Pros and Cons of Biological Warfare


Biological warfare (BW) has been practiced for a long time. The Assyrians poisoned their enemies with a fungus that made them delirious in the 6th century BC. By 1900, germ theory and advances in bacteriology made it possible to use bio-agents in war. In 1925, the Geneva Protocol forbid the use of chemical and biological weapons.

Even if this was the case, countries still established BW programs and in the case of the Imperial Japanese Army Unit 731, such weapons were used on prisoners. However, several countries came into agreement via the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention to outlaw the mass production, stockpiling and use of biological weapons. Given that germ warfare has been used in the past, let’s look at the pros and cons regarding such actions.

List of Pros of Biological Warfare

1. It creates an unparalleled level of destruction and loss of life.
The level of destruction and loss of life that can be achieved with BW is much more than that of chemical, conventional and nuclear weapons. While some biological agents take time to become effective, BW’s main draw is it eliminates a lot with only so little.

Think about casualties of diseases compared to those of war. For example, the Spanish flu of 1918 claimed around 50 too 100 million lives while the First World War resulted in around nine million deaths.

2. It is not that expensive to make.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found an anthrax weapon can be created with just $2,500 using readily available laboratory equipment. Seven days after the events of September 11, 2001, anonymous letters laced with deadly anthrax spores arrived at several media companies and congressional offices.

The attack resulted in five deaths and 17 infections; investigators were convinced that the person behind the attacks was a lone wolf able to create anthrax using basic laboratory equipment.

3. It can be controlled to a certain degree.
Some bio-agents can be modified to only affect a certain environmental range. A concern of using BW is that it may affect the ones on the offensive but this can be prevented using bacteria as it can be altered to hit just the target.

List of Cons of Biological Warfare

1. It might not be 100% effective.
While bio-agents can be manufactured quickly, cheaply and easily, the problem lies in its effective use as a weapon, its storage and its delivery. For instance, Bacillus anthracis is considered an effective agent as it can be dispersed through aerosols and has a 90% fatality rate in untreated patients. However, it is not transmissible from person to person and some are protected thanks to antibiotics.

2. It results in massive loss of life.
Civilians should never be harmed when two countries decide to war against each other. Yet, BW can result in the death of an entire population, depending on the agent used and the level of its severity.

3. It is unpredictable.
Some biological components may live on longer than intended. For example, the may enter the water supply and continue to cause chaos long after a war has concluded.

War is terrible and so is the use of bio-agents to eliminate the perceived enemy. Although pros and cons of BW are weighed here, it’s clear that using germ warfare doesn’t always produce the necessary results expected by the offensive party.