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Is biological warfare raising its ugly head?

History tells us that bio-agents were restrictively used in both the World Wars (WWs). However, since then, biological warfare  (BW) has largely been avoided and though a few attempts were made by some non-State actors during the 1970s-80s, by and large BW has been kept in abeyance. But of late, covert and clandestine research and development by various countries and the production of bio-agents during the post-WW-II era have brought it closer to, if not at par with its close cousins — nuclear and chemical weapons. Known by different pseudonyms such as the “poor man’s atom bomb” or “germ warfare”,  BW is broadly defined  as, “The use of biological toxins or infectious agents like bacteria, virus and fungi, with the intent to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war.” These are primarily meant to cause mass casualties, infect a large number of people, natural resources and above all, spread panic among the rival armed forces.  Devastating agents like Bacillus Anthracis, Botulism and Variola are used to spread epidemics like anthrax, cholera, plague and smallpox.

Mustard gas, a primitive bio-agent, was used during the WW-I, leading to a global outrage, which culminated in an unratified treaty banning bioweapons in 1925. Similarly, during WW-II, the Japanese allegedly used bioagents against Chinese prisoners, while the Russians did the same with the Germans. Thereafter, no major use of bio-agents was reported, except for the Sarin gas attack in 1995 by the Japanese cult  Aum Shinrikyo in a Tokyo subway. A  few treaties banning the use of BWs were initiated but did not make any headway as some countries refused to sign on the dotted line. The result is that a number of countries, to be precise 16, including major powers like Canada, Cuba, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and North Korea are reportedly maintaining and expanding their BW inventory. As per Steven Block, a bio-physicist, the US and Russia are reportedly keeping frozen stocks of smallpox along with conventional bio-agents like anthrax and typhus.

China, under its advanced bioweapons programme, launched a few years ago, is not only trying to gain parity with the US and Russia but is aggressively working towards engineering new virus spores. One may call it a coincidence but the sudden outbreak of Coronavirus, perhaps the most potent and devastating in recent times, from Wuhan, China in December 2019, has given credence to these claims.

This pandemic has already spread to 85 countries and claimed 3,400 lives with over 1,00,000 confirmed cases that are growing by the day.  India, too, has seen 30 cases and this has led to the cancellation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Brussels for an India-European Union summit.

In the meantime, US Republican Senator Bob Cotton has asserted that the Coronavirus originated from a high-security laboratory in Wuhan. This claim further substantiates global fears against Chinese designs as the country is also said to be working on gene-editing technology — a targetted bio-weapon that was successfully tested in 2018.

To coin new terminology, the “geo-biological” scenario is becoming alarming and of late, virus, outbreaks have become rampant. First, it was the Ebola in Kenya followed by the Zika virus attack in Nigeria in October 2019 and then came the Nipah virus in Asia, particularly Kerala. Going by the suspicions over the origin of the Coronavirus, we cannot rule out that other countries are also engineering new bioweapons, the likes of which have never been seen before.

Going by the suspicions over the origin of the Coronavirus, we cannot rule out that other countries are also engineering new bioweapons, the likes of which have never been seen before

This pandemic has already spread to 85 countries and claimed 3,400 lives with over 1,00,000 confirmed cases that are growing by the day.  India, too, has seen 30 cases and this has led to the cancellation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Brussels for an India-European Union summit. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).

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