The Current Bioweapons Threat

  • Jonathan B. Tucker
Conference paper
Part of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Series A: Chemistry and Biology book series (NAPSA)


According to unclassified U.S. government sources, states of biological weapons (BW) proliferation concern include China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Syria. Assessing the BW threat is challenging, however, because illicit development and production can be concealed at dual-use industrial sites such as vaccine plants, and only tens of kilograms of an agent like dried anthrax spores can be militarily significant. The lack of unambiguous technical signatures of BW-related activity means that most estimates of foreign capabilities draw heavily on human intelligence sources, yet spies and defectors are notoriously unreliable. A key factor driving BW proliferation is the perceived military utility of biological weapons, which may include strategic deterrence, asymmetric warfare, or covert operations. Globalization of the biotechnology industry has expanded trade in dual-use materials and production equipment, increasing the risks of diversion and misuse for BW purposes. With the advent of flexible biological manufacturing systems, it has also become possible for countries to acquire a “latent” capacity for BW production during a crisis or war. Since the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, sub-state actors have become a prominent part of the threat matrix, but terrorist acquisition and use of BW requires both the motivation to use disease as a weapon and the technical capability to do so, a combination that is quite rare. At present the threat of mass-casualty BW attacks emanates primarily from nation-states, while terrorist use of biological weapons will likely remain limited in scale and impact. Nevertheless, the emergence of new biotechnologies with a potential for misuse could result in more damaging incidents of bioterrorism in the future.


Terrorist Organization Biological Weapon Smallpox Virus Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Anthrax Spore 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan B. Tucker
    • 1
  1. 1.WashingtonUSA

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