News | Aug. 1, 2002

Biological Weapons: Toward a Threat Reduction Strategy

By Brad Roberts and Michael Moodie Defense Horizons 15


Defense Horizons 15A decade ago, the U.S. military and its allies had a close call with biological weapons (BW) in the war to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Iraqi BW could have inflicted horrific casualties on coalition forces, but the war stopped short of the contingency for which Iraq had prepared, pre-deployed, and preauthorized the use of such weapons: a march on Baghdad to remove the regime. A decade later, the United States is again poised for war against Iraq—this time for the explicit purpose of regime removal. Moreover, it is engaged in a war on terrorism against adversaries who evidently are strongly interested in BW. But the close call of a decade ago, and the concern it generated among senior Gulf War military leaders, do not appear to have translated into substantial improvements to the operational capability of current U.S. military forces to project power and prevail against BW-armed adversaries. Despite the efforts of many committed individuals, large vulnerabilities in the U.S. BW defense posture remain. Technology remains in the pipeline and not on the battlefield. Operational concepts seem founded on the assumption that an adversary would not dare use these weapons or, if he did, that U.S. forces could simply operate around them, as if they were chemical weapons.

The present scare seems to have generated even broader high-level concern than did the potential exposure to Iraqi BW 10 years ago. How can this concern be translated into an action agenda that will succeed at reducing present and future threats?