Biological weapons are weapons that use pathogens (bacteria, viruses, or other disease-producing organisms) as a means to kill, injure, or incapacitate an enemy. In a broader sense, biological weapons are not only pathogenic organisms, but also dangerous toxins produced by certain organisms. In reality, biological weapons attack not only humans, but also animals and plants.
The manufacture and storage of biological weapons is prohibited by the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which is signed by more than 100 countries. The idea of this ban is to avoid the effects of biological weapons, which can kill millions of people, and destroy economic and social sectors. However, the Biological Weapons Convention only prohibits the manufacture and storage of biological weapons, but does not prohibit their use.
The history of the use of biological weapons dates back to 400 BC, when the Ancient Iranians (scythians) used arrows dipped in feces (dung) and the decaying corpses of living things. The same thing was demonstrated by the Romans who dipped their swords in manure and rotting animal remains before fighting their enemies. If the enemy is injured by the weapon, an infection will occur which can cause death. An important event in the ancient history of the use of biological weapons occurred when the Mongols expelled the Genoese from the city of Kaffa on the Dead Sea by using human corpses infected with the bubonic plague. When the Genoese fled to Venice, they were still followed by fleas and rats infected with the bubonic plague, which eventually led to the "black death" in Europe.
In 1754-1760, there was a war between the North British and Indians involving the use of the smallpox virus. At that time, North Britain gave clothes and blankets from hospitals treating smallpox to the Indians to exterminate the nation. In World War I, Germany used two pathogenic bacteria, namely Burkholderia mallei, which causes Glanders and Bacillus anthracis, which causes Anthrax, to infect cattle and horses of the Allied troops. In 1932-1935, Japan developed a biological weapons manufacturing program in China called Unit 731. As many as 3,000 Japanese scientists worked to carry out research on various potential biological agents for weapons, such as cholera, bubonic plague, and sexually transmitted diseases. Experiments carried out using Chinese prisoners resulted in ± 10,000 prisoners died at that time. Since that time, not only Japan has developed biological weapons, but other countries such as the United States and the Soviet Union have also followed suit.
Biological agents are microorganisms (or the toxins they produce) capable of causing disease in plants, animals, or plants, or causing material damage. In the manufacture of biological weapons, biological agents are an important component that must be researched before being applied. Several biological agents and diseases that have been planned to be turned into weapons or have been made into biological weapons in the world include:
- Bacillus anthracis (Antrax)
- Brucella sp. (Brucellosis)
- Chlamydia psittaci (Psittacosis)
- Coxiella burnetii (Q Demam fever)
- Escherichia coli O157:H7 (Gastroenteritis)
- Shigella (Shigellosis)
- Francisella tularensis (Tularemia)
- Burkholderia mallei ( Glanders)
- Burkholderia psedomallei (Melioidosis)
- Salmonella typhi (Typhoid)
- Variola (Pox or variola)
- Vibrio cholerae (Cholera)
- Ebola Virus
- Marburg virus
- Rift Valley Fever Virus
- Alpha virus (encephalitis)
- Yellow fever virus or yellow fever virus
- and others.
The characteristics of biological weapons are that they are easy to produce and deploy, are guaranteed to be used by the attacking troops who deploy them, and are able to incapacitate or kill individuals repeatedly with the same/consistent results. This is useful, if we use the same biological weapon to attack several different areas, the impact must be the same. Biological agents in biological weapons must also be able to be produced quickly and cheaply. To make a good quality biological weapon, it has several additional requirements that must be met, namely being able to be transmitted, causing prolonged illness that requires intensive treatment, and the symptoms caused are non-specific, making diagnosis difficult. Generally, good biological weapons also have a fairly long incubation time in the patient's body so that the disease can be transmitted and spread widely before it can be detected.
Classification or grouping of biological weapons can be demonstrated based on taxonomy, host, syndrome caused, effects produced, method of dissemination, and practical response or according to their functional characteristics. Misclassifications that are often used in functional classifications produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), include:
- its spread can be easily demonstrated and transmitted from one human to another;
- cause high mortality rates and have the potential to affect public health;
- capable of causing panic and social disturbance;
- require special handling for public health preparation.
- Examples of category A: smallpox, anthrax, botulism, and others.
- the ability to spread is moderate;
- cause moderate morbidity and low mortality;
- require increased specific diagnostic capacity and improved disease surveillance.
- Examples of category B: brucellosis, Q fever, Glanders, and others.
Category C, includes pathogens that can be modified for distribution in the future, because they have the following characteristics:
- adequate availability;
- easy to generate and deploy;
- has the potential to cause high mortality and morbidity rates, and can affect public health.
- Examples of category C: Hanta Virus, Nipah Virus, yellow fever, and others.
The use of biological weapons has several advantages and advantages over other types of military weapons. Some of the advantages of using biological weapons are that the production costs are relatively cheap compared to other destructive weapons, the tools and materials needed for the growth of biological agents are quite simple, and the time needed to manufacture them is relatively shorter. Economically, the manufacture of biological weapons is also profitable because it can produce vaccines or antidotes from biological weapons that have been created with the same tools but vaccines can be traded again at high prices. Attacks with biological weapons are favored by many countries because their spread is undetected and the enemy is not aware of attacks with biological weapons. In addition, biological agents that live in the human body are able to reproduce and spread from one individual to another naturally. This is very likely to happen because the biological agents (especially viruses) that are spread are invisible to the naked eye, odorless, and tasteless. Compared to nuclear weapons, biological weapons are superior because their use does not damage existing infrastructure or facilities in the attacked area, so that the infrastructure that is left behind can be reused.
The use of biological weapons also has weaknesses which if not carefully estimated can be detrimental. Among these is the need for some weather or the right conditions to carry out the deployment of these weapons because a slight change in wind direction can cause biological agents to turn against themselves. For airborne biological agents, their residence time or resistance in the air is important to know so that secondary infection does not occur in attacking troops when they enter an area that has been successfully neutralized/infected. Troops tasked with disseminating biological weapons must also be equipped with various protective equipment because of the risk of being infected with biological agents used for weapons. Several types of biological weapons are also known to be susceptible to solar radiation and weather changes so that biological agents can be inactivated and unable to function properly. For some types of such biological weapons, most of them are deployed late at night or early in the morning so that solar radiation will not interfere and biological agents are able to spread at low altitudes and cover the area under attack. Another disadvantage of using biological weapons is that there are several biological agents that can survive in the environment for a long time (such as Bacillus anthracis spores) so that the infected area cannot be inhabited/inhabited for a long time.