[Biological Weapons: Limiting the Threat]

Article excerpt

The past decade has witnessed considerable progress in curbing threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. Yet the challenges which such arms present continue to keep pace with advances in their control and elimination. There is no better example of the dilemmas which disarmament efforts confront than the threat posed by biological and toxin weapons. Exceedingly difficult to detect and potentially devastating when used, biological armaments may well present the most plausible mass destruction threat for the future -- eclipsing nuclear arms in the ease with which they can be acquired and delivered and chemical arms in potential destructiveness. What is more, threats are real, and disarmament solutions are daunting.

This volume provides ample testament to the dangers and dilemmas which biological weapons (BWs) pose. A group of international experts cover a range of topics: the history of biological weapons, their nature and effects, efforts at disarmament -- both past and present -- and future threats and responses. The result is a balanced and highly sophisticated treatment of a complex and exceedingly worrisome disarmament issue.

Authors note that while disease has rarely been used as a weapon of war, isolated cases have occurred, and evidence of BW possession is considerable. Yet disarmament measures offer only imperfect protection against BW attack. The 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention lacks provisions for adequate verification of compliance. Attempts to fill such gaps effectively are difficult to devise and negotiate. And even dedicated efforts at on-site inspection and disarmament can be frustrating and flawed; a fact amply demonstrated by UNSCOM's experience in Iraq. Beyond this, national governments are generally ill-prepared to deal with the medical and psychological aftermath of BW attack.

Today, the likelihood of such attack remains remote but not inconceivable. Recent years have witnessed an increase both in the prospects for BW proliferation and in the sources from which such attacks could originate -- with terrorist groups and even unstable individuals now vying with states as potential users. Groups whose driving ideology allows violent action to be rationalized as serving the 'will of god' or which 'dehumanizes victims' (for example, religious extremists, millennarian cults, global revolutionary groups, and white supremacists) may be especially prone to BW use. …