Book Excerpt: 'Anthrax'

During World War II, American, British, and Canadian laboratories moved far along in developing and producing biological weapons, especially anthrax, which had the code name "N." By 1944, thousands of anthrax bombs were ready for use by Allied Forces, but intelligence sources could find no indication that Nazi Germany had any investment in biological weapons (BW) capability. Indeed, directives from Hitler forbade BW offensive research. Late in the war some subordinates, notably Reich Marshall Hermann Göring, supported research at a small, secret facility outside the city of Posen (Poznan) in Poland, where anthrax was the most seriously considered BW agent against both humans and animals. The war ended before the effort produced any results.

After the war, the United States and Britain continued BW research and testing, with the U. S. program (centered at Fort Detrick, Maryland) at times having more money than it could spend. In 1969, after reviewing the extensive U.S. investment in offensive BW, President Richard Nixon categorically renounced biological weapons. "Mankind already carries in its own hands too many of the seeds of its own destruction" was his public statement. Nixon limited U.S. BW activities to strictly defined defensive purposes: "techniques of immunization, safety measures, and the control and prevention of the spread of disease." All U.S. programs were then dismantled or converted to protective or other peaceful defensive uses.

At the same time, President Nixon declared U.S. support for a British proposal for an international treaty banning biological weapons. With the concurrence of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) was completed in 1972, and some 140 states are now party to it. The BWC forbids development, production, stockpiling, or otherwise retaining biological agents or toxins "of types or in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes." It also forbids "weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict." Lacking investigatory or punitive powers, the convention eventually came to rely on "confidence-building measures," such as good-faith revelations by those states party to it of past offensive and current defensive BW activities and review sessions every five years, starting in 1980. It also allows one state party to lodge a complaint against another with the United Nations Security Council, in order to begin a formal investigation that all states party to the convention would support.

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