Weaponry Watch

Vol. 7 No. 1 | 2020 Edition
 
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Synthetic Biology and the Risks of Misuse

Dr. Gigi Gronvall

        Synthetic biology is a relatively new scientific field that aims to make biology easier to engineer and, thus, more useful. It is already delivering on its enormous promise, yielding FDA-approved chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell cancer therapeutics, as well as non-medical products such as laboratory-produced fabrics, flavorings, adhesives, and detergents.[1][2] Despite such progress, however, the rapid growth and democratization of synthetic biology — almost all of which is taking place in the private sector — brings security challenges. Like all areas of the life sciences, it is “dual-use” and able to be exploited. To make misuse more limited and difficult to en‐ force, the United States will need to partner with other nations, international organizations, and international businesses to govern areas of the synthetic biology field...

 

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[1] Feins S, Kong W, Williams EF, Milone MC, Fraietta JA. An introduction to chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell immunotherapy for human cancer. American Journal of Hematology. 2019;94(S1):S3-S9.

[2]  Biotechnology Industry Organization. Current Uses of Synthetic Biology. 2020; https://archive.bio.org/articles/current-uses-synthetic-biology. Accessed February 1, 2020, 2020.

Dr. Gigi Gronvall

Dr. Gigi Gronvall is a Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Gronvall’s work focuses on the role of scientists in health security – how they can contribute to an effective technical response against a biological weapon or a natural epidemic. She is an immunologist by training.

 

INTRODUCTION

        In a reversed dynamic from the early Cold War years in which the United States emphasized its nuclear stockpile against a superior Soviet threat, Russia now seeks to counter NATO superiority by bolstering its nuclear capability and adjusting its nuclear use doctrine. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review states as much by highlighting the challenging strategic operating environment the United States is now placed in, noting that while the United States has worked for several decades to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in foreign policy, other nations, including Russia, have done the opposite.[1] One emerging but realistic technology that Russia may be inclined to develop, which could offer significant military advantages and disrupt existing deterrence and arms control paradigms, is low-yield, pure fusion fourth generation nuclear weapons (FGNWs). This new class of weapons could be designed with a highly-tailorable range of yields and would produce significantly less residual radiation and collateral damage, making them well-suited for close integration with maneuver forces in regional conflicts...

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[1] Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review,” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2018).

Major Lorin D. Veigas

 

Major Lorin D. Veigas is a nuclear and counterproliferation officer in the U.S. Army currently working as the liaison officer between the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command. He holds an M.S. in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology and a B.S. from the United States Military Academy.

Major C. D. Gunter

 

C. D. Gunter is a Major in the U.S. Army Reserves and a corporate attorney in Washington D.C. She holds a J.D. from Cornell University and regularly publishes on civilian and military nuclear matters.

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Fourth Generation Nuclear Weapons

Russia, Arms Control, and Challenges to the Deterrence Paradigm

Major Lorin D. Veigas & Major C. D. Gunter
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