Chapter 18: Historical Overview of Biological Warfare   [open pdf - 50KB]

The possibility that biological weapons will be used against us is no longer unthinkable. Until recently, medical officers and other healthcare practitioners may have considered this topic more suitable for academic than practical pursuit. The fact is, however, that biological agents have been used as weapons since antiquity, and the threat that modern weapons will be used is real. In fact, Saddam Hussein's aggression in the Persian Gulf War may have provided our nation with a wake-up call. The importance of education regarding this unpalatable subject cannot be overestimated. Before our soldiers deploy again against an aggressor likely to use biological weapons, our military healthcare providers need to be confident that they understand both the threat and the medical countermeasures to the threat. This chapter and the ones that follow will help meet that need. The threat of biological warfare has increased over the past 2 decades, with a number of countries working on offensive use of these agents. The extensive program of the former Soviet Union is now controlled largely by Russia. Admitting that a biological warfare program existed until early 1992--nearly 20 years after the USSR signed the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972--Russian president Boris Yeltsin has stated23 that he will put an end to further offensive biological research. However, the degree to which the program has been scaled back is not known. There is intense concern in the West about the possibility of proliferation or enhancement of offensive programs in countries hostile to the western democracies, due to the potential hiring of expatriate Russian scientists. There is also a certain amount of concern over the possibility that terrorists might use biological agents to threaten either military or civilian populations. Certainly the threat that biological weapons will be used against U.S. military forces is broader and more likely in various geographic scenarios now than it has been at any point in our history.

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Textbook of Military Medicine: Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare, p. 415-423
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