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Bio-Threats at the Doorstep: North Korea’s Growing Biological Arsenal

Daniel Kim Views  

Newsis

As the COVID-19 pandemic and the race for new technology intensify, there is a growing need to establish a South Korean-style biological defense strategy considering the possibility of biological terrorism by North Korea.

Biological defense refers to actions to prevent, respond, mitigate, and recover from all potential threats to humans, animals, and the environment due to the natural occurrence of infectious diseases, the leakage of biological agents due to accidents, and the malicious use of biological agents in terrorism and crime. The concept was introduced by the United States in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks and the anthrax letter terrorism.

Kim Hyun Joong, a deputy researcher at the National Security Strategy Institute, recently stated in a report titled ‘Implications of Changes in U.S. Biological Defense Strategy and Our Response’ that “The world is exploring health security strategies that fit their national environment in line with the evolving global health security situation,” and “Korea, facing constant health security threats such as biological warfare and terrorism from North Korea, urgently needs to establish a biological defense strategy considering its geopolitical security uniqueness.”

Kim emphasized that “the U.S.’s Biological Defense Posture Review (BPR) announced last August has a strategic and policy importance that converts advanced bio-technology and manufacturing capabilities into national security tasks through civilian-military cooperation,” and “we need to pay attention to some of the contents revealed in the U.S. BPR when establishing a South Korean-style biological defense strategy for post-Corona health security response.”

He introduced the key elements of the U.S. BPR, including the securitization of technology due to the U.S.-China competition for technology acquisition, the securitization (domestication) of bio-manufacturing capabilities through strengthening research and development acquisition, and the integrated approach of civilian, government, and military regarding biological defense.

Above all, South Korea needs to focus on the variables of North Korea and explore biological defense. It is pointed out that we need to consider the possibility of large-scale biological warfare or biological terrorism, strengthen resilience, and minimize security gaps.

In fact, according to the South Korean military, North Korea is believed to possess a total of 13 types of biological agents, including anthrax and plague. In particular, it is evaluated that they can use aircraft, artillery, missiles, special forces, machinery, and insects as delivery methods or vectors.

Kim emphasized the need to consider unexpected biological accidents, global pandemics, and epidemic countermeasures and enhance private sector roles in reorganizing the advanced bio-industry and market. Moreover, biological warfare and terror threats on the Korean Peninsula must be constantly monitored.

In particular, there is a need to accelerate the systematization of the Korean-style biological defense system. Kim suggested establishing an advisory body modeled after the Directorate of Global Health and Biological Defense under the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) from the perspective of integration and communication of government, industry, and academia.

Specifically, it is explained that an integrated policy window that protects related industries from a national security perspective while handling global health and biological defense sectors must be established by expanding the Office of Biomedical Secretary under the Science and Technology Secretary.

In the same context, unifying biological defense-related agencies is needed. Under the current system, where the Ministry of Health and Welfare handles disease control, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security handles terrorism, and the Ministry of National Defense handles biological warfare, flexible response can be difficult. It is explained that there is a need to establish a Korean-style Biological Defense Consortium where related ministries and agencies can cooperate centered on the selected ministry.

Kim also said, “We need to discuss complementary cooperation measures between the Ministry of National Defense, the main agency for national security, and the private sector (especially the industrial sector) reflecting the dynamics of the advanced bio-industry where technology and manufacturing capabilities are being securitized.”

For example, the U.S.’s BPR provides clear commitments and future strategies of the U.S. Department of Defense related to biological defense to all stakeholders, including civilians, government, and military, promoting the stable development of the biological defense ecosystem.

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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