“the threat or use of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) is a likely condition of future warfare, including in the early stages of war to disrupt U.S. operations and logistics.”6

In addition to the risk of countries developing BW as an agent of war, there is growing concern that terrorists might add BW to their arsenals.7 Terrorist use of biological agents could cause extensive casualties —and terrorists may not be as concerned about precision, predictability, and timeliness as regular military forces. Furthermore, a massive infrastructure is not necessary to create a deadly arsenal of these weapons.8 To date, terrorist use has been confined to a few small incidents affecting a limited number of people. However, the efforts of the Aum Shinrikyo cult to master biological agents for broader use, although never fully realized, underscore the potential threat.9

Preventing, deterring, and responding to the risks posed by the availability of BW thus constitute a key security challenge facing the United States and the international community in the post-Cold War period.


The international community has responded to the threat of BW by constructing an international regime to ban their development, production, stockpiling, and use and to prevent countries and subnational groups from acquiring them. The 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibits the use of “bacteriological methods of warfare” as well as chemical weapons in war (see Appendix D for full text). Since the protocol bans only the use of bacteriological (biological) methods of warfare, a number of countries, including the United States and the former Soviet Union, developed offensive and defensive BW capabilities.10 In 1969, however, President Nixon unconditionally renounced U.S. involvement in all methods of biological warfare, paving the way for negotiation of the 1972 BWC. (See Appendix E for full text.)

The BWC goes beyond the Geneva Protocol to ban the development, production, and stockpiling of bacteriological (biological) weapons and their means of delivery. Article X of the BWC explicitly permits research on and use of biological agents and toxins for peaceful purposes, acknowledging the fundamental dual-use dilemma. (The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Chemical Weapons Convention also contain provisions recognizing that nonproliferation measures should not deny parties to the treaty access to the peaceful benefits of technology.) Article X further declares that states parties “in a position to do so shall also cooperate in contributing individually or together with other states or international organizations to the further development and application of


U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). 1997. Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review. Washington, D.C.: DOD Office of Public Affairs, p. 13.


See, for example, Kaufmann, A. F., Meltzer, M. L., and Schmid, G. P. 1997. The economic impact of a bioterrorist attack: Are prevention and postattack intervention programs justified? Emerg. Infect. Dis. 3: 83-94.


Director of Central Intelligence. 1997. The Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, July-December 1996. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, p. 3.


Olson, K. B. 1995. Testimony to the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Government Affairs, October 31, p. 16. The Aum cult was unsuccessful in its attempts to develop and use effective biological agents; whether the group would have succeeded eventually cannot be known. See Kaplan, D. E. and Marshall, A. 1996. The Cult at the End of the World. New York, N.Y.: Crown Publishers.


In addition, a number of countries, including the United States, did not promptly ratify the protocol. U.S. ratification of the protocol came in 1975 at the same time as its ratification of the BWC. The Soviet Union ratified the Geneva Protocol in 1928 and the BWC in 1975. See ACDA. 1990. Arms Control and Disarmament Agreements: Texts and Histories of the Negotiations. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, pp. 15-18.

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