Certain basic research findings in the life sciences have the potential for misuse by states or sophisticated terrorist organizations seeking to develop more lethal or effective biological weapons. The recognition of this problem has led to proposals for new systems of governance, including the international review and oversight of “dual-use” research. The case of the World Health Organization's Advisory Committee on Variola Virus Research (VAC), which oversees all research with the live smallpox virus, offers some useful lessons for assess- ing these proposals. This article examines how the VAC has dealt with conten- tious policy issues, describes the strengths and weaknesses of the oversight process, and discusses the implications for the international governance of dual-use research.

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