The New Biological Weapons: Threat, Proliferation, and Control

The New Biological Weapons: Threat, Proliferation, and Control

The New Biological Weapons: Threat, Proliferation, and Control

The New Biological Weapons: Threat, Proliferation, and Control

Synopsis

Current revolutions in biotechnology and neuroscience are changing military technologies, necessitating dramatic re-evaluations in arms regulatory regimes. This study assesses how these new technologies can be used in weapons systems - by governments and terrorists alike - and whether this frightening development can be brought under effective international control.

Excerpt

In early 1999 the respected journal Science carried an article titled “Terrorism: Defending Against Bugs and Bytes, ” which reported: “Flanked by Nobel-winner Joshua Lederberg and four cabinet members, President Clinton announced on 22 January at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D. C., that he intends to ask Congress for about $2.85 billion to fight terrorist threats to the U. S. civilian population” (1). the article explained that “Clinton said that he has been 'nagging' his staff about bioterrorism 'for the better part of 6 years,' and that Lederberg—a molecular biologist and former president of the Rockefeller University in New York City—helped give credibility to his worries” (1). If Congress approved the expenditure, the funds were to be used for vaccine development, genetic studies of human pathogens, and development of high-speed medical diagnostic systems.

This report was one of many suggesting growing high-level political concern about the possible use of biological weapons (BW)—and not just for terrorist purposes. It has become increasingly evident that ever since the discovery at the end of the nineteenth century that specific microorganisms cause specific diseases in humans, animals, and plants, major states have attempted to develop biological weapons (2). This process began with efforts by both sides (the Central Powers and the Allied Powers) during World War I to damage the valuable draft animal stocks of their enemies. It encompassed the appalling Japanese offensive biological warfare program in China during the 1930s and 1940s, which resulted in many thousands of deaths and the huge and sophisticated British, U. S., and Soviet programs of the mid and later decades of the century.

Consideration of this history leads to the obvious conclusion that biological weapons present a multifaceted threat. We should not just be concerned about the use of such weapons for bioterrorism, assassination, or economic warfare against staple crops, but also for tactical or strategic . . .

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