Intended for healthcare professionals


Fighting biological warfare

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 22 April 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1089

The convention against biological weapons badly needs a verification protocol

  1. Stephen Pullinger, director (
  1. International Security Information Service, London WC2 1RH

    Humanity's battle against disease is a constantly evolving struggle. Throughout history bacteria and viruses have attacked people, animals, and plants, often with devastating effect. As if this were not challenge enough, we now face the prospect of disease being deliberately applied for military or terrorist purposes through biological warfare. The way of countering such threats is through international law and painstakingly negotiated treaties and verification mechanisms.1 An important piece of protection in the battle against biological weapons is currently being negotiated in Geneva.

    The widely held assumption that the use of agents such as anthrax, plague, and smallpox has only a limited utility in war is false: disease has already been turned into a weapon. The former Soviet Union, for example, undertook an extensive biological weapons programme, arming some of its ballistic missiles with anthrax and targeting them at Western cities. After the Gulf war United Nations inspectors uncovered a well advanced programme in Iraq, involving aircraft …

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