The president advocated strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention “with a strong system of inspections to detect and prevent cheating.” He also proposed upgrading public health systems to detect and warn of biological attacks and stockpiling antidotes and vaccines for the most common biological agents. None of those measures is likely to prevent or greatly mitigate the effects of a biological attack.
Biological weapons can be made with readily available commercial technology in a small facilities, such as wineries or hospital or pharmaceutical labs. Even if a regime of stringent inspections is set up to attempt to detect cheating on the BWC, it will fail to stop the spread of such weapons. The stringent monitoring of Iraq’s biological weapons program has been unable to guarantee that all of its biological material was destroyed. And even in the unlikely event that all of the material were destroyed, Iraq or any other country that wanted to cheat could produce more of it at any one of numerous commercial facilities. In short, the BWC is unenforceable.
Educating doctors about the telltale signs of a biological weapons attack may help, but those symptoms can easily be confused with those of common respiratory illnesses. In addition, detection devices being developed for the battlefield will probably not be effective for use in U.S. cities. The likely delay in detection will probably make the stockpiled antidotes — which usually need to be administered before symptoms show up — worthless. Once an attack is under way, vaccines can only reduce massive casualties if people who are as yet uninfected are inoculated. Even if stockpiled antidotes or vaccines could reach the scene of the attack in a timely manner (which is problematical), they may be defeated by genetically engineered microorganisms that are resistant to them.