The Case for US-Japanese-UK Cooperation in Biosecurity

Getting under the Skin: The Case for US-Japanese-UK Cooperation in Biosecurity

(Part 3 of UK-Japan-US Trilateral Proposal)

By Dr. Masamichi Minehata


Cooperation in the area of biosecurity for Japan, the US, and the UK is not merely possible; it is arguably necessary given the technological lead represented by all three states. In 2011, BioWeapons Monitor reported the ranking of biotechnological capabilities (publication, patent, and industry) of the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom as follows: No.1 in North America (No.1 in the World), No.1 in East Asia (No.2 in the World) and No.1 in Northern Europe (No.3 in the world).

These technological advances and their global diffusion pose real dangers[1] to the global community. There are the strategic challenges posed by state and terrorist use of biological weapons[2], but dangers are not limited to the hostile use of biological agents. Safety risks from accidental/unintentional exposure of pathogens to humans, animals, and plants are also increasing as more and more advanced research laboratories deal with higher-level pathogens. Finally, but most significantly in terms of the number of human casualties and economic impact, there is a threat posed by the natural outbreak of infectious diseases such as SARS and Avian Influenza, which have caused extensive public health and economic damages. Facing the series of unique biological threats, one of the great challenges in enhancing international biosecurity architecture is an effective coordination of both internal and external governmental efforts from public health to national security.


  • Public health preparedness and response planning (e.g., International Health Regulations of the World Health Organization (WHO));
  • Laboratory regulations to safely manage dangerous pathogens and toxins, to prevent an accidental release into the environment and unauthorized access (e.g. WHO Biosafety Guideline, Laboratory Biorisk Management Standard (CWA-15793:2008));
  • Intelligence;
  • Review of security-sensitive science and technology developments;
  • Internationally coordinated export controls (e.g. the Australia Group);
  • Strong international arms control agreements with effective national implementation, including legislation against bioterrorism and biocrimes (e.g. the Geneva Protocol 1925, Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and the UN Security Council Resolution 1540);
  • Biodefense; and,
  • Education and capacity building[3] among and for life scientists[4].

Potential areas for deeper coordination

Amongst those, two policy priorities should be focused in the trilateral effort. The first is the need for immediate capacity-building in the overarching concepts of public health preparedness, disaster relief, and biodefense. The second is the need for long-term education and awareness-raising policies to promote the responsible conduct of life science research.


Regarding the first priority, principal security measures should be those that support responses to, and mitigation of, any natural outbreak of infectious disease for public health purposes. At the same time however, it is also important to point out the unique nature of biodefense, where ‘medicine’ plays the most significant role[5]. Public health response and preparedness capacities against natural outbreaks of disease (those risks perceived as the most pressing by stakeholders) share characteristics with biodefense against terrorism, while the latter also requires specific measures to counter attacks with weapons. Therefore, giving priority to capacity-building in terms of public health experts and disaster relief operations to respond to natural outbreaks of disease can concurrently strengthen the biodefense programs of across the region, which also addresses those risks perceived by stakeholders as less pressing.

Raising Awareness

Regarding the second priority, preventive measures are required to mitigate against laboratory accidents and the misuse of dual-use research[6]. These measures are key because an enormous number of practicing scientists are working in research laboratories and many are conducting cutting-edge research in industry. In order to prevent laboratory accidents, technical safety training in higher education and industrial settings is essential. Prevention of the misuse of cutting-edge knowledge requires the embedding of a wider culture of responsibility in the entire life science community, including enhancement of ethical decision-making skills[7]. Another important – but as-yet widely unrecognized principle – is that a wider engagement between the science community and biosecurity education is essential if research development and effective security are to coexist.

Regarding the first priority, some policy options can be discussed. The three governments have been jointly working on biological threat reduction under the framework of G8 Global Partnership[8] since 2002, which has currently expanded to 24 partner countries. The GP 2011 rightly addressed the needs for broader biosecurity efforts, as biological threats and risks are much wider than those of bioweapons and their delivery systems, incorporating emerging/reemerging diseases, laboratory accidents, and manmade threats (bioterrorism, crime, and warfare).

On the US-Japan bilateral basis, the issue of a bilateral partnership on biosecurity should be a topic within which Washington and Tokyo can achieve both domestic political support and also best utilize the existing common assets of the US-Japan alliance. The US-Japan Security Consultative Committee (SCC) of defense and foreign ministers, the so-called 2+2 process, is one such way to develop strategic objectives in this area under the US-Japan alliance. The 2+2 process developed several joint statements, with the ones in 2005, 2007, and 2011 being of particular interest[9], as these emphasized disaster relief operations, medicine, counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation, and responsive capabilities to WMDs.

Establish Defense Working Group

The 2+2 documents in 2007[10] and in 2011[11] underscored the establishment of a ‘Defense Working Group against CBRN Weapons’ (CDWG). This will be an important vehicle to further develop bilateral consideration on biodefense and should include a substantial role for military medicine not only in relation to CBRN weapons but also for CBRN disasters, by taking an all-hazard approach. In this way, the implications of defense policy developments and further information sharing between the countries should be further considered in cooperation with public health sectors.

There are some possible policy interventions regarding the second priority – long-term education and awareness-raising for life scientists. At the Seventh Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in 2011, 13 governments (including the US, the UK, and Japan) jointly presented the working paper, titled “Possible approaches to education and awareness-raising among life scientists[12]. The working paper reported ongoing educational efforts on biosecurity in different countries, stating that there is no one-size-fits-all, but biosecurity education is certainly possible to promote under the BWC. The paper emphasized the further necessity of sharing best practices on biosecurity education amongst interested countries.

There are some noteworthy developments in the US, the UK, and Japan. In the US, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) was established in 2004; a key mission of NSABB is “to provide recommendations on developing programs of outreach and education on dual use research issues for all scientists and laboratory workers at federally-funded institutions”[13]. In 2011 the Science Council of Japan established a committee on dual-use issues with a view to: 1) analyzing the development of science and technology trend, 2) developing educational modules and codes of conduct for scientists, and 3) sharing best practice with international partners including the BWC. In the UK, the DSTL of the UK Ministry of Defense launched the UK Biological Engagement Program: Strengthen Biological Security in 2012, specifically focusing on biosecurity education for countries from the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.

Having considered the above, there is a clear need for trilateral efforts to strengthen biosecurity in the 21st century and there are nascent but clear opportunities to achieve two major policy interventions. By utilizing respective bilateral security cooperation by the three governments in coordination with regional and international frameworks, the governments are better placed to take lead in developing a truly global biosecurity architecture.


The post-Cold War period has seen great shifts in global security, the effect of which has been to invigorate the traditional US alliance system. These shifts have included a wide range of threats, some ancient (such as piracy), some new (such as hackers).  As global politics moved from bipolar to unipolar and then to multipolar, other overlapping changes have taken place which affect security and foreign policy. The first of these changes in global state-centric architecture has been the growth – from the 1970s – of nongovernment organizations and other nonstate actors, whose power has surged with new developments in communications and technology. States must now interact with and counter groups as diverse as Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Anonymous, Somali pirates, and transnational criminal networks. While states still maintain the largest holdings in organized hard power, the range of nonstate actors has complicated the traditional interstate threat-matrix. The potential for terrorist organizations to get hold of weapons of mass destruction – such as biological weapons – remains a crucial challenge to traditional notions of deterrence.

Changes in technology have also shifted the traditional organizational models of nonstate actors. The network system – of which the internet is only one example – has magnified the ability of actors to connect around the globe, exchanging ideas, ideologies, tactics, weapons, and even strategies. These revolutions in communications technology, brought on by the creation of the Internet and mobile communication devices, are complex events in themselves: presenting states with opportunities as well as challenges. The development of digitally connected national infrastructures and their vulnerability – reviewed in the first chapter of this report – presents the US and its allies with a new type of threat, one that lacks historical parallels. As this paper has tried to propose, the digital revolution presents traditional region-centric, geospatially-located alliance structures with new challenges. Simply put, alliances can no longer afford to be region-centric as cyber-attacks originating in Asia affect Washington, London, and Tokyo with equal measure.

The continued willingness of Islamic jihadist groups around the globe to take advantage of areas with weak governance – most recently in Mali – indicate that the need for complex operations will continue to have a place in force planning. The response in Afghanistan has been a complex mixture of peace-building, development, good governance, and trade, along with kinetic hard power. Given events in Sub-Saharan and East Africa, it is likely that the US, UK, and Japan will continue to be involved in such operations together. Given the complex nature of such operations, it is best that the three begin to work closely together. Another technology shift that affects the alliance system is that which has taken place in the biofield, and the impact it continues to have in the security field. As these weapons systems increase their potency, the trend has been for their development costs to drop, putting them in reach of non-state groups. This danger, as well as those associated with those states eager to develop bioweapon systems of their own, increases the risks for us all. Training and awareness should be only part of the push by London, Tokyo, and Washington. Regulation and oversight must follow.

Given the changes taking place in the international system, and in the nature of that system, it is clear that Western powers and their allies must change and adapt to new threats. The old, traditional regional alliance systems are no longer sufficient. Bureaucratic inertia must not blind us to the needs for new dynamic and flexible groupings of these familiar ties. The links between two of the United States’ most important security and financial partners is a logical one, and despite geographic distance, those links should be encouraged in areas where geography is negated. This paper has identified three – and there are probably more – fields where Washington, Tokyo, and London could easily step up cooperation and harvest low-hanging fruit within a year or two of initial coordination. Cooperation in this instance is a mind-set and should be treated as such.

For a full version of this proposal, see here for a link to the original report. 

1 comment
  1. Thank you for sharing valuable information. Nice post. I enjoyed reading this post. The whole blog is very nice found some good stuff and good information here Thanks..Also visit my page Life Science jobs .

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