Keywords: biodefence, biosecurity, biosurveillance, bioterrorism, disease surveillance, foreign policy, international health, laboratory security, non-proliferation, pathogen security, biological security, risk assessment, biological threats, infectious diseases, disease early warning
Pathogen security: the illusion of security in foreign policy and biodefence
'Pathogen security' (sometimes called 'biosecurity') is too often seen as the primary strategy to combat bioterrorism. Asserting that materials, technologies and expertise for bioterrorism are available worldwide and that terrorist groups are increasingly able to obtain and disseminate infectious disease pathogens, advocates contend that pathogen security systems and practices are central to reduce bioterrorism's threat. Pathogen security, however, provides only limited protection against bioterrorism. While potentially a diplomatic tool to stimulate international dialogue or scientific engagement, pathogen security is of only limited practical utility because virtually all pathogens exist in nature, technology is readily accessible and expertise broadly distributed. As such, effective international policy strategies to combat bioterrorism must be broader, comprehensive and multi-sectoral with pathogen security as but one component. Foreign policy should instead emphasise enhanced biosurveillance and infectious disease early warning systems, effective and swift treatment, and strengthened preparedness and response mechanisms as the key to successful strategies to combat bioterrorism.