Topic One: Addressing the Issue of Biological Weapons and Biowarfare
Having first been employed by the likes of the Hittites of Asia Minor and the Mongols centuries ago, biological weapons are defined as instruments that make use of, or help spread, infectious agents (bacteria, viruses, toxins, etc.) designed to damage people and/or human food crops. As science uncovers more biological knowledge regarding new and existing infectious agents, these may pose a legitimate threat as devastating weapons capable of ravaging huge populations.
Although the use of biological weapons may be traced to antiquity, there have been a number of high-profile cases of biowarfare in the modern era. The notorious “Unit 731” of the Japanese Army, targeted towards Chinese citizens during World War II, undertook toxic—and often lethal—human experimentation of bioweapons under the guise of “vaccinations.” The programme also dropped clay pots filled with disease-spreading fleas over populous Chinese cities. More recently, letters laced with anthrax spores were distributed through the USA in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks.
Two international treaties in 1925 and 1972 have outlawed the usage and stockpiling of biological weapons—as of July 2018; the more recent Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) is ratified by 181 states. However, it has not dissuaded many countries from continuing to conduct state-organized research and testing of these infectious agents—both of which are not outlawed in the current BTWC.
In particular, biological weapons may also become especially favoured by terrorist groups; they capable of incapacitating vast numbers of people and can be produced at a relatively low cost (versus comparable weapons such as bombs). Furthermore, since these agents are not obviously detectable and their effects often take a few hours to a few days to emerge, terrorists can release bioweapons discreetly and escape before raising suspicion.
Much of the same knowledge gathered in the development of new drugs and vaccines may, unfortunately, be abused by others to develop biological weapons for biowarfare. Indeed, scientific experts and politicians alike are torn between guarding such exploitable information with a select few or disseminating it publicly to determine possible countermeasures to possible future threats from bioweapons.
The major issues for this topic are:
- Should there be a set of guidelines to restrict and/or regulate biological weapon research and testing?
- What measures should be taken to ensure that biological weapons do not fall into the hands of extremist groups intending to use them for terrorism?
- Should biological information at risk of being abused by developers of bioweapons be made public, or held as a secret by select scientists?
Topic Two: Combating Cyber Security Threats and Cyber Warfare
In September 2015, the FBI notified the American Democratic National Committee that one of their computers was hacked and was now transmitting sensitive information across to Russia. Over the course of the next calendar year, tens of thousands of hacked Democratic emails were posted—according to the CIA, this was done intentionally by The Kremlin with the ultimate purpose of “swaying voters” in the 2016 American Presidential Campaigns.
Cyberwarfare involves the deliberate disruption of computers, networks or other control systems through technological means. Often, the end goals of such actions pertain to espionage, sabotage, tampering or hijacking. With the increasing digitization of essential processes among governments and large companies—for example, using emails instead of a postal service—comes a more significant potential for an emergency should these systems be compromised.
While physical, “bloody” consequences do not arise through cyber warfare, in the modern era cyber attacks are usually the first form of offensive action taken in conflict—it is a devastating complement to warfare when integrated into combat strategy. As such, many countries have invested heavily in fortifying their digital intelligence network, and a select few countries such as China, Iran and North Korea are rumoured to have perfected “offensive techniques” capable of infiltrating the most secure of technologies.
Among theft of confidential information and messages, potential attacks may rend websites unavailable to users, shut down entire energy grids, or encrypt crucial information.
In the same breath, countries are not the only ones vulnerable to cybersecurity threats; from air traffic controllers, to transnational banking institutions, to average internet users, cybercrime is already responsible for a 0.8% shrink in the global economy (as reported by cybersecurity firm ElevenPaths). Many of these threats are malware created by third-parties and hackers, and their mutability makes them a nightmare for more computer experts to deal with.
The UN has never passed a serious resolution on the topic of cyber warfare and cybersecurity in its existence, something secretary general Antonio Guterres sorely laments. Now, at this current rate of technological advancement, this is not something worth being postponed any longer.
The major issues for this topic are:
- What deterrents, if any, should be put in place to dissuade the usage of cyber warfare between nation-states?
- How can countries, companies and average citizens be protected from third-party malware created by hackers?