Bioterror in the Age of Biotechnology

By Gerstein, Daniel M. | Joint Force Quarterly, April 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Bioterror in the Age of Biotechnology


Gerstein, Daniel M., Joint Force Quarterly


The Commission believes that unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Commission further believes that terrorists are more likely to be able to obtain and use a biological weapon than a nuclear weapon. The Commission believes that the U.S. government needs to move more aggressively to limit the proliferation of biological weapons and reduce the prospect of a bioterror attack. (1)

This powerful statement from the most recent Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Proliferation and Terrorism serves as ample warning of the dire threats faced by the United States and indeed the world from a bioweapon successfully deployed by a determined and knowledgeable terrorist. In thinking about the potential for such a bioterror attack, several important questions serve to frame the discussion. Do terrorists have the desire to employ WMD, and in particular biological weapons? Under what conditions might biological weapons be an attractive choice for use by terrorists? Would they have the requisite knowledge, equipment, and organizational capacity to mount a biological warfare (BW) attack? Would they be successful in such an attack? What could we do to mitigate the effects of a bioterror attack?

This article provides a framework for understanding the potential for a BW attack now and in the future by a terrorist or terrorist organization. In developing this framework, the findings hinge less on the technical capabilities than on the intentions of the potential perpetrator. State use of biological weapons in either large-scale strategic scenarios or as tools of assassination is not examined directly, although the framework could have equal application to a state BW program.

The Potential Perpetrator

Terrorism is a term that evokes strong emotions. Events of 9/11 brought terrorism to the forefront of the national security debate in the United States and arguably throughout the rest of the world. Despite this increased attention during the intervening period, the debate has seen little increased clarity.

No agreed definition of terrorist has been developed, and the word has been used seemingly interchangeably with other terms such as insurgent, illegal combatant, and freedom fighter. The result is a politicization of the term that hinders global cooperation and confuses the issue. This can be seen in a discussion of the rationality of the terrorist. Many believe that terrorists are pathologically damaged, violent sociopaths who employ violence for their own perverted outcomes. Others believe that terrorists are calculating and highly rational actors with real or perceived grievances, employing a range of strategies from political actions to violence in order to achieve desired outcomes. Some have gone as far as to suggest that it is possible to reach a negotiated settlement with terrorists, in the same way that one might reach a postconflict settlement following a state-to-state conflict. (2)

Regardless of the exact definition or the rationality of the terrorist, several important trends serve as the foundation for this analysis. First, terrorism is not a new phenomenon and has a long historical precedence. The direct origin of the term can be traced to the time of the French Revolution, although the period beginning in the 1970s is of the most interest for our discussion. It is during this period--with emphasis on the post-9/11 period--where we see the confluence of the use of high violence strategies, the rise of global terrorist organizations fueled by globalization, and increasing religious radicalization. (3)

Second, terrorists are continually searching for new means to facilitate increasingly violent and spectacular attacks that will gain visibility for and further their causes.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Bioterror in the Age of Biotechnology
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?