Many people in western culture are terrified of the concept of biological weapons because it has the ability to wipe out whole populations. The biological agent used in this sense may be anything from a viable microorganism to a potent byproduct of the organism’s metabolic processes. The ability of biological agents to harm vast populations and when used in small quantity demonstrates the lethality of biological warfare. For a long time, the world has been aware of its ability and has attempted to develop strategies that would safeguard the human race in the event of a biological weapons attack. However, I am of the opinion that the policies in place are not sufficient and the world would struggle to deal with any form of biological warfare.
Infectious diseases have played a significant role in shaping the history of the world. Outbreaks of such diseases are a threat to people around the world. While most of the outbreaks referred to are natural, malicious individuals may interfere with nature and influence disease spread. This is the basis of using infectious agents as weapons against other human beings. Of particular concern, in this context, is the manipulation of infectious agents that are new or relatively unmown. This increases the lethal nature of biological warfare since immediate response would not be possible. The argument that the world is not ready to tackle biological warfare is based on a couple of factors surrounding the nature of biological weapons and government policy. If a part of the world were to be attacked, we would be virtually helpless.
The first argument, in this case, is that there are not enough measures restricting the production of biological weapons and ensuring that the general public is protected from such threats. Hylton explains how a senior member of the US department of security was able to access the White House with a weaponized powder of an anthrax-like bacterium known as Bacillus globigii (n.p.). This happened weeks after the 9/11 attacks when everyone was on high alert. The author of the newspaper article argues that guards at the White House who performed a thorough check on the General were looking for the wrong things. This poses a serious problem in dealing with biological weapons since even a commonplace object such as a doorknob or even a handshake can transform into poison. Biological warfare is dependent on a variety of factors which include the agent used, the degree of weaponization, the amount realized, and the method of delivery (Hylton). An individual with the technical skills and a good laboratory can work around these variables and produce a potent weapon. Material threats with regards to biological agents include Ebola virus, anthrax, and plague. There is a growing threat that terrorists will resort to such weapons in the near future. According to a task-force report cited in the newspaper article, the United States cannot “rapidly recognize, respond, and recover from a biological attack.” This is a damning state of affairs especially considering the US is the world’s strongest nation.
The second argument, with regard to biological warfare, is that global policies on the topic are weak thus limiting the world’s ability to deal with biological warfare. The “Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention” (BWTC) prohibited signatories from using biological weapons. The BWTC is binding to 170 countries which agreed to stop research in biological weapons. However, the BWTC lacks inspection mechanisms. A country can easily hide a biological weapons program within infrastructure dealing with biotechnology. The convention does not specify which biological agents are prohibited which leads to a level of ambiguity (Jansen, Breeveld, Stijnis, and Grobusch 489). The weaknesses of the convention mean that a country can research biological weapons under the radar which makes the world a less safe place with regard to biological warfare.
The third argument concerning global readiness in the case of biological warfare is the dismal response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa a few years ago. The world has no system to deal with disease outbreaks and epidemics (Bill Gates). The fatalities due to the outbreak could have been much lower if there could have been a rapid response team of experts to mitigate the spread of the disease. Bill Gates argues that the fact that Ebola is not airborne limited its spread across the world. This wouldn’t be the case with a weaponized, airborne pathogen. If the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic were to happen today, Gates argues that more than 30 million people would die. This illustrates how lethal a biological weapon using a potent airborne agent. If the world’s nations were to come together and form a team of experts to respond to such situations, we should be ready and prepared to deal with any biological attack.
The three sources used in this paper approach the issue of biological warfare from different angles. While the newspaper article reviews developments in the United States, the journal article and Ted talk adopt a more global perspective. Besides the different levels of formality, all sources explain the state of affairs regarding biological warfare in the modern world. Bill Gates goes a step forward and proposes how government authorities around the world could be more prepared to deal with disease outbreaks and biological attacks. All sources agree that much has to be done to deal with biological warfare more comprehensively. It is, therefore, up to global leaders to prioritize biological welfare in their defense budgets to prevent any calamities in the future.
Gates, Bill. “The Next Outbreak? We’re Not Ready.” TED 2015. [Video].
Hylton, Wil S. “How Ready Are We for Bioterrorism?” The New York Times Magazine. 26 Oct. 2011. Web. 9 Nov. 2017.
Jansen, H.J., F.J. Breeveld, C. Stijnis, and M.P. Grobusch. “Biological Warfare, Bioterrorism, and Biocrime.” Clinical Microbiology and Infection, 20.6 (2014): 488-496.