Letter from Christian B. Anfinsen to Marshall W. Nirenberg
Anfinsen requests Nirenberg's support for an effort to defend the international treaty outlawing biological weapons.
The treaty is reported to be threatened "not by some small signatory nation openly violating its provisions, but as a
result of recently stepped-up military interest at home and abroad in biomedical technologies and their chemical and biological
potential." Anfinsen urges Nirenberg to sign a pledge, included with the letter, against military use of biological research
at home and abroad.
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1989-07-26 (July 26, 1989)
Anfinsen, Christian B.
Nirenberg, Marshall W.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics
Reproduced with permission of Libby Anfinsen.
Beyond the Laboratory: Professional, Personal, and Political Life, 1967-2002
I am writing to request your support for an effort of great importance to all biologists and chemists. As you may already
know, the international treaty outlawing biological weapons is currently threatened. This treaty, the 1972 Biological Weapons
Convention, is the strongest disarmament treaty in existence, banning not only the deployment and stockpiling of biological
weapons, but their development as well. Ironically, the treaty is threatened not by some small signatory nation openly violating
its provisions, but as a result of recently stepped-up military interest at home and abroad in biomedical technologies and
their chemical and biological potential.
I urge you to join me and many other scientists by sponsoring an effort to make our voices heard on this important and disturbing
An ad hoc group of colleagues is now circulating a pledge against the military use of biological research both in the U.S.
and other countries. By signing this pledge, scientists promise not to engage knowingly in research or teaching that would
further the development of chemical or biological arms. This campaign, conducted with the aid of the non-profit organization
the Council for Responsible Genetics, has already garnered the signatures of more than 800 of our colleagues in the U.S.,
but we hope to reach many more. Ultimately, a group of internationally prominent scientists will present the signatures we
collect to the next review conference on the treaty (in 1991) along with a call for strengthened verification measures.
This effort is particularly important now. Because the biological weapons convention does not now include verification measures,
advances in our fields have led to increased mistrust between nations and suspicion that biotechnology may be exploited for
offensive purposes under the guise of defensive research. This mistrust can be seen in the policies of the last administration
in the U.S. which quadrupled-funds for research in the Army's biological defense program. And suspicion can be seen in
stepped-up research efforts in other countries as well.
The concern of the signatory nations to the Biological Weapons Convention was evident when the convention was reviewed three
years ago. They mandated consideration of a new verification protocol at the 1991 review conference. We need your help now
to maintain international confidence in the treaty and to insure that the opportunity to strengthen it in 1991 will not be
lost. Your name as a sponsor of the pledge will help us to organize support among the professional scientific community, making
a clear statement of opposition to the military use of biomedical research.
Please respond to me on this at the above address at your earliest convenience. I am enclosing a sheet to facilitate the process.
Thank you for your help,
The Pledge against the military use of biological research
We, the undersigned biologists and chemists, oppose the use of our research for military purposes. Rapid advances in biotechnology
have catalyzed a growing interest by the military in many countries in chemical and biological weapons and in the possible
development of new and novel chemical and biological warfare agents. We are concerned that this may lead to another arms race.
We believe that biomedical research should support rather than threaten life. Therefore, We Pledge not to engage knowingly
in research and teaching that will further the development of chemical and biological warfare agents.