Living Weapons

Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security

Gregory D. Koblentz
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Living Weapons
    Book Description:

    "Biological weapons are widely feared, yet rarely used. Biological weapons were the first weapon prohibited by an international treaty, yet the proliferation of these weapons increased after they were banned in 1972. Biological weapons are frequently called 'the poor man's atomic bomb,' yet they cannot provide the same deterrent capability as nuclear weapons. One of my goals in this book is to explain the underlying principles of these apparent paradoxes."-from Living Weapons

    Biological weapons are the least well understood of the so-called weapons of mass destruction. Unlike nuclear and chemical weapons, biological weapons are composed of, or derived from, living organisms. In Living Weapons, Gregory D. Koblentz provides a comprehensive analysis of the unique challenges that biological weapons pose for international security. At a time when the United States enjoys overwhelming conventional military superiority, biological weapons have emerged as an attractive means for less powerful states and terrorist groups to wage asymmetric warfare.

    Koblentz also warns that advances in the life sciences have the potential to heighten the lethality and variety of biological weapons. The considerable overlap between the equipment, materials and knowledge required to develop biological weapons, conduct civilian biomedical research, and develop biological defenses creates a multiuse dilemma that limits the effectiveness of verification, hinders civilian oversight, and complicates threat assessments.

    Living Weapons draws on the American, Soviet, Russian, South African, and Iraqi biological weapons programs to enhance our understanding of the special challenges posed by these weapons for arms control, deterrence, civilian-military relations, and intelligence. Koblentz also examines the aspirations of terrorist groups to develop these weapons and the obstacles they have faced. Biological weapons, Koblentz argues, will continue to threaten international security until defenses against such weapons are improved, governments can reliably detect biological weapon activities, the proliferation of materials and expertise is limited, and international norms against the possession and use of biological weapons are strengthened.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5890-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acronyms and Scientific Terms
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction: The Threat of Biological Weapons
    (pp. 1-8)

    On February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell issued a dire warning to the United Nations Security Council in an effort to convince the international community that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in violation of Security Council resolutions. He stated: “There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more. And he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death and destruction.”¹ Powell’s presentation to the Security Council, drawing on previously classified intelligence on Iraq’s WMD programs, was...

  6. 1 Offense, Defense, and Deterrence
    (pp. 9-52)

    Biological warfare is the use of microorganisms, toxins derived from living organisms, or bioregulators to deliberately cause the death or illness of humans, plants, or animals.¹ Biological weapons are unique among the instruments of warfare because they are composed of, or derived from, living organisms. This feature of biological weapons has several important implications for their use in warfare and their impact on international security.

    Disease-causing microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi are called pathogens. Pathogens require a human, plant, or animal host in order to multiply and cause disease. Because these organisms are self-reproducing, a small dose can...

  7. 2 Verification
    (pp. 53-105)

    Preventing the spread of biological weapons is perhaps the most difficult proliferation challenge facing the international community. This does not mean that traditional arms control and nonproliferation tools should be abandoned, but policymakers must recognize that such measures are less effective at halting the spread of biological weapons than other types of weapons. Verification, the ability to confirm whether a nation is complying with its obligations, is the foundation of effective arms control and disarmament. Fortunately, during the cold war, the most threatening military forces—strategic nuclear weapons—required large industrial facilities to develop, produce, and test them. These facilities...

  8. 3 Oversight
    (pp. 106-140)

    On January 29, 1997, the South African police’s narcotics bureau made a routine drug bust. In a sting operation, they caught a Pretoria cardiologist handing over 1,040 capsules of the drug Ecstasy to a business acquaintance in return for 60,000 rand in cash. The target of the sting, however, was no ordinary cardiologist. He was Dr. Wouter Basson, the former head of South Africa’s apartheid-era chemical and biological weapons program, code-named Project Coast. The arrest triggered a series of events that led to the exposure of the sordid history and nefarious activities of the top-secret program. Trafficking in illegal street...

  9. 4 Intelligence
    (pp. 141-199)

    In October 2002, the U.S. intelligence community published a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. One of the key judgments of this highly influential report was that “all key aspects—R&D, production, and weaponization—of Iraq’s offensive BW program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf war.”¹ This program was believed to include multiple mobile BW agent production units; a stockpile of lethal and incapacitating BW agents, including B. anthracis and possibly variola virus and genetically engineered agents; and related munitions and delivery systems. The...

  10. 5 Biological Terrorism
    (pp. 200-227)

    The prospect of a terrorist group acquiring and using biological weapons has become one of the most feared threats to international security. According to then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “the most important under-addressed threat relating to terrorism, and one which acutely requires new thinking on the part of the international community, is that of terrorists using a biological weapon.”¹ In 2008, the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism judged that it was more likely than not that a biological terrorist attack would take place within five years.² The intelligence community estimates that of the...

  11. Conclusion: Reducing the Danger Posed by Biological Weapons
    (pp. 228-244)

    Biological weapons present a number of paradoxes and dilemmas. They are widely feared, yet rarely used. They were the first weapon prohibited by an international treaty, yet the proliferation of these weapons increased after the ban. They are frequently called the poor man’s atomic bomb, yet they cannot provide the same deterrent value as nuclear weapons. In addition, the technology needed to produce these weapons is also a source of huge benefits to global society. Finally, those who use this technology whether for good or for evil shroud their activities in secrecy.

    These findings bode ill for a world where...

  12. Index
    (pp. 245-256)