By John Erath
Despite the name, this blog is about more than nuclear weapons. Today, it is time to discuss a different hazard: biological weapons. Sadly, bio weapons are almost as old as war itself. Ancient histories recount cases where diseased animals were used to introduce pathogens into besieged cities. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, although not originating from a biological weapons program, has demonstrated how disease outbreaks can have global implications. The possible widespread effects of biological weapons use have taken on new significance in light of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine.
Unlike with nuclear weapons, Russia, thus far, has not directly threatened to use its biological capabilities against Ukraine or Ukraine’s friends. In fact, Russia has not acknowledged that it retains any biological capabilities, although most observers believe a program remains active. Although such weapons are prohibited by the Biological Weapons Convention, to which Russia is a party, it is probable that Moscow has some capabilities and could be considering their use. Chemical weapons are similarly banned by international agreement, but that prohibition did not stop the Putin regime from employing chemical agents against its enemies.
It is time to face this possibility again because Moscow is again talking about bio weapons – not their own, but the fanciful tale that Ukraine could be developing a military capability at U.S.-supported research facilities. While it is easy to dismiss these claims by Kremlin mouthpieces given their sheer absurdity, this is a serious matter.
Misinformation about Ukrainian research goes beyond evoking bad science fiction; it is a step in the standard Russian playbook. When facing criticism for such problems as human rights violations, economic mismanagement or the environmental effects of nuclear tests, Soviet, and later Russian governments, have typically tried to establish equivalency with western shortcomings as though to imply, for example, that the after effects of U.S. nuclear tests on local populations exonerate Russia from responsibility for addressing the legacy of its own tests in Central Asia. Given this practice, it is reasonable to question whether the current propaganda campaign might be intended to lay groundwork for claims of parallelism should Russia decide to use its biological capabilities in support of its military goals.
Such a policy would be beyond irresponsible. China has still not answered questions about COVID’s origin, leaving open the possibility it could have escaped from a civilian lab and has resulted in millions of deaths. A virus deliberately engineered as a weapon and set loose could be far worse.
Although we can make light of the more outrageous claims, the possibility that they could be associated with consideration of biological weapons use demands action. Apart from refuting the absurdity, the U.S. government should be employing all diplomatic means to reinforce the unacceptability of any use of biological, as well as nuclear, weapons and building an international consensus behind this view.