DARPA, the advanced military research body which assists the US military, has announced that it is in the process of funding research into genetic extinction. The purpose of this research is ostensibly to fight and destroy harmful insects such as the mosquitos that carry malaria. However, the potential dangers of this project are obvious to various human rights groups who have expressed their concern.
The US army wants to destroy malaria – but is there something more sinister going on?
Silvia Ribeiro, the Latin American director of the ETC Group, an international organization which is devoted to conservation and the sustainable development of cultural and ecological diversity as well as human rights, is one of those who has raised her concerns. She suggests that even if the research is successful in eradicating the particular form of mosquito which carries malaria that it will probably fail in the long term as the parasite which causes the disease will simply adapt and find another vector.
In addition to the project potentially being worthless in the long term, it is also considered potentially dangerous for the environment. According to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, interference with the natural ecosystem in the modification of the genetic make-up of certain creatures could have a major knock-on effect on the natural world.
Therefore, for this project to proceed, it must be conducted by the highest level of safety protocols in biosafety level-4 facilities, preferably in such a remote location that should the insects escape they would not be able to infect the rest of the world. An experiment which would require adherence to these stringent conditions has never been conducted before.
Given the dangers associated with the study as well as the high cost and potentially dangerous side effects, it has been suggested that DARPA have an ulterior motive for conducting this kind of research. “When it is developed under an umbrella of military research, you get a clear notion that there can be a dual purpose of this research,” said Ribeiro. It has been suggested that this gene modification technology could be utilized as a weapon of war against certain populations if it were perfected.
The Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD) explicitly forbids the hostile, military use of tools that modify the environment or the ecology in a military context. While the United States is a party to this convention, the United Nations are notoriously weak when it comes to enforcing their own rule of law and rarely provide sufficient monitoring or take steps to prevent the proliferation of these weapons. “The whole UN is about diplomacy,” explained Ribeiro, “The military goes under their radar.”
Indeed, as Ribeiro points out, the research was not brought to light by United Nations monitoring bodies but rather the investigation and requests under the Freedom of Information Act issued by human rights groups such as the ETC. Given this, Ribeiro is pessimistic about the prospect of the United Nations preventing countries such as the United States from using gene modification technology as a weapon of war once it is refined. The main fear is that these weapons could be refined in such a way as to target specific racial characteristics in a conflict setting. The use of any weapon capable of doing this would be classified as an act of genocide.
This is not the first sign that the United States military has become involved in a renewed interest in biological weaponry this year. In October, the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin claimed that US researchers were in Russia with the purpose of harvesting biological materials.