The social context shaping bioweapons (non)proliferation

Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, Kathleen M. Vogel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


This article explores the practices behind the creation and transfer of knowledge related to biological weapons (BW) in the former Soviet BW program and their implications for understanding bioweapons proliferation. Using in-depth interviews collected for an ongoing oral history project of the Soviet and U.S. bioweapons programs, this article shows that BW proliferation is a complex issue that involves thus far unrecognized social factors that can shape the production and proliferation of bioweapons knowledge. The article highlights (1) the local and personal character of bioweapons knowledge, specialized skills, and scientific know-how, which cannot be transferred easily from one person to another and from one location to another; (2) the importance of organization and management style in creating certain types of knowledge and skills and allowing or preventing the transfer of those skills to occur within and outside an organization; and (3) the differences that exist among various groups of former Soviet BW facilities in their ability to efficiently transfer bioweapons knowledge and laboratory skills. The article concludes with a discussion on the policy implications of these findings and provides guidance for constructing and implementing a more consistent and rigorous set of targeted nonproliferation interventions to address facility-specific "brain-drain" threats involving former bioweaponeers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-24
Number of pages16
JournalBiosecurity and Bioterrorism
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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