Biological weapons can significantly change the battlefield. Today's leaders must always be on the watch for new threats that can arise in newly designed ways. The enemy is always planning to expose weaknesses in the defense. Biological weaponry is such a technology that can bring devastating effects and exploit weaknesses both tactically and strategically. The purpose of this essay is to examine the appeal of biological weapons to terrorist organizations. I will accomplish this by first defining what biological warfare is and give context to the usage of the idea of terrorism's relationship to these types of arms. I will then explore specific advantages and disadvantages to the use of biological warfare. By comparing and contrasting biological warfare to both nuclear and chemical warfare, the differences will be more clearly understood.
Language and understanding must relate through common definitions and is important to discern between important terms in order to fully comprehend an argument with such enormous impact as biological warfare. According the Encyclopedia Britannica, biological warfare is "any of a number of disease-producing agents -- such as bacteria, viruses, rickettsiae, fungi, toxins, or other biological agents -- that may be utilized as weapons against humans, animals, or plants."[footnoteRef:1] It is important to note that unlike chemical weapons, biological weapons are living organisms that have great potential to both act in its own best interest of survival and replicate or reproduce. [1: Encyclopedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/938340/biological-weapon (accessed 11 Jan, 2013).]
Terrorism is a more difficult term to understand because its usage is often used in many ways. Terrorism is essentially a tactic of warfare. It is psychological of nature and allows for rogue groups of minimal numbers to use such a tactic. Terrorism is often conflated with Islamic radicalism, often to the determent of clearer understanding. Any person or group of persons can become terrorists simply by utilizing the tactic in a strategic fashion. To emphasize the psychological impact of biological weapons, in a World War I incident, of 281 soldiers admitted to a referral center field hospital, 90 were true gas casualties and the rest were victims of "gas mania." Of the 5,510 persons who sought medical treatment from the 1995 sarin attack in Tokyo, 12 died, 17 were critically injured, 1,370 had mild to moderate injuries, and the other 4,000 had no or minimal injuries.[footnoteRef:2] Many, perhaps most, persons involved in such an incident will exhibit fear, anxiety, or more serious disorders of mood, behavior, or cognition, especially if the perceived threat is a biological weapon that can spread silently from person to person.[footnoteRef:3] [2: Cleto DiGiovanni, MD. "Domestic Terrorism With Chemical or Biological Agents; Psychiatric Aspects." The American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol 156, NO 10 p.1. http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleID=173732 (accessed 11 Jan, 2013. ] [3: Ibid]
Advantages and Disadvantages of Biological Weapons
The first major advantage of biological weapons is their impact on the psyche of the target. Wars and battles are won on the mental level, and any disruption to the thought processes of combatants serves the wielder of this tactic more effective. Biological weapons, therefore do not need to be terribly effective in their actual physical harming capabilities.[footnoteRef:4] In fact, despite the advances in society, not many new biological weapons have been formed in recent history. [4: Mark Kortepeter & Gerald W. Parker. "Potential Weapons Threats." Emerging Infectious Diseases, 5, 4 July August 1999, p. 526. ]
Some suggest that biological weapons are not practical however. While terrorists are increasingly interested in weapons of mass destruction, proponents of the latter view exaggerate the threat. Using biological weapons to create mass casualties would require more than having biological agents in hand. The terrorists would need to disseminate the agent, which presents technical and organizational obstacles that few domestic groups could surmount. In addition, relatively few terrorists would want to kill millions of people, even if they could. [footnoteRef:5] [5: Jessica Stern."The Prospect of Domestic Bioterrorism." Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol 5, 4, July August 1999 p. 517.]
Stern is convinced that terrorism with biological weapons is likely to remain a rare occurrence. This is most likely due to optimist thinking because of the substantial damage that would be inflicted in the case of a biological weapon being exposed. Mother nature is very intuitive in terms of self correcting certain…