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DNA dissolving

A quiet biological revolution in warfare is underway. The genome is emerging as a new domain of conflict. The level of destruction that only nuclear weapons could previously achieve is fast becoming as accessible as a cyberattack.

Now for the bad news. Great power conflicts and proxy wars are back. The rules-based world order crumbles while an unpredictable–and potentially unstable–multipolar one emerges.

Rapidly accelerating breakthroughs in our ability to change the genes of organisms are generating medically thrilling possibilities. They are also generating novel capabilities for biological weapons, a form of warfare that has been largely abandoned for decades. Take the recent AI-enabled advancements in gene-editing, construction of artificial viral vectors for human genome remodeling, protein folding, and the creation of custom proteins. Far outpacing the regulatory environment, these advances are facilitating the weaponization and delivery of harmful bioagents–overcoming impediments that previously made biological weapons impractical.

Speculation about “genetic weapons” capable of singling out specific groups for infection dates back to the 1970s. In 2012, Vladimir Putin mused publicly about weapons that could be “as effective as...