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- GS 3 || Security || Internal Security Threats || Terrorism
What are Biological weapons?
- Also called germ weapons, they are any of several disease-producing agents such as bacteria, viruses, rickettsiae, fungi, toxins, or other biological agents.
- That may be utilized as weapons against humans, animals, or plants. Biological weapons, like chemical weapons, radiological weapons, and nuclear weapons, are commonly referred to as weapons of mass destruction.
- Bioterrorism is the deliberate and intentional release of biological agents such as viruses, bacteria, toxins.
History of Bioterrorism
- Not a recent phenomenon-There is historical evidence that some form of bio-terrorism was resorted to by the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Persian civilizations. Armies polluted the drinking water to cause serious harm to their enemies.
- During World War I, Germany is believed to have used biological agents such as Bacillus anthracis and Burkholderia mallei mainly against the livestock and military personnel of their enemies.
- During the Cold War period, it was alleged that chemical and biological weapons were widely used in the Vietnam War (1959-1975), the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s, and the Gulf War of 1990-91.
- However, in present times, bioterrorism has emerged as a result of the advancements in biotechnology and biochemistry being accessible to terrorist groups. Moreover, genetic engineering has perhaps the most dangerous potential.
Classification of Biological Agents
- Category A agents are the highest priority, and these are disease agents that pose a risk to national security because they can be transmitted from person to person and/or result in high mortality, and/or have high potential to cause social disruption.
- These are anthrax, botulism (via botulinum toxin, which is not passable from person to person), plague, smallpox, tularemia, and a collection of viruses that cause hemorrhagic fevers, such as Ebola, Marburg, Lassa, and Machupo.
- Category B agents are moderately easy to disseminate and result in low mortality.
- These include brucellosis, glanders, Q fever, ricin toxin, typhus fever, and other agents.
- Category C agents include emerging disease agents that could be engineered for mass dissemination in the future, such as the Nipah virus.
Organization of Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
- The OPCW is an independent, autonomous international organization with a working relationship with the United Nations.
- The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which entered into force in 1997.
- The organization was awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons”.
Germany and Russia tensions
- Recently, tensions between Russia and Germany have deepened over the alleged poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
- Germany claims that the opposition leader has been poisoned using the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.
- It means “newcomer” in Russian and applies to a group of advanced nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, under a programme codenamed Foliant.
- Nerve agents act by blocking messages from the nerves to the muscles, causing a collapse of many bodily functions.
- The main nerve agents are the chemicals sarin(GB), soman (GD), tabun (GA), and VX.
- Sarin was used by the Syrian air force in chemical attacks on a village in Syria’s western Hama region in 2017.
The threat of Biological Weapons
- Small quantities of biotic agents can be easily hidden, transported, and released into susceptible populations, posing a significant danger.
- It has the potential to affect and expose military and civilian susceptibilities to biological weapons, as well as the difficulty of providing adequate safeguards.
- Experts in the field of bioweapons conclude that bioterrorists lack the biotechnological potential to create super pathogens or super pests.
- Biological attacks, both state-sponsored and otherwise, are a real threat despite the many treaties prohibiting them.
- India, with its vast disorganized population, dismal health facilities, and poor connectivity, is sitting on a virus time bomb. Though the fatality, infection, and recovery rate of Covid-19, as the novel coronavirus is called, is comparatively low, experts are not sure full data is available.
Covid-19 Pandemic- A biological warfare?
- Novel-coronavirus is alleged to have originated in bats.
- Some intelligence agencies initially proclaimed that coronavirus occurred naturally but later on, they claimed that the pandemic might have begun from the Wuhan lab in China after the researchers were probably able to figure out how to bat coronaviruses could mutate to attack humans.
- However, there is no proof that the pandemic virus was engineered or manipulated, yet.
- In the Indian context, with the existence of hostile neighbours like Pakistan and China, the threat of biological warfare becomes important and cannot be ruled out entirely.
Defending Against Bioterrorism
- Bioterrorism and biowarfare are being combated by the European Union (EU), Russia, and China. The aim is to make it more difficult for terrorists to acquire the tools needed to develop biological weapons.
- Rapid Detection & Intelligence Sharing
- Intelligence agencies around the world should work together and exchange reliable information.
- Human resources, laboratory resources, and information supervision are combined in the novel, legal, and adequate ways to allow for timely identification and categorization of hazards.
- For an effective response to a bioterror attack, rapid detection and surveillance are critical.
- Upgrading Biodefense Systems
- Biodefense systems are being upgraded and installed in large urban conglomerates to guard against deadly disease outbreaks caused by bioterrorism.
- Several Biodefense networks were set up throughout the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
- Developing and stockpiling vaccines and antimicrobial drugs to protect people from diseases brought about by biological weapons.
- First responders are being trained on how to deal with a biological weapons attack.
- Diagnostic laboratory and epidemiological skills are being refined.
- Defense Research and Development Establishment (DRDE) is India’s primary biodefense laboratory of the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).
- It is mainly involved in the development of defense against malicious biological, chemical as well as toxicological materials.
- Strengthening the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention
- The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) of 1972 prohibits signatory nations to develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise, acquire or retain biological weapons.
- However, there is no exact authentication method that can ensure compliance with the BTWC. Therefore, efforts must be made to strengthen the BTWC so that it helps to uncover and successfully prevent biological weapons programs.
- Vigilance tools:Various past outbreaks have led to the understanding that a regional and even global response is needed.
- The early recognition of a bioterror agent is essential in ensuring effective containment and reduction offacsculties.
- Research programs:Developing medical tools to counter bioweapon threats requires thorough knowledge of these microbes and the human immune system’s response to them.
- Planning for risk management:Planning is outlining necessary actions, identifying resources, assigning roles and responsibilities, and ensuring overall coordination which is crucial for combating bioterrorism.
Is India ready for Biowarfare?
- National Disaster Response Force (NDRF)
- To keep India’s battle-ready to counter a bioterrorism attack, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has proposed a model instrument where participation of both government and private sectors is a sine qua non to defeat any such attack.
- In India, several nodal ministries have been earmarked for dealing with epidemics caused by bioterrorism.
- Modern technology
- India has a sophisticated, globally recognized biotechnological infrastructure and a sufficient number of well-trained and knowledgeable scientists, most of whom are adequately experienced in the handling of epidemics.
- India has the scientific capability to carry out a bio-offensive in the event of a first strike. The country has developed delivery systems ranging from crop dusters to ballistic missiles.
- Defense facilities
- The Army maintains defense facilities for biological warfare at the protected sites.
- The Indian military currently deployed countermeasures including DRDO’s developed quarantine vehicles for battlefield decontamination efforts.
- Since 1998, India started training medical personnel to deal with possible bioterror attacks. Also, the Indian Army is trained for this kind of eventuality.
- Inadequacy need to be addressed
- Studies on the effectiveness of counter-bioterrorism initiatives are inadequate, and this needs to be addressed.
- Focused and methodical efforts must be made to assess the effectiveness of counter-bioterrorism and cyber warfare initiatives in a careful manner.
- Collaborative effort
- It is a heightened and urgent need for increased collaborations among the academic sector, government-private industry, and nations that will provide benefits far beyond protection from deliberate acts of bioterrorism.
- It should be remembered that certain particular counter-bioterrorism activities can have unintended implications in terms of human rights, institutional freedoms, basic democratic principles, and the rule of law.
- New programs need to be designed
- New programs and systems should be designed to ensure our national security. In addition, to limit access to biological materials, laboratory biosecurity and regulations should be created and updated according to the risk assessment by the policymakers.
Mains model question
- Biological warfare is a serious threat to countries all over the world. Are the current mechanisms capable of preventing biological warfare? Examine