Report Says Disease Is Security Threat

By Smith, Geoffrey | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 13, 2000 | Go to article overview

Report Says Disease Is Security Threat


Smith, Geoffrey, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The idea that diseases can invade not only our bodies but also nations and neighborhoods is relatively new, but its importance is growing each day, say the authors of "Contagion and Conflict: Health as a Global Security Challenge."

The report - a joint effort of the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) - was issued last week. Written by Michael Moodie and William Taylor, it is the first to make a direct link between health and global security.

Mr. Taylor, senior adviser for International Security Affairs at CSIS, said the report is just a start, one the authors hope will generate dialogue and influence policy around Washington.

"This is a very important beginning," he said.

The report makes the point that national security can be compromised by outbreaks of disease and that health deserves to be considered a national-security issue.

Diseases can manifest themselves in societies either by accident or, in the case of biological terrorism, by design. Biological terrorism is a serious national security challenge that was little known before the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo sarin nerve-gas attack on a Tokyo subway. The fifth anniversary of that act of terrorism is next Monday.

GERMS AS DEADLY AS WEAPONS

AIDS and other infectious diseases also could unravel a nation and its military.

"Drought and disease can decimate no less mercilessly than the weapons of war," former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said in his 1992 report "Agenda for Peace."

No one is immune to the problem.

In the United States, for example, an outbreak of West Nile fever last year in New York City killed seven persons and made 50 others sick. It took the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention three weeks to identify the specific virus responsible for the encephalitis outbreak.

Awareness of this issue has been slow to catch people's attention, mostly because people aren't accustomed to connecting disease with national security.

"It's only been a short period of time that we've even been aware there's a problem," said Michael Moodie, president of the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute and co-author of the report.

Mr. Moodie said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein first brought bioterrorism to the attention of U.S. leadership when it was discovered he had been stockpiling chemical and biological weapons during the Gulf War in 1991.

"People assumed he had BW," Mr. Moodie said. The Aum Shinrikyo attack further planted bioterrorism in the minds of many, Mr. Moodie said.

ATTACK HOSPITALIZED HUNDREDS

"It wasn't until after the Tokyo attack that the question of bioterrorism really crystallized," Mr. Moodie said. "That attack [on the Tokyo subway system] fundamentally changed the way we look at the world and some of the problems we identify for ourselves."

The nerve-gas attack by the Japanese doomsday cult killed 12 commuters, hospitalized hundreds and sickened 5,500 people. After that, Mr. Moodie said, people in the United States realized for the first time how dangerous such an attack could be and how vulnerable many American communities are.

"I cannot think of any locality [in the United States] that feels satisfied in having a sufficient response capability," Mr. Moodie said.

Biological attacks against an unsuspecting society are even more insidious than chemical ones because they are difficult to detect.

"By and large, a BW [biological weapons] threat could play itself out by people showing up at the emergency rooms," Mr. Moodie said.

The most salient aspect of this kind of attack, in other words, is the quiet way in which it infiltrates a society - there is no event to signal its arrival. …

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