In the valley of the shadow of death
During the 20th century, advances in biological understanding sparked a global revolution in biological capability, or RBC. Since that time, the revolution has proceeded in a Moore's-law-like fashion for many decades. One negative consequence of the RBC is that the US now faces a large and growing threat of catastrophic biological attack. To deal with the threat, this article advocates a two-part strategy. First, during the current period of high and growing risk, Period 1, "the Valley of the Shadow of Death", the US should bring into being a patchwork of agile technical capabilities to detect and respond to attacks, and social and normative policies to diminish their risk of occurrence. Second and simultaneously, the US should initiate research whose fruits will eventually deter biological attacks by rendering them "impotent and obsolete". Creation of effective, responsive, and agile Period 1 capabilities will buy time, by lowering the probability of attacks and blunting their impact, until strong technical defenses enabled by longer-term research can become operational in Period 2. Executing the two components of this strategy will be far more costly and complex than is generally contemplated, albeit probably less expensive and difficult than execution of the containment strategy during the Cold War. However, the increased security, human health and felicity, and economic growth that this activity will engender will repay the effort and cost many times over. Entry into Period 2, defense so strong as to deter attack by making it unlikely to have any effect, coincides with the effective elimination of most naturally occurring infectious diseases as a factor in human affairs. But at the moment, the best names for Period 2 seem to be "Partial Victory" or "Basin and Range", in that later trends may shift once again to favor attack.
Roger Brent provides a commentary on current and future biological security challenges and possible strategies / approaches.
biological security, strategy
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