Although the envelope resembled a letter from a fourth grade student, the contents addressed to Senator Tom Daschle were life threatening. Laced within the envelope was a form of the bacteria known as Bacillus Anthracis, bacteria more commonly known as anthrax. When exposed to humans, an anthrax infection leads to the release of toxins, which if not properly treated are fatal (cnn.com). Around the same time of Senator Daschle’s threat, other cases of anthrax exposure were publicized. Just like that, chemical and biological weaponry worry the minds of the public. Some call such weapons “the poor man’s atomic bomb” – its construction cheaper and effects potentially as far-reaching and devastating. The ability to manufacture chemical or biological threats is relatively much easier and its availability more widespread that nuclear weapons. Because of this, many believe any future terrorist attacks might be done with biological weapons similar to anthrax. Though seemingly a new threat, similar weaponry has been the subject of debate for decades. This paper discusses the subject of many of those debates, the ethical implications of its use and development.
To clarify, “biological warfare is the intentional use of disease-causing microorganisms or other entities that can replicate themselves (e.g., viruses, infectious nucleic acids and prions) against humans, animals or plants for hostile purposes” (Adam Rotfeld, SIPRI Fact Sheet, page 1). Furthermore, “it may also involve the use of toxins: poisonous substances produced by living organisms…plants…and animals. If they are utilized for warfare purpose, the synthetically manufactured counterparts of these toxins are biological weapons” (Rotfeld 1). Delivery of such substances can be as easy as sending it via mail, as in the anthrax example, or as sophisticated as mounting a chemical warhead onto a missile. Other possible means of delivery include introducing a substance to a water supply or through air dispersal in the form of gas. This paper will use the terms “biological weapons” and “chemical weapons” interchangeably.
A Brief History of Use
As far back as the 6th century BC, warring nations have been involved with the use of biological weaponry (Henry Hardy, Biological Weapons FAQ). Despite its long history, it is perhaps best to look at more recent events. With the better understanding of disease in the 20th century, various forms of chemical and biological weaponry emerged. During World War I, poisonous gases were used (Nicholas Fotion, Military Ethics, page 73) in addition to anthrax applications by German operatives (Rotfeld, 2).