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.

  • 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

    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

  • Report

    Measuring Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP) Performance: Capacities, Capabilities, and Sustainability Enablers for Biorisk Management and Biosurveillance

    This report describes a project to develop a comprehensive evaluation framework for the Cooperative Biological Engagement Program and recommends metrics for assessing and communicating progress toward the program's goals.

    Aug 21, 2014

  • Sailors patrol through yellow smoke simulating chemical, biological, and radiological exposure during combat

    Report

    Developing Navy Capability to Recover Forces in Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Hazard Environments

    How do you recover and decontaminate amphibious forces if they are attacked with chemical, biological, or radiological weapons while ashore?

    Jan 28, 2014

  • U.S. soldiers during an exercise on chemical, biological, and radiological warfare near the DMZ

    Testimony

    The Challenge of North Korean Biological Weapons

    While there is evidence of North Korean biological weapons, little is known with certainty about them and how North Korea would use them. Bruce Bennett addresses the nature of the potential North Korean biological weapon threat and how the ROK and United States should prepare to counter potential attacks.

    Oct 11, 2013

  • Soldiers wearing their M-17A1 protective masks while conducting training during Operation Desert Shield

    Q&A

    Gulf War Illness: Still Looking for Answers

    Bernard Rostker and Ross Anthony, RAND senior economists with expertise on Gulf War Illness (GWI), discuss a study by scientists at Georgetown University Medical Center that suggests the symptoms of GWI are biological in nature, and a GWI study RAND conducted more than a decade ago.

    Jul 8, 2013

  • A wargames board game

    Commentary

    Anatomy of a War Game

    War games are especially important as countries prepare to counter adversaries who use asymmetric strategies or weapons, forcing military planners to deal with unfamiliar threats, writes Bruce Bennett.

    Jun 12, 2012

  • Research Brief

    The Department of Defense Can Improve Its Response to and Management of Anthrax Incidents

    Assesses the Department of Defense (DoD) response to three potential anthrax-related incidents at DoD facilities in March 2005 and recommends ways that DoD can improve its incident-response capabilities.

    Apr 13, 2009