biological warfare

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Related to Biological weapons: Chemical weapons, Biological Weapons Convention

biological warfare

biological warfare, employment in war of microorganisms to injure or destroy people, animals, or crops; also called germ or bacteriological warfare. Limited attempts have been made in the past to spread disease among the enemy; e.g., military leaders in the French and Indian Wars tried to spread smallpox among the Native Americans. Biological warfare has scarcely been used in modern times and was prohibited by the 1925 Geneva Convention. However, many nations in the 20th cent. conducted research to develop suitable military microorganisms, including strains of smallpox, anthrax, plague, and some nonlethal agents. Such microorganisms can be delivered by animals (especially rodents or insects) or by aerosol packages, built into artillery shells or the warheads of ground-to-ground or air-to-ground missiles and released into the atmosphere to infect by inhalation.

In 1972 the United States and the Soviet Union adopted an agreement, endorsed by the UN General Assembly and now ratified by more than 140 nations, to destroy existing stockpiles of biological weapons and refrain from developing or stockpiling new biological weapons. The treaty does allow research for defensive purposes, such as to develop antidotes to biological weapons. After the fall of the Soviet Union, however, it was disclosed that the Soviets had secretly increased research and production of a wide variety of deadly biological agents. Although Russian president Boris Yeltsin publicly ordered (1992) the abandonment of germ warfare, some expressed suspicion about the continued production of biological weapons in post–cold war Russia.

With the rise of extremist groups and the disintegration of the established international political order in the late 20th cent., biological weapons again began to be perceived as a serious threat. In the 1990s, after the Persian Gulf War, five hidden germ-warfare laboratories and stockpiles of anthrax, botulism, and gas gangrene bacteria were discovered in Iraq. In addition to Iraq and Russia, North Korea, Iran, Egypt, Israel, China, and other nations are suspected of various violations of the 1972 agreement.

In 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, anthrax was sent through the mail in bioterrorist attacks against several locations in the United States. There was, however, no clear connection between the two terror attacks. In an attempt to develop a warning system for a bioterror attack, the Environmental Protection Agency's air quality monitoring system was adapted (2003) to permit detection of an outdoor release of smallpox and other pathogens. Such a system, however, would not have detected the narrowly focused indoor anthrax attacks of 2001.

See also chemical warfare.


See study by J. Miller et al. (2001).

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biological warfare

[¦bī·ə¦läj·ə·kəl ′wȯr‚fer]
Abbreviated BW.
Employment of living microorganisms, toxic biological products, and plant growth regulators to produce death or injury in humans, animals, or plants.
Defense against such action.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
Counter to their promises and despite receiving generous funding from the United States, Russian authorities continuously refused to allow foreign inspectors to visit key military biological facilities of the former Soviet biological weapons program.
The first one, dated February 21, 1952 (one day before the North Korean foreign minister's public statement), is only a small fragment of Mao's message to Stalin, reporting that the US used biological weapons, "delivered by aircraft and artillery." The remaining eleven documents all date from between April 13 and June 2, 1953, the month immediately following the death of Stalin.
Smith considers the possibility that military policy in regard to biological weapons and defence against them could have been formed in the post-Second World War world on the basis of a realist appreciation of the potential and the danger of such weapons.
All things considered, The Soviet Biological Weapons Program is relevant and worthwhile to the Air Force community.
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Biological weapons are silent until they explode in epidemics or pandemics.
President Bashar Assad's regime has stockpiled chemical and biological weapons since the 1970s, including sarin nerve gas, Tabon gas, VX gas and mustard blister agent.
When one considers the potential of a lesser state actor or a terrorist group to develop and use biological weapons against a militarily superior force, one is forced to ask when the use of this weapon will occur, not if.
Next, we provide a description of the evolution of the biological weapons regime, ending with an overview of the 2001 proposed verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and subsequent efforts to strengthen the regime.
Despite the warnings, however, Tony Blair told the Commons Saddam did have chemical and biological weapons when he made the case for war on the eve of the invasion, in March, 2003.
The list of diseases that could be caused by the biological weapons includes cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, eruptive typhus, typhoid fever and dysentery, it said.
The phrase "biology happens" represents the balanced point of view underlying the work of the Office of Biological Weapons Affairs in the Bureau of Verification, Compliance and Implementation.

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