructive weapons, the consequences would be unimaginable. There were two biological arms races in human history – during the WWII and during the Cold War, and the risk of a third one cannot be excluded if an effective verification mechanism cannot be put in place. The US should act in unison with the international community to establish an effective multilateral biological arms control verification mechanism.
(The author is the Director of the Center for Arms Control Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations)
Editor's note: Originally published on china.com.cn, this article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.