Biological Weapon and Biowarfare

Written by Saptaparni Raha


Biological weapon commonly known as germ weapon is producing from the biological warfare agents such as bacteria, viruses, rickettsiae, fungi, toxin etc. These have been used as weapons against humans, animals or plants since from ancient practice in warfare. These biological agents were responsible enough for more deaths than all the employed combat arms forces.

Biological weapons like chemical weapons, radio-logical weapons and nuclear weapons are commonly known as weapons of mass destruction. But the terminology which have been used to define the gravity of biological weapon,  is not  truly appropriate in case of biological armaments. They may have the power in causing of mass deaths but they are never be able to cause the mass destruction of infrastructure, buildings or equipment.

The concept of biological weapon is not new , its history dates back since 600 BC. That period of time infectious diseases were recognized for their potential impact on people and armies. The immense use of filth and cadavers, animal carcasses were responsible for their devastating effects and it was mainly used to weak their enemy.

Armed forces were also used to pollute wells and other sources of water of their enemies. It was the common strategy that continued even in the period of many European wars and American Civil war and still in the era of 20th century even it is going on.

After that in the parts of middle ages military leaders recognized that victims of infectious diseases could become weapons themselves. In the year of 1346 the attacking Tartar force experienced an epidemic of plague while the siege of Caffa a well fortified Genoese controlled seaport. However the tartars converted by hurling the cadavers of their deceased in to the city. During 14th century the plague pandemic commonly known as the black death and it spread over Europe, the near East and North America . It was probably the most devastating public health disaster in recorded history. The incidents of using the biological warfare became more effective during the 19th century.  It was evident during the first world war that there was an ambitious biological warfare program in Germany. A report was being circulated at that time they were producing bacteria such as Bacillus anthracis to USA and other countries . After that a subcommittee of the temporary mixed commission which was working under the League of Nation had stated their argument in favor of Germany and found no hard evidence that bacteriological arm of warfare had been employed in war .

During World War II some countries were busy in ambitious biological warfare research program . Now Japan came into front for conducting the biological weapons research from the year of 1932 until the war ends up. The director of this research was Shiro Ishii and Kitano Misaji. The name of this research center was Unit 731, located in Manchuria .

The Japanese military developed plague as a biological weapon by allowing laboratory fleas to feed on plague infected rats.

After second world war in the year of 1964 the soviet newspaper asserted that the US military commission in Columbia used biological agents against peasants in Columbia and Bolivia.

After that the imperialistic aggressors was accused by Eygpt for using the biological weapons in the middle East in the year of 1969.


Legal Framework for the protection from biological weapons:

There are several National and International framework to combat with biological weapons and bio warfare. These helps to mitigate the consequences of the devastating  effects of biological weapons. The most important legal instruments relating to biological weapons are as follows:


The 1925 Geneva Convention:

International law recognized the  instances of biological weapons constantly and condemned for the  development of law since the era of 1600s which can be clearly seen in the Brussels Declaration of 1874. This declaration prevents the use of poison or poisoned weapons. After that during the Hague Peace conference of 1899 clearly abstains from the use of projectiles. The main object of this peace conference was to defuse the asphyxiating or deleterious gases.  This convention adopted a convention which was came from the Brussels declaration to prohibit the use of poison or poisoned weapons in land war fare. Later on in the Hague convention of 1907 included this prohibition which concerns the laws and customs of war on land. After that the devastating effects of first world war the international community  agreed to strengthen the existing legislation relating to this issue and prevent them for future use.  After that the member states of league of nation signs the protocol for the prohibition of the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases and of bacteriological methods of warfare in the year of 1925. This treaty was commonly known as the Geneva Convention. It came into force in the year of 1928. It had 130 member states which includes five permanent member states of the United Nation security council and it does not includes the 64 member states of world health organization .

The main objective of the Geneva Convention is to prohibit the use of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases and all analogous liquids, materials or devices in war. It also prohibits the use of bacteriological methods in the war fare. All these prohibitions are now entered into the ambit of customary international law but however this builds even on states that are not parties to it. Many state parties at that time reserved the right to use the weapons in retaliation against an attack with such weapons so Geneva Protocol prohibits to use of such weapons but not the possession. Though some state parties possess the use of such weapons against whom who are not party to the protocol. For this reason a comprehensive prohibition of the weapons themselves came to be considered necessary.


The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention:

The Geneva convention of 1925 was created a debate on whether the comprehensive prohibition of the weapons covered by the Geneva convention Geneva protocol should be sought or initially the prohibition only of biological weapons. At that time United states has not signed the Geneva protocol but declared it as an unilateral renunciation of biological and toxin weapons during 1969-1970. This aims the international community to adopt the biological weapons convention. It entered into force in the year of 1975 and now it has 146 member states. This convention is designed to prohibit the use of biological weapons embodied in the Geneva convention. It has stated that each state party needs to undertake that they shall never in any circumstances would develop , produce , stockpile. It has also put an obligation to its every member states to destroy or divert to peaceful purposes all agents, toxins, weapons, equipment and means of delivery. Each state party needs to follow this provision not later than nine months after entry into force of this convention .

Recent activities related to biological weapons and biowarfare :

In the year of 2014 a laptop has been recovered  in Syria which reveals the treasure trove of documents that provides the ideological justification of Jihadi organization and the use of biological weapons to prepare a potential attack which can create a fear throughout the world. This laptop belonged to a former chemistry and biology student whose name was Muhammad S.

In the year of 2020 one person was being arrested on a basis of suspicion that he was sending the deadly poison ricin in an envelop addressed to the white house. On this aspect the royal Canadian mounted police was stated that an FBI analyzed the substance inside the envelop and detected the presence of ricin a highly toxic agent derived from castor beans. This toxin requires a deliberate act to convert it into a biological weapon with exposure to an amount as small as pinhead capable of causing death within 36 to 72 hours.

Recently the devastating effect of Covid-19 gives us a lesson that international community needs to create a new framework to fight  against the threat of bio-terrorism. There was a conflict raised that whether this virus is human made which accidentally released from the high security level 4 Wuhan Institute of virology  or is a natural mutation have raised alarms on bio-security. This sudden release shows us the uneven control in the government , private universities , biotech and chemical virology centers . Some experts are really concerns about the bio-terrorism to get encouragement from the demonstration effect of Covid-19. Now bio-safety becomes the most concerning issue for preventing and countering the bio-terrorism. There is the urgent requirement to implement the United Nation security council resolution 1540 for the general and complete disarmament measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery and materials and technologies related to their manufacture. India is one of the champion of the comprehensive convention on international terrorism which aims to criminalize all forms of terrorism and against the access of funds arms for the terrorists. This needs to be include the bio-security and also requires to be adopted by the united nation general assemble at the earliest possible. States who sponsors and negligent about the bio-terrorism now must think about its effects which leads to self destruction and if it contaminates to other states then it would be worst for them also. So all states must move fast to adopt and enforce the effective laws and regulations for the biological weapons and its related material. They must implement their licensing provisions which are provided by the biological weapons convention and the resolution 1540 of UNSC. India is the member of the Australia Group of Multilateral Export Control Regime which needs to strengthen the controls on biological agents . In the year of 2018 US department of state issued a warning  about this Covid-19 pandemic and the works of Wuhan Virology institute on the corona-viruses in bats that has the potential of human transmission which presents the risk of new pandemic. Whether it was an East Pakistan genocide related blood telegram or moment or not , well resourced US and Western intelligence setups are introspecting on possible bio- intelligence failures before the start of the pandemic in China and possible missteps that lead towards the novel corona-virus becoming a global pandemic. Now there is no requirement to fill lacuna at national, regional and international levels. We have learnt about medical intelligence, infectious disease risk assessment and pandemic protection so we must be incorporate into national security assessment within national boundaries and in foreign countries including by India. This national security assessment must cover the totality of the intelligence cycle direction and collection analysis. It must take a strategic insights on current and emerging bio risks.


Now biological weapons and bio warfare is an emerging issue throughout the world. Due to advancement of modern technology and misuse of them has created a huge concern among the scholars. Gene editing technology known as CRISPR has set off alarm bells in the defense community. In future this technology has the ability to wipe out a county’s staple crop. So now each and every country shall now make a promise to not create or experiment any such virus or bacteriological agents in their research center. The implementation of biological weapon convention  becomes the most important in modern generation. Any country if implements or research about any biological agents and if that effects other country shall pay a lump some amount for it. As per the basic principle of international humanitarian law military necessity does not allows to ignore the humanitarian consideration altogether and do what they want rather it is the degree of force that is required to overpower the enemy. It does not allow the destruction of any civilian property and  harm caused to civilians. So in the battlefield any such weapon should not apply by any country which cause harm to any civilians or destruction of any property. This principle should be applicable in any normal situation even for maintaining the peace and security in world. INTERPOL’s bio-terrorism unit aims to enable law enforcement agencies to prevent, prepare and respond to the deliberate use of bacteria, virus or biological toxins that threatens to human and animals. Now this organization shall act and implements the law strictly to prevent this bio-terrorism.






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Legal Update of 25th March, 2021