What is Biological Warfare?
warfare, also known as germ
warfare, is the use of any organism (bacteria, virus
disease-causing organisms) or toxins found in nature, as a weapon of
war. It is meant to incapacitate or kill an enemy. Biological warfare
is a cause for concern because a successful attack could conceivably
result in thousands, possibly even millions, of deaths and could cause
severe disruptions to societies and economies. They can be released to
one person and go on to spread to infect thousands or possibly even
millions. Something of this nature would cause immediate panic, and
economic shutdown - another powerful effect of such weapons.
Where have Biological weapons been used before?
The use of
biological agents is not new, but
before the 20th century, biological warfare took three main forms:
- deliberate poisoning of food and water with
- use of microorganisms or toxins in a weapon
- use of biologically inoculated fabrics
- native peoples in Aptos gave to Spaniards gifts
of freshly cut flowers wrapped in leaves of poison oak
Biological warfare has been practised
repeatedly throughout history. In 184 BC, Carthaginian leader Hannibal had
clay pots filled with poisonous snakes and instructed his soldiers to throw
the pots onto the decks of Pergamene ships.
During the Middle Ages victims of
the Black Death were used for biological attacks, often by flinging their
corpses and excrement over castle walls using catapults. The last known incident
of using plague corpses for biological warfare occurred in 1710, when Russian
forces attacked the Swedes by flinging
corpses over the city walls of Reval.
Several colonists settling in North
and South America are now famous for waging biological warfare by distributing
items infected with
to indigenous populations. Francisco Pizarro distributed clothing infected
to South American peoples in the 16th century, Hernán Cortés
infected the Aztec population in the early 16th century, Jeffrey Amherst
infected blankets to Native Americans sympathetic to France during the French
and Indian War, and Captain Ecuyer of the Royal Americans distributed blankets
and handkerchiefs to Native Americans in 1763.
During the United States Civil War,
General Sherman reported that Confederate forces shot farm animals in ponds
upon which the Union depended for drinking water.
Use of such weapons
was banned in international
law by the Geneva Protocol of 1925. The
1972 Biological and Toxin
Weapons Convention extended the ban to almost all production,
and transport. It is, however, believed that since the signing of the convention
the number of countries capable of producing such weapons
Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and World
War II, Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army conducted human
experimentation on thousands, mostly Chinese. In military campaigns,
the Japanese army used biological weapons on Chinese soldiers and
Research carried out
in the United Kingdom during
World War II left a Scottish Island contaminated with anthrax for the
next 48 years.
Considerable research on the topic was performed by the United States,
the Soviet Union , and probably other major nations throughout the Cold
War era, though it is generally believed that such weapons were never
In 1972, the U.S. signed the Biological and Toxic Weapons
Convention, which banned "development, production, stockpiling, and
of microbes or their poisonous products except in amounts necessary for
protective and peaceful research."
In 1986, the U.S.
government spent $42 million on
research for infectious diseases and toxins, ten times more money than
was spent in 1981. The money went to 24 U.S. universities in hopes of
developing strains on anthrax, Rift Valley fever, Japanese
encephalitis, tularemia, shigella, botulin, and Q fever. When the
Biology Department at MIT voted to refuse Pentagon funds for biotech
research, the Reagan administration forced it to reverse its decision
by threatening to cut off other funds.
There have been
reports that United States Army
has been developing weapons-grade anthrax spores at a biological and
chemical weapons facility in Utah at least since 1992. However, the
United States had and maintains a stated policy of never using
biological weapons under any circumstances.
1984 Rajneeshee Salomenalla Attack
In a small
town of The Dalles in Oregon,
followers of the Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh (the Rajneeshee Cult) attempted
to control a local election by infecting salad bars with Salmonella.
The attack caused about 900 people to get sick. It is considered the
first ever bioterrorism case in the US history.
2001 Anthrax Attack
September and October of 2001, several
cases of anthrax broke out in the United States in the 2001 anthrax
attacks, caused deliberately. This was a well-publicized act of
bioterrorism. It motivated efforts to define biodefense and
biosecurity, where more limited definitions of biosafety had focused on
unintentional or accidental impacts of agricultural and medical
How could they be
multiple ways in which they could be distributed. Russia (the
USSR) developed techniques using missiles and bombs to spread the
deadly pathogens. Anthrax was recently deployed using the post offices.
Al Queda may have attempted to acquire crop-dusting planes, which could
be used to spread pathogens to millions. Terrorists could release them
in ventilation systems to spread them across an office building.
However they are
spread, infectious pathogens could soon be passed to
others, leading to enormous casualties thousands of times greater than
the original number infected.
Which are the most Lethal?
biological agents with both a high
potential for adverse public health impact and that also have a serious
potential for large-scale dissemination. The Category A agents are
anthrax, smallpox, plague, botulism, tularemia, and viral hemorrhagic
- Anthrax :
Anthrax is a bacteria with a highly resistant spore form. It is highly
infectious and lethal when inhaled. It is a one-time agent that does
not spread from one person to another. An anthrax vaccine does exist
but requires many injections and has enough side-effects that it is
considered unsuitable for general use.
- Smallpox :
Smallpox is a highly contagious virus. It transmits easily through the
atmosphere and has a high mortality rate (up to 30%). Smallpox was
eliminated in the world in the 1970s thanks to a worldwide vaccination
program. However, some virus are still available in Russian and
American laboratories. It is also believed it could be available in
Botulism is one the deadliest toxins caused by a bacteria. Botulism
causes respiratory failure and paralysis.
Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever. It is extremely lethal, with no
cure. The symptoms are profuse bleeding from the orifices.
Plague is a highly contagious bacteria. It causes a type of pneumonia
and may be fatal.
Marburg is a viral hemorrhagic disease. It is extremely lethal, with no
Tularemia is a bacteria, responsible for non-lethal but extremely
incapacitating diseases (weight loss, fever, headaches, and often
The United States'
biological warfare programme
began during WWII. But, it came to a halt in 1969, when President Nixon
reviewed the program, decided it was wrong, and ordered the destruction
of all weapons. Part of the decision was due to the availability in nuclear defense, which, it was
thought, made it unnecessary to develop
biological weapons since it would make it possible for other countries
to develop them as well.
countries have or are developing
biological warfare programmes. According to the U.S. Department of
Defense, more than ten countries have, or are developing biological
warfare programs, among which, The
United States of America, Russia, Israel, Egypt, China, Iran, Iraq,
Libya, Syria and North Korea.
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