Biotechnology, Weapons and War: Grim Future

Biological and chemical weapons were both a justification for conflict in Iraq and a battlefield worry. But the issue is apparently not worrying enough for governments to give the Biological Weapons Convention real monitoring powers. It is possible that new biological agents developed with too little supervision could put the whole of humanity at risk.

The World Today Published 1 May 2003 Updated 21 October 2020 5 minute READ

Peter Herby

Head of Mines-Arms Unit, Legal Division of the International Committee of the Red Cross

Weapon systems of a completely different nature from those the world has known and feared are now on the horizon. These developments will make biological weapons more attractive, more lethal and more difficult to detect. It is a potential that, if unleashed, would cause immense suffering and could affect the course of societies and of the human species itself.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) wants to see this terrifying prospect brought under control. Waging war has so far been a generally military business; this has been quite horrific enough.

But the consequences of a failure to prevent the hostile release of biological agents to destroy agriculture, alter the behaviour of large groups of people or change the human gene pool would, in all probability, be far worse than anything war has inflicted on humanity so far. Some of these agents would be the first self-reproducing weapons and, once released, beyond the control of the user.

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