RELEASE: Top Experts Release Handbook for Ending Catastrophic Biological Risks

December 20, 2021, Washington, DC – In a time of daily confusion in the public discourse on the current pandemic, the Janne E. Nolan Center on Strategic Weapons, an institute of the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR), is releasing A Handbook For Ending Catastrophic Biological Risks: How The United States Can Prevent Future Pandemics and Deter Biological Weapons. Authored by some of the nation’s top experts in combating biological risks, this unique guide presents a “clear, viable and improved path” toward addressing them. It calls for a U.S. government surge of investments in addressing biological threats of all origins, with detailed recommendations for improving U.S. government programs and cooperative partnerships. 

The Handbook for Ending Catastrophic Biological Risks starts with a bold, moonshot-level vision that can drive transformative changes—not the incremental improvements the U.S. government has often pursued in the past. That vision has two critical parts: . 

  1.  The Handbook promotes an ideal yet achievable vision on naturally-arising biological risks: preventing future pandemics – moving beyond simply enduring them and accepting the lives lost and damage to health security, national security, and the economy that pandemics can cause.
  2. The Handbook also details a complementary vision regarding deliberate biological risks (one which will require far more significant shifts in the nation’s goals and policies), asserting that: : The United States should lead the world in making biological weapons the first category of weapons of mass destruction to be effectively eliminated or rendered obsolete. To advance this vision, the report recommends that national security leaders adopt a deterrence by denial strategy that focuses on denying an attacker success in their likely aims regarding biological weapons, such as causing mass casualties, mass confusion, and erosion of operational capabilities. 

As the authors describe, efforts to pursue these goals will often complement and accelerate one another. Moreover, pursuing this vision will help meet the pressing need to reduce the risks of biological accidents.

In order to align investments to implement the vision outlined in this report, the authors propose that the U.S. federal government adopt a resourcing plan that they call 10+10 over 10: investments of $10 billion per year for ten years for deterring and addressing biological weapons threats, plus $10 billion per year for ten years for global health security and direct pandemic prevention initiatives. 

The Handbook provides dozens of specific recommendations to advance the nation toward the two-part vision outlined above. This includes:

The U.S. Department of Defense should:

  • Develop & implement a “deterrence by denial” strategy regarding biological weapons threats, and, as such, expand missions of key programs to include deterrence
  • Implement an annual exercise program to enhance early warning & rapid response capabilities
  • Expand the Chemical and Biological Defense Program significantly
  • Use the Biological Threat Reduction program to deploy new technologies for pathogen early warning
  • Broaden the mission of USAMRIID & grant the institute more independence through restructuring

The Department of Health and Human Services should:

  • Re-envision the Strategic National Stockpile as an asset for a healthy bio-industrial base and rapid response to crises
  • Expand programs that have shown incredible value during COVID-19, such as RADx 
  • Fund research with high impact potential, especially platform technologies & pathogen-agnostic tools
  • Provide stronger and clearer guidance on gain-of-function research

The Department of Energy should:

  • Make the National Laboratories leaders in engineering biology for the nation
  • Create a Biosecurity Reserve Corps in which non-governmental experts sign on for a period of service & can be easily called on in crises
  • Rededicate the National Nuclear Security Administration to the biosecurity mission

The Handbook provides additional recommendations for these and other agencies, including the Departments of State and Homeland Security. It also makes several suggestions that cut across many U.S. government agencies, such as creating the role of Chief Biotechnology Officers in all key agencies and ensuring a strong medical countermeasures manufacturing base supported by various government agencies. 

The lead authors of the Handbook stress that it offers an ambitious but achievable roadmap for ending catastrophic biological risks.

“We can’t end catastrophic biological risks alone,” notes CSR’s Chief Executive Officer and former senior defense official Christine Parthemore. “Robust international cooperation is crucial. To prevent future pandemics and effectively eliminate biological weapons, the United States should pursue a surge in diplomacy, global technology sharing, and threat reduction cooperation as a key component in future efforts to mitigate catastrophic biological risks and deter any actors who may consider biological weapons activities.” 

“Some of the nation’s top advances against biological threats have come from collaboration across multiple agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense,” says Honorable Andy Weber, CSR Senior Fellow and former Assistant Secretary for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs. “To prevent future pandemics and render biological weapons obsolete, the nation must move to an even better-coordinated, all hands on deck approach with long-term commitments by these and other key departments and agencies.”

CSR Fellow Dr. Yong-Bee Lim argues, “As outlined in the Handbook, the ambition of the U.S. government should be big – ending catastrophic biological risks. A key component of that is to develop a strong bio-industrial base that can leverage new emerging tech and life sciences capabilities to do everything from developing early warning systems and strong diagnostic tools to the rapid development and deployment of safe and effective rapid medical countermeasures for future biological events.”

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has made great progress in developing capacity for testing, vaccine development, and pathogen early warning,” notes CSR Fellow Lillian Parr. She adds, “As we eventually move beyond this pandemic, the United States needs to ensure that this progress is built on and serves as a new baseline, helping us prevent future biological threats and making us better prepared.” 

CSR Fellow Bill Beaver argues, “The United States needs tools that can be used against any biological threat, whether known or unknown. The versatility of these tools needs to match the creativity of evolution and the ingenuity of malicious actors. This Handbook charts a path forward for that.”

Read the report here.

Direct inquiries to: Francesco Femia, ffemia@csrisks dot org, WhatsApp

Who: The Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) is a nonprofit, non-partisan security policy institute devoted to anticipating, analyzing and addressing core systemic risks to security in the 21st century, with special examination of the ways in which these risks intersect and exacerbate one another.  


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