Biological Weapons and Warfare

The threat of biological weapons and warfare poses particular challenges to government officials charged with devising immediate and longer-term emergency response plans. RAND has developed exercises to train public health agencies to respond to bioterrorism; examined the longer-term psychological consequences of bioterrorism; and created guidelines to improve individual preparedness for chemical, radiological, nuclear, and biological attacks.

  • Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia attends Security Council meeting convened at the request of the Russian Federation who accused Ukraine of developing biological weapons under the tutelage of the United States, at U.N. Headquarters in New York, March 11, 2022, photo by Lev Radin/Sipa USA/Reuters

    Commentary

    Debunking Russian Lies About Biolabs at Upcoming U.N. Meetings

    Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, its diplomatic missions began circulating some particularly fantastical lies. It's tempting to write off such claims as cartoonish propaganda. But Russia is making similarly outrageous claims to the United Nations and other international forums. Such maneuvers could dangerously undermine international arms control agreements.

    Sep 12, 2022

  • Kim Jong-un watches a military parade in Pyongyang to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean People's Revolutionary Army in this image released by KCNA on April 26, 2022, photo by EyePress News via Reuters

    Report

    The Risks of North Korean Weapons of Mass Destruction

    In addition to its nuclear weapons, North Korea has amassed chemical, biological, and electromagnetic pulse weapons. It has also created an active cyber hacker force. What can the United States and South Korea do to deter and, if necessary, counter these threats?

    Aug 29, 2022

  • A collage of the COVID-19 virus, armed terror groups, and a biological response team

    Report

    Implications of the Pandemic for Terrorist Interest in Biological Weapons

    Some policymakers and analysts have expressed concern that weaknesses in responses to the COVID-19 pandemic will motivate terrorists to seek biological weapons. While the prospect of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda pursuing biological weapons is not zero, it is unlikely, given the difficulties involved and the availability of simpler alternatives.

    May 31, 2022

  • U.S. Marines check a barrel for contamination during a training exercise at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego, California, April 30, 2013, photo by Sgt. Keonaona C. Paulo/U.S. Marine Corps

    Commentary

    Could the Bioweapons Treaty Be Another Tool for Addressing Pandemics?

    What might governments do to reduce the risk of future large-scale biological attacks or naturally occurring pandemics? Perhaps now is the right time to revisit the 46-year-old Biological Weapons Convention treaty and make it a better tool against future biological threats.

    Mar 12, 2021

  • South Korean soldiers conduct a pass in review during a military parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the South Korean-U.S. alliance in Seoul, South Korea, October 1, 2013

    Tool

    Four Problems on the Korean Peninsula

    North Korean provocations and threats have created an unstable environment on the Korean Peninsula. The United States and its allies must attend to four interconnected problems. Failure to prepare will increase the chance of miscalculation and constrain options to reduce the likelihood or gravity of future conflicts.

    Jan 11, 2019

  • Report

    Report

    Environmental Biodetection and Human Biosurveillance Research and Development for National Security: Priorities for the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate

    This report examines the Department of Homeland Security's chemical and biological defense research and development portfolio to identify priorities for future investments to effectively address biological threats.

    Nov 28, 2018

  • U.S. Air Force Airman Brittany Harris, 18th Civil Engineer Squadron Emergency Management Flight EM operations apprentice, and Senior Airman Isaiah Flemings, 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron bioenvironmental engineering technician, enter a staged scene of a hazardous materials incident during a training exercise August 3, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan

    Commentary

    Achieving the Trump Administration's National Biodefense Strategy

    The Trump administration recently published its National Biodefense Strategy, which says that managing the risk of biological threats is in the “vital interest” of the United States, however they might present. The document provides a solid foundation, but more may be required to fully realize its goals and objectives.

    Oct 2, 2018

  • Multimedia

    Assessing North Korea's Chemical and Biological Weapons Capabilities and Prioritizing Countermeasures

    International policy analyst John V. Parachini outlines what is known about North Korea's chemical and biological weapons capabilities—and what can be done to mitigate the threats.

    Jan 17, 2018

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (right) speaks to Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army, Pyongyang, July 27, 2013

    Testimony

    North Korea's Chemical and Biological Weapons Capabilities—and How to Counter Them

    Any conflict on the Korean Peninsula could entail the use of chemical or biological weapons. For this reason, it's important to ensure the attention given to North Korea's nuclear weapons doesn't cause authorities to overlook these threats.

    Jan 17, 2018

  • Testimony

    Testimony

    Federal Research and Development for Agricultural Biodefense: Addendum

    Document submitted December 5, 2017, as an addendum to testimony presented before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Subcommittee on Research and Technology on November 2, 2017.

    Dec 6, 2017

  • Agricultural farm land is seen in the Imperial Valley near El Centro, California, May 31, 2015

    Testimony

    Agriculture Security in America

    The United States has made progress in developing systems to safeguard the nation's agriculture. But threats persist because of socioeconomic, environmental, and ecological factors.

    Nov 2, 2017

  • Suitcase with microbiological weapon

    Commentary

    A Countering Bioterrorism Facility Worth a Second Look

    President Trump's proposed budget would close a laboratory dedicated to countering bioterrorism and providing the science behind bioterrorism response and recovery. Policymakers should assess whether the lab's capabilities are worth the price when weighed against the potential cost of a bioterror attack.

    Jun 7, 2017

  • A DNA sequence displayed on a computer screen and a scientist in a laboratory

    Commentary

    Can the Bioweapons Convention Survive Crispr?

    Crispr is a biotechnology that's making genetic editing easier, cheaper, and far more accessible, but it has also been called a major security threat. Do such advances in biotechnology make the bioweapons convention obsolete?

    Jul 29, 2016

  • German police found traces of radiation in Hamburg locations linked to a Russian businessman who had met the murdered ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko on the day he fell ill

    Commentary

    Russia on the Horns of a Nuclear Dilemma

    While the murder of Alexander Litvinenko is a human tragedy, broader concerns about the lowering of WMD norms and violations of international law should be addressed. The use of radioactive matter to kill him represents a serious breach of international agreements.

    Feb 19, 2016

  • Marina Litvinenko, widow of murdered ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, poses with a copy of The Litvinenko Inquiry Report with her son Anatoly during a news conference in London, Britain, January 21, 2016

    Commentary

    Troubling Truth Beneath Litvinenko Headlines

    Slipping radioactive material into a spy's tea in the middle of London may not sound like a CBRN attack, but it is, as the Owen report has confirmed. Hopefully, the report's release will help focus global attention on the growing threat posed by these devastating weapons.

    Jan 21, 2016

  • A demonstration on infectious disease identification and treatment from the Benin Armed Force in Contonou, Benin, January 2013

    Commentary

    Countering Bioterror

    While advances in biotechnology have brought a wide range of benefits, biological weapons are now within the reach of many rogue nations and possibly some terrorist groups. Reports show that the U.S. is ill prepared to address this threat.

    Jan 18, 2016

  • Two Oregon Army National Guard members make notes from the edge of the blast zone after a simulated dirty bomb detonated during an exercise in Portland, October 16, 2007

    Commentary

    The U.S. Needs to Exercise Leadership at the Biological Weapons Convention

    The world is one rogue microbiologist away from a potentially devastating biological attack. In this new, evolving environment, the United States should establish its goals and objectives and build coalitions to help meet them.

    Dec 28, 2015

  • Medicins Sans Frontieres health workers disinfect protection clothes and boots outside the isolation unit at ELWA hospital in Monrovia August 23, 2014

    Commentary

    Ebola and Syria's Chemical Weapons Show U.S. Can Leave Nothing to Chance

    There are key takeaways from the Ebola outbreak, Syria's chemical weapons, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The U.S. and its international partners should view these events as learning opportunities that could help improve preparedness and response capabilities before the next crisis strikes.

    Jul 9, 2015

  • Soldiers at Suwon Air Base, South Korea, finish a comprehensive air defense artillery field training exercise

    Commentary

    To Know the Future of Biological Weapons, Look to the Past

    A panel chaired by former Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Gov. Tom Ridge will review U.S. policy on biodefense. Looking back to the end of the U.S. offensive biological warfare program would provide valuable lessons.

    Apr 10, 2015

  • U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye at a joint news conference in Seoul, April 2014

    Commentary

    N.K. WMDs Carry Catastrophic Potential

    The failure of the United States and South Korea to prevent North Korea from gaining significant quantities of weapons of mass destruction saddles those governments with serious military responsibilities, should North Korea go to war or should its government collapse.

    Nov 19, 2014