Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-Sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism

Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-Sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism

Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-Sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism

Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-Sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism


Until the events of September 11 and the anthrax attacks of 2001, biological weapons had never been a major public concern in the United States. Today, the possibility of their use by terrorists against Western states looms large as an international security concern. In Biological Weapons, Jeanne Guillemin provides a highly accessible and compelling account of the circumstances under which scientists, soldiers, and statesmen were able to mobilize resources for extensive biological weapons programs and also analyzes why such weapons, targeted against civilians, were never used in a major conflict.

This book is essential for understanding the relevance of the historical restraints placed on the use of biological weapons for today's world. It serves as an excellent introduction to the problems biological weapons pose for contemporary policymakers and public officials, particularly in the United States. How can we best deter the use of such weapons? What are the resulting policies of the Department of Homeland Security? How can we constrain proliferation? Jeanne Guillemin wisely points out that these are vitally important questions for all Americans to consider and investigate -- all the more so because the development of these weapons has been carried out under a veil of secrecy, with their frightening potential open to exploitation by the media and government. Public awareness through education can help calm fears in today's tension-filled climate and promote constructive political action to reduce the risks of a biological weapons catastrophe.

Biological Weapons is required reading for every concerned citizen, government policymaker, public health official, and national security analyst who wants to understand this complex and timely issue.


The aim of this book is to bring historical context to present concerns about biological weapons and the potential for bioterrorism. The history of state-sponsored biological weapons programs is much deeper than most people are aware. During the twentieth century, major state powers (France, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union) developed biological warfare programs in such great secrecy that many documents remain unavailable. By 1972, with the signing of the Biological Weapons Convention, the state programs were ended, or from that point they became cloaked in even greater secrecy. With a single exception, the state programs never led to the use of biological weapons in war. From 1939 to 1945, the Japanese Imperial Army surreptitiously spread plague and cholera in China, under the guise of natural outbreaks. Even so, the world has never witnessed any battlefield exchanges or aerial bombings with germ weapons. After 1945, nuclear weapons overshadowed the threat of biological weapons, until the Cold War ended. Then the untested potential of biological weapons emerged as a new order of threat, appearing more technically accessible than either nuclear or chemical weapons.

The lack of use of biological weapons in war was not for want of great effort and enormous funding invested in state programs. Advocates for using biology to create a new class of weapons initially envisioned delivery systems for pathogenic aerosols that mimicked those for chemical weapons, which were mainly bombs that generated aerosols intended to kill or disable troops in a local area. This vision was quickly replaced by the concept of creating huge clouds of germs that would drift with the wind and infect people over . . .

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