its history and development

The First World War was the first time that biological weapons were used on an extensive level in war. The use of mustard gas was one of the many terrible aspects of that war, which killed and maimed thousands of soldiers on both sides.

However, it was not until after the Second World War - where little Chemical and Biological Weapons (CBW) were used - that extensive research funds were given to the development of offensive CBW weapons. The USA and Russia were and still are the two most active countries involved in this work.

Much of the research in the USA has been done at Fort Detrick in Maryland and for the last fifty years it has been the center of bio-warfare and medical research. The connection between medical and warfare research has always been close, especially in relation to viruses and bacteria and their use as potential weapons, or toward vaccine and other civilian uses.

In the late 1960s, as protests against the Vietnam War grew, attention was put onto CBW. The use of Agent Orange in Vietnam was very controversial and partly as a result of this, more than 5,000 scientists petitioned first President Johnston and then Nixon to examine and announce government policies on CBW. There was active debate regarding the risks of having an active CBW program, critics warning that in the potential use and testing of these type of weapons, the risk of contamination throughout the world by constantly mutating viruses is one that no country or individual should want to see. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) spoke of the risks of contamination on both sides of a given war and how that could lead to epidemics on a larger scale.

The 1960s were the height of the cold war, but ironically a lot of research in this area was exchanged between Russia and the USA, presumably another form of mutual deterrent. In 1972, President Nixon changed the policy regarding CBW and stated that only defensive research (non first use capability) would be done. However, there is much evidence that this did not take place. The research budget actually increased and there was no destruction of existing stocks of CBW.

One of the main problems in the military and civilian use of viral and bacterial research is the potential cross-contamination between animal and human viruses. In fact, since humans began using animals in agriculture, there has been bacterial and viral cross-contamination between Man and Animal. However in the lab, most cultivation of viruses happens using animal tissues, mainly Simian (monkey) and Bovine (Cow). There has been much speculation that AIDS originated from a monkey virus (SIV), caught through people in Africa being bitten by a particular monkey species. Although there has never been any proof of this, it was found that monkeys in which the Hepatitis B vaccine was made were contaminated with a virus, which although thought not to be transferable to Man led to researchers using a different species of monkey in that vaccine production.

In fact, it is possible that some of the new viruses we are seeing throughout the world AIDS, Ebola, Epstein-Bar virus (EBV), Hepatitis C etc may have come from research into CBW and vaccine research and its subsequent contamination to humans. Since the beginning of time, the greatest risk to humanitys survival has been from microbes, which wreak havoc through epidemics or crop contamination. It would be extremely tragic if we were creating our own worst nightmare through medical and military research.

This is now compounded as a result of the tragedy of September 11th. The fear of bio-warfare may well lead to even more research into this area, ostensibly for defensive purposes, but which could result in a greater proliferation of mutated viruses moving through humanity. Recently, President Bush backed down from agreeing to more stringent examination of bio-warfare activity, to see if countries were complying with existing treaties. One can only speculate that we are gearing up to ever more research into this area, which given the current situation is not likely to stir much dissent.

The significance of these issues affects the whole human race and the political and scientific agendas of the USA and other countries need to be closely followed. Especially in these times, there is a need for accountability and people have a right to know what is happening.