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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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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason January 2, 2007 at 1:01 pm

“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.” ”
Why should this be seen as anything but logical? Consider the timeframe – most of the R&D into non-lethal BW agents came after the Korean conflict, where the United States suffered more than 150,000 casualties, about a third of those KIAs, over a four-five-year time period. Then include the million S. Koreans and 400K Chinese casualties. There was a big push to identify ways to reduce the total bloodshed of modern combat, especially when your force is facing large hordes of screaming fanatics.
Enter the CB weapons program. Any military professional will point out to you that artillery systems, for example, have multiple desired outcomes – disruption, destruction, interdiction, etc. Why should CB munitions be any different? If you have a CBW agent that incapacitates rather than kills, well, that can accomplish a lot toward your military objectives.
Non-lethal isn’t completely without casualties, that just refers to the design of the munition as being primarily designed for incapacitation rather than immediate casualties. The reason why people find it repulsive is because of the potential effects of a drifting gas cloud on noncombatants, and use of non-lethals might “escalate” into toxic chemical munitions (and that would be bad, right?).
But honestly, think about how easy it would have been to clean out Fallujah if we could gas the city with SEB toxin, and then just walk in and cart out the bad guys. It has some advantages, as long as you can drop those quaint, sentimental arms control ideas.

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monobrau January 3, 2007 at 12:36 am

“But honestly, think about how easy it would have been to clean out Fallujah if we could gas the city with SEB toxin, and then just walk in and cart out the bad guys.”
Well for one thing, who do you think the good guys would be even if your bio-warfare fantasy was actually carried out? Are you 12 years old or something?
And I don’t think I need to point out the most obvious flaw in your plan – didn’t somebody just get hung for being the sort that would gas his own people?

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Nick Lento January 3, 2007 at 1:26 am

Jason says….But honestly, think about how easy it would have been to clean out Fallujah if we could gas the city with SEB toxin, and then just walk in and cart out the bad guys. It has some advantages, as long as you can drop those quaint, sentimental arms control ideas.
Posted by: Jason at January 2, 2007 01:01 PM
The problem, Jason, with your fantasy is that other people/nations have the capacity to respond.
A world of unrestrained bio-chem warfare is one in which eventual human extinction is 100% assured.
The cycles of revenge and escalation would be too hideous to contemplate. It’s not all that hard to envision hundreds of viral and chemical variants that would be contagious and/or stay lethal in the environment for generations. (Hell, we’re already poisoning our biosphere for the purely commercial short term gain of a relative few…we may already be a “dead species walking”)
If there is a human species extant in 500 years Jason, it will be because folk like you who think it’s “quaint” to want to put limits/constraints on biochemical warfare will be seen as stark raving madmen severely in need of counseling

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Anomalous Coward January 3, 2007 at 1:36 am

“But honestly, think about how easy it would have been to clean out Fallujah if we could gas the city with SEB toxin, and then just walk in and cart out the bad guys.”
Recall the theatre nerve gas operation? The Russians have shown us the way! Agreed, use of bioweapons would send out a very fearsome don’t-mess-with-us message, but then we wouldn’t be the good guys anymore.

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Jason January 3, 2007 at 2:59 am

You guys need to get educated and grow a pair. I thought this site was for hard-core defense types, and all I find is this liberal whining. Monobrau, the US had an active BW program for three decades, we had invested in both lethal and non-lethal anti-personnel BW agents, none of them were contagious, and we knew exactly how to lay the hazard down so that it was predictable and plannable. And the guy "that just got hung" for gassing his civilians – 1) that was definitely lethal, not non-lethal, and 2) the US govt was so apalled by that action that it took 15 years to take action against him.
E0157H7, actually you can use a number of pathogens and toxins which are not contagious and therefore are not "impossible to control." And no one is talking about "mutant organisms" which actually aren't that effective as the natural ones are.
Nick, the "fantasy" about using CB warfare as a deterrent was pretty active for about 30-40 years, and it's historical fact that when one side has used chem weapons on another side who had no offensive capability and a poor defensive capability, the results were really pretty good. And only fiction writers can think of "hundreds" of contagious pathogens that stay active for "generations." In fact, I can only think of one – anthrax. All the others pretty much die quickly in the environment, lacking a host.
Anomalous, yeah, the Russians overplayed their hand and killed too many innocents with their "non-lethal" approach. Didn't have to be that way. As for not being the "good guys" anymore, I'll take the lable of being a "bad guy" and saving hundreds of US lives by using a non-lethal toxin that incapacitates the enemy to the alternative – going back to Fallujah again and again as the insurgents return to snipe and IED our troops.

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Longshot January 5, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Perhaps the U.S. should not be there in the first place.

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Paul D January 3, 2007 at 5:49 am

“hindsight is always 20/20″
Hm, tell that to a certain president who still thinks he won a certain war. :)

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Rob January 3, 2007 at 7:50 am

“but then we wouldn’t be the good guys anymore.”
For your own sake, I hope that you’re being ironic. Because if you’re not, I can hardly find the words to tell you how deluded you are.

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Mikey X January 3, 2007 at 8:14 am

I think you would all benefit from reading http://www.sunshine-project.org/publications/pr/
I wonder who’s going to kill us all first. China, or the USA?

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