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“Non-Lethal” Viruses to “Neutralize” Cities

by hambling on January 2, 2007

The middle years of the Cold War were, in many ways, a Silver Age of bad weapons ideas — from nuclear bazookas to one-man “aerocycles.” But this has to be just about the worst I’ve heard yet: Developing “biological agents” — including ones that can lead to “inflammation of the brain, coma and death” — for “incapacitating” enemies on the battlefield or “neutralizing hostile cities.” It’s one of a number of head-scratching ideas University of Bradford researcher Neil Davison reveals in his new report, “The Early History of ‘Non-Lethal’ Weapons.” (Two others: military-strength strobe lights and “odor warfare.”)
tqo65642.jpgThe US military, for example, standardized viral agents Coxiella burnetii (Q fever) and Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) [whose symptoms range from “mild flu-like illness to…inflammation of the brain, coma and death,” according to the CDC — ed.] bacterial agent Brucella suis (brucellosis), and toxin agent staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB), as incapacitating biological weapons…
The political advantages of these agents were that their foreseen limited lethality, (the aim was to develop agents with a 1–2% lethality), would enable greater freedom in the use of force. From a tactical perspective these agents might be used to cause large-scale incapacitation and thus overwhelm medical and logistical services. They may also be used in situations where there was a risk to civilian or friendly forces…
The relative ease of weaponizing and conducting human tests with [these] incapacitants… meant that they were standardized earlier and investigated more fully. [A] May 1970 paper… considered biological agents as potential nonlethal weapons for the military:

The biological agents, while having much of the versatility of chemicals, lack a rapid onset of effect. Their tactical incisiveness is severely limited so they are less applicable to the class of conflict discussed in this paper [limited and urban warfare]. They may, however, have a substantial application in capturing and neutralizing hostile cities at highly intense levels of limited warfare. (emphasis mine)


Thankfully, no one ever got the chance to try out this tactic. Biological weapons were banned under international law by the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.

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