Biological Warfare in History – WMDs

biological warfare history
biological warfare history

Biological Warfare in History

biological warfare in history is not a novel concept in international politics; it has been employed to sabotage adversaries in earlier eras. Biological weapons are a subcategory of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in which microorganisms such as diseases and poisons are deliberately used to inflict disease or death in humans, cattle, and crops. 

It has always posed a threat to world security, from its use by Mongols in the 14th century through imperial Japan’s use against the Chinese in the 1930s and 1940s. The development of bio-weapons can be divided into four stages. 

biological warfare history
Biological warfare history

The first phase covers post-World War II advances, such as the use of chlorine and phosgene in Ypres. Nerve agents such as tabun, cholinesterase inhibitors, and anthrax, and plague bombs were used in the second phase. The employment of biological weapons in the Vietnam War in the 1970s, where deadly chemicals like Agent orange were utilized, signaled the start of the third phase. The fourth and final phase encompasses the height of the biological and technological revolution, during which genetic engineering techniques were at their most advanced. Bioterrorism has traditionally been utilized in the battle to defeat enemies, but with the rise of violent non-state actors, it is now a potential threat to state security. The employment of biological weapons is related to several objectives.

To begin with, it is intended to harm the targeted country’s economy, undermine political authority, and have a psychological effect on the targeted population’s masses. It’s also a form of psychological warfare since, while it may only affect a small number of individuals, the intimidation and propagation of dread have an effect on a larger audience. It also generates natural conditions in which disease is injected into a population without disclosing the offender.

More devastating biological weapons are being manufactured every day throughout the world because of advances in genetic engineering technology. Economically disadvantaged countries are more likely to seek such aims because it is difficult for them to pursue considerable military sophistication given their weak economic conditions. In the current international security climate, biological weapons offer a low-cost option for underdeveloped countries to address their problems. During the early decades of the Cold War, the United States of America (USA) and the Soviet Union went to great lengths to acquire tones of biological weapons, as well as nuclear weapons.

With the creation of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in the 1970s,

the search for these weapons became less intense (BWC). This convention was first offered to countries in 1972, and it went into effect in 1975, with 150 countries signing and 140 countries fully joining the pact. To preserve global peace and stability, this agreement outlaws the use of biological weapons. However, this agreement has apparent flaws, such as the fact that it does not prevent the use of biological weapons, instead of relying on the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which prohibits the use of bio-weapons.

Convention permits “defense research,” notwithstanding several objections to what is included in this defensive study. It is non-binding on signature parties, and if countries proliferate, there are no effective oversight mechanisms in place to monitor whether they are pursuing biological weapons capabilities or not. From the beginning of the treaty till now, it has plainly failed to prevent countries from acquiring and using these weapons. This is obvious in numerous cases after 1975, such as in the 1980s, when Iraq deployed mustard gas, sarin, and tabun against Iran and many other ethnic groups within Iran. Another illustration that was emphasized was the Sarine nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway system, which resulted in thousands of people being hurt and many deaths. However, in the post-Cold War era, the number of these attacks decreased as the focus switched to terrorism following the 9/11 attacks, owing to a shift in global security architecture.

The threat of bioterrorism from non-state actors was disclosed by the “Anthrax letters” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. In 2001, When a powder containing the anthrax bacterium was distributed through letters, sickening a huge number of people, the United States became a victim of bioterrorism. Terrorists’ primary purpose is to make the general populace feel uneasy in the hands of their government, which is best accomplished by using these weapons. Terrorists are more likely to utilize biological weapons than conventional weapons because biological weapons are less expensive and more lethal. Furthermore, the ease with which they may be hidden and transported, as well as the fact that a small number of them can have long-term effects on a wider population, make these weapons more enticing.

Now that we are dealing with a global epidemic in the shape of COVID-19, which some conspiracy theorists believe is a biological weapon, international security will face even bigger trouble in the next decades. There is no scientific evidence that the Corona Virus is a biological weapon, but the reality is that whether it is or is not a biological weapon, the world was not ready for it. Despite having vast medical infrastructure, developed countries suffered more than undeveloped countries. The fact that there have been fewer occurrences of bioterrorism should never lead us to believe that such assaults are impossible. The failure of the globe to deal with Covid-19 casts doubt on the efficacy of safeguards in the event of bioterrorism. The medical community, as well as the general public, must learn how to respond in the event of such an assault. At the international level, vigorous standards that constrain the development and use of such weapons in any capacity are urgently needed.



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  1. September 5, 2021

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