Is Biological warfare or Bioterrorism an emerging threat in the 21st. century?
During the late 20th. and early 21st. century, the threat perception of global terrorism was that of nuclear detonation. That of some rogue elements getting access on some kind of nuclear trigger. A possibility of some sort of nuclear detonation, maybe in the form of some dirty bomb. Nations across the world, particularly the United States and European countries formed global alliances for nuclear non-proliferation so that nations across the world, which have possible enmitity among themselves, should never have the technology and infrastructure to use the nuclear power for any possible destruction.
In May 1998, India tested its’ second nuclear detonation test in Pokhran range of Rajasthan, India. Five days later, Pakistan also did their first nuclear detonation in the Chagai District of Balochistan Province. As both the countries are up with arms with each other, the world powers started worring about a nuclear showdown, specially when Pakistan started blabbering about its’ use during the Kargil War that followed soon after. However, as the United States kept a strict vigil on Pakistani establishment, the war does not reached such point.
Soon after Pakistan successfully detonated the nuclear bomb, it discreetly started selling these technologies to North Korea (in return of missile technologies) and Iran. However, under huge pressure from the United States following sanctions, the proliferation was somehow put to check. But intelligence agencies across the world kept a close tab to make the materials and technologies out of reach to terrorist factions all over the globe.
Nuclear enrichment technology is not something that not only require money but also involves minds and processes. Terrorists across the globe knows that enriching Uranium is not something you could just fixing nuts and bolts and connecting to a timer trigger. Also, they knew that America would hound them out if they even think of procuring one over the counter (type) to use it anywhere. The footprint would go a long way to catch hold of the root and US is very strict of any sort of detonation that even have trace of nuclear enrichment.
In 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment in Iran — twice. For years Iran had denied that they had a nuclear weapons program, so they declared that the materials were secondhand, originating from another country. Pakistan — and in turn the Pakistani scientist Dr. AQ Khan was implicated.
However, the outbreak of coronavirus from Chinese provice of Wuhan in early November 2019 and turning out into a global pandemic within barely 6 months, took the world into surprise. The year 2020 witnessed the worst medical disaster of human history in last 100 years. Though the origin is yet unconfirmed, but if sources are to be believed, the Bio-laboratory in Wuhan, which was actually doing a research on Novel Coronavirus somehow leaked the deadly virus from the contaiment units and the worst happened.
This global pandemic has made the intelligence agencies ponder upon the prospect of similar bio-hazard material that the terrorists might lay their hands upon. For one, it does not need bombs or missiles to detonate. The carrier could well be a 16 year boy boarded a flight full of 200 passengers who from then on can be termed as carriers then onwards. This would reduce all the hassles of logistical necessities involed in transporting and detonating the bomb. There would be no nuclear signature anywhere but still a large segment of a population would be infected.
Secondly, the direct source would remain mostly undetected. For a long period, the Chinese authorities blamed on United States for the transmission of the virus. Till today, people are not 100% accurate about the ground zero of the virus. It would be much easier for the first infected individual (knowing or unknowingly) to just get admitted to a hospital with a normal flu syndrome and spread such viral outbreak from then thereon.
Third and probably the most important, the availibility. Research on viral strains are done throughout America, Europe and even few countries in Asia, particularly China and India. Indian R&D on chemical and biological strains are quite popular throughout the world. The fact that India emerged as one of the handful countries quickly developing vaccine of this coronavirus tells a large amount of such research which India invests upon. Countries which do the R&D with such chemical and biological materials could well be sitting ducks in the hands of terrorists. All they have to do is to inflitrate and contaminate. Thereon, the implecations are foretelling.
To counter this threat, countries which do such level of R&D should unite and find ways to keep a strong check on available bio-hazard materials and should not proliferate technologies which can then be put to ‘use’ by the so called ‘non-state actors’ to any detriment. Global awareness on bio-terrorism should be re-instated (there are already protocols) and re-visited regarding handling and use of such dangerous virus strains and vaccination.
According to Dr. Stefan Riedel’s article on Bioterrorism “Because of the increased threat of terrorism, the risk posed by various microorganisms as biological weapons needs to be evaluated and the historical development and use of biological agents better understood. Biological warfare agents may be more potent than conventional and chemical weapons. During the past century, the progress made in biotechnology and biochemistry has simplified the development and production of such weapons. In addition, genetic engineering holds perhaps the most dangerous potential. Ease of production and the broad availability of biological agents and technical know how have led to a further spread of biological weapons and an increased desire among developing countries to have them.”
So at the end of the day, we are that much safe till there is another disaster of similar sorts pending to take place.
Dr. Stefan Riedel’s article on Bioterrorism is available on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1200679/