There is a regrettable tendency to think about defense against biological warfare either as unnecessary or as "too hard." Unfortunately, the danger of biological warfare did not dissipate with the dismantling of our own offensive program in 1969, the signing of the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the threat of nuclear retaliation against Saddam in 1991. Only by planning and preparing will we be able to diminish the likelihood that biological weapons will be used, and reduce the risks if they are. Fortunately, substantial improvements can be made in our biological defensive capabilities at relatively small levels of investment.
Why Think About Biological Warfare?
There are three compelling reasons why the national security establishment ought to be thinking more about, and investing more in, defenses against biological warfare (BW).
1. Our future enemies' strategies. To assess our vulnerabilities, it is useful to put ourselves in the shoes of our potential opponents. The overwhelming conventional military superiority the United States displayed in the Kuwaiti desert will make potential aggressors less likely to confront us directly. Concomitantly, those who wish to challenge our resolve will be tempted to do so indirectly and unconventionally. Additionally, the perception that America is reluctant to accept high mortality rates in combat will make high casualty weapons, such as biological agents, especially attractive to our enemies.
2. Our future enemies' resources. While a nuclear arsenal requires massive investments and a sophisticated and capable military infrastructure to support it, an opponent does not need to be a superpower to have a biological warfare capability. Biological weapons are inexpensive and accessible. A small pharmaceutical industry or even moderately sophisticated university or medical research laboratory can generate a significant offensive capability. Delivery can be by warheads on missiles, but also by means as simple as a crop sprayer.
Some sense of why biological weapons are the "poor man's nuclear bomb" is suggested by a United Nations expert's 1969 estimate …