Genetically engineered bioweapons are not a fictional or far-fetched notion. Many countries around the world, including the United States, have long engaged in research tinkering with germ weapons for so-called biodefense.
The incoming Biden-Harris administration promises a restoration of the role of science in government, particularly in environment and health. While I welcome this prospect, I join those who want more than a “return to normal.” The presidential transition provides an opening for advocates and activists to push back against systemic problems in the way U.S. science functions: an overemphasis on innovation without restraint or regard for social consequences, undue corporate influence, and unilateralism in international science policy.
In areas relevant to bioweapons, there are reasons for more concern, among them Biden’s long record of supporting U.S. militarism, including his unapologetic support for the 2003 Iraq War. This, then, remains a key target for watchdog groups and activists: to push for further disinvestment in bioweapons research, along with fuller U.S. cooperation with international treaties—starting with U.S. ratification of the Biological Weapons Convention verification protocols at the upcoming 2021 conference.
Let us imagine a future where the United States re-enters international engagements with not only a more humble tone, but also a changed orientation.