This is the second post in a sequence of blog posts on state biological weapons programs. Others will be linked here as they come out:
2.1 The empty sky: A history of state biological weapons programs
2.2 The empty sky: How close did we get to BW usage?
3.1 Filters: Hard and soft skills
3.2 Filters: The shadow of nuclear weapons
3.3 Filters: A taboo
4.0 Conclusion: Open questions and the future of state BW
A lot of ink has been consecrated in describing the history of modern BW programs. Martin et al’s “Chapter 1: History of Biological Weapons: From Poisoned Darts to Intentional Epidemics.” In Medical Aspects of Biological Warfare (2018) [PDF] is a superb short summary with a focus on the agents and weapons explored by these programs. It’s far better than I could write, and relevant to the rest of this sequence. I recommend reading it.
I present a condensed timeline of state BW programs within the last century here as well:
|Country||Program active period||Notes|
|USSR||1925-1990||Major expansion and resurgence during approximately 1970. By far the largest BW program to have ever existed. A great deal of our information on it is gleaned from Ken Alibek’s memoir Biohazard.|
|Japan||1940’s||Weapons were extensively tested and used against the Manchurian Chinese population.|
|USA||1942-1970||A fairly large and well-run program, similarly technically competent as the USSR program, despite having 10-fold less funding. Ended with the US beginning the Biological Weapons Convention, which came into effect in 1975.|
|UK||1942-1956||Worked closely with the US BW program. Later helped introduce the Biological Weapons Convention.|
|Canada||1940’s||Partially sponsored/encouraged by the US.|
|French||1940’s||Details are scarce.|
|Israel||1948 – ???||Details are scarce.|
|Rhodesia||1975-1979||Crude weapons created and used (e.g. placing cholera in food and water supplies.)|
|Iraq||1980s-1996||Created in response to the external threat represented by Israel. The Iraq Survey Group Final Report is a comprehensive summary.|
|South Africa||1983-1988||Mostly controlled by one person. Focus was on weapons against internal threats and assassination, not large-scale offensive weapons against other nations.|
The reference mentioned in the first paragraph is: Martin, James W, George W Christopher, and Edward M Eitzen. “Chapter 1: History of Biological Weapons: From Poisoned Darts to Intentional Epidemics.” In Medical Aspects of Biological Warfare, 20. Textbooks of Military Medicine. Fort Sam Houston: Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute, 2018.
Iraq: See the 2004 US Iraq Survey Group Final Report. (Available here.)
Israel: See the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s summary (available here.)
Other country’s details are either in the Martin et al piece linked above, or may be cross-pollinated from other sources.