Why Use Biological Weapons?
The first attempts at biological warfare were probably throwing dead animals into an enemy’s wells. In modern times biological warfare agents use diseases aimed at humans or animals. During World War II the Allies — Canada, Great Britain and the U.S. — started a major biological warfare research and development program in response to a perceived biowarfare threat from Germany. It turns out Germany had no such program, but Japan did have one that remained undetected until after the war. During the Cold War the Soviet Union developed a large, sophisticated biological warfare capability that probably would have been effective if used in war. Most other attempts to develop and use biological weapons before and since have not succeeded because of technical difficulties.
President Nixon disbanded the U.S. biological warfare offensive program in 1969 but the Soviets continued their program until President Yeltsin declared it disbanded in 1992. The Clinton administration spends 10 to 12 billion dollars each year to protect our military and civilian populations against biological threats from terrorists or rogue nations. However the major proportion of the biological threat to the U.S. comes from nature in the form of emergent diseases and antibiotic resistant bacteria. Our current defensive program is strengthening our abilty to respond to infectious diseases in general. The benefits of this program will be an increased ability of our public health system to deal with infectious diseases whatever the source. We spoke with Raymond Zelinskas about the history of biowarfare and its current status.