The COVID-19 pandemic introduced the world to a whole new level of threat with bioweapons. Many people around the globe believed that the SARS-Cov-2 virus was engineered in a laboratory in Wuhan. These conspiracy theories, though baseless, raised several concerns about bioweapons and their role in potential biological warfares in the future.
What are Bioweapons?
Biological weapons or bioweapons include microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi, or poisonous compounds produced by microorganisms. These compounds are engineered and deliberately released in nature with the intention to spread diseases, harm people, animals, or the environment.
The use of bioweapons can cause deaths on a large scale as it is another subset of weaponry also referred to as weapons of mass destruction. These include nuclear weapons, radiological weapons, and chemical weapons. The deployment of such weapons in nature can cause epidemics and increase the risk of bioterrorism.
A brief history of Bioweapons and Biological warfare
The history is filled with multiple instances wherein bioweapons were used as destructive agents:
- During the French and Indian war of the 18th century AD, Sir Jeffrey Amherst instructed British forces to distribute blankets previously used by smallpox victims to Native Americans in order to spread the disease.
- The battle of Tortona in the 12th century AD witnessed the use of decomposed bodies of soldiers to poison wells. A similar feat was repeated in 1710 when Russian soldiers catapulted dead bodies of people in Estonia who had died from the plague.
- During the American Civil War, the Confederate Army was alleged of the attempted use of smallpox to cause disease among enemy forces.
- World War I saw the Germans developing anthrax, cholera, glanders and a wheat fungus to use as bioweapons. They were also responsible for spreading the plague in St. Petersburg, Russia, and infected mules with glanders in Mesopotamia.
- The Viet Cong Guerrillas during the Vietnam war made use of needle-sharp punji sticks dipped in feces to cause severe infections to enemy soldiers after being stabbed.
Biological warfare: The future of wars
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) categorizes lethal threat agents for bioterrorism as “Category A”. Diseases falling under this category hold the ability to cause mass destruction. The list contains recognizable names like anthrax, botulism, plague, smallpox, tularemia, and viral hemorrhagic fevers (including Ebola and Marburg viruses) which have a history of causing human sufferings over the centuries.
Few of these listed bioweapons are considered “desirable” for use as weapons by state-funded programs. There is also a scoring system for these properties developed by Soviet scientists which tells us why future wars can be fought using bioweapons.
Easy to Manufacture: Category A agents are easy to manufacture in large quantities to be sprayed over a population. Bioweapons are manufactured through fermentation or production in cell culture. Though coronavirus is harder to grow than bacteria, it is not impossible.
Atmospheric Stability: Unlike the SARS-CoV-2 virus which is not very efficient outdoors or under sunlight, the key property of bioweapons is its atmospheric stability or the ability of the virus to survive in the atmosphere for a longer duration in order to use it on battlefields.
Contagious: Bioweapons are contagious in nature which makes the job much easier as it spreads rapidly. However, countries manufacturing and using bioweapons should have a countermeasure prepared in case the wind blows in the opposite direction and haunts their own nation.
A good percentage of infected people fall sick: Another key aspect of bioweapons is how it makes masses vulnerable to sickness with no identifiable cure. This gives rise to mass deaths until a definite cure is found which is in itself a time taking process.
Responsibility at hand
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions on a global scale, there is a huge possibility of biological warfare in the future. In an era of science where most countries are well equipped with advanced technology and brilliant scientists, the development and use of bioweapons for mass destruction is not a far-fetched thought.
In fact, many countries like the U.S, China, Russia, Iran, and more possess serious stockpiles of bioweapons ready to be used if and when required. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, countries are now aware of the consequences that they can face if these bioweapons are released with little to no precautions.
The bigger threat that the world faces is bioterrorism. Terrorist organizations are not accountable to anybody and hence can make use of bioweapons to simply hurt the masses with no real intent.
Countries should take responsibility and prepare preventive measures to face such high-scale threats. With proper funding, countries can collectively tackle epidemics and bioweapons by anticipating these threats on time.