Also referred to as germ warfare, biological warfare is defined as the use of biological toxins and infectious agents, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, which incapacitate or causes injuries to animals, plants and, of course, humans as an act of war. For the weapons used, they are said to replicate living organisms and entities that are reproducing within the host victims. They may be used in several ways to gain strategic or tactical over adversaries, threats and deployments.
This type of warfare for offensive purposes was outlawed in 1972, and the treaty that outlawed the practice was ratified by 170 nations. Also, the Geneva Protocol of 1925 prohibits the utilization of biological weapons. You might think that biological warfare is a modern practice, but in fact, its first use dates back to the 6th century, where the Assyrians put a fungus in their enemies’ water supplies to make them less effective at fighting. So, are there pros and cons to consider with this type of warfare? Certainly, there are.
List of Pros of Biological Warfare
1. It can end a war very quickly.
Many components of biological warfare are highly concentrated, so just a few drops of certain bacteria, toxins and other agents can literally kill millions of people once they hit the water supply or air within a community. Also, they eliminate enemy population quickly in an effective manner without the kind of destruction a nuclear bomb would cause if detonated in a certain place.
2. It is highly efficient.
One huge advantage of biological warfare is that it is efficient. In fact, a single gram of agents, like the botulinum toxin, used in a biological weapon can kill millions of individuals.
3. It is cheap and relatively easy to make.
Partially because of being cheap and easy to make, biological weapons are considered effectively deadly. In a literal sense, anyone can create their own crude biological weapon, if he had flu and would leave samples of the virus in a container, wherein he can manage to keep it alive over time.
4. Its weapons are extremely easy to disperse.
As an example, if the government received information about a place where terrorists settle down, it could introduce a biological weapon over the area, which would effectively eliminate the threat instantly due to the disease spreading from one person to another, eventually removing the encampment from existence and securing protection for the rest of society.
5. It could be used by any nation.
Biological weapons are called the “Lazy Man’s Atomic Bomb” due to their ease of production. Any country with a reasonably advanced medical and pharmaceutical industry would be capable of mass producing biological weapons. This is also the fact that leads to problems with identifying which countries have a biological warfare program.
List of Cons of Biological Warfare
1. It is never 100% effective.
In spite of their deadly nature, research found that 1% to 10% of the world’s general population is naturally immune to the compounds that have been integrated in to many of biological weapons. This means that a nation would be forced to expose their own soldiers to these compounds to effectively remove an enemy population and to make sure survivors could be eliminated.
2. It causes a massive amount of collateral damage.
Of course, there are definitely civilians who are not actively participating in whatever conflict is going on in any given population. Biological warfare can eliminate the entire population, and not just the military forces, which mean that a toxin to be released in a region of millions could potentially murder all of them in the name of war.
3. Its weapons are unpredictable.
In many instances where biological weapons were used, there was great risk that the offensive country could infect their own troops with compounds that were originally meant for its adversary. What’s worse, some components can live for a longer period in the water or soil, which means that a place can be unusable for years or decades.
4. Its biological agents are “live” in nature.
One huge disadvantage of biological warfare concerns the “live” nature of the biological agents used. The weapons explode once, kill hundreds of people and maim thousands of others, but the agents are still active spreading their effects further across a country or even a continent.
5. It is hated by most people.
People do not like biological weapons. However, if these weapons are used on them, they would not be able to complain much since they would already be dead. Now, imagine the leader of the offensive country being accused by the media of using a biological weapon for military gain. He would surely receive unfavorable comments.
6. It can be used for terrorism.
Biological weaponry has managed to enter the realm of terrorism with the anthrax attack in the US in 2001. It was delivered through the country’s mail system and affected citizens in various states. All in all, there were 27 casualties, with 5 people dead and 22 others seriously got ill. The perpetrator, so far, has remained unknown, but there was clear evidence that some terrorist groups, such as the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo and Al-Qaeda, were considering and experimenting with biological weapons. Fortunately, there have been no other lethal terrorist attacks like that one since then.
7. It is associated with a nasty stigma.
It is important to note that biological warfare has a nasty consequence with its use. Imagine this: a child affected by the biological agent bleeding out of every orifice of his body and getting his internal organs liquefied and saturated with particles of the infectious Ebola virus. A national leader accused of purposely causing it to happen would not be very popular for very long.
There are good reasons why most countries have banned biological warfare for offensive purposes. There are just too many innocent people who can get hurt when weapons are released. By weighing these pros and cons, everyone can decide if it should be a viable tactic for modern warfare.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.