Expert Reactions to U.S. Department of Defense’s Inaugural Biodefense Posture Review

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) released its first-ever Biodefense Posture Review (BPR) on August 17, 2023. This comes following Secretary Austin directing this Department-wide review in his November 1, 2021, Biodefense Vision Memo. This post includes major highlights and initial responses from our experts at the Janne E. Nolan Center on Strategic Weapons.

You can read the full BPR here

A few highlights that we think are important:

  • The BPR shows that the Department is increasing its emphasis on deterring deliberate biological threats. As it states: 

“A Total Force resilient to biothreats and biological hazards (biohazards) provides the first step to deter the use of bioweapons and deliberate attack. Such resilience, properly messaged and demonstrated, bolsters integrated deterrence.  DoD’s extensive biodefense capabilities can be leveraged to deny or greatly minimize the benefit of using bioweapons and further deter the development or proliferation of bioweapons.”

  • The BPR publicly recognizes that biological threats from state actors are rising, as are risks driven by technological change.   
  • The Department is increasing its international collaboration, including with allies, Cooperative Threat Reduction partner nations, and others. 
  • The BPR increases the Department’s focus on biological threat training and exercises. 
  • The BPR raises the Department’s emphasis on early warning. This is an area where the Department has publicly announced progress, including its Enhanced Maritime Biological Detection work.
  • The BPR’s focus on mitigating the impact of biological events includes heightened attention to industrial base and supply chain resilience. 
  • The Department is adapting to be able to understand and mitigate biological threats as they change with the emergence and convergence of technologies. 

It is also noteworthy that work to implement the BPR is already underway. The Department increased several key budget lines in the most recent President’s Budget and initiated several new programs, including in wastewater monitoring and next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics. 

Early Reactions from Nolan Center Experts

The nation has long needed to develop a more sophisticated approach to deterring countries from developing and using biological weapons. And we have more tools than ever before for robbing such weapons of the strategic or tactical aims that their possessors may seek. The BPR is a strong step forward for strengthening deterrence.

Andy Weber, Senior Fellow, Janne E. Nolan Center on Strategic Weapons, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs

The Biodefense Posture Review shows that DoD is getting serious again about early warning for biological threats—one of the most important areas where it can make significant, immediate progress. 

We made great advances in this area years ago when I was in the Pentagon, but progress lagged just as the private sector was driving amazing technological innovation. The BPR is a critical step in the right direction in which DoD should continue to expand in the coming years, in particular for pathogen-agnostic tools that can help us catch engineered pathogens before they cause mass effects.

Christine Parthemore, CEO of the Council on Strategic Risks, Director of the Nolan Center, and former Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs 

I am glad to see DoD rogering up to establish bio early warning for combatant commands and services along with allies and partners. No longer will commanders have to fly blind or rely on a weekly “who’s got their shots” slide when readily available technology can rapidly identify and sequence any naturally occuring, accidental, or weaponized biothreat. This will be a game changer for operational readiness and how it enables a resilient Joint/Combined Force and defense ecosystem.

John Moulton, Deputy Director, Janne E. Nolan Center on Strategic Weapons, and retired U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Officer

Deterring the growing threat of state-based biological warfare is at the heart of the DoD’s much-needed Biodefense Posture Review. The convergence of novel technologies has offered hostile states new tools and techniques in their growing strategic arsenals. Tackling such threats requires stronger international cooperation, deeper allied interoperability, and greater global transparency.

We welcome the Review’s commitments to expanding international biothreat exercising, enhancing biodefense-related foreign capacity and security assistance programs, and fortifying partners’ resilience to state-based coercion. These initiatives will maximize effectiveness, minimize risk, and, ultimately, increase the resilience of our collective defenses.

Christopher East, Nolan Center Senior Fellow & Program Manager

Implementation of the Department’s recommendations after the review is critical to ensuring that it holds merit and sends a signal to both allies and adversaries that the United States is serious about deterring biological threats. To this point, the BPR has already resulted in a $812.5 million request enhancement for biodefense efforts via the Fiscal Year 2024 President’s Budget Request, starting with  $191.2 million allocated in FY24 and continuing through FY28. Most notable are the enhancements to key elements of pathogen early warning, including $5.7 million for wastewater surveillance, $10.5 million for next-generation sequencing and data sharing, and $14.9 million to Intelligence & Security for biological threat analysis, and $27.1 million for the Defense Health Agency’s Biosurveillance Hub & Portal, all requested for FY24 with continuing funds through FY28.

Dan Regan, Nolan Center Fellow & Project Manager

Ensuring agile preparedness and response measures through pathogen-agnostic means is a critical strategy for rapidly addressing emerging and evolving biological threats. From strengthening the Biological Select Agents and Toxins Biorisk Program through training and bias-reduction, to ensuring the capacity to characterize a biothreat within one week of sample acquisition, the emphasis within the Biodefense Posture Review on modernizing capabilities underscores the multifaceted response needed to address the complex threat landscape and the investments necessary to mitigate risk.

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of responding to a biological incident is cohesive and engaged partnerships across agencies and stakeholders. The Biodefense Posture Review directly calls out the need to strengthen these relationships through not only collaborative engagement with allies, but also interagency exercises that ensure alignment and role clarity.

Saskia Popescu, Nolan Center Senior Fellow

The creation of a Biodefense Council, which the Department plans to stand up in September 2023, is an essential step in enhancing the speed and coordination with which the United States and international partners anticipate and respond to biological threats. The Council will consist of several senior officials who will advise the Secretary of Defense, enabling decisive action through creating a synchronized biodefense hub. Importantly, the Council aims to integrate and connect stakeholders focused on natural, deliberate, and accidental biological threats, breaking down unnecessary silos that have historically hindered holistic response measures.

Lillian Parr, Nolan Center Research Fellow

The Biodefense Posture Review represents a significant step toward strengthening our defenses against deliberate biological threats. Specifically, the DoD should be commended for highlighting the nexus between disinformation campaigns and biological weapon use—a growing area of concern in biosecurity.

Jackson du Pont, Nolan Center Research Fellow

Pleased to see the release of the long awaited BPR. I commend the Department for the clear-eyed view of the bio threat landscape and forward leaning posture to ensure needed governance to capitalize on existing authorities, working with partners  and allies, to deter and, if needed, defeat bio threats.

Shannon Green, Nolan Center Non-Resident Senior Fellow

The inaugural Biodefense Posture Review represents a major step in recognizing the severity that biological threats pose to national security. It reflects the dedication of the DoD to conduct an extensive review of its policies, plans, and authorities, and evaluate the modernization required to successfully achieve the goals of the DoD’s mission as laid out within the National Defense Strategy, the National Biodefense Strategy and Implementation Plan, and other guiding documents. 

CSR congratulates DoD leadership and all involved personnel for delivering the first BPR. We look forward to seeing its implementation and future iterations of this posture review.

For inquiries to these and other CSR experts, contact Courtney Tillman at and Andrew Facini at

Relevant reports from the Nolan Center linked below:

A Handbook for Ending Catastrophic Biological Risks

Pathogen Early Warning: A Progress Report & Path Forward

Understanding the Threat of Biological Weapons in a World With COVID-19