Why Should We Be Concerned About Biological Warfare?
There is a widespread tendency to think about defense against biological warfare as unnecessary, as someone elseâ€™s responsibility, or as simply too difficult. Unfortunately, however, the dangers posed by biological weapons did not disappear when the United States began to unilaterally dismantle its own offensive program in 1969. The dangers did not vanish with the signing of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention of 1972, and they did not dissipate with the end of the Cold War or the threat of nuclear retaliation against Iraq during the Persian Gulf conflict. Only by planning and investing in the right training and defensive measures can we diminish the likelihood that biological weapons will be used and reduce the risks, disruption, and casualties in the event that such weapons are used.1 Fortunately, significant improvements can be made in our defensive posture at relatively modest levels of investment, and both the Department of Defense and the medical community can play a substantial role in this regard. Biological weapons are unfortunately characterized by low visibility, high potency, substantial accessibility, and relatively easy delivery. The basic facts are well known: a millionth of a gram of anthrax constitutes a lethal inhalation dose. A kilogram, depending on meteorological conditions and means of delivery, has the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of people in a metropolitan area. These small quantities make the concealment, transportation, and dissemination of biological agents relatively easy. Many of these agentsâ€”bacteria, viruses, and toxinsâ€”occur naturally in the environment. Moreover, many are used for wholly legitimate medical purposes (such as the development of antibiotics and vaccines), and much of the technology required to produce and â€œweaponizeâ€ them is available for civilian or military use. Unlike nuclear weapons, missiles or other advanced systems are not required for the delivery of biological weapons. Since aerosolization is the predominant method of dissemination, extraordinarily lowtechnology methods, including agricultural crop dusters, backpack sprayers, and even purse-size perfume atomizers will suffice. Small groups of people with modest finances and basic training in biology and engineering can develop an effective biological weapons capability. Recipes for making biological weapons are even available on the Internet. These unique characteristics make both military and civilian society vulnerable to biological weapons. It is true that their delayed effects and vulnerability to weather make these weapons ill-suited to military purposes such as seizing territory. But biological weapons can effectively impede the mobilization and massing of troops that would be required to sustain our role in a conventional conflict. Most disturbingly, they can be used to threaten civilian populations and create mass panic. Used this way, biological weapons can achieve military goals by undercutting the civilian support necessary for military operations or by holding civilians hostage to prevent military operations. Why Have Biological Weapons Been Low on Our Agenda? If biological weapons are so potent and so cheap, if the technology is readily available, and if so many of our adversaries have biological warfare capabilities, then why has this issue been so low on our national security agenda? There are 3 principal reasons. First, because defense against a biological attack is both unfamiliar and difficult, there is a natural tendency to put it aside in favor of problems that are more comfortable. This is abetted by a second factor: the belief that because biological weapons have never been used they therefore never will be. And this is in turn buttressed by a sense that a regime can be deterred from using biological weaponry if we make it clear that this would invite nuclear retaliation. These modes of thought are...
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