US must avoid Soviet-era disarmament mistakes with North Korea’s bioweapons

The contours of the North Korean bioweapons program are unknown

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As talks with North Korea move forward to address that country’s nuclear weapons program, the Trump administration would be wise to develop a strategy of cooperation with the Kim regime to reduce potential threats posed by bioweapons. In this regard, the administration should learn not only from disarmament successes of the past, but also from our most notable failures.

A case in point is the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (CTR). Launched in 1991 in response to the fall of the Soviet Union, the program sought to secure nuclear and other deadly weapons stored in former Soviet states, so they don’t fall into enemy hands. CTR was remarkably successful in reducing the former Soviet nuclear and chemical weapons proliferation threat, but it achieved mixed results in its attempts to eliminate the threat posed by bioweapons.

Most regrettable, the program did not deal effectively with the reduction of scientific know-how. In fact, in some cases the CTR helped former Soviet bioweapons scientists retain their bioweapons expertise instead of eliminating it. Learning from this experience is important. Here are some “do’s and don’ts” that the U.S. should follow in its bio-engagement with North Korea.

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